A weaker version of the hypothesis was somewhat more acceptable, namely, that the constructions of language make it relatively easier or more difficult to think in certain ways. But consideration of the effect of language on thought was for a period a topic many were unwilling to engage in.
More recently, scholars such as Alfred Bloom have returned to this issue, as we will in the next chapter.
Ferdinand de Saussure
Another approach to the field of linguistics was that introduced early in the 20th century, when attention turned from the focus on historical-comparative studies to the principles governing the structure of languages still being spoken. The theoretical ideas introduced at this time by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) were extremely influential, essentially redefining the field. These ideas were based on the observation by scholars going all the way back to Pānini's time (and perhaps even before then) that when people actually speak they often produce sounds and constructions that they themselves would report as somehow being not "really right," but which are understood anyway. For example, if, around lunch-time, a friend called out to you, asking "Jeet jet? your response would probably not be "Huh?" but either "Yeah" or "No,joo?' What surfaces as Jeet jet? and No, joo? is clearly understood by both of you as "Did you eat yet'" "No, did you?" You could at any time "translate" the rapid form of these questions into the complete version you produce when slowing down and enunciating carefully. By means of rules specific to your language, a conversion takes place between what you know is the real underlying form of the utterance and what you actually say. All of this is part of the unconscious knowledge we have been calling your linguistic competence.
Pānini's work on the rules underlying the language of speakers of his form of Sanskrit leads to a recognition of the distinction between those rules and the language they generate. The notion that something underlies the forms we actually produce is the important insight here, one that has been brought out at other times in the history of linguistics. Contemporary scholars such as Noam Chomsky give credit to, for example, Rene Descartes and to the authors of the volume Grammaire generale et raisonnee, published in France in 1660 (usually referred to as the Port-Royal Grammar), for reintroducing such insights from which much of modern-day linguistics has benefited.
More recently, Ferdinand de Saussure, working near the beginning of the 20th century, distinguished between langue, the linguistic system internalized by speakers of a language, and parole, the act of speaking. This distinction implies a tacit assumption that underlying the actual utterances of speakers of a given language is a shared structure, absorbed by speakers when very young and remaining largely below the level of consciousness. This implicit structure enables them to judge, for example, when one utterance is correctly formed, another is not, and a third is all right when speaking (especially quickly) but is not really the way it is "supposed to be," as our Jeet jet? example. Put more succinctly, the distinction is between what you know about your language (your linguistic competence, unconscious though it may be) and what you actually say, which linguists refer to as your linguistic performance.
Behaviorism: John B. Watson and B. E Skinner
Saussure's work has had great influence on contemporary linguistics. But the direction taken by the field was altered for a time, despite the insights he provided Land developed. With the advent of the "behavioristic" paradigm, the "mentalistic" approach to the study of language was abandoned. The American psychologist John B. Watson (1878-1958) struck out in a new direction, becoming the founder of the school known as behaviorism. Behaviorism operates on the principle that what goes on in the mind that is not directly observable or measurable is not an appropriate and useful subject of research. The only appropriate subject matter of psychology, according to the behaviorists, is behavior. Behavior is all that we can j hope to treat objectively, because it is all we can measure. This approach leaves no place for study, linguistic or otherwise, based on unconscious knowledge. The insights of scholars over a very long period were abandoned as linguists attempted a stimulus-response account of language.
B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) is today probably the best-known proponent of the behaviorist approach. Among his many works was the 1957 book Verbal Behavior, in which he sought to interpret and explain the major aspects of linguistic behavior within the behaviorist framework. In 1959 the American linguist Noam Chomsky (b. 1928) published a review of Verbal Behavior in which he refuted Skinner's premise that it is possible to account for linguistic behavior within this framework. He systematically discussed each concept introduced by Skinner in order to show "that, in each case, if we take his terms in their literal meaning, the description covers almost no aspect of verbal behavior, and if we take them metaphorically, the description offers no improvement over various traditional formulations" (Chomsky, 1964, p. 574). This review sparked a period of debate and called attention to the beginning of a new phase in linguistics, in which Chomsky has figured prominently.
Major Themes in Linguistics
Crystal D. Linguistics. Second ed.
Penguin Book, 1990. – pp. 140-157.
The subject we now call linguistics began to take its present form at the beginning of this century. The interesting thing is that it seems to have developed in an almost independent way in two places at once - Europe and America. But the two approaches were radically different, each being very much the product of its own history, and each taking advantage of the kind of linguistic material which it found immediately available. The Europeans had a continuous tradition of philosophical thought, as we have seen, which stemmed from Classical times; and an immediate background of historical study of language which came from nineteenth-century 'comparative philology' (of which more below). Most of the data about language concerned the development of Classical and, to a lesser extent, modern European tongues. Based entirely on written records, their discussion of language had usually been from the viewpoint of textual interpretation - for example, in biblical studies, literary criticism, or history. Work on living languages had been considered secondary, and limited to the activities of a few who attempted to plot the differences between regional dialects, and to construct 'dialect atlases'. A few 'occasional' studies of new languages had been made by missionaries and colonial officials in various parts of the world, but these had been narrowly pedagogical for the most part, and were usually made within a Latinate analytical framework.
The tradition which the early European linguists grew up with and reacted to was very different from that available to American scholars, who had had relatively little direct contact with the European situation. American research began by turning to the sources most readily available, the American Indian languages, and the orientation was completely different. There was no written record in the case of these languages, and there were no earlier descriptions – hence it was impossible to develop a purely historical interest or to use writing as the basis of linguistic analysis. These languages were also so different from European languages that it was obvious that Classical procedures and terminology were going to be of little value; and in any case, many of the scholars involved had developed a strong distrust of the distortions which they were aware Latinate descriptions could impose. There was also a reaction against the use of meaning as the basis of an analysis of a language – again a contrast with the way in which considerations of meaning, logic, and so on had been used for the definition of grammatical categories in the European philosophical orientation. The first task of the linguist, it was felt, was to describe the physical forms that the language had: saying what those forms meant was a logically later activity. The emphasis was therefore on a meticulous description of the individuality of each language's structure, based on the only available source – the living speech activity of the users. This dynamic role given to language was largely due to the initiative of the anthropologists of the time, who stimulated this kind of approach from the very beginning as part of their drive to accumulate information about the dying Indian tribes. Franz Boas, one of the pioneers, emphasized the need for the linguist to 'go into the field', to get an accurate, detailed description of the human behaviour involved - before it was too late, and all the informants were dead! In 1911, the first volume of the Handbook of American Indian Languages, which he founded, was published. Ten years later, another anthropologically orientated book, subsequently extremely influential, appeared - Language, by Edward Sapir. These two books, and the students of their authors, were a formative influence on the development of linguistics in America, as we shall see in due course.