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[Xmca-l] Re: The Ideological Footprint of Artifacts



This is late in the game, so forgive me, but:

Appropos David re: Saussure, my understanding is that sometime towards the end of the 19th Century linguistics shifted its focus from the diachronic (historical, longitudinal) to the synchronic (in a single point of time) study of language. Apparently actual violence during meettings of linguists over such things as an original language resulted in making historical linguistics a taboo subject. Hence, Saussure’s sin, as David describes it:

>> "Saussure, who did more than anyone to make the insights of the Symbolists
>> into a coherent world view, said that thought and language, both chaotic,
>> organize each other through decomposing each other, and of course that's
>> correct. Saussure's big mistake was to turn his back on the process by
>> which this happens. And the strangest thing about this mistake is that it
>> was the very process in which he'd made his own career--historical
linguistics!”

He threw the baby out with the bath water. Chomsky topped that by making a single language a sufficient basis for getting at what makes language tick and keep on ticking. (He could have included Hebrew in his writing, which he knew a lot about through his father.) Leaving out BOTH forms of variation, diachronic and synchronic, leaves out a lot, if you’re trying to understand development of language, either ontogentically or phylogenetically. 

Regarding what a symbol is, Saussure seems to have pushed l’arbitraire du signe to its limit, that is the assumed arbitrary relationship between the phonological (sound) and semantic (meaning) “poles” of symbols. (I take it that any symbol is the unit formed by the pairing of a phonological and sematic element. If I read Vygotsky right, he used “WORD” to capture this pairing. Let me be clear that by the phonological, I mean strings of language sounds from the shortest to longest: phoneme, morpheme, clause, poem, etc.) Langacker is one of many who use the umbrella term “iconicity” to capture the ways in which the material form of a language, its "structure in sound" so to speak, is anything BUT arbitrary.