July 02, 2004

Six Key Men of Twentieth-Century Linguistics

Teach Yourself Books has a 101 Key Ideas series. "Each book contains short accounts [no more than one small uncluttered page each] of 101 key ideas" -- in fields ranging from Astronomy to World Religions, including, yes, Linguistics, a thin volume written by Richard Horsey and published in 2001.

Well, six of these 101 Key Ideas in Linguistics aren't ideas at all, but people. Men, in fact. None dead a hundred years now. So this part of the book is really a list of Six Key Men of Twentieth-Century Linguistics.

Now, take out a slip of paper and write down your six nominees for the Key Men of Twentieth-Century Linguistics. No cheating: no checking Horsey's book or peeking ahead in this posting. If anyone, absolutely anyone, playing fair, gets the same list as Horsey, I'll be astonished. In fact, if you manage this feat, e-mail me and I'll take you out to dinner at the next conference we're both at.

Ok, here's Horsey's list, in alphabetical order: Leonard Bloomfield, Noam Chomsky, Gottlob Frege, H. Paul Grice, Roman Jakobson, and Ferdinand de Saussure. "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis" gets an entry, but Horsey gives no biographical data on either man, nor any discussion of their intellectual contributions beyond the SWH, so they don't count.

Frege and Grice are the surprises, of course. Getting the other four is no great feat, but if you got both of these names, then you definitely have a Horsey take on things, and you get a dinner.

By the way, a tenth of the book is taken up by entries on divisions of the field: Historical linguistics, Lexicon, Morphology, Phonetics, Phonology, Pragmatics, Psycholinguistics, Semantics, Sociolinguistics, and Syntax. So what counts as an "idea" in linguistics is generally pretty flexible. And applied linguists and computational linguists didn't make the cut.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at July 2, 2004 05:05 PM