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Language and Linguistics


Although human beings have for millennia taken an intense interest in the languages they speak, modern linguistics has gradually developed as an independent discipline (some would be willing to call it a science) only during the past few centuries. Hundreds of major figures have contributed to this development, and thousands of others have had a significant impact upon linguistics and its host of subfields. It has been possible here only to introduce briefly some of the main ideas of several of the individuals who have been instrumental in making language study what it is at the beginning of the twenty-first century. In many cases, it has been possible to do little more than mention some of their names and their areas of expertise to signal to the interested reader the necessity of investigating further the full range of their work. Scores of other truly outstanding linguists have not even been mentioned at all.

Linguistics is a vibrant, unsettled field, one in which passions run high. In the end, as with so much else pertaining to the intellectual pursuits of humankind, it is evident that a goodly portion of the contradictions and energy that suffuse linguistics can be attributed to the perennial dichotomy between the Aristotelian and the Platonic, between unity and infinity, between the fox and the hedgehog.


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Victor H. Mair

Additional topics

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