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Epistemology & Philosophy of Science

Volume 57, Issue 1, 2020

Ekaterina V. Vostrikova, Petr S. Kusliy
Pages 110-130

Language as a Dynamic System
the Legacy of W. von Humbodlt and Contemporary Linguistics

In this article, we examine the key ideas of Wilhelm von Humboldt about language and their relevance to the contemporary research in the field of linguistics. In his works, N. Chomsky describes Humboldt as a key predecessor of the generative approach. The authors discuss the concrete aspects of Humboldt’s influence on generative linguistics drawing special attention to his notion of Form. The authors also observe that Humboldt’s works also contain statements about the deep differences that exist between different languages, as well as statements that different languages can form different pictures of the world. These ideas resonate with philosophical ideas about linguistic relativity (the famous Sapir – Whorf hypothesis), which are incompatible with generative linguistics. The authors try to reconcile an apparent contradiction by appealing to two different perspectives on language that they call the dynamic and the static one. They provide arguments in favor of the former and explore existing arguments against the later, which is associated with the aforementioned hypothesis. The authors conclude by pointing out that Humboldt’s legacy has so many facets that it introduces to incompatible views on language each of which had a serious impact on the studies of language in the 20th century.

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