The scope of linguistics

Origins of linguistics
• In several cases, the roots of linguistics
lies in the wish to maintain sacred texts.
– Most notably in the preservation of the Vedas,
and the tradition in India of which Panini’s
work (c. 6th century BC) is the pinnacle.
– Islamic tradition began a century after the
writing of the Koran, to counter the evolution
of Arabic dialects. (Sibawayhi)
– Medieval Hebrew grammarians (heavily
influenced by Arabic tradition).

Linguistics in the classical world
• Dionysius Thrax (2nd century BC) Greek
linguist of great influence. Provides an
analysis of Greek parts of speech
(categories of words).

• Systematic (or, scientific) treatment of the
structure of language.
• The search for an explanation of aspects
of language.
• Ah – but what is an explanation? In the
late Middle Ages, it involved the study of
the writings of the scholars from the
Classical period (Roman, Greek)…

19 century

A major component of the 19th century’s
understanding of an explanation was a
precise account of the historical origin of
whatever it is we are studying: a people, a
word, a language, a nation.
The search for the history of European
languages, especially insofar as this bears
on what the peoples of Europe are.

• Etymologies
• Law of (exceptionless) sound change:
sounds change in mechanical ways over
• The discovery of Indo-European

• Indo-Iranian languages
• Italic languages (including Latin and its descendants, the
Romance languages)
• Germanic languages
• Celtic languages
• Baltic languages
• Slavic languages
• Albanian language (and extinct cousins)
• Anatolian languages (extinct, most notable was Hittite)
• Tocharian languages (extinct, Chinese Turkestan):
• Greek
• Armenian

Grimm’s Law

f>b, b>p, p>f
th>d, d>t, t>th
h>g, g>k, k>h


20 century

• (Extending from the 19th century: ) the