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Topics: Linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure, Historical linguistics Pages: 6 (2512 words) Published: November 13, 2014
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Ma. Lilliane Ericka B. AnicasPaper no. 5
Introduction to CommunicationsProf. Bayani Santos, Jr. Ph. D.

Understanding the Basic Concepts of Linguistics

Before dealing with the details of phonetics, it is important that we consider some majorconcepts in linguistics. An idea of them helps us come to grips with more complex issues. One must get a sound footing in these concepts and have a clear understanding. Mostly they are described in pairs of terms denoting sets of distinctions, such as synchrony and diachrony; form and substance; description and prescription; competence and performance, and so on. Synchrony and Diachrony

The distinction synchrony and diachrony refers to the difference in treating language from different points of view. When we take a synchronic point of view, we are looking at a language as we find it at a given period in time. The diachronic point of view, on the other hand, gives us the historical angle; we look at a language over a period of time along with changes that occurred in it. The principles that introduce this dichotomy enable us to obtain ‘particularly accurate information about a language in its current usage’ (Wilkins). The synchronic linguistics studies how a language works at a given time, regardless of its past history or future blueprint. This has also been calleddescriptive linguistics. Though the historical character of a language cannot be ignored, its present form being the result of definite historical processes, changes and transformations, it is necessary for a complete understanding of it to concentrate on the units of its structure at the present moment. Some scholars donot see the two approaches apart : “It is a mistake to think of descriptive and historical linguistics as two separate compartments, each bit of information belonging exclusively in the one or in the other”. However, on the whole the two areas are kept apart and one is studied to the exclusion of the other. Synchronic statements make no reference to the previous stages in the language. Linguistic studies in the nineteenth century were historical in character; they originated as part of the general historical investigations into the origins and development of cultures and communities, especially West Asia, Egypt, etc. Such philological researches viewed language at different stages of its progress and attempted to understand relations among different languages. Language families were discovered and genetic affinities identified. Diachronic linguistics was a great discovery of the 19th century, ‘which developed so powerfully and fruitfully from the 1820s to the 1880s. This discovery enabled linguists to explain modern languages as a result of law-governed historical development. (Zhirmunsky) On a closer look one realises that without a good synchronic (descriptive) work, valid historical (diachronic) postulations are not possible; in other words, a good historical linguist needs to be thorough descriptive scholar too.  Figure 2 shows that diachronic axis (x-y) has been considered as moving and the synchronic axis (A-B) as static. It was the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Sassure who first coined these terms and established the distinctions. As the Russian linguist V.M. Zhirmunsky observes, ‘In de Saussure’s conception, synchrony is language considered as a system of static oppositions resting on a single temporal plane, a static two dimensional cross-section”. The discoveries and theories of the synchronic studies offer particularly accurate information about a language in its current usage. ‘The first of these principles distinguishes clearly between descriptions of the language in its contemporary form and descriptions of its historical development’ (Wilkins) Form and Substance

This destinction refers to the system, on the one hand, that is devised, arid the actual data which is used or worked upon. The system explains the data, it is a theoretical construct. Phonemes /b/, /d/,...
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