Toward a History of American Linguistics

By E. F.K. Koerner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7

NOAM CHOMSKY'S READINGS OF SAUSSURE AFTER 1961

1.

Introductory observations

August 1992 marked the thirtieth anniversary of Noam Chomsky's first international exposure, and there is no doubt that his plenary paper at the Ninth International Congress of Linguists held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in August 1962, held outside Europe for the first time in the history of these congresses and, co-incidentally, on Chomsky's 'home turf', proved to be the most important event in acquainting the linguistic world with the fundamentals of Transformational-Generative Grammar. 1 In recognition of the significance of this momentous event, Frederick J. Newmeyer, the well-known writer on Chomskyan linguistics, organized a panel discussion at the Fifteenth International Congress of Linguists, held in Quebec City in August 1992, devoted to a retrospective appraisal of this historic date and an evaluation of the evolution of Chomsky's research program outlined in his 1962 paper to the present (cf. Newmeyer 1996:66-79). 2 This chapter, by contrast, constitutes a much more modest contribution to the development of American linguistics, namely, an investigation of the European sources of Chomsky's linguistic inspiration, in particular his references to the Cours de linguistique générale which also made their first public appearance in this 1962 plenary address.

In this connection, it is interesting to note that Martin Joos (1907-1978), who edited the widely read anthology of American 'structuralist' papers in the year of the first publication of Chomsky's Syntactic Structures (Joos 1957), made the following observation in a paper entitled "Linguistic Prospects in the United States", which had been written expressly "on the occasion of the Ninth International Congress of Linguists held in Cambridge, Massachusetts", as the volume's title-page states:

1 Cf. Koerner (1989:116-117) for details concerning the circumstances that led to Chomsky's privileged position at the Congress and after.

2 The assessment of this event was co-authored with Stephen R. Anderson, Sandra Chung, and James McCloskey, all of them generativists, but none of them, apart from Newmeyer himself and perhaps Anderson, also a historian (cf. Anderson 1984, though devoted to phonology, not syntax). Their statements have been included in Newmeyer (1996:66-79).

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