Fundamentals of Language

Fundamentals of Language

Fundamentals of Language

Fundamentals of Language

Excerpt

The GATE OF LANGUAGES (Janua linguarum) is indeed an appropriate title for a series of essays seeking the key to the laws that govern language and its relationship with other social institutions. This name appeals to me, moreover, as a link that connects the modern search with the writings of Johann Amos Comenius, the great humanist thinker in the science of language. His works, like many Greek and Latin treatises from the Stoa to the Cartesian epoch, carry numerous fruitful ideas which now again capture the attention of linguists.

The title of the series refers, furthermore, to the recent past of our science. Nicolaas van Wijk, whose name heads this set of essays, was one of the outstanding pioneers in the inquiry into the structure of language and into the principles of its evolution. The subtitle of his book Phonologie-'een hoofdstuk uit de structurele taalwetenschap" (a chapter of structural linguistics)-may be applied to his whole life's work. In 1902, as a twenty-two year old student at Leipzig, he offered a bold contribution 'Zur relativen Chronologie der urgermanischen Lautgesetze', published inPaul-Braune Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur, XXVIII, in which he displays a clear insight into the coherence of sound patterns and their mutations, and some twenty years later he took up and elaborated these views in his first original work in comparative phonology, 'Een phonologiese parallel tussen Germaans, Slavies en Balties', Mededeelingen der Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen, Afd.Letterkunde, deel 77-79, serie A (1934-5). Van Wijk, and there lies his main strength, never sacrificed the manifold empirical data in favor of a speculative theory, nor did his amazing mastery of the concrete philological material conceal from him the theoretical corollaries.

I am particularly glad to inaugurate the series of essays dedicated to the memory of this eminent Dutch linguist, since twenty five years ago it was he who, along with Antoine Meillet, encouraged . . .

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