An Important Event in Linguistics

By Dolinina, Inga B. | Canadian Slavonic Papers, September-December 1998 | Go to article overview

An Important Event in Linguistics


Dolinina, Inga B., Canadian Slavonic Papers


An Important Event in Linguistics

Olga T. Yokoyama and Emily Klenin, eds. Selected Essays of Catherine V. Chvany. Columbus, OH: Slavica Publishers, Inc., 1996. Notes. List of publications of Catherine V. Chvany. Index. 391 pp. $39.50, paper.

This book brings together many of the papers that the prominent Slavist Catherine V. Chvany, professor of Russian at MIT, wrote over her entire career (1968-1995). Selected and edited by two of her former students, colleagues and friends, this collection won AATSEEL's award for the best monograph in Slavic linguistics published in 1995 and 1996. The publication is significant for two reasons. Firstly, because it manifests what I would call the "Chvany phenomenon." By this I mean the exceptional breadth and courage of her theoretical positions-the result of training in several theoretical frameworks (Generative Grammar, Jakobsonian Poetics and linguistic analysis, Prague Functionalism) and of intimate acquaintance with other schools (both traditional and contemporary), not only in North America but also in Western and Eastern Europe. Second, the collection offers the reader a holistic view of Chvany's significant role in contemporary linguistics. Many of her ideas were so much ahead of their time that only now can they be fully appreciated. Thus, this book is of interest to linguists of all affiliations and theoretical orientations; to specialists in literary studies, poetics, discourse and semiotics; and to psychologists, philosophers and specialists in the visual arts.

The Foreword by Professors Olga T. Yokoyama and Emily Klenin-both from UCLA and prominent scholars in their own right-is an informative introduction to Chvany's research. It is also absorbing reading for anyone interested in women's studies. Written by women scholars about a woman scholar, it illuminates not only Chvany's academic achievements, but also her personality. She had immense courage in proposing ideas, which were often contrary to the dominant linguistic paradigms. She was generous in recognizing other scholars' contributions and always ready to help younger (not yet recognized) scholars, by bringing their work to the attention of the linguistic community. Those who ever had any contact with Professor Chvany will always remember her as a scholar exemplifying the highest ethical standards.

All papers in the collection have updated references; one paper, "Decontmucting Agents and Subjects," is published here for the first time. The book is organized into four parts representing the directions of Chvany's research. Each part is introduced by a prominent scholar in the area: "Syntax and Morphosyntax" (L. H. Babby, Princeton University); "Lexical Specification and Storage" (M. S. Flier, Harvard University); "Modelling Grammatical Categories" (C. J. Neidle, Boston University); and "Linguistic Poetics and Narrative Structure" (Daniel Rancour-Laferriere, UC, Davis).

"Syntax and Morphosyntax"

The first part of the collection is a bold testing of the boundaries of applicability of Generative Grammar (henceforth GG), and its descendants, against challenges presented by the Russian language. Chvany proposes for some problematic Russian constructions alayses which are commensurable not only with GG but also with such other theories as Functional grammars and Typology-oriented grammars. This is important since the constructions discussed (constructions with the verb byt' - 'be'; syntactically derived words; impersonal constructions; etc.) pose challenges to any theoretical framework, and are a touchstone of the theory's adequacy for the data. Besides making this contribution to grammatical meta-theory, Chvany was among the first scholars to introduce discoursal dimensions (role of presupposition, "definiteness/indefiniteness," fore- and backgrounding, cognitive and psychological factors) in defining the principles of grammatical description. Because of space restrictions, only some topics will be discussed here. …

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