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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the analysis of a language or some other system of signs from the point of view of the relationships between the component parts at a given period of time. The synchronic study of language had already reached a high level in the ancient Indian, late classical, and modern European (beginning in the 18th century) grammars. However, it was only in the early 20th century that F. de Saussure set forth the theoretical understanding of synchrony as reflecting the fact that the significance of every element of language is due to the systemic relationship with other linguistic elements.

Synchrony is in contradistinction to diachrony— the study of the development of linguistic phenomena over time. In synchronic linguistics, for example, the Russian nominative singular form stol, “table,” has a zero ending, as opposed to the genitive form stola,”of the table.” Diachronic linguistics, on the other hand, is concerned with studying the process of disappearance of the ending -b (from *-ŭ) in the corresponding ancient East Slavic form. A diachronic process may also be revealed by a synchronic description in the form of an ordered system of rules, the order of which corresponds to the diachronic sequence of transformations. For example, the strict rules for the shifting of stress from the root to the ending in the paradigm of the word stol presuppose a hypothetical internal reconstruction of a form with a zero ending that behaves like other, vocalic endings of the same word. The dynamics of development in synchrony may also be revealed in a comparison of several simultaneously functioning styles, the selection of which is determined by the conditions of communication. Examples of such styles are a high, elevated style that preserves archaic features and a more colloquial style that reveals the direction of a language’s development, as in the reduced Russian form [chiék] in place of chelovék, “person.”

The results of synchronic analyses and the typological conclusions based on such analyses are being used more widely in diachronic studies. The opposition of the two aspects of the treatment of language—the synchronic and the diachronic —which was outlined by F. de Saussure, is gradually giving way to the mutual enrichment of these aspects, which was anticipated by the school of I. A. Baudouin de Courtenay and the Linguistic Circle of Prague. The connection between synchronic studies and diachronic analysis is also noted in cultural anthropology and other sciences that deal with man. The distinction between the two approaches was introduced in these sciences under the influence of F. de Saussure. The synchronic study of language is necessary for the solution of all major problems in applied linguistics.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.