Leonard Bloomfield

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Leonard Bloomfield
BirthplaceChicago, Illinois
EducationHarvard College, University of Wisconsin–Madison, University of Chicago, University of Leipzig, University of Göttingen

Bloomfield, Leonard

Bloomfield, Leonard, 1887–1949, American linguist, b. Chicago. Bloomfield was professor at Ohio State Univ. (1921–27), at the Univ. of Chicago (1927–40), and at Yale (from 1940). His specialty for years was Germanic languages, especially in their comparative aspects. He became interested, however, in languages from a scientific, descriptive viewpoint. His masterpiece Language (1933) is a standard text. It had a profound influence on linguistics, for it was a clear statement of principles that became axiomatic, notably that language study must always be centered in the spoken language, as against documents; that the definitions used in grammar should be based on the forms of the language, not on the meanings of the forms; and that a given language at a given time is a complete system of sounds and forms that exist independently of the past—so that the history of a form does not explain its actual meaning. His other works include Tagalog Texts with Grammatical Analysis (1917), Linguistic Aspects of Science (1939), Spoken Dutch (1945), and Spoken Russian (1945).


See R. A. Hall, Leonard Bloomfield: Essays on His Life and Work (1987).

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Bloomfield, Leonard


Born Apr. 1, 1887, in Chicago; died Apr. 18, 1949, in New Haven. American linguist; specialist in Romance and Germanic linguistics.

Bloomfield studied the languages of Southeast Asia and North America and was the first to apply the comparative historical method to languages with a polysynthetic structure. In general theory of language he took the mechanistic position and approached linguistic phenomena from the standpoint of American behavioristic psychology, which considers behavior, not consciousness, as the object of study. Many of Bloomfield’s views were developed by representatives of so-called descriptive linguistics.


“A Set of Postulates for the Science of Language.” Language, 1926, vol. 2.
“Language or Ideas.” Language, 1936, no. 2.
Linguistic Aspects of Science, 8th ed. Chicago, 1962.
In Russian translation:
lazyk. Moscow, 1968.


Arutiunova, N. D., and E. S. Kubriakova. “Problemy morfologii v trudakh amerikanskikh deskriptivistov.” In Voprosy teorii iazyka v sovremennoi zarubezhnoi lingvistike. Moscow, 1961.
Arutiunova, N. D., G. A. Klimov, and E. S. Kubriakova. “Amerikauskii strukturalizm.” In Osnovnye napravleniia strukturalizma. Moscow, 1964.
Sapir, E. Selected Writings in Language, Culture and Personality. Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1951.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Bloomfield, Leonard

(1887–1949) linguist; born in Chicago, Ill. After teaching at several universities, he became professor of linguistics at Yale (1940–46), already one of the most influential linguists of the century. He was one of the first to advance linguistics as an empirical discipline, set out first in An Introduction to the Study of Language (1914). He developed a method of team-teaching languages and his work on Tagalog and Algonquian languages led to his independent discovery of the phonemic principle that organizes the sound system of a language. He promoted linguistics as a key approach to understanding human behavior and his most important work in this regard, Language (1933), is still widely used and studied.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.