Internal Linguistics

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Internal Linguistics


the branch of linguistics that studies the systemic relationships of linguistic units without recourse to external linguistic factors. The opposition of internal and external linguistics dates back to the studies of the Swiss linguist F. de Saussure, who contrasted language and speech, synchrony and diachrony. A linguistic system that is subordinate to its own order is one of the internal linguistic elements that constitute the object of study in internal linguistics. In studying this system “there is no need to know the conditions under which a particular language developed” (F. de Saussure, Kurs obshchei lingvistiki, Moscow, 1933, p. 45).

The opposition between internal and external linguistics may be illustrated by comparing a linguistic system with a chess game: just as the history of the game and the materials and shapes of the pieces are external and not essential for the actual rules of the game, the history of a language and the influence of external factors on the language are not important for the system of the language. Internal linguistics, then, constitutes the linguistic “rules of the game,” the very system of the linguistic units and their relationships, the functioning of the units within the system. “Everything that in any way changes the system is internal” (ibid., p. 336). It is precisely internal linguistics that is linguistics proper. Absolutizing this Saussurean thesis, the representatives of glossematics came to view language as a system of “pure relations.” Modern Soviet linguistics recognizes the existence of internal and external linguistic factors, although it does not regard them as completely isolated from each other and studies their concrete relationships.


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