Isomorphism of Linguistic Levels

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Isomorphism of Linguistic Levels


parallelism in the organization of the phonic and semantic aspects of a language (the so-called levels of expression and content). The term “isomorphism” is associated with the Polish linguist J. Kury-lowicz, who used it to designate the structural analogies between phonic and semantic units—for example, the syllable and the sentence (both units are hierarchical structrues with a central, obligatory component—for the syllable, a vowel, and for the sentence, a predicate—and marginal, optional components— consonants and other parts of the sentence, respectively).

The idea of the deep structural parallelism of both linguistic levels is one of the fundamental ideas in the concept of glos-sematics held by L. Hjelmslev, the founder of the Copenhagen structural school. It is possible to speak of the isomorphism of linguistic levels in reference to the relations among the abstract units—that is, the types or classes of units—of both levels (for example, the hierarchical sequence of such types of phonic units as the distinctive feature, the phoneme, the syllable, and the phonological word is structurally analogous to the sequence of such semantic units as the seme, the sememe, the onomateme, and the sentence), but not to the relations between the members of these classes (concrete phonemes and sememes, and so on), since the number of content units significantly exceeds the number of expression units. Some authors consider it possible to speak of the isomorphism of linguistic levels, emphasizing first the necessity of applying the same methods and principles in studying the levels.


Hjelmslev, L. “Prolegomeny k teorii iazyka.” Novoe v lingvistike, no. 1. Moscow, 1960.
Kurylowicz, J. “Poniatie izomorfizma.” Ocherki po lingvistike. Moscow, 1962.
Makaev, E.A. “K voprosu ob izomorfizme.” Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1961, no. 5.
Bulygina, T.V. “O nekotorykh analogiiakh v sootnosheniakh zvuko-vykh i semanticheskikh edinits.” Voprosy iazykoznaniia. 1967, no. 5.


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