Linguistic Law

Linguistic Law


a general rule or regularity characteristic of one language, a number of languages, or language in general; the regular and consistent reproduction of some interrelationship of units in a certain language, which may be considered a formula of regular correspondences.

The development of linguistics as an independent science is inseparably linked with the discovery of regularities in existing and developing natural languages, and in human language in general. The task of the linguist is to express each regularity in the form of a linguistic law. Two opposite approaches to the concept of linguistic law are possible: (1) to regard any regularity found in a language as a linguistic law, or (2) to try to discover the truly common and objective properties of human language in general. The first approach was that of the neogrammarian school, the second is characteristic of the modern school of linguistic universals.

The search for the fundamental linguistic law that determines the development of language began in the 19th century. Some linguists attempted to identify linguistic laws with the laws of other sciences; others explained the development of language only by external factors, rejecting the concept of linguistic law: G. Zipf’s “principle of least effort”; A. Martinet’s “principle of economy”; R. Jakobson’s “binary theory”; the timeless (independent of time), universal laws of glossematics.

The specific forms of linguistic change, which arise under the influence of extralinguistic factors, are wholly determined and directed by the structure of a language; for precisely this reason, it is possible to speak of linguistic law.

Linguistic laws may be general or specific. General linguistic laws, which characterize human language in general, include the two levels of language (expression and content); linguistic development as an on-going process; the tripartite formula for the basic structural elements of language (phoneme—word—sentence); and the law of disparity in the rate of development of the different structural components of language. Specific linguistic laws are the laws of development of a specific language, which are typical only for that language and which distinguish it from other languages.


Zvegintsev, V. A. Ocherki po obshchemu iazykoznaniiu. Moscow, 1962.
Sapir, E. Iazyk. Moscow-Leningrad, 1934. (Translated from English.)
Martinet, A. Printsip ekonomii v foneticheskikh izmeneniiakh. Moscow, 1960. (Translated from French.)
Jakobson, R. Remarques sur l’évolution phonologique du russe comparée à celle des autres langues slaves. Prague, 1929.
Jakobson, R., and M. Halle. Fundamentals of Language. The Hague, 1956.
Trnka, B. “General Laws of Phonemic Combinations.” In Travaux du Cercle linguistique de Prague, vol. 6. Prague, 1936.
Zipf, G. Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort. Cambridge, 1949.
References in periodicals archive ?
Magyar Origins offers a reasonable hypothesis that Hungarian and its related languages of Finnish and Estonian are related to Sanskrit, working out a proposed linguistic law that affected how Sanskrit words were absorbed into Hungarian.
It's a linguistic law for all human languages C* we will go toward that.