Port-Royal Grammar

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Port-Royal Grammar


a linguistic theory set forth by A. Arnauld and C. Lancelot, abbots of the Port-Royal monastery, in their Universal and Logical Grammar (1660). The grammar was written as a textbook for students at the abbey and parallels the abbey’s textbook on logic; the two related in many ways, and a number of sections in the books are identical.

The Port-Royal grammar, based on Cartesian principles and medieval linguistic doctrines, analyzes the correspondence between grammar and logic. The theory holds that all human beings possess the same capacity for thought and speech and that a single ideal logical plan underlies all languages, although no individual language fully makes use of the intrinsic potential of human speech. The task of grammar is to determine the principles common to all languages as well as the basic differences between languages. Since all concrete languages rely on convention, it is possible to create a new language that would avoid logical errors or to establish a precise and unambiguous use for the words of a given language.

This theory, which was called philosophical grammar, contrasted with descriptive and normative grammar and found extensive application in logic and linguistics in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in the works of G. W. von Leibniz, J. Harris, G. J. Hermann and E. Husserl. Although the Port-Royal grammar was rejected as unscientific by comparative historical linguistics, some works on linguistic universals and generative grammar in the early 1960’s revived its approach and saw it as important for the development of linguistics.


Donze, R. La Grammaire générale et raisonnée de Port-Royal. Bern, 1967. (Includes bibliography.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Although the letter names, the teaching method and the principles of orthographic reform of Forselius coincide with the proposals of Chapter V and VI of the Port-Royal grammar, there are no data indicating that Forselius would have been familiar with the Port-Royal grammar.
In the comments on the new edition of the Port-Royal Grammar (1754), the Secretary of the Academy Charles Pinot Duclos called Chapter VI excellent, praised the new natural character names and was surprised that so far common sense had not triumphed over "the absurdities of the ordinary method (des absurdites de la methode vulgaire)" (Duclos 1810:426).
The Port-Royal grammar. Jacques Rieux and Bernard E.