Prague, Linguistic Circle of

Prague, Linguistic Circle of


the center of one of the three main schools of structural linguistics. Formed in 1926, the circle disbanded in the early 1950’s; its most creative period was the 1930’s. The circle included a number of Czechoslovak philologists: V. Mathesius (organizer and head of the circle), B. Havránek, B. Trnka, J. Vachek, J. Mukařovský, V. Skalička, J. Kořínek, P. Trost, and A. V. Isačenko; other scholars included N. S. Trubetskoi, R. O. Jakobson, and S. O. Kartsevskii. The work of the Soviet researchers P. G. Bogatyrev, G. O. Vinokur, E. D. Polivanov, B. V. Tomashevskii, and Iu. N. Tynianov was related to that of the circle.

The first systematic exposition of the group’s positions is contained in the theses presented to the First International Congress of Slavists (Prague, 1929). These theses put forth the basic concept of language as a functional system, that is, a system of means of expression with some definite aim. The theses also proposed an original solution to the problem of the correlation of synchrony and diachrony. They showed that the comparative method need not be applied solely to related languages and set new tasks in the investigation of functional styles and functional languages.

The structural-functional concept of the Linguistic Circle of Prague was embodied most fully and consistently in research on the phonetic aspect of language. The phonological work of the circle was important to the development of structural linguistics. Besides Trubetskoi’s Principles of Phonology (1939) and other works on synchronous phonology, the circle produced important studies of historical phonology that refuted F. de Saussure’s thesis of the insurmountable barriers between synchrony and diachrony. The circle’s works on phonological geography laid the foundations for contemporary typological research.

The scholars of the Linguistic Circle of Prague also attempted to apply the concepts and methods developed for phonological material to grammar and poetics. To morphology the circle contributed research on the nature of grammatical oppositions, and to syntax it added the theory of the actual division of a sentence. Those in Czechoslovakia today who follow the traditions of the Linguistic Circle of Prague conceive of language as a dynamic structure and a system of systems in movement.


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