crowley.1997.chapter_1.pdf - o Areas using Melanesian...

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o Areas using Melanesian Pidgin as a lingua franca ~ - .•.•1 Areas using Hiri Motu \ _-' as a lingua franca Map 4: Insular Melanesian languages referred to in text, and major Melanesian lingua francas . Many linguists trace the history of modem linguistics back to the publication in 1913 of the book Course in General Linguistics by students of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. In this book, the foundation was laid for the scientific study of language. Saussure recognised, as we still do today, that language is made up of a collection of units, all related to each other in very particular ways, on different levels. These different levels are themselves related in various ways to each other. The primary function of language is to express meanings, and to convey these to someone else. To do this, the mental image in a speaker's head has to be transformed into some physical form so that it can be transferred to someone else who can then decode this physical message, and have the same mental image come into his or her head. One of the points that Saussure stressed was the fact that we need to make a distinction between studying a language from a diachronic point of view and from a synchronic point of view. Up until the time of Saussure, linguistics had basically involved the diachronic study of languages. This meant that scholars were only interested in describing relationships between various aspects of languages over periods of time. Linguistics was until then a purely historical field of study. Languages at a particular point in time were viewed not so much as systems within themselves, but as 'products of history'. Saussure disputed this interpretation and said that all languages could (and should) be described synchronically, without reference to history. When we describe a language synchronically, we describe what are the basic units that go to make up the language (that is, its phonemes, its morphemes, and so on) and the relationship between these units at that time, and that time only. He therefore proposed a rigid boundary between diachronic and synchronic
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linguistics, which has been part of linguistics since his time (though lately, many linguists have come to question the need for such a rigidly stated view). This book is intended to introduce you to the concepts and techniques of diachronic linguistics. Another important concept that Saussure stressed was the fact that the mental image in a speaker's head and the physical form used to transfer this image are completely arbitrary. This accounts for the fact that a certain kind of domestic animal is called a sisia in the Motu language of Papua New Guinea, a huli in the Paamese language of Vanuatu, a Ii~ in French, and a dDg in English. If there were any kind of natural connection between a word and its meaning, we would all use the same word!
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