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Leonard Bloomfield (1887-1949)

Leonard Bloomfield (1887-1949)

He was born on 1 April as as 1887 in Chicago, Illinois , United States . Born in a family of Judeo-Germanic origin, he moved to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin , where he attended school.

Work history

He studied at Harvard and Chicago universities , and graduated from the latter university in 1909. He taught Philology and Linguistics in Chicago and Yale, where he worked as a professor from 1940 until his death. Indo-European and Germanist, he was also interested in the Malay-Polynesian and Amerindian languages, which he described in detail.

Its importance in the field of modern linguistics (immersed in American linguistics, whose mainstream was defined as postbloomfieldian) is due mainly to its theoretical positions. In 1914 his first manual, An introduction to the study of language, came to light. In 1917, his second book, Tagalog Texts with Gramatical Analysis, came to light. The author, based on the data offered by an Illinois student, carried out a detailed description of the different linguistic aspects of this Austrian language. In 1925 he founded the magazine Language; and in 1933 he published his masterpiece, also titled Language.

Although the title coincides with that of E. Sapir‘s book, the spirit and method of its positions are radically different. Bloomfield wanted to apply a rigorously scientific method. Theoretical problems were raised and solved through operationism (that is, using only initial propositions and provisions that involve specific material operations) and physicalism (that is, using only terms derived, through rigid definitions, from a set of everyday terms referred to physical facts). Applying these principles, he collaborated in the elaboration of the Universal Encyclopedia of Unified Science.

Bloomfield theories

According to Bloomfield’s theories, linguistic facts are reduced to a set of physically determinable segments arranged according to a stimulus-response scheme, in which the only effective reality is individual behavior, manifested through a series of speech acts In his physical appearance. Bloomfield’s antimentality systematically avoids resorting to the study of the mental operations of the speaker. It focuses only on speech acts, on perfectly defined and concrete material facts.

For their study, these speech acts (“utterances”) must be broken down into smaller segments (immediate constituents) until they reach the ultimate constituents or morphemes, the minimum grammatical units. On the other hand, the Bloomfieldian conception places the meaning outside the field of linguistic study, considering it as a set of practical facts related to the statement. Thus, meaning is an extralinguistic fact that must be considered by particular sciences.

In fact, due to the description’s own requirements, Bloomfield contravened these principles, since he had to recognize that to describe and delimit the linguistic units (the phoneme is a minimum unit within the scope of distinctive phonic features) it is necessary to rely on the meaning . Thus, for example, he referred to the connotation defining it as the emotional halo that accompanies the denotative reference, properly semantic, recognizing that the description of meaning is the weak point in the study of language . Finally, it should be remembered that Bloomfield met and received the influence of Saussure, whom he quoted in his works.

American Structuralism has two ways of considering the concept of structure.

One is the “Hocus-pocus” and the other the “God´s truth”. The first assumes that the researcher is the one who imposes a certain order and that this order is the structure. The second assumes that the language already has a structure and the researcher discovers it. These two positions correspond to the research methods: if the method is inductive, it corresponds to the “God´s truth”; if on the contrary it is deductive, the “Hocus-pocus” corresponds

The American structuralist approach is called descriptivism .

Be part of a corpus of data that is nothing more than speech or broadcast. The point of view is synchronous and the object of grammar are the functions. The study of meaning is excluded, since aspects of meaning depend on:

–       occurrences of linguistic forms,

–       of their textual combinations and

–       of their interrelations in the structure of the language.

For example: the broadcast “I am cold”, in the mouth of a beggar, can mean “give me something to eat”, and in the mouth of a chicha “hug me”.

The steps for grammar analysis are as follows:

–       Observation.

–       Operational hypotheses.

–       Calculation based on hypotheses.

–       Prediction.

–       Checking predictions.

This method is fundamentally inductive.

The principles that define Sapir for language are:

–       a system of symbols,

–       a fully formed functional system within the psychic or spiritual constitution of man,

–       it is not instinctive, but cultural, acquired,

–       and serves to express ideas or psychic states.

–       The tongue is a mental process whose external manifestation is the sounds (selected by the speaker).

Sapir believes that the description of one language should not be limited to the grammatical model of any other (language). For example: the classical languages ​​do not serve as a model for the languages ​​of the American aborigines. Each language has its own structure, which is abstracted from a corpus of native texts.

A speech act is:

–       momentary, fortuitous, individual.

–       Habit characteristic of linguistic communication.

–       System of psychological values ​​of sounds (phonemes).

Grammar is the systematicity of languages. The language is formed by formal units (words) that are the minimum segment with isolated meaning. Formal units form sentences, which are functional units of speech, expressed by a proportion.

The symbols are complex: they consist of meaning (conceptual psychic content) denoted by a sign of primary auditory nature (located in the brain, psychic as well).

The tongue is thus a mental process, whose external manifestation is sound.

Leonard Bloomfield

Bloomfield departs, for his explanation of his linguistics, from two positions:

  1. mentalism: that is, that linguistic facts must be interpreted and understood with reference to psychic phenomena.
  2. Mechanism: which refers to machine learning. Follow the behavioral current.

Like Saussure, he is interested in the system (the language) and not the particular manifestations of the language (speech).

He has a particular interest in grammatical structure, and Bloomfield proposes a description of language levels.

The phonemic structure:

The significant forms of a language are composed of a small number of non-significant elements (phonemes). Hence, the first thing to do is recognize which sound constitutes a phoneme and which variants of that phoneme.

The grammatical structure:

Descriptive linguistics neglects the study of meanings that are not directly related to forms.

The structure of a language is composed of two subsystems:

–       central systems

–       peripheral systems.

 The central system corresponds to:

– the grammatical system,

– the phonological system and

– the morphological system.

The grammatical system corresponds to morphology and syntax and their combinations and relationships.

The phonological system includes the set of phonemes and their relationships.

The morphological system establishes the relationships between the two previous systems.

Semantics and phonetics belong to the peripheral system.

Bloomfield establishes postulates, which arise from statements that in turn are axioms, that is, statements that do not need proof:

– morpheme     postulate : form with bound significance. Children.

–        Word postulate : form with free meaning. Children.

–        Phrase postulate : free meaning form that is integrated by free forms. Good children.

–       Postulate of prayer : form with free meaning that is integrated by free forms. Good children drink the soup.

                 the good       children drink the soup

Morf Morf Morf Mofr.

Word   Word Word Word

—- ————————————–       ——– ——————————–

noun                               phrase verbal phrase

————————————————– ————————————–



Types of constructions:

Bloomfield distinguishes two types of constructions, which it calls, respectively, endocentric constructions and exocentric constructions.

In the endocentric construction, the formal class that constitutes the nucleus “stains” the entire phrase. For example: nominal endocentric phrase, if the nucleus is a noun or adjective.

The exocentric phrase does not have this characteristic stated.

The act of communication:

Bloomfield distinguishes three aspects in the act of communication (follows a behavioral position):

  1. the practical facts prior to the speech act.
  2. the act of speech.
  3. the practical facts after the speech act.

The scheme would be as follows:

S ————- [r ……… s] —————- R

S: external stimuli.

A: speech response. Speech act

s: speech stimulus.

R: external response.

Linguistics is only interested [r ……… ..s], that is, the speech response and the speech stimulus (r corresponds to the sounds, and s to the meanings). The rest (S – R) belongs to other disciplines, since they are the practical facets of the general fact (physiology or psychology).

The speech act for Bloomfield is, in short, a substitute response to the specific act.

Every issue is made up of forms . The forms are vocal features common to emissions that are totally or partially equal. Stimulus / response traits are meanings . The total emissions of a linguistic community is the language of that community.

Acquisition of language:

For Bloomfield, children acquire language mechanically (by repetition), through stimuli and responses.

Every child is born in a speech community and in his first years of life he learns the speech habits and response habits of that community in which he is born.

When a child learns the relationship S — r, he also learns the connection s — R.

However, the same author adds (in 1933), it is not yet known how the child learns to speak.

The origin of the language:

Bloomfield has a mechanistic / behavioral position with regard to language acquisition.

According to this author, the diversity of human behavior is due exclusively to the fact that the human body is highly complex. Actions are part of cause / effect sequences. A stimulus, thus understood, can give multiple answers or consequences (but all predictable).

Bloomfield’s position is opposite to mentalism , which argues that the diversity of human behavior comes from spirit, will or mind, and that it behaves in a non-physical way, and therefore, actions cannot be predicted

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