Some Problems of Classification in Linguistics and Biology, 1800–1830
In this article an attempt is made to bring out the epistemological and methodological affinities between biological and linguistic paradigms of the first decades of the 19th century. After giving an exposition of G. Cuvier’s and E. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire’s different ways of understanding comparative anatomy, the author calls attention to Kant’s anticipatory discussion of the methodological problems implied by the concept of organism and by teleological reasoning in general. This discussion constitutes the background of Humboldt’s view that a science of language ought not to be based on mechanistic principles but rather stated in terms capable of capturing the ‘rule-governed creativity’ of linguistic activity. The different interpretations the notion of type receives in the works of Cuvier, Geoffroy, Goethe, and Humboldt are discussed, and it is found that the idea of typology as basic for classification was shared by comparativists of both disciplines. Humboldt’s concept of ‘Sprachtypus’ differs in many ways from analogous notions employed by the Schlegel brothers. Further analysis of Humboldt’s idea of ‘Sprachtypus’ and the related concepts of silent and explicit grammar brings out the rationale of the grouping of languages on a teleological basis. This basis is given by the ideal of pure grammatical form which all languages ought to be seen as aiming at, an ideal which forms part of Humboldt’s concept of the ‘perfection’ of language.
Published online: 01 January 1977
Cited by 5 other publications
Christmann, Hans Helmut
Hoenigswald, Henry M.
O'Hara, Robert J.
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Goethe, Johann Wolfgang
Humboldt, Wilhelm von
Koerner, E. F. K.
Salmon, Paul B.