Prague school

Petr Sgall
Table of contents

In the Prague school, one of the first and main centers of European structural linguistics, principles of a synchronic theory of language were established as substantial starting points not only for a theory of language systems, especially of phonology, but also for what may be understood today as having preceded modern sociolinguistics and text linguistics. Moreover, the systemic character of the development of language was first characterized in this context. Prague functionalism is of importance both for analyzing language as a system linking expressions and meanings and for pragmatic studies of the interactive features of communication. It differs from other trends of structural linguistics by concentrating on semantic functions of language units and on pragmatic aspects of the use of language and of its varieties. Therefore the achievements of its classical period, although not stated in the shape of a fully explicit formal framework, still offer insights fruitful for inquiries into pragmatically oriented linguistic studies. Sentence structure itself has been understood as comprising a patterning conditioned by the interactively based role of the sentence in context, in discourse. Even though the Prague School tradition was interrupted by the war events and later severely hampered by the ruling totalitarian ideology, studies have continued. Empirical and theoretical frameworks handling certain pragmatic aspects of discourse patterns have been elaborated. Along with a broad range of results in various synchronic and diachronic domains of general linguistics, of Slavistics, of English studies and so on, a specific approach to the formal description of language has been formulated.

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