The Structural Model of Language



We use the singular when we refer to language purely and simply, and we think that if a significant predicate can be joined with it as subject, we would have a structural model of language (la langue). Such a state of affairs, with which we are concerned, has not remained hidden from linguists; I will cite a passage from Meillet that is found in what is, for us, an important context: “Tous les hommes se servent de procédés par mots groupés de diverses manières. Le detail varie; le fonds de procédés linguistiques est le même dans toute l’humanité.”16 If we may reformulate this notion by means of a more precise interpretation, as we need to do, I would make three sentences out of Meillet’s two. First, there are sounds. The common element [Moment] in the application of sounds, which we find in all men, is found first in the (phonetic) fact of a completely fine and flexible power of ‘articulation,’ and then in another (phon-ological) fact: that there exists everywhere a well-defined system of phonemes. The fact of articulation alone does not characterize human language sharply enough. This is rather done by what is accomplished with the power of articu-lation, the use of phonemes. Further, the process of speaking “par mots groupés de diverses manières” is to be conceptually broken into two theses: (1) there are words in general and (2) the way in which they are grouped together ( = syntax) is decisive.


Human Language Symbol System Precise Interpretation Language Structure Language Science 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 16.
    A. Meillet, in the very concise and well put together introduction to the collaborative work, “Les Langues du monde” (Paris, 1924), p. 12.Google Scholar
  2. 17.
    One turns first, in order to get to know them in an overview, to the perceptive synoptic report of F. Krueger in the 8th Kongress-Bericht für Psvchologie (Jena, 1924). An instructive supplement to this report is offered (in the same journal) by the uncommonly pregnant synoptic report of O. Selz, “Über die Personlichkeitstypen und die Methoden ihrer Bestimmung.” Selz’s goal is a structural concept similar to ours. Compare especially the descriptions of Spranger’s ideal system on pp. 10ff.: they are to “be looked on as ideal regions that, similar to geometrical structures, show a lawful structural union of properties.” (My emphasis: Bühler). Both works have also appeared in enlarged (book) form (G. Fischer, Jena). As I correct the galleys, I can now make reference to another new volume introduced by Krueger, “Ganzheit und Form” (1932).Google Scholar
  3. 18.
    All propositions for congruence and propositions of similarity for triangles, for example, always require a process of proof that defines from the given moments—the conditions of construction— the moments that are not given concerning the whole: we are dealing here with the ‘structural laws’ of the triangle. We want to attain to a similar structural insight in the case of language (la langue).Google Scholar
  4. 19.
    “La parité des conditions anatomiques, physiologiques et psychologiques dans les divers types humains est telle que les traits essentials de structure sont sensiblement les mêmes partout.”Google Scholar
  5. 20.
    P. W. Schmidt, S.V.D., Die Sprachfamilien und Sprachkreise der Erde (Heidelberg, 1926). Citation in the “Introduction,” especially p. 5.Google Scholar
  6. 21.
    I will not argue here against Franke’s opinions about the lack of language of the oldest skeleton discoveries and the sequence of definite levels in the first, original articulation acquisition (in Die mutmassliche Sprache der Eis eitmenschen, Halle, 1931), although there would be something to say, based on new systematic observations and recordings on parlograms in my institute, about the parallels underlined by Franke to what one can observe today in the case of a child in the process of learning a language. If one holds fast—as does, for example, Menghin who otherwise stands close to Schmidt—to the developmental idea in general, a prehistoric nonspeaking being among the ancestors of man (that is, someone who still spoke no specifically human language) remains a logical postulate, even if the not-very-severe criticism of Franke has been successful. I regard as absolutely successful Schmidt’s criticism of the assumption that contemporary Pygmies are genuine homines alali because to a great extent they demonstrably speak languages loaned from highly developed neighboring peoples. For, completely abstracting from the positive proof of the remains of their own language that Schmidt—the best expert in this area—produces, the psychologist may with good reason stand up for the improbability of the position that a genuine alalus tribe would have taken over—completely as a loan language, by a process of imitation, from a neighboring tribe—one of the highly complicated languages such as are spoken today by Pygmies. One who is truly without language is not in a position simply to take over a complicated language through a process of imitation, because he lacks fundamental psychological presuppositions.Google Scholar
  7. 22.
    Very highly instructive and even a school book example of what I am saying here is the distinctive use of language in the poésie pure of modern French poets. Compare on this the insightful report, from a language-theoretical point of view, of E. Winkler, “Sprachtheorie und Valéry-Deutung,” Zeitschrift fur französische Sprache und Literatur 56 (1932). In the same article, an apt and fruitful application of the principle of abstractive relevance is carried out.Google Scholar
  8. 23.
    Cf. especially pp. 132–145.Google Scholar
  9. 24.
    The “Codice Commerciale de’ Segnali” (Edizione Austro-Ungarica. Firenze, 1869), which lies before me, gives information about more complicated systems. It is, of course, also possible to spell with flags, but that is of no interest to us here.Google Scholar
  10. 24.
    The purely auxiliary function of phonemes is another matter altogether and remains unconsidered in this categorization. Global signals, on the one hand, and differentiated symbolism, on the other—that is the decisive systematic difference. The difference remains the same whether one constructs perceptible signs with or without the help of diacritically elementary distinguishing marks. There are isolated, exhibitable flag marks’ in the first case, just as there are isolated distinguishable sound marks (phonemes)—but that is of no further interest to us here.Google Scholar
  11. 25.
    Already Saussure calls this conception a “rather widespread theory,” and he defends the older conception, which is, according to his mind, indispensable. It is instructive to see how the issue is shifted in Wundt’s theory and becomes a problem dealing with actual psychological genesis: see Die Sprache F, pp. 602ff.Google Scholar
  12. 26.
    In order to verify quickly what has been said in the case of a single group of examples, let the reader not versed in linguistics consider how differently the meaning structure of the following composita have to be explicated in German: Back-Ofen (bake oven), Back-Stein (baked stone) Back-Huhn (baking chicken), Back-Pulver (baking powder). In all these cases, language groups the elements together in a completely identical way; one utilizing such a meaning structure has to depend on his knowledge of the subject matter in order not to commit a mistake. In order to get a closer orientation concerning the uncommonly informative Indo-European composite word from a language-theoretical point of view, read first: Brugmann, Uber das Wesen der sogenannten Wortzusammensetzung. Eine sprach-psychologische Studie. Sitzungsbericht der sachsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (1900). Then: B. Brugmann-Delbrück, Grundriss, Bd. II, 1 Teil (pp. 35–40, 49–120); 3 Teil (pp. 8–10) (191 1).Google Scholar
  13. 28.
    In the conceptual scheme of the great language researchers of the past, the recognition of what is meant here as a moment of duality appears sometimes in a remarkable obscurity or has to be revealed by a process of derivation. In the conceptual scheme of Schleicher, for example, the opposition of meaning expression and relation expression in language plays a large role. In his first phase, therefore, Schleicher speculated in Hegelian fashion on the distinction and the alleged sequence of three steps: (1) monosyllabic-isolating; (2) agglutinative; (3) inflected languages. All that, as one knows, is long since superseded. What has remained and what has to be understood exactly from a language-theoretical point of view is the proposition—valid for all languages—of the indispensable two classes of language structures. Concerning what has been said here about word and sentence, see also the work of Cassirer, Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Vol. 1 (translated by Ralph Manheim. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957) pp. 304ff. The moment of duality is introduced there in quite another way, but in the end we are in complete agreement. In the note to p. 304 Cassirer cites certain examples of what has been said, taken from the findings of comparative linguistics.Google Scholar
  14. 29.
    The carrying out and critical validation of the idea (it will end in agreement in the domain of linguistic representation and will show that, on the contrary, the linguistic‘ expression’ and `appeal’ place other demands on the same sign apparatus) belong not in this section but to the special chapter dealing with the representational procedure of language. The idea of the practically all-penetrating binomial structure of language is not completely new but has led--for example, in the research circle around Trubetzkoy—to new, remarkable analytical consequences.Google Scholar
  15. 30.
    In a somewhat different form, a logical deduction of the dogma of lexicon and syntax was put forth by Käthe Wolf at the Psychology Congress in Hamburg. Cf. Kongress-Bericht. pp. 449–453. In our present considerations, we will avoid going into the‘ representational fields’ [Darstellungs-felder] of language, which are adduced there.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LowellLowellUSA

Personalised recommendations