Bloomfield was educated at Harvard University and the universities of Wisconsin and Chicago. He taught from to at several universities before becoming professor of Germanic philology at the University of Chicago —40 and professor of linguistics at Yale University — Concerned at first with the details of Indo-European—particularly Germanic—speech sounds and word formation , Bloomfield turned to larger, more general, and wider ranging considerations of language science in An Introduction to the Study of Language He then pioneered a work on one of the Malayo-Polynesian Austronesian languages, Tagalog. In the early s he began his classic work on North American Indian languages , contributing the first of many descriptive and comparative studies of the Algonquian family. In the writing of Language, Bloomfield claimed that linguistic phenomena could properly and successfully be studied when isolated from their nonlinguistic environment.

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In insisting upon the necessity of treating each language as a more or less coherent and integrated system, both European and American linguists of this period tended to emphasize, if not to exaggerate, the structural uniqueness of individual languages. There was especially good reason to take this point of view given the conditions in which American linguistics developed from the end of the 19th century. There were hundreds of indigenous American Indian languages that had never been previously described.

Many of these were spoken by only a handful of speakers and, if they were not recorded before they became extinct, would be permanently inaccessible.

Under these circumstances, such linguists as Franz Boas died were less concerned with the construction of a general theory of the structure of human language than they were with prescribing sound methodological principles for the analysis of unfamiliar languages. They were also fearful that the description of these languages would be distorted by analyzing them in terms of categories derived from the analysis of the more familiar Indo-European languages.

Like his teacher Boas, Sapir was equally at home in anthropology and linguistics, the alliance of which disciplines has endured to the present day in many American universities. But it was Bloomfield who prepared the way for the later phase of what is now thought of as the most distinctive manifestation of American "structuralism.

In , however, he published a drastically revised and expanded version with the new title Language; this book dominated the field for the next 30 years. In it Bloomfield explicitly adopted a behaviouristic approach to the study of language, eschewing in the name of scientific objectivity all reference to mental or conceptual categories.

Of particular consequence was his adoption of the behaviouristic theory of semantics according to which meaning is simply the relationship between a stimulus and a verbal response. Because science was still a long way from being able to give a comprehensive account of most stimuli, no significant or interesting results could be expected from the study of meaning for some considerable time, and it was preferable, as far as possible, to avoid basing the grammatical analysis of a language on semantic considerations.

One of the most characteristic features of "post-Bloomfieldian" American structuralism, then, was its almost complete neglect of semantics. Structuralism, in this narrower sense of the term, is represented, with differences of emphasis or detail, in the major American textbooks published during the s. Every language is a system on its own right. Language is a system in which smaller units arrange systematically to form larger ones Meaning should not be part of linguistic analysis The procedures to determine the units in language should be objective and rigorous.

Language is observable speech, not knowledge. Structuralism proposes the idea that many phenomena do not occur in isolation, but instead occur in relation to each other, and that all related phenomena are part of a whole with a definite, but not necessarily defined, structure.

According to this school science can only deal with physical facts. Statements must be based on these physical characteristics. Thus, science must observe, describe physical facts and induce descriptive generalizations. Speech will be divided into sound segments and they will observe these segments in their linguistic context. Finally, they will classify those segments according to their distribution.

However, this method made the study of meaning very complex and probably outside the domain of linguistics, and this is the main behaviorist limitation.



Like in European studies, American linguistics also developed theories about synchronic linguistics. In , Leonard Bloomfield wrote that Saussure had constructed the basis of the new linguistics. This was precisely the fact that formed and distinguished the American structuralism and its methods. This conducted the American linguists to make studies that were more advanced than those of their European colleagues. Like a result of this, Edward Sapir and Leonard Bloomfield became the two most important and influential linguists of their time.


Leonard Bloomfield

He then pioneered a work on one of the Malayo-Polynesian Austronesian languages, Tagalog. In the early s he began his classic work on North American Indian languages, contributing the first of many descriptive and comparative studies of the Algonquian family. The Americans developed techniques for phonemic analysis, which they used to identify which sounds in a language were phonemic and which were allophonic. They would then identify which allophones belonged to which phonemes. The methods, which the American Structuralists developed, are still in use today by fieldworkers when they try to record unknown languages. For the American Structuralists, the phoneme was the most basic element.


Leonard Bloomfield & American Structuralism




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