Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
David L. Clark
This thesis offers a critique of the methods and assumptions of the discipline of linguistic historiography--the study of the history of linguistic thought. Linguistic historiography has grown rapidly since the late 1960s. The formation of a loosely-defined canon of works of language study has been accompanied by the publication of many articles and books and the development of a scholarly superstructure of journals, societies, and conferences whose explicit objective it has been to develop both the practice and the theory of this new field. As I argue in this thesis, however, linguistic historiography remains an area which has yet to theorize its activity radically. Often basing their practice on the history of science, works of linguistic historiography, I argue, tend to assume too readily that "language," the putative subject of the texts they study, constitutes a determinate object of knowledge. In the wake of Ferdinand de Saussure, however, philosophers and literary theorists (curiously, however, not linguistic historiographers) have argued that the nonsemantic aspects of a text such as grammar often function in a manner which is in conflict with the text's semantic element--its statements. In the difference between these two aspects of language, poststructuralist readings expose a "non-phenomenal" dimension of linguistic operation which, lacking a positive or determinate identity, defies description and, as such, marks a horizon of cognition. In this thesis I argue that no writer is more likely to confront this limit as absolutely as he or she who writes explicitly about language. For this reason, the significance of the texts which comprise the canon of linguistic history extends beyond that of merely helping us to understanding the development of linguistic science or of illuminating the history of those areas of study with which it has, at various times and in various configurations, overlapped, important as such endeavours may be. In the resistance these texts pose to their own descriptions of their "proper object of study," there is an opportunity for considering language not as a determinate object of knowledge but rather as an indeterminate space in knowledge which, because of its lack of identity is also a site of contest among ideological forces. Through close readings of John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Samuel Johnson's Dictionary, various works on language by Joseph Priestley, and John Horne Tooke's Diversions of Purley, I argue that the representation of language in eighteenth-century meta-linguistic texts is concerned with matters other than the strictly linguistic which, it becomes clear, is not one object of knowledge among others, and that these matters are invariably bound up with questions of class, power, and privilege.
Alexander, Robert John, "The Diversions of History: A Nonphenomenal Approach to Eighteenth-Century Linguistic Thought" (1996). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3382.