Saussure’s testamentary Cours — alongside with such classics as Aristotle’s Physica, Ptolemy’s Almagest, Newton’s Principia, Lavoisier’s Chemistry, Lyell’s Geology, Darwin’s Origin — fully meets Thomas S. Kuhn’s twin criteria for a ‘paradigm’: Saussure ‘s achievement was “sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group of adherents away from competing modes of scientific activity,” and, simultaneously, ״it was sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners to resolve.” Normal linguistics — to extend Kuhn’s analysis of the structure of scientific revolutions — consists of cleaning-up operations which engage most of us in the profession throughout our careers. In the first half of this century (perhaps until the emergence, in the late 1950’s, of the Chomsky paradigm, now itself deep in its second- generation mopping-up phase) normal linguistic research was directed, more or less, to the iterative articulation of those phenomena, theory and application, that were inspired by the Saussurean paradigm.
This Reader provides us with a crucial, if unavoidably fragmentary, picture of the aftermath of the Saussurean revolution: fragmentary because the Cours, as any hieratic text, constrained linguists, all over the Continent, to test it by means of a number of alternative formulations; but crucial because, among the rival schools that professed their allegiance to the Geneva master, the one represented in this book lies physically and perhaps spiritually as well closest to its source. The Geneva school, the Prague school (to which Vachek’s Reader was devoted), the Copenhagen school, the Moscow group, doctrinally linked to Geneva through the intermediary of Karcevskij, and the Paris group, long dominated by Meillet, all formed segments of the network of nearly fifty years of commitment to the teachings of Saussure. On this side of the Atlantic, Bloomfield (whose selected papers will also soon appear in our series), expressed his awareness and appreciation of the Cours, eight years after its publication, as a *clear and rigorous demonstration of fundamental principles. “
The necessary preludes to the posing of fresh problems and the development of novel techniques, that are the prerequisites, it seems, for the post-revolutionary resumption of routine science, are not the concerns of this book. The doldrums which herald the dawn of any new paradigm, involving the practically wholesale destruction of the immediately antecedent one in the course of a period of pronounced professional and often personal distress, form still further fascinating chapters of the history of linguistics, to which this series hopes to make contributions from time to time. The preSaussurean era will gain partial definition from Stankiewicz’s introduction to the de Courtenay Reader, likewise shortly to be published. The germinal role of Kruszewski is now eminently clear, while the influence of Whitney has merely been hinted at in a 1964 lecture at Indiana University by Godel; both merit book-length treatments along lines we are currently exploring.
April 19, 1969
|Thomas A. Sebeok|