Glossematics – Part 2

September 19th, 20126:55 am


Glossematics – Part 2

Glossematics – Part 1

Hjelmslev distinguishes three types of relations in human language:

1) interdependence;

2) determination, i.e. one-side dependence;

3) constellation, i.e. weak dependence or even no dependence.

Thus, traditional linguistics that divides grammar into morphology and syntax and treats relations between words in word combinations and rela­tions between parts of speech as different is of no value. Universal rela­tions, discovered by glossematics, reveal analogous relations within a word as well as within a word combination. Thus we may find the relation of determination (i.e. one-side dependence when one member determines the other and not vice versa) both between elements of a word combination and between a stem and affixes in a derivative.

In conclusion, it is important to note that though glossematics has been subject to strong criticism, it is currently applied to studies of languages-mediators, necessary in the field of machine linguistics. Within glossemat­ics, the problem of an abstract theory of language comes to the fore, since it may contribute to machine translation which is based on the presumption that certain units, deprived of any substance of expression, merely corre­spond to alphabetical symbols.

Hjelmslev’s works lack argumentation of postulated statements, there­fore, in order to have clearer understanding of the glossematic syntactic approach, it is better to turn to his followers’ works. One of them, Aage Hansen, in On the So-called Indirect Object in Danish (1949), applies the glossematic notion “selection” to what is called indirect object in traditional syntax. In the English sentence / gave him the book, him and the book are traditionally treated as objects of the verb gave. The interpretation results from the tradition to focus attention on the “principal word” in the sentence and consider other words as syntactically governed, auxiliary or second­ary. Contrary to the traditional approach, Hansen operates with the terms “selecting” and “selected” elements. Thus, in the sentence He wrote a letter, letter selects the word wrote and not vice versa. In He loved her, her selects loved, since in English He loved may be used without her, whereas her may not function on its own.

As to the indirect object, Hansen points out that in Danish indirect ob­jects immediately follow the verb, i.e. they are expressed by means of word order. If two objects – direct and indirect – change their places, the sentence will become meaningless. Hansen also notes that the indirect object may be dropped, while the direct is obligatory (e.g. the sentences He gave the girl a kiss and He gave a kiss are possible, but one cannot say He gave the girl without affecting the meaning). Taking into consideration these obser­vations and using the notion of selection, the scholar suggests analyzing sentences in a different way. He believes that it is the object that “selects” the verb and not vice versa. Thus, the words give and kiss form a new ver­bal unit which in its turn is selected by such forms as her and the girl. As a result, the relation between give and kiss turn out functionally identical with the relation between give a kiss and her, which enables the linguist to define the so-called indirect object (in languages like Danish and English) as “object of a verbal phrase containing a (direct) object”. What seems typical of English and Danish is that the indirect object is capable of moving within the phrase it selects.

To sum up, we may note that linguistic methods of glossematics and descriptive linguistics are often referred to with the general term “structural linguistics”. For these two approaches, language, indeed, is a self-sufficient, self-contained structure. These two schools see no connection between lan­guage and thinking; they both do not consider a word to be the main lin­guistic unit and try to give up traditional linguistic notions. In syntax and semantics, however, descriptive linguists and adepts of glossematics show major differences. While descriptive school treats speech as initial and, in fact, exhaustive subject for syntactic studies, glossematics, on the contrary, emphasizes the abstract, the general and the achronistic in linguistic re­search arguing that language is an ideal, abstract system that exists before and besides speech. Consequently, the view on the correlation between lan­guage and speech significantly influences syntactic studies. In fact, it is this correlation that makes syntax fundamentally different from phonetics and morphology, since the main subject of syntactic research – the sentence – is a speech unit. As a result, neglect of speech in syntactic analysis cannot but bring about detrimental effect. It is ignoring speech that seems to be the reason for little success of glossematics in the field of syntax.