Syntactic theory in Soviet linguistics

July 26th, 20125:24 pm


Syntactic theory in Soviet linguistics

The theory of the word combination is traced back to works by Russian scientists as early as the 18th century. The first remarks on the word combi­nation referred to cases of rather practical language use. It was at the close of the 19th – the beginning of the 20th centuries that a truly scientific theory of the word combination started to form. Its development is related with such outstanding Russian linguists as Fortunatov, Shakhmatov and Peshko-vskiy. The theory has undergone several transformations throughout its his­tory. Up to the 50s of the 20th century, the term “word combination” was understood rather broadly. As a result, any syntactically organized group of words, regardless its structure and relations between its components, was treated as word combination. This point of view is still maintained by many scientists.

In the 50s, however, there appeared a different understanding of the is­sue, and the term “word combination” acquired an extremely narrow mean­ing and started to be applied only to combinations that consisted of at least two lexical words one of which was subordinated to the other. Coordinate word combinations were either excluded from the theory or included with much reservation. Predicate and prepositional groups were ignored al­together. This approach was formulated by academician Vinogradov and found support from many Soviet linguists.

This syntactic theory which cultivates the narrow interpretation of the word combination attempts to bring together, probably even to equate, the notions “word” and “word combination”.

This approach was subject to criticism from many distinguished Soviet scholars (e.g. academician Zhirmunskiy, professor Ilyish, etc.) who pointed out its drawbacks: the term “word combination” was not treated within this theory as synonym to “a combination of words”. The scholars called the tendency to narrow the meaning of the term “unjustified terminological ped­antry”. However, this approach became dominant in the middle of the 20th century. As a result, the traditional interpretation of the word combination was reduced exclusively to subordinate constructions.