Herman Paul’s Neogrammarian Conception

Herman Paul’s Neogrammarian Conception

The main book that has generalized neogrammarian ideas was by Herman Paul “Principles of Language History” first published in 1880 to which the author refers the following: emphasized historism, individual psychologist, empirism and inductivism, the refusal to consider too extensive and general questions. The first phrase of the book is, “As any product of human culture, language is the subject-matter of historical studies”. Historism as an indispensable condition of any of the humanities for H. Paul is a postulate not requiring any arguments. At the same time he stressed, that besides history of any concrete language there must be “a special subject, studying general conditions of life of historically developing object and studying the essence and effectiveness of factors equally represented in all changes”. That is, the question is about General Linguistics. One may see that in this wording General Linguistics is understood not only as a historical, but also as empirical and purely inductive science. Paul himself defines more exactly his approach by saying, “There is no reason to oppose this general part of Linguistics to historical and empirical. One of them is as empirical as inferred only from the facts observed (directly or indirectly through the reconstructed facts).

The whole science about language Paul, divided into descriptive grammar and historical grammar (the term “grammar” is here used in its strict antique meaning covering Linguistics in general); comparative grammar was considered as a part of historical. It was pointed out that “historical grammar originated from old purely descriptive grammar and inherited many things from it”.
Descriptive grammar registers all the grammatical forms and rules used in a given language community. The content of such a grammar consists not of facts but only of abstractions elicited from the observed facts. For various periods in the given community development these abstractions will turn out to be different. Their comparison demonstrates that changes have occurred in a language. It may seem that “descriptive grammar” is the same that after F. de Saussure was called synchronic linguistics. This is true from the point of view of object but not from the point of view of the place in linguistics. Paul recognizes that a language historian cannot avoid the description of the states but for him this is only a stable basis for historical investigations. Descriptive grammar has no its own value, the term itself shows that it only “registers” things that occur in a language without explaining anything.

However, the scholar himself often touches upon questions which are not directly connected with language history not always confining himself with a pure description of facts. It is well observed in characters devoted to morphology, where the author touches upon “eternal” grammar questions. The whole chapter “Classification of the Parts of Speech” is quite synchronic and devoted to dealing with traditional (usually going back to the time of dominating “descriptive grammars”) classification of parts of speech, working out criteria for their apportionment, and learning the properties of certain word classes in different languages, above all in Latin and German. In the chapter on word-formation synchronic derivation in Modern German and derivation occurring in its historical development is strictly delimited. Historism is necessary, in Paul’s opinion even in the case, when an investigator is not directly engaged in history but goes out of the framework of a pure registration of facts: e.g. interchange studying or revealing of an inner word form requires explaining how they came into being.

Speaking about general regularities of language behaviour, Paul as other neogrammarians proceeded from the individual psychologism. Psychological language conceptions began to be formed among scholars, sharing Humboldtian tradition, who by the end of the XIX century already dominated in Linguistics altogether. Having refused to deal with such notions as “spirit of language”, “spirit of people”, neogrammarians could find a theoretical approach nowhere but in psychologism.

Abandoning “the spirit of a people” and other a priori explanations of collective language character led Paul to absolutization of an individual in a language. He wrote “We must recognize, as a matter of fact, that there arc as many individual languages in the world as individuals”. All the rest is only a linguist’s abstraction. “Communication is the only thing that produces the language of an individual. Only the language of an individual is reality and this reality is psychological.

The principle of association was of primary importance for Paul “The representations of sounds following one another associate with movements of speech organs performed one after another making up an integral series. Sound series and articulation series associate with each other. These series in their turn associate with ideas for which they serve as symbols, – besides, not only the ideas of syntactic relations, not only separate words, but also long sound series, the whole sentences directly associate with the thought content available in them”. Each language unit, each language phenomenon observed have their own psychological correlate and everything is connected with one another through associations.

Part 2: Herman Paul’s Neogrammarian Conception