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Leonard Bloomfield

(1887—1949) American linguist

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US linguist, regarded as the most important structural linguist of his generation.

Born in Chicago, Bloomfield was educated at Harvard and subsequently taught first Germanic philology and later linguistics at the universities of Wisconsin, Illinois, Chicago, and Yale.

Bloomfield's main aim was to show that linguistics was an autonomous and, above all, a scientific discipline. This meant that only measurable and observable data could be admitted into linguistics, an assumption that led Bloomfield to favour a behaviourist account of meaning. This, however, was the weakest part of Bloomfield's work; it was his account of syntax and phonology, expressed in his extremely influential textbook Language (1933), that was to have the greater impact. He argued that much linguistic analysis could be pursued with only a minimal dependence upon semantic consideration. It was only necessary to know whether two forms were the same or different forms. In this way the distinctive units of a language could be identified and thereafter analysed in terms of their phonemes (phonological units) and morphemes (syntactical units).

Subjects: Philosophy

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