The foundations of the modern discipline were laid at the beginning of the 20th century. Ferdinand de Saussure, a professor at the University of Geneva, is credited with bringing together the results of many types of language study into a coherent discipline. Numerous scholars elaborated and refined de Saussure's framework in the next 3 decades. Among the influential early contributors were Nikolas S. Trubetzkoy and Roman Jakobson (USSR), Edward SAPIR and Leonard Bloomfield (US), J.R. Firth (Britain), Louis Hjelmslev (Denmark) and André Martinet (France). Since 1950 linguistics has become firmly established throughout the world. Much of its rapid growth is due to the stimulating and often controversial work of American linguist Noam Chomsky, beginning with his first book, Syntactic Structures (1957). Chomsky's ideas presented challenges not only to the tradition begun by de Saussure, but also to philosophers, mathematicians and psychologists.
Linguistics in Canada
Canada is rich in languages, with dozens of native languages (see NATIVE PEOPLE, LANGUAGES), 2 official languages (see ENGLISH LANGUAGE; FRENCH LANGUAGE) and several flourishing immigrant languages such as Italian, Portugese, Ukrainian, Greek, Chinese and Japanese (see ETHNIC LANGUAGES). Much of Canada's political, cultural and social distinctiveness and many of its national issues are rooted in multilingualism. Language and language-related studies have inevitably played an important part in Canadian society, and the study of linguistics as a systematic discipline has found fertile soil in Canada.
For many years linguists worked individually in branches of the government, in museums or in ANTHROPOLOGY and language departments at universities. The first department of linguistics (still one of the largest in Canada) was formed at Université de Montréal in the late 1940s, when Jean-Paul Vinay gathered together several colleagues from various departments. A decisive step in promoting the discipline occurred at the University of Manitoba in 1954, when scholars from all parts of the country gathered to form the Canadian Linguistic Association. Henry Alexander of Queen's University became the first president (1954-56) and, during the early years, other founding members succeeded him: Gaston Dulong, J.B. Rudnyckyj, E.R. Seary, Vinay, M.H. Scargill, Jean Darbelnet and Walter S. Avis. The founding members also began publishing The Canadian Journal of Linguistics which, from its modest beginning in 1954, has come to provide an international forum for linguistic research.
During the 1960s many universities expanded to include departments of linguistics, beginning with Laval in Québec City (1961). Universities in English-speaking Canada caught up a few years later when Memorial, Toronto, Alberta and Simon Fraser expanded their programs into full departments. By 1975, departments had also been established at Sherbrooke, McGill, Québec à Montréal, Ottawa, Carleton, Calgary, British Columbia and Victoria. Now, although no new departments have been formed, most Canadian universities offer instruction in the subject. (See also LANGUAGES IN USE.)
The Mental Representation of Language
Linguists seek to discover the principles that underlie the human capacity for language. They begin with some fairly obvious observations: that all speakers of a language can utter and understand an unlimited number of sentences; that their capability develops rapidly when they are children, without much conscious learning or teaching; that they automatically know whether a sentence is grammatical, sensible or ambiguous; and that they cannot discover the principles of their language abilities simply by thinking about what is going on in their minds while they are speaking.
The mental representation that allows speakers to use language is called the grammar (not to be confused with the rules intended to help students write better). Those simple observations about language prove that the grammar is not a simple device: it must be a finite device with an infinite output, because each human being can produce and comprehend a potentially unlimited set of utterances; it is organized on several different levels because speakers can judge sentences in several ways; it is subconscious, or tacit; and it is innate, rather than learned. The study of grammar makes up the core area of linguistics.
The Social Use of Language
Several subfields apply the results of grammatical study to numerous types of human interaction. Some of the more active subfields in Canada are as follows: phonetics, the study of the physiology and acoustics of speech sounds; psycholinguistics, the experimental study of the processes by which people comprehend and produce utterances; developmental linguistics. the observation of patterns by which children acquire and develop their language abilities; dialectology, the study of regional variations in spoken French, English or NATIVE LANGUAGES; and sociolinguistics, the study of language as a medium of communication and self-expression.
Linguistics is applied to several practical tasks, including lexicography (the making of DICTIONARIES), TRANSLATION, teaching second languages (principally ENGLISH LANGUAGE and FRENCH LANGUAGE), and legal issues (OBSCENITY, TRADEMARK disputes, libel among others).
The Cultural Mosaic and Multilingualism
Canada is internationally renowned for its diversity. Instead of a melting pot in which immigrants are expected to integrate rapidly, Canada represents a cultural mosaic. With MULTICULTURALISM comes multilingualism, and as a result Canada provides a living laboratory for modern linguistics.
Author J.K. CHAMBERS
Links to Other Sites
What is linguistics?
An excellent introduction to the field of linguistics. From the University of New Brunswick at Saint John.
The Canadian Linguistic Association
The Canadian Linguistic Association has as its aim the promotion of the study of languages and linguistics in Canada.
Dictionary of Indian Tongues
A facsimile of an 1862 publication about the "Tshimpsean, Hydah and Chinook" languages. Features definitions and English translations. From Library and Archives Canada.
Dictionary of Newfoundland English
Do you know what a “bangbelly” is? Find out by consulting this extensive online regional lexicon of Newfoundland and coastal Labrador English. From the "Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage" website.
Four Directions Teachings
Elders and traditional teachers representing the Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and Mi’kmaq share teachings about their history and culture. Animated graphics visualize each of the oral teachings. This website also provides biographies of participants, transcripts, and an extensive array of learning resources for students and their teachers. In English with French subtitles.
Canada’s First Nations
This extensive multimedia website profiles the history, culture, and language of Canada's First Nations peoples. Also examines the impact of European contact on First Nations communities. A joint project of the University of Calgary and Red Deer College.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...