Bloomfield’s approach to linguistic analysis

About Leonard Bloomfield

Leonard Bloomfield was an American linguist, who led the development of structural linguistic in the united states during 1930s- 40s. He is considered to be the father of American distributionalism or structuralism. He was born on 1 April, 1887 in Chicago, USA. He attended Howard college, he was one of the founders of ‘linguistic theory society’ in America in 1924.

He made significant contribution to Indo- European historical linguistic, description of Austronesian family. He believed that we must study people’s habits of language, the way they talk, without bothering mental process. He differentiated the acquisition of literacy and the acquisition of speech. His main focus was to recognize the shapes with the name of the letters, and stressed on the compression of what is being read.

His publication

His book “Language” was published in 1933, in the half of 20th century and supposed to be one of the most important books during the era. His previous publication in 1914 “An Introduction to the study of language” in which he processed a basic idea of nature of language. He said primary focus should be on spoken language and written should be secondary.

He said the emphasis should be on observation rather than mentalism. He was closely related to behaviorism in psychology in his book “language – 1933”. He formulated his mechanistic and materialistic conception of language which is based on stimulus response scheme, i.e. S – – – -R – – – – S – – – – r – – – – s – – – – R.

Bloomfield’s approach

His approach to linguistics was characterized by its emphasis on the scientific basis of linguistic and specialized to behaviorism especially in his later work, and emphasis on formal procedures for the analysis of linguistic data. However, in the late 1950s- 60s, influence of theory by Bloomfieldian structural linguistics declined by the theory of ‘generative grammar’ which was developed by Noam Chomsky.

Bloomfield’s main concern

Since Bloomfield’s main concern was to develop linguistic into a science, he refused to accept any psychological interpretations of the linguistic fact and demanded a strictly mechanistic approach. He insisted upon the regularity of sound change. Also, he emphasized the scientific necessity of assuming that conditioned sound changes are purely ‘phonetic’ and ‘independent’ of non- phonetic factors such as meaning, frequency. So, he said linguists should deal with observable events only which are located in the coordinates of time and space.

His insistence on only those accessible events for an observer marked a definite shift from mentalism to physicalism.

being a mentalist, in 1933 he became an apostle of anti- mentalism in linguistics. He affirmed that linguistic science would never be able to take it without taking into account the state of the speaker’s body and “predisposition” of the nervous sound system.

Bloomfieldian methodology

Bloomfieldians worked out the principal of analysis in the field of phonemics, which was based on criterion of distribution and exemplified by substitution test.

Hence, Bloomfieldian’s most important contribution to the theory of “syntax” has been the analysis of Immediate constituent ICs.


4 thoughts on “Bloomfield’s approach to linguistic analysis

  1. Priti 4 Sep 2022 / 6:08 pm

    Interesting post on Leonard Bloomfield! I really didn’t know anything about him before your blog. Thanks for sharing ☺️🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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