STRUCTURAL LINGUISTICS. An approach to LINGUISTICS which treats language as an interwoven structure, in which every item acquires identity and validity only in relation to the other items in the system. All linguistics in the 20c is structural in this sense, as opposed to much work in the 19c, when it was common to trace the history of individual words. Insight into the structural nature of language is due to the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, who compared language to a game of chess, noting that a chess piece in isolation has no value and that a move by any one piece has repercussions on all the others. An item's role in a structure can be discovered by examining those items which occur alongside it and those which can be substituted for it. The structural approach developed in a strong form in the US in the second quarter of the century, when the prime concern of American linguists was to produce a catalogue of the linguistic elements of a language, and a statement of the positions in which they could occur, ideally without reference to meaning. Leonard BLOOMFIELD was the pioneer among these structuralists, attempting to lay down a rigorous methodology for the analysis of any language. Various Bloomfieldians continued to refine and experiment with this approach until the 1960s, but from the late 1950s onwards, structural linguistics has sometimes been used pejoratively, because supporters of generative linguistics (initiated by Noam CHOMSKY) have regarded the work of the American structuralists as too narrow in conception. They have argued that it is necessary to go beyond a description of the location of items to produce a grammar which mirrors a native speaker's intuitive knowledge of language.
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