About the laboratory

The history of linguistic theories research lab was created in 1984 (URA 381 CNRS dir. : J.-C. Chevalier) ; renewed in 1988 (dir. : J.-C. Chevalier) and in 1992 (dir. : S. Auroux), and then was transformed into a “UMR” (Unité Mixte de Recherche, number 7597, CNRS/Université Paris VII/ENS Lettres et Sciences Humaines, Lyon) in 1997. Its current partners are CNRS, Paris Diderot University and Sorbonne Nouvelle University (since 2009). The research lab is currently directed by Anne Grondeux (DR CNRS, director since January 2019, successor of Emilie Aussant) and Jean-Marie (PU Univ. de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, assistant director).

1) Objectives of the research laboratory

The HTL research group is the site of the development and dissemination of research on the history of thought about language and languages, across a number of cultural zones. The laboratory brings together linguists, specialists in very different languages (from Tamil to Hebrew, Ancient Greek to French), with historians and philosophers of science.

Internationally, HTL is at the heart of a network which it helped to create and which continues to groww and prosper. We collaborate most closely with with Germany (University of Potsdam), Australia (University of Sydney), Brazil (University of Sao Paulo, Campinas, Mackenzie University ), Spain (University of Salamanque, University of Barcelona), USA (Illinois University at Urbana Champaign), India (EFEO, IIT Bombay, IIT Kanpur), Italy (La Sapienza University, Rome; Universities of Brescia, Salerno, Cosenza, Palermo, and the Scuola Normale in Pisa), United Kingdom (Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Sheffield), Russia (Academy of Sciences, University of Moscow, University of Saint Petersburg), Slovenia (University of Novy Sad), Ukraine (University of Kharkiv). The journal Histoire épistémologie langage is one of the four main international journals in the field of the history and epistemology of linguistics alongside Historiographia Linguistica (John Benjamins, Amsterdam), Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft (Nodus, Münster) and Language & History (Taylor & Francis, London).

The research group has three main goals:

  • to ensure that the French research world has a stable and visible structure working on the history of linguistic ideas and plays a leadership role in the dissemination of knowledge in this field,
  • to train and maintain general competencies and therefore researchers capable of responding to specific requests,
  • to carry out research projects, with the aim of ensuring the continuity and expansion of the field.

More specifically, members of staff are involved in projects that are organized in three complementary strands:

  • searching for new sources, lost or unknown,
  • developing a better knowledge of texts thanks to the creation and / or translation of critical reference editions.
  • Development of knowledge about linguistic traditions and reflection on descriptive models, their origin and evolution.

2) Research outputs of the laboratory

In our research outputs we have achieved the following results:

  • Establishment of facts previously unknown. For example, the “retrospective horizons” construct, previously unnoticed, or the origin of the category of aspect.
  • Construction of descriptive or developmental models corresponding to certain groups of phenomena. That is, the confirmation or falsification of known models. For example, the notion of “extended grammar” can be applied to the Greek-Latin model and also to the model constructed for Sanskrit, or moreover the opening of the field of the history of cognitive linguistics,
  • Constitution of basic materials (critical editions, examination of archives, bibliography, etc.). See list of publications.

Our outputs are have appeared in both electronic and printed formats. Some of the major outputs between 2012 and 2017 include:

A. Five main publications

1. S. Archaimbault, J.-M. Fournier et V. Raby (éds.), Penser l’histoire des savoirs linguistiques. Hommage à Sylvain Auroux, Lyon, ENS éditions, 2014, coll.: Langages (716 p.)

A Festschrift for Sylvain Auroux, philosopher and historian of languages sciences, this volume brings together fifty contributions from specialists in different languages and historical periods. Each of them demonstrates an aspect of the history of the language sciences by mobilizing approaches and conceptions pioneered by Auroux: describing theories, studying the circumstances in which the disciplines dedicated to language and languages appeared, reconsidering developments, measuring the impact of linguistic ideas on cultural and human development.

2. B. Colombat et A. Lahaussois (dir.), Histoire des parties du discours, Leuven, Peeters, Orbis/Supplementa, upcoming (env. 800 p.)

Research conducted for many years in the DHTL program resulted in this book. Made up of 15 chapters, this volume is dedicated to the history of word categories in the Western tradition from Greek Antiquity to the beginning of the 20th century, passing through Arabic and Sanskrit traditions. The book aims to cast new light on concepts which look familiar, but whose elaboration is in fact very complex in the perspective of long-term history.

3. É. Aussant (ed.), La traduction dans l’histoire des idées linguistiques, représentations et pratiques, Paris, Geuthner, 2015 (276 p.)

The book, made from a collective research program conducted over four years, brings together 12 contributions. The idea of “translation” is approached through an epistemological and transcultural approach, which is a double perspective that had not been previously used. The specifity of the understanding of “translation” by language theoreticians, not much studied, is given detailed analysis, with many diverse case studies.

4. F. Cinato, L’ars grammatica de Priscien vue à travers les gloses carolingiennes, Turnhout, Brepols, 2015 (753 p.)

This book constitutes the first monograph dedicated to the study of the glosses contained in the oldest manuscripts of Priscian’s grammar. Most of the material is published for the first time. An overview and state of the art description of the Carolingian reception of Priscian, the volume aims to analyse the stages of its reception in monasteries, first from the point of view of the books disseminating it, then from the point of view of masters that used it, showing the pedagogical context and the cultural environment. For this purpose, glosses, which constitute the fundamental evidence, are the subject of a triple investigation: typological, textual and historical.

5. N. Riemer (ed.), The Routledge handbook of semantics, Abingdon, Routledge, 2016 (534 p.)

The book, made up of about 30 chapters written by an international team, shows an assessment of contemporary semantic research, studied in not only a descriptive perspective, but also an epistemological and historical one. Different branches are equally represented with two main goals : transcending the formal/cognitive-functional division and giving researchers access to a critical overview of research on meaning informed by the most up-to-date contributions from related disciplines.

B. 6 major documents

1. Corpus des Textes Linguistiques Fondamentaux (Resp. B. Colombat)

CTLF is an electronic portal made to give access to the main works in linguistics from the origin of the discipline. It is continually updated. It is composed of 5 websites : (1) descriptive records (702 records) ; (2) a specialized bibliography (4237 records) ; (3) texts in image mode (170 books) ; (4) texts in text mode (765 texts representing 65483 pages) ; (5) a group of articles about the domain. It is associated with a related website, Frantext-CTLF, which allows combined searches on all texts. The database is widely used by people all over the world (as we know thanks to statistics provided by Google Analytics) interested in the development of linguistics theories.

2. Electronic critical edition of the Liber Glossarum (http://liber-glossarum.huma-num.fr/index.html), ERC LibGloss (Resp. A. Grondeux)

The LibGloss project (ERC Stg 263577) , led by Anne Grondeux, with the collaboration of Franck Cinato, took place between 2011 and 2016. ERC funding helped set up a team that, in 5 years, produced an electronic edition of the Liber Glossarum with 56.000 records, which is now available online on a website http://liber-glossarum.huma-num.fr/index.html

3. Les Notae Dunelmenses (Durham C.IV.29). Priscien lu par Guillaume de Champeaux et son école, A. Grondeux, I. Rosier-Catach (eds.), Turnhout, Brepols, 2017 (2 vols, 1200 p.)

These two volumes are the result of about 10 years of research that provided material for many articles and talks in France and abroad. The second volume gives a critical edition of a group of notes about Priscian, which can be attributed to Guillaume de Champeaux. Guillaume is the first teacher of the Parisians schools and the “private tutor” of Abélard, previously known almost exclusively through secondary and indirect mentions. The first volume is a historical and doctrinal introduction that aims at reconstructing his teaching and his school and identifying his students. This work shows how important his teaching is, not only for an understanding of Abélard’s logico-linguistic theories, but also for the history of semantics in general, based on the study of essential themes (predication, the verb be, syncategoremes, the difference between meaning and reference, adjective and paronymy).

4. Mauger, Claude (1688) Grammaire française / French Grammar, éd. critique par V. Raby, Garnier, 2014 (651 p.)

This textbook of French written for English speakers was remarkably widely available in England, France and the Netherlands between 1653 and the end of the XVIIIth century. It helped with the extension of the Latin grammatical model across three languages (Latin, French, English), by bringing the languages face to face. This edition inaugurates the collection “Descriptions et theories de la langue française”.

5. Website TUL Quest (Resp. A. Lahaussois)

Developed with the support of the FR « Typologie et universaux linguistiques », the website (http://tulquest.humanum.fr/) is an archive of typological questionnaires collected in order to construct the first epistemological analysis of these descriptive tools. The website is public with 2 possible modes of access : one allowing external users to enrich the databse with new questionnaires (with metadata and associated documents), the other one allowing the consultation of the archive using a detailed taxonomy of tools found in the database.

6. Modélisations et sciences humaines. Figurer, interpréter, simuler, C. Blanckaert, J. Léon et D. Samain (dir.), Paris, L’Harmattan, 2016 (468 p.)

This work brings together a selection of papers delivered during the SHESL-HTL conference in 2014, in association with the Koyré Center. Its chief original contribution to scholarship is to offer a reflection both historical and epistemological on models and modelling within a wide documented range of the language and human sciences (linguistics, history ofgrammar, language philosophy, but also geography, psychology, economy, art history, etc). By opening up a common space for these disciplines, it does not limit itself to following their possible interactions (transfers, similarities) but rather initiates an interaction between the history of language sciences and the history of the social and human sciences.

3) Principles and methods in the laboratory

The goals pursued by the laboratory and the results it obtains have come about through the implementation of several methodological principles that have emerged in work over recent years. These principles are shared by its members, who adapt them freely in accordance with the range of objects on which they work. We think that the history of linguistic ideas presupposes the assumption of a commensurability of linguistic representations in time and space, whether we are talking of empirical descriptions, prescriptive grammars or more “speculative” theorization.

It is that commensurability (to be constructed through special expertise) that will help to most accurately evaluate constants and changes, traditions and events, ruptures and continuities regardless of the time period studied (from Antiquity to modernity, to the present day) and no matter the degree of proximity or remoteness (geographical and cultural) of the traditions considered.

A rigorous conception of historical temporality results from this: the past is not history, time is not just a “medium”, the “historicity systems” of linguistic ideas are constructions (not all of them equal) that must be tested again and again.

In that way, erudition seems an absolutely necessary but never sufficient condition for historical work. Many domains of the history of linguistic representations still need to be systematically documented in a reliable way. The most rigorous philological investigation, the establishment of corpora in accordance with the most modern techniques are thus essential. But what gives them meaning is an epistemological perspective. That is to say that the team’s methods are set in the tradition of historical epistemology, the history of sciences.

The history of linguistic ideas is not a “cabinet of curiosities” or an antique shop gathering picturesque but totally out of date facts in order to exhibit them. We think that the historian’s activity takes on a wider responsibility and purpose with regard to the language sciences as they are currently developing : tthat of giving them historical knowledge of the kind that has so far been available only in the natural sciences and formal disciplines, which benefit from the consequences of this situation, as much for their the recognition as for their management, their epistemological reflection, their didactics and the training of their researchers.

Finally, we could certainly grant that the edition of a treatise by a Greek grammarian might be the work of a team of philologists also working on tragedies, that links between grammar and theology during the Middle Age might be studied by a team of philosophers, that the study of links between language and the nation might be conducted by historians of ideas, that linguists working on such or such a topic could devote part of their time to establishing historical information. But distributed efforts such as these would probably be less interesting than the unified and coordinated framework that the laboratory constantly tries to foster, maintaining regular dialogue with other disciplines. This is the framework which, in the view of the team’s members, must create a really existing scholarly domain (with its own concepts and practices) dedicated to language sciences in historical perspective.

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