Language is no doubt a fundamental aspect of any human civilization. We, humans, use language to communicate with each other. However, language not only plays a significant role in communication but also in knowledge sharing, cognitive development, social organization, cultural expression, and economic development. It’s a system that’s very complex and dynamic and plays a vital role in shaping our thoughts, opinions, behaviors, and societies.
If we look at the number of languages spoken in the world, there are too many. These languages evolve when people from different cultures start mingling with each other. Have you ever wondered, what is the subject related to languages? It is called linguistics.
Table of Content
- History of Linguists
- Contribution of Famous Linguists
- What is a Linguistic Anthropologist?
- Top 15 Famous Linguists
- Wrapping Up
History of Linguists
Modern linguists’ history is dated back to the 19th century. Ancient Greece and India have played a great contribution to grammatical traditions. Moreover, great work is done in the field of philosophy, literature, and eloquence to check out how different languages work.
In 1786, it was discovered that people that speak languages in the areas of Persia, India, and Europe have similar sound correspondences. For instance, the English f sounds p among other languages like Latin and Sanskrit.
Researchers found that these correspondences are not because these languages are mutually intelligible. The conclusion was that these languages came from the same group of families and have common ancestors. At present, linguists have divided the languages into 5,000 languages of the world, but they share a common ancestor.
Contribution of Famous Linguists
We often think about famous writers, composers, and singers, but we never thought of linguists that helped in the development of languages.Let’s have a look at famous linguists of their times and their contributions to linguistics.
What is a Linguistic Anthropologist?
Being a Linguistic Anthropologist means being in a subfield of anthropology that focuses on the study of language and its role in human culture, society, and cognition. A Linguistic anthropologist explores the intricate connections between language and various aspects of human life, including communication, identity, social relationships, thought processes, and cultural practices. They analyze how language shapes and is shaped by social interactions, and how it influences the way individuals and communities perceive and understand their world.
Linguistic anthropologists employ a combination of linguistic analysis and ethnographic research methods to investigate questions related to language and culture. It can involve anything from social interactions, religious cues, changes in variations of language, tone, and even individual identity.
Top 15 Famous Linguists
Let’s explore the top 15+ famous linguists.
1. Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure is a Swiss linguist. He worked for years in linguistics and semiology. Do you know what semiology is? It is the study of the connotation of symbols and signs. He came up with the idea that every word has a linguistic sign that consists of two parts,
the signifier which is the phonetic form of the word, and the signified which is the conceptual form. This theory gained great popularity and laid a foundation for modern linguistics.
2. Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky is a professor at the University of Arizona. He invented the theory of universal grammar, which is called Chomsky Hierarchy. He is a very intelligent man, and he has written 100 books on linguists.
The theory of universal grammar states that all languages have the same foundation, but the difference appears in the use of words and sounds. Additionally, he suggested that humans have an inborn ability to learn the language.
3. Roman Jakobson
Roman Jakobson was a Russian-born linguist. He is a renowned linguist who has changed the traditional views about linguistics. He gave the idea of distinctive features that states that all sounds are related to binary contrasts.
Therefore, you can easily describe or quantify them. This point of view faced great criticism in recent years. However, it helped the linguists to organize the sounds of different languages in a classified structure, which they were unable to do before.
4. Paul Grice
Paul Grice is one of the most renowned linguists of his time. He introduced the concept of pragmatics. It is the study of how context gives meaning to words. His best contribution is the emergence of the cooperative principle. It articulates how people behave in communications.
Paul is of the view that speakers should speak relevant to their topic, should not lie, and be fair. Additionally, for effective communication, they should not speak too much or too little. Otherwise, the principles of communication will be violated.
5. David Crystal
David Crystal is a refined linguist. He has written many books on linguists like Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language and Cambridge Biographical Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Dictionary and many more. His books regarding English literature and linguistics are very famous.
In his books, he has explained technical knowledge at an understandable and accessible level. According to one of his hypotheses, the English language will mix with local languages, and it will not be comprehensible. Therefore, there is a need for standardizing spoken English.
6. Edward Sapir
Edward Sapir is a linguistic anthropologist. His work on the classification of American languages is very famous. With the help of his student, Benjamin Whorf came up with the concept of linguistic relativity.
This hypothesis depicts that the language that a person speaks has a great impact on a person’s lens of viewing the world. This view was rejected by many modern-day linguists. However, it is still an important topic that integrates language and culture.
7. Eve Clark
Eve Clark is a British linguist. She works at Stanford University. Due to globalization, many people are trying to learn second and third languages. But to learn new languages, one must know how we acquire our first language and how children adapt to the language.
She stated that children learn language by stammering and with time, they become proficient and successful. Her theories regarding the second language will help people in learning the second language more effectively.
8. Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker, the popular linguist, worked on the biological formation of language. According to him, language is an instinct that is part of human behavior naturally. It is adapted according to the requirements of human communication.
He wrote a famous book, The Language Instinct, that gained great popularity in the linguistic anthropologist industry and people from other fields also liked this book.
9. Harriet Martineau
Harriet Martineau is a journalist, translator, writer, Essayist, Sociologist, feminist, and linguist, her writing is about social issues of the world. She is famous for writing complicated issues in a precise and understandable manner.
She has presented many theories regarding politics, economics, and society in an appealing and precise way.
10. George Philip Lakoff
George Philip Lakoff is a famous linguist and philosopher. He stated that the life of people is influenced by the conceptual metaphors that they use to explain difficult situations. He introduced this concept in his and Mark Johnson’s book, Metaphors We Live by. His thesis is being used in many disciplines.
11. Noah Webster
Noah Webster was an American linguist. He is also a lexicographer, political writer, author, editor, and English-language spelling reformer. He was also dubbed the father of American Scholarship and Education.
His books are famous for teaching the art of spelling and reading to five generations of America. As a spelling reform, one of the American dictionaries is after his name.
12. Zhou Youguang
Zhou Youguang is a famous economist and linguist. He introduced how to write Mandarin in Roman alphabets. He started working on his project in 1955 and completed his work after working for three years.
He is also called the Father of Pinyin. He wrote forty books, and one of his renowned books is The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts.
14. Michael Halliday
Michael Halliday is a British linguist. He got popularity because of his famous neo-Firthian theory of language. His mother was a teacher and his father was a dialectologist. From childhood, he has had a great love for languages.
He is an expert in the Chinese language, and he has researched the theory of grammar and child language development.
15. Lin Yutang
LinYutang is a Chinese linguist, novelist, inventor, philosopher, and translator. His writing is very formal and polished, making him a renowned writer of his age. He has translated many Chinese texts into English and introduced the concept of satire magazines in China with the assistance of Lunyu banyuekan.
16. Umberto Eco
Umberto Eco is famous for his novels and critical work in linguistics. He worked on semiology with a touch of philosophy. According to him, symbols are the philosophical reflection of signs, and they depict both culture and things.
17. Yuri Knorozov
Yuri Knorozov was a Ukrainian-born Soviet and Russian linguist as well as an epigrapher and ethnologist. He founded the Soviet School of Mayan Studies. When the world’s scientific community considered it impossible to decipher Mayan script, Yuri Knorozov came on screen as a man who cracked the Maya script (the native writing system used by the Maya civilization) single-handedly.
We should acknowledge the research and marvelous work done by these linguists in their eras. Each concept presented played a pivotal role in linguistics. These linguists have provided us with remarkable theories and pieces of writing that have become part of history.