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  • The history of linguistics in Europe: From Plato to 1600 by Vivien Law
  • Marko Oja
The history of linguistics in Europe: From Plato to 1600. By Vivien Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. 307. ISBN 0521565324. $26.

Vivien Law sets out to provide an alternative to the best-known textbook on the history of linguistics, R. H. Robins’s A short history of linguistics (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1997). As the title suggests, L concentrates on Europe, but also touches on Arabic and Hebrew linguistics where necessary. In addition she provides outlines for the development of the science after the period covered and discusses basic methodological and ontological issues in studying it.

The topic of each section reflects the main point of interest during the period under discussion and is placed into a historical context both with reference to the history of philosophy and developments in society. Key issues are discussed in separate boxes, and each section ends with a separate bibliography and suggestions for further reading. Referenced texts are more often original works from the period than secondary sources, which is very suitable for a textbook. In all, L’s method of presenting the information is clear and consistent, which makes this a good textbook for both academic courses and private study.

L finds the roots of European linguistics in Greece and starts with the linguistic philosophy of Plato and Aristotle (Ch. 2). Chs. 3 and 4 discuss a transition from general linguistics toward grammar, starting in Greece with the Stoics and Varro and moving on to Rome with Quintilian, Donatus, and finally Priscian. Ch. 5 evaluates the influence of Christianity and the Bible on the attitude towards linguistics and grammar, and Ch. 6 takes up linguistics during the early Middle Ages, concentrating on the littera theory, research on Donatus, and morphological analysis. Chs. 7–9 draw attention to the Carolingian Renaissance, the rediscovery of Priscian, the Scholastics, the increasing interest in Aristotle, and finally, through growing interest in a more practical view of grammar, the rise of vernacular grammars. Ch. 10 marks the chronological end of L’s study with the Renaissance rediscovery and re-evaluation of the Classics, and the establishment of vernacular grammars and languages; Ch. 11 describes developments that have occurred since. Finally, Ch. 12 provides advice and gives sources of information for students who are interested in doing research on the history of linguistics.

Marko Oja
University of Turku


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