From Saussure to Rask: The Curious Trajectory of Louis Hjelmslev

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The work of Louis Hjelmslev (1899–1965) is linked to that of his predecessors Rasmus Rask (1787–1832) and Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) in ways that are clear and explicit, though complicated. Hjelmslev’s first book, Principes de grammaire générale (1928), avowedly owes more to Saussure than anyone else. Gradually, Saussure becomes a figure to be superseded, and Rask the guiding spirit who points the way. This is surprising, given that Rask’s work belonged to an earlier age, while Saussure’s defined the modern where linguistics was concerned (see Joseph 2017). This study examines what each of them represented for Hjelmslev, set against the evolving meaning and use of key terms such as mechanical, organic and psychological, using evidence from text-based n-grams.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLinguistica e Filosofia del Linguaggio
Subtitle of host publicationStudi in Onore di Daniele Gambarara
EditorsMarcello Walter Bruno, Felice Cimatti, Donata Chiricò, Anna De Marco, Emanuele Fadda, Giorgio Lo Feudo, Marco Mazzeo, Claudia Stancati
Place of PublicationMilan
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2018


  • history of linguistics
  • Louis Hjelmslev
  • Ferdinand de Saussure
  • Rasmus Rask


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