Why Lithuanian accentuation mattered to Saussure

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Abstract

The only paper which Ferdinand de Saussure ever read before an international congress, and the only two articles he published in linguistics journals other than those of the Société de Linguistique de Paris, were all on Lithuanian accentuation. Saussure's Law, the only historical linguistic law he succeeded in establishing, dealt with the same subject. Yet accounts of his life and work have never offered an explanation of this interest, treating it as a one-off problem unconnected to his other linguistic concerns. On the contrary, Saussure believed that a particular feature of the Lithuanian pitch accent was the missing link of Indo-European linguistic history, the most direct living relic of the vowel * A hypothesized in his 1879 Mémoire on the original Indo-European vowel system. Lithuanian accentuation offered independent proof that the core proposals of his early work, which the German linguistics establishment had rejected or neglected, were in fact correct.The only paper which Ferdinand de Saussure ever read before an international congress, and the only two articles he published in linguistics journals other than those of the Société de Linguistique de Paris, were all on Lithuanian accentuation. Saussure's Law, the only historical linguistic law he succeeded in establishing, dealt with the same subject. Yet accounts of his life and work have never offered an explanation of this interest, treating it as a one-off problem unconnected to his other linguistic concerns. On the contrary, Saussure believed that a particular feature of the Lithuanian pitch accent was the missing link of Indo-European linguistic history, the most direct living relic of the vowel * A hypothesized in his 1879 Mémoire on the original Indo-European vowel system. Lithuanian accentuation offered independent proof that the core proposals of his early work, which the German linguistics establishment had rejected or neglected, were in fact correct.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-198
Number of pages17
JournalLanguage and History
Volume52
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009

Keywords

  • INDO-EUROPEAN
  • HISTORICAL LINGUISTICS
  • LITHUANIAN
  • SAUSSURE

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