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Transcript of Prague School
Prague school, school of linguistic thought and analysis established in Prague in the 1920s by Vilém Mathesius. It included among its most prominent members the Russian linguist Nikolay Trubetskoy and the Russian-born American linguist Roman Jakobson; the school was most active during the 1920s and ’30s. Linguists of the Prague school stress the function of elements within language, the contrast of language elements to one another, and the total pattern or system formed by these contrasts, and they have distinguished themselves in the study of sound systems. They developed distinctive-feature analysis of sounds; by this analysis, each distinctive sound in a language is seen as composed of a number of contrasting articulatory and acoustic features, and any two sounds of a language that are perceived as being distinct will have at least one feature contrast in their compositions. The concept of distinctive-feature analysis in studying the sound systems of languages has been incorporated within the standard model of transformational grammar.
The Prague school is also renowned for its interest in the application of functionalism—the study of how elements of a language accomplish cognition, expression, and conation—to syntax and the structure of literary texts
professor of English at Prague University. In 1926 Mathesius and a few
others founded the Prague Linguistic Circle or, as it was better known, the
Cercle Linguistique de Prague (for a detailed history, see Toman 1995). In this
context, Mathesius developed his theory of 'functional sentence perspective',
expressed variously in terms of topic and comment (or focus), theme and rheme.
Theme and Rheme
Mathésius approached and analysed the sentence from a functional perspective, he stated that the
sentence has two parts: the theme and the rheme. By the theme of a sentence is meant the part that
refers to what is already known or given in the context while the rheme is the part that conveys new
Jakobson was born in Moscow, son of a prominent Jewish industrialist
and chemical engineer. During his school days he developed an intense
interest in modem poetry, especially the experimental poetry current in
Russian literature at the beginning of the century. The study of phonological
elements in poetic structures led him to the linguistic study of speech sounds
and of language in general. He was instrumental in founding the Moscow Linguistic
Circle in 1915, of which he became president, as he was instrumental
later, together with Mathesius, in founding the Prague Linguistic Circle, of
which he became Vice-President. In 1920 he decided to leave Russia and join
the Russian expatriates in Prague, where he took his PhD in 1930. He stayed
in Prague till 1939, when the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia made his
further stay in Czechoslovakia ill-advised. Through Denmark and Norway
he fled to Sweden, from where he migrated to the United States in 1941. After
a couple of teaching positions in New York he was offered the chair of
Slavonic languages and literatures at Harvard in 1949, which he combined
with the position of Institute Professor at MIT from 1957 on. He died in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, in July 1982, at the age of 85, a celebrated figure both in
linguistics and in the field of literary studies.
Trubetzkoy was born in Moscow
into a noble Russian family with a long tradition in politics, the military,
the arts and in scholarship. His father, Prince Sergei Trubetzkoy, was professor
of philosophy and rector of Moscow University. The young Prince
Trubetzkoy studied Sanskrit and historical linguistics at Moscow University,
and later at Leipzig, where he was taught by Young Grammarians (and found
himself in one class with Leonard Bloomfield and Lucien Tesniere). When the
October Revolution began to rage he was compelled to flee from Russia. After
various professorships here and there in Eastern Europe, he accepted the chair
of Slavonic philology at Vienna University, where he stayed till his untimely
death in 1938. In 1928 Mathesius invited him to become a member of the
newly formed Prague Linguistic Circle, which led to a renewal of his contacts
with Jakobson, whom he knew from their Moscow days. His most notable
contribution to phonology is his uncompleted and posthumously published general
introduction to phonology (Trubetzkoy 1939, 19582).
Definition of Prague School.
Theme and Rheme
The first origins of the Prague School lie with Anton Marty (1847-1914), professor
of philosophy at Prague and disciple of the German phenomenologist
philosopher Brentano. Marty was not a linguist, but as a philosopher he took
part in the subject-predicate debate that was going on around the tum of the
century. In his view, logic does not come into semantics
at all: everything semantic is psychological, not logical.
Marty never carried out any actual linguistic analysis. All he presented
was general philosophical argument,
His style of
writing was dense, which makes his writings not very attractive to read. It
was probably for these reasons that he was less influential than he might
Marty's ideas about 'inner form' as discourse-bound mode of presentation were
taken up and developed further by the Czech scholar Vilem Mathesius (18821945
Sara is talking to Nidal .
Theme : Sara. we have been talking about her.
Rheme : Nidal. it's new information to the reader
What made the prague school
The most distinctive feature is :
1. It refers to linguists who worked in Prague
or in Czechoslovakia.
2. It refers to all the scholars who follow the
Prague style and practice their special style
of synchronic linguistics.
• They viewed language in terms of function.
• They did NOT think of language as a whole
serving a purpose.
• They analyzed a certain language in order to
see the particular functions that exist in
different structural parts in the use of the
The American Descriptivists
• Aim: Describe the
• View the linguistic structure
as a “work of art”
• They are NOT interested in
• They are interested in
describing & contemplating.
The Prague Linguists
• Aim: it went beyond
description “what languages
were” to functional
explanation “why were
languages the way they
• Viewed the linguistic
structure as a “motor”
• Study a part to understand
Similarity in Practice
• They both used the notion of “phonemes” and
“morphemes” in their description.