Leonard Bloomfield (April 1, 1887 – April 18, 1949) was an American linguist who led the development of structural linguistics in the United States during the 1930s and the 1940s. He is considered to be the father of American distributional. His influential textbook Language, published in 1933, presented a comprehensive description of American structural linguistics. He made significant contributions to Indo-European historical linguistics, the description of Austronesian languages, and the description of the language of the Algonquian family.
Bloomfield's approach to linguistics was characterized by its emphasis on the scientific basis of linguistics, adherence to behaviourism especially in his later work, and emphasis on formal procedures for the analysis of linguistic data. The influence of Bloomfieldian structural linguistics declined in the late 1950s and 1960s as the theory of generative grammar developed by Noam Chomsky came to predominate.
Early life and education
Bloomfield was born in Chicago, Illinois, on April 1, 1887, to Jewish parents (Sigmund Bloomfield and Carola Buber Bloomfield). His father immigrated to the United States as a child in 1868; the original family name Blumenfeld was changed to Bloomfield after their arrival. In 1896 his family moved to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, where he attended elementary school but returned to Chicago for secondary school. His uncle Maurice Bloomfield was a prominent linguist at Johns Hopkins University, and his aunt Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler was a well-known concert pianist.
Bloomfield attended Harvard College from 1903 to 1906, graduating with an A.B. degree. He subsequently began graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, taking courses in German and Germanic philology, in addition to courses in other Indo-European languages. A meeting with Indo-Europeanist Eduard Prokosch, a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin, convinced Bloomfield to pursue a career in linguistics. In 1908 Bloomfield moved to the University of Chicago where he took courses in German and Indo-European philology with Frances A. Wood and Carl Darling Buck. His doctoral dissertation in Germanic historical linguistics, A semasiologic differentiation in Germanic secondary ablaut, was supervised by Wood, and he graduated in 1909.
He undertook further studies at the University of Leipzig and the University of Göttingen in 1913 and 1914 with leading Indo-Europeanists August Leskien, Karl Brugmann, as well as Hermann Oldenberg, a specialist in Vedic Sanskrit. Bloomfield also studied at Göttingen with Sanskrit specialist Jacob Wackernagel and considered both Wackernagel and the Sanskrit grammatical tradition of rigorous grammatical analysis associated with Pāṇini as important influences on both his historical and descriptive work. Further training in Europe was a condition for promotion at the University of Illinois from Instructor to the rank of Assistant Professor.
Bloomfield was an instructor in German at the University of Cincinnati, 1909–1910; Instructor in German at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, 1910–1913; Assistant Professor of Comparative Philology and German, also the University of Illinois, 1913–1921; Professor of German and Linguistics at the Ohio State University, 1921–1927; Professor of Germanic Philology at the University of Chicago, 1927–1940; Sterling Professor of Linguistics at Yale University, 1940–1949. During the summer of 1925 Bloomfield worked as Assistant Ethnologist with the Geological Survey of Canada in the Canadian Department of Mines, undertaking linguistic fieldwork on Plains Cree; this position was arranged by Edward Sapir, who was then Chief of the Division of Anthropology, Victoria Museum, Geological Survey of Canada, Canadian Department of Mines. In May 1946, he suffered a debilitating stroke, which ended his career.
Bloomfield was one of the founding members of the Linguistic Society of America. In 1924, along with George M. Bolling (Ohio State University) and Edgar Sturtevant (Yale University), he formed a committee to organize the creation of the Society and drafted the call for the Society's foundation. He contributed the lead article to the inaugural issue of the Society's journal Language and was President of the Society in 1935. He taught in the Society's summer Linguistic Institute in 1938–1941, with the 1938–1940 Institutes being held in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the 1941 Institute in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Bloomfield's earliest work was in historical Germanic studies, beginning with his dissertation, and continuing with a number of papers on Indo-European and Germanic phonology and morphology. His post-doctoral studies in Germany further strengthened his expertise in the Neogrammarian tradition, which still dominated Indo-European historical studies. Bloomfield throughout his career, but particularly during his early career, emphasized the Neogrammarian principle of regular sound change as a foundational concept in historical linguistics.
Bloomfield's work in Indo-European beyond his dissertation was limited to an article on palatal consonants in Sanskrit and one article on the Sanskrit grammatical tradition associated with Pāṇini, in addition to a number of book reviews. Bloomfield made extensive use of Indo-European materials to explain historical and comparative principles in both of his textbooks, An introduction to language (1914), and his seminal Language (1933). In his textbooks he selected Indo-European examples that supported the key Neogrammarian hypothesis of the regularity of sound change, and emphasized a sequence of steps essential to success in comparative work: (a) appropriate data in the form of texts which must be studied intensively and analysed; (b) application of the comparative method; (c) reconstruction of proto-forms. He further emphasized the importance of dialect studies where appropriate and noted the significance of sociological factors such as prestige, and the impact of meaning. In addition to regular linguistic change, Bloomfield also allowed for borrowing and analogy.
It is argued that Bloomfield's Indo-European work had two broad implications: "He stated clearly the theoretical bases for Indo-European linguistics" and "he established the study of Indo-European languages firmly within general linguistics."
As part of his training with leading Indo-Europeanists in Germany in 1913 and 1914 Bloomfield studied the Sanskrit grammatical tradition originating with Pāṇini, who lived in northwestern India during the fifth or fourth century BC. Pāṇini's grammar is characterized by its extreme thoroughness and explicitness in accounting for Sanskrit linguistic forms, and by its complex context-sensitive, rule-based generative structure. Bloomfield noted that "Pāṇini gives the formation of every inflected, compounded, or derived word, with an exact statement of the sound-variations (including accent) and of the meaning". In a letter to Algonquianist Truman Michelson, Bloomfield noted "My models are Pāṇini and the kind of work done in Indo-European by my teacher, Professor Wackernagel of Basle."
Pāṇini's systematic approach to analysis includes components for (a) forming grammatical rules, (b) an inventory of sounds, (c) a list of verbal roots organized into sublists, and (d) a list of classes of morphs. Bloomfield's approach to key linguistic ideas in his textbook Language reflects the influence of Pāṇini in his treatment of basic concepts such as linguistic form, free form, and others. Similarly, Pāṇini is the source for Bloomfield's use of the terms exocentric and endocentric used to describe compound words. Concepts from Pāṇini are found in Eastern Ojibwa, published posthumously in 1958, in particular his use of the concept of a morphological zero, a morpheme that has no overt realization. Pāṇini's influence is also present in Bloomfield's approach to determining parts of speech (Bloomfield uses the term "form-classes") in both Eastern Ojibwa and in the later Menomini language, published posthumously in 1962.
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