IJLLL 2018 Vol.4(1): 29-32 ISSN: 2382-6282
DOI: 10.18178/IJLLL.2018.4.1.145

The Prague School’s Early Concept of Distinctive Features in Multilingual Texts: A Chapter in the History of Structuralist Phonology

Changliang Qu
Abstract—In the rise and development of modern phonology, the Prague School undoubtedly played the vital role. Although Saussure suggested that “syntagmatic” is one of the two most important features of linguistic signs, Jakobson yet discovered on the phonological level the “paradigmatic” linguistic unit – distinctive feature, which served as an essential concept in late 20th century phonology. Jakobson’s theory of distinctive feature is typically made known via the books he published in the United States after WWII. However, his idea of distinctive feature had already been initiated in the 1930s during the classic period of the Prague School. The term “distinctive feature” was also used directly. The term and the idea were actively responded by other members of the circle like Trubetzkoy and Vachek and came to turn mature. Published on different occasions, the texts that witnessed this historical process were written in different languages. Only when these multilingual texts are studied comprehensively can one depict a full trail of the early history of distinctive feature, the paradigmatic phonological unit. Based on the works written by Jakobson, Trubetzkoy, Vachek and other circle members during 1931 to 1939 in English, French, German and Czech, this essay intends to reveal how Prague School contributed to the idea of paradigmatic phonological unit, and how it improved the limitation of Saussure’s view of linguistic symbol.

Index Terms—Distinctive feature, linguistic historiography, phonological unit, Prague linguistic circle.

Changliang Qu is with Department of English Linguistics, School of International Business, Dalian University of Foreign Languages, Dalian P.R. China (e-mail: quchangliang@dlufl.edu.cn).

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Cite:Changliang Qu, "The Prague School’s Early Concept of Distinctive Features in Multilingual Texts: A Chapter in the History of Structuralist Phonology," International Journal of Languages, Literature and Linguistics vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 29-32, 2018.

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