UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Concepts of the term word in the Encyclopedie Bartlett, Barrie Everdell


That the eighteenth century was a period of changing ideas is a proposition as true when applied to questions of language as it is when applied to other fields of intellectual endeavour. Grammatical studies were still closely related to philosophy, as they had been for some centuries. The rationalism of the seventeenth century had resulted in the strictly logical exposition of grammatical theories whose aim was to produce a normative means of teaching the 'art de bien parler'. With this rationalist approach arose the theory of a grammaire générale and its attempts to reduce the grammatical facts of all languages to logical terms. Although the eighteenth century aimed rather at teaching the 'art de bien penser', the idea of a rationally-based grammaire générale persisted as the foundation for most grammatical description, and actually reached its highest point of development in the siècle des lumières. Empiricism and the sensationalist philosophy of Condillac were slow to affect the techniques of grammatical enquiry and description. After outlining these trends in grammatical description, our study continues by examining the eighteenth-century grammarians' concepts of the word, attempting to relate them to the philosophical and scientific shift from rationalism to empiricism. The Encyclopédie, in which may be found the grammatical doctrines of Dumarsais and Beauzée, is shown to contain two distinct approaches to this subject, both of which treat the word as the smallest meaningful unit of language and as the basic element of grammatical description. Whereas Dumarsais looked upon the word as essentially a logical element dependent on semantic and rational criteria, Beauzée is shown to have based his concept on empirical linguistic facts, and to have considered the word as a sign (exhibiting the dichotomy of expression and content) whose meaning is both semantic and functional. Like de Saussure at the turn of this century, Beauzée posited paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations dependent on the existence of relative and negative oppositions within the word as a passive element of the lexicon and as a functional unit of language. In the process of his development of these relationships, Beauzée also came very near to establishing the modern concept of the morpheme. The theories of Dumarsais and Beauzée are compared and contrasted and the conclusion drawn that Beauzée's empirical approach resulted in his being far more modern in his concept of the word and in his understanding of general language problems than Dumarsais.

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