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UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA

BLOOMFIELD, KORZYBSKI, AND THE MEANING OF LANGUAGE SCIENCE:
A TALE OF TWO SCHOLARS

BY

KALIN R. HARVEY

A THESIS
SUBMITTED TO THE FACULTY OF ARTS
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
BACHELOR OF ARTS

DEPARTMENT OF LINGUISTICS
EDMONTON, ALBERTA
SPRING, 1998
UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA
FACULTY OF ARTS
 

ABSTRACT

A comparative study of theories of meaning in language science is undertaken using the simultaneous 1933 publication of Leonard Bloomfield's Language and Alfred Korzybski's Science and Sanity. The historical influences of both scholars are examined in depth in the first chapter focusing on the behaviorist Albert P. Wiess's influence on Bloomfield as well as the influence of Polish positivism, the Young Poland movement, and mathematical philosophy on Korzybski. The vague theory of meaning contained within Bloomfield's linguistics is examined through three separate but related aspects: translational semantics, referential semantics, and behavioristic semantics. It is concluded that regardless of the aspect focused on, Bloomfield's semantics is weak. The theory of meaning in Korzybski's general semantics is examined by first examining Charles Taylor's work to show where Korzbyski's 'mechanism' differs from Bloomfield's. Korzybski's semantics are analyzed as being contextual and relational. This is concluded to be a strong semantic theory. The final chapter serves to directly compare the assumptions of both scholars and develops into a general lament by the author concerning the social sciences intense focus on methodology at the expense of meaning.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

First off, I would like to acknowledge the continued support of my family and friends who have helped me became what I am today.

I would also like to thank the linguistics department and each faculty member and sessional instructor from which I took a class, in order of appearance, Terrance Nearey, Lois Stanford, Grace Wiebe, Gary Prideaux, Molly Homer, Leo Mos, Sally Rice, John Hogan, Denise Hayward, Roberto de Almeida, Gary Libben, and Bruce Derwing. It is an understatement to say that I learned a great deal from each class I attended.

Lastly I would like to single out my honors thesis advisor, Leo Mos, for special acknowledgment. For better or worse, this thesis would not be possible without the unique perspective he brought to the department. He went beyond the call of duty on my behalf often. But I am most grateful for his encouragement of my independent thought. I thank him with undying respect and admiration for he has truly been the brightest light in my short academic career.



PREFACE

(A STAND-UP COMMENT FROM A CAGER)

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

-Allen Ginsberg (1956:9)

I first learned of Korzybski's Science and Sanity in 1994 on the internet. I read it that year and must confess that I understood very little of it. But I felt that it contained something important. This was before I had transferred from science to arts and prior to me taking a single linguistics course. When I became disillusioned with the tedium of inorganic chemistry and botany I considered linguistics as a possible major. There were several reasons that led me there, but one that always kept in the back of my mind was the prospect of studying something like Korzybski's general semantics. By the time I was half way into the 16 courses I needed to take in the discipline I realized that if I wanted an excuse to look at something like general semantics I would have to take matters into my own hands and enroll in the honors program.

In some ways the thesis which you hold in your hands is an expression of this. I compare Korzybski, who is completely disregarded by linguists, with Bloomfield, who is considered by many to be the father of linguistic science.

At this point in my life I seem to have a particular affection for polemical writing and in some places this thesis is polemical. However, I would like to stress that when this aspect is present it is on a philosophical level, and reflects personal frustration. It is in no way representative of the fine individuals who comprise the linguistics department at the University of Alberta.

It should go without saying, but it so often does not that I am compelled to state it plainly. All mis-representations, over-generalizations, overly-strong assumptions, and general fallacies which might be found in the text are solely the property of the author.

I may be contacted via e-mail

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