Angela Senis

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My Ph.D dissertation

John Rupert Firth, historian of linguistics and founder of the London School

vendredi 6 janvier 2017, par Angela Senis

My dissertation was written in French but was defended in 2016 both in French and English, in Paris 7 Denis Diderot University. It has been prepared within the History of Linguistic Theory Lab (HTL, UMR 7597, CNRS).

Here is the English abstract. You can find a French one HERE.

For further information, you may contact me via this website.


Mainly studied for his work in phonology, John Rupert Firth (1890-1960) played an outstanding role in English linguistics. He stands in line with the philological studies that prevailed up until the beginning of the 20th century through his culture of the past and his commitment to the history of languages and of sciences, both echoing his academic education in history. However, he turned these knowledge and experiences towards the future, giving a new impetus to language sciences in Great Britain and eventually leading to the recognition of general linguistics as an independent academic discipline.

His writings show a wide retrospective horizon both in time and space. He defined himself as in continuity with 19th century phonological experiments (Sweet, Bell). These references contribute to the formation of what is known as “Firthian linguistics”, whose contours this dissertation aims at defining. His linguistic and phonological concepts (“context of situation”, “meaning by collocation”, “colligation”, “restricted languages” as well as “phonaesthesia” and “prosodic analysis”) are studied here and put into perspective. They rely on functionalism and transdisciplinarity in a multilingual approach where Asiatic languages foster the awareness of a eurocentrism the author tried to overcome.

Firth was the founder of the London School, initiating a legacy embodied by many generations of English linguists (Robins, Halliday, Crystal). Our study aims thus at assessing his real place and contribution to the history of linguistic thought.


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