A History of Language Philosophies (Studies in the History by Lia Formigari

A History of Language Philosophies (Studies in the History by Lia Formigari

By Lia Formigari

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The capacity of the elements of a system to relate to one another according to certain rules) has a syntactic presupposition (the fact that its elements are ordered in a certain way) and a semantic one (the fact that its elements are signifying words). Both criteria are actualized in sentences formed by onoma and rhema. The co-implication of grammar and semantics is evident in Aristotle as well. According to readings that have become traditional — starting at least from that of the German philosopher Adolf Trendelenburg in the first half of the 19th century — Aristotelian categories are, in the last analysis, derived from the grammatical distinctions of the Greek language.

Sextus Empiricus also refers to the dual nature of grammar — practical and descriptive as well as theoretical and systematical — in his treatise Against the Grammarians (or: Against the Professors). What is at stake here is the relationship between grammar and philosophy, the ambition to transform a purely instrumental art — the art of reading and writing — into a general theory of language. There is a technical grammar, which teaches us to read and write. It is an art as praiseworthy as medicine, for it “cures a most inactive disease, forgetfulness, and contains a most necessary activity, memory” (Against the Prof.

I, 178–179): For just as in a city where a certain local coinage is current, he who makes use of this is able to carry on his business in that city, without hindrances, but he who does not adopt it, but coins for himself some new money and desires to have this passed, is a fool, so also in ordinary intercourse the man who refuses to follow the mode of converse — like the coinage — which is usually adopted, and cuts out a new way of his own, is near to madness. Hellenism is thus reduced to socially determined acceptability, entrusted more to the derision of bystanders than the judgment of grammarians (I, 191).

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