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London School Of Linguistics

  The approach to language advocated by J.R. Firth is now known as the London School of linguistics. Long before the distinction between semantics and pragmatics had been established, Firth argued for the primacy of the context of situation in the communication of meanings. Social status, setting, level of formality, and cultural traditions all contribute to the context in which language is used, and crucially, they affect the linguistic forms we choose when speaking. The linguistic context is also significant, since certain words habitually co-occur, or collocate (for example, ‘livid with rage’), an observation which has been enormously influential in latterday lexicography.

In the sound system of a language, too, it was argued that at each point in a linguistic construction, there is a range of options available, which are specifically associated with that particular point of choice. The selection of one sound in favour of another alters the meaning conveyed (compare the first sounds in ‘man’, ‘pan’, ‘ban’, ‘fan’). As a result, it was proposed that each point of choice in the sound system is directly relevant to the meanings, or semantic functions, which can be expressed. However, it is doubtful that the choice of f at the beginning of the word ‘father’, for example, says anything about the meaning of the word. The failures of the London School to deal adequately with meaning contributed to its demise as a coherent force within linguistics. However, the London approach to phonology has bequeathed many fruitful ideas to current theorizing and the theory of syntax known as systemic grammar also owes its origins to the London School. MS



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