Leonard Bloomfield (April 1, 1887 – April 18, 1949) was an American linguist who led the development of structural linguistics in the United States during the 1930s and the 1940s. His influential textbook Language presented a comprehensive description of American structural linguistics. He made significant contributions to Indo-European historical linguistics, the description of Austronesian languages, and description of languages of the Algonquian family.
Bloomfield's approach to linguistics was characterized by its emphasis on the scientific basis of linguistics, adherence to behaviorism especially in his later work, and emphasis on formal procedures for the analysis of language data. The influence of Bloomfieldian structural linguistics declined in the late 1950s and 1960s as the theory of Generative Grammar developed by Noam Chomsky came to predominate.
Bloomfield's earliest work was in historical Germanic studies, beginning with his dissertation, and continuing with a number of papers on Indo-European and Germanic phonology and morphology. His post-doctoral studies in Germany further strengthened his expertise in the Neogrammarian tradition, which still dominated Indo-European historical studies. Bloomfield throughout his career, but particularly during his early career, emphasized the Neogrammarian principle of regular sound change as a foundational concept in historical linguistics.
Although Bloomfield's original work in Indo-European beyond his dissertation was limited to an article on palatal consonants in Sanskrit, and one article on the Sanskrit grammatical tradition associated with Pāṇini, in addition to a number of book reviews, he made extensive use of Indo-European materials to explain historical and comparative principles in both of his textbooks, An introduction to language (1914), and his seminal Language (1933). In his textbooks he selected Indo-European examples that supported the key Neogrammarian hypothesis of the regularity of sound change, and emphasized a sequence of steps essential to success in comparative work: (a) appropriate data in the form of texts which must be studied intensively and analysed; (b) application of the comparative method; (c) reconstruction of proto-forms. He further emphasized the importance of dialect studies where appropriate, and noted the significance of sociological factors such as prestige, and the impact of meaning. In addition to regular change, Bloomfield also allowed for borrowing and analogy as forms of linguistic change.
It is argued that Bloomfield's Indo-European work had two broad implications:(a) "He stated clearly the theoretical bases for Indo-European linguistics..."; (b) "...he established the study of Indo-European languages firmly within general linguistics...."
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