Three pillars that Made Today’s Linguistics

The three pillars that formed the mainstream of modern English linguistics in the 20th century were structural linguistics, generative grammar, and cognitive linguistics. They have emerged and emerged in this order in the history of language. The foundations supporting each have some parts in common with each other, but there are also parts that are in marked conflict. Taken as a whole, they can be understood as having different views of language.

Inoue (60), calling it “the great linguistic triangle of the 20th century,” illustrates the relationship between the three in an easy-to-understand manner. The composition is as follows.

First, let us consider the relationship between structuralism and generative grammar. The opposition between langue and parole in the former is often compared to the opposition between linguistic competence and linguistic performance in the latter. Structuralism assumes a society. Structuralism assumes a society, while generative grammar does not assume a society, but only the ultimate innate competence of the individual. The inductive and behaviorist methodology of American structuralism in particular is also sharply opposed to the deductive position of generative grammar.

Next, let’s look at generative grammar and cognitive linguistics. It is important to note that the former is autonomous, while the latter is non-autonomous in that it is related to general human cognitive abilities. From this point of view, it is easy to assume that language emerged suddenly in generative grammar, while in cognitive linguistics, the position of progressive evolution is more likely to be adopted.

Lastly, with regard to structuralism and cognitive linguistics, the former emphasizes arbitrariness, whereas the latter insists on contractuality. The former emphasizes arbitrariness, while the latter insists on contractuality. Contractuality can be paraphrased as “motivation,” meaning that the way language is used is “motivated” by cognition and experience.

In other words, if we were to give a straightforward explanation to the opposing arrows that make up each side of the triangle, we could label the arrows counterclockwise from the top left: “social” or not, “autonomous” or not, and “motivated” or not. For details, see Inoue (60–61).

Inoue, Ipphei, Introduction to English Studies for Global Communication, Keio University Press, 2015.