This chapter makes the crucial distinction between contemporary formalist uses of the term ‘form’ in literary studies and linguistics, and Humboldt's use of the term. Form is never empty of meaning for Humboldt. Form is not a container or a structure. Humboldt does not adopt a form-content opposition. Humboldt regarded the study of grammatical forms and syntactic details to be a crucial step in comparing languages. But it was, he believed, only a preliminary step. Real understanding means understanding the way a linguistic community thinks, what paths its speakers follow in developing their own individual thoughts and sharing and discussing them. In Humboldt's thought, form is closer to ‘patterning’ in Sapir and Whorf's thinking: it refers to the concepts, and channels of understanding that have been carved out by a linguistic community and which is constantly being maintained and transformed by creative thinking and expression.
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