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Humboldt, Worldview and Language$
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James Underhill

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780748638420

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748638420.001.0001

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Four Dangers in the Comparative Approach

Four Dangers in the Comparative Approach

(p.113) Chapter 14 Four Dangers in the Comparative Approach
Humboldt, Worldview and Language

W. Underhill James

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter invites readers to remain critical in appraising the findings of comparative linguistics. Four dangers are outlined. Firstly, the terms of debates can be ill-defined. Secondly, the scope of study and the corpus used may lead to misleading conclusions. Many linguists refuse to take on literature in their concept of language for example. Conversely, Humboldt at times makes claims which may be true of literary discourse but not necessarily about language as a whole. Thirdly, the methodology may be unjustified. Often foreign languages are compared to our own mother tongue, and distorted, as we seek to understand their grammars and their pattering through the prism of our grammar and linguistic habits. Chinese and Amerindian languages were analyzed through the prism of Latin by the missionaries who wrote grammars of those languages. Fourthly, an implicit chauvinism often encourages linguists to compare languages in order to celebrate either their own language or their chosen language of predilection.

Keywords:   Chauvinism, Comparative approach, Celebration of languages, French, German, Meschonnic

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