Four Dangers in the Comparative Approach

W. Underhill James

in Humboldt, Worldview and Language

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print May 2009 | ISBN: 9780748638420
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748671809 | DOI:
Four Dangers in the Comparative Approach

Show Summary Details


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

Chapter.  2808 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.