Briefing: Key Issues and Organisational Features of This Book
This book takes as its starting point three related claims: firstly, that the fundamental feature of language is meaning; secondly, that linguistic meaning can only be understood via wording; and thirdly, that modern linguistics has by and large failed to respond to the challenge of linking these two, and thus of putting the study of meaning on a sound theoretical footing. This is why, although this book is subtitled “An investigation of meaning…”, its main title contains the word grammar, because it is grammar that from its ancient Greek beginnings has been primarily concerned with wording, and hence with specifically linguistic meaning. The word “investigation” recalls the historíē ἱστορίη ‘enquiry, observation’ of Herodotus which gives us our word “history”, and denotes the fact that the chief mode of exploration employed here is a historical one, whereby the book goes back into the history of the study of language in order to illuminate the current situation of the language sciences. At the same time the mode of exploration is a comparative one, in that it puts side by side two different linguistic traditions, the Graeco-Roman or European one, and the Chinese one; on the grounds that the most effective way of understanding any one tradition is to compare it with another. These two traditions go back almost as long as each other, and for most of their history developed in isolation from each other. For reasons to do with the typological nature of Old Chinese, there was nothing corresponding to the study of grammar in the Chinese tradition, a state of affairs which persisted until the late nineteenth century when Chinese scholars deliberately and self-consciously took over the framework of Latin grammar to describe their own language, thus bringing the two traditions together in what has continued to be a close if frequently uncomfortable embrace.