A Functional Approach to the Logical Semiotics of Natural Language

  • Jerzy Pelc
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 119)


The term ‘functional’ and the related ‘functionalism’ have in the last several decades become associated with the history of linguistic research on natural language. In the course of that time, the meaning of the term has undergone certain changes: from Jean Baudouin de Courtenay who ninety years ago wrote about functional and nonfunctional elements in language and who constructed functional morphemics, to de Saussure’s Cours de linguistique générale of half a century ago and to the rise of modern functional linguistics in Roman Jakobson’s Prague School (1928–1930). Even today, after a lapse of thirty years, ‘functionalism’ and ‘functional’ may have not as yet become fully univocal and strictly distinct terms in linguistics. Lacking, however, the required professional competence, I do not feel qualified to enter the dispute on this subject. Therefore, in order to avoid misunderstandings, I accept the terms suggested by an authority in linguistics.1 He characterizes modern linguistics as functional if the following properties can be jointly found in it: synchronism in the description of the language, treatment of the language as a system or as a structure in the broad sense of the term (de Saussure), the text as the main object of linguistic study (Bühler) and the resulting anti-psycholpgizing attitude (Bloomfield), stress on the conventional nature of the language (de Saussure) and recognition of its representative and communication functions as most important (Bühler) and finally treatment of language as social and not as individual. It may be that after this explanation the terms ‘functional’ and ‘functionalism’, though they are not yet entirely precise, may have attained a degree of clarity that will prevent serious misunderstandings in what I shall say below.


Natural Language Functional Approach Lexical Item Artificial Language Logical Theory 
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© PWN — Polish Scientific Publishers — Warszawa 1979

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  • Jerzy Pelc

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