Theoretical linguistics as a worldview.

2017. №3, 7-23

Boris M. Gasparov
Columbia University, New York, 10027, USA;
National Research University Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg, 190121, Russian Federation;


F. de Saussure’s opposition between “linguistics of language” and “linguistics of speech” presented language as an object of “theoretical” and “practical” cognition, a division that followed the strategic division of pure (speculative) and practical reason by Kant. The next generation, however, perceived Saussure’s idea in the spirit of the avant-garde intellectual and aesthetic revolution of the 1910s—20s. Saussure’s speculative vision of language as a structure (which for him was inalienable from the awareness of its constitutional limitations) was understood as a breakthrough into the transcendent order that dominated over all the inconsistencies and perpetual instability of the empirical data. Catastrophic events of the first half of the twentieth century helped to transform this avant-garde linguistic utopia into a defensive position of a mind seeking, amidst reigning chaos, refuge in an immanent intellectual order built on its own premises, an order that allowed to repel as irrelevant any empirical reality that did not fit into those premises. From a speculative construct, structural and generative linguistics (alongside poetics and semiotics) eventually turned into a comprehensive ideology, a worldview that had a profound impact on self-consciousness of its adherents.