Archive for January, 2009

Professional identification

January 18, 2009

This is my page on I am using it as a personal site. The WordPress format makes it easy to leave your comments on the page. I am providing some details about my professional activities and making some of my scientific publications accessible on the web. You are welcome to discuss and criticize them.

Anton Zimmerling

Linguistics and philology

I am a linguist AND a philologist. I consider linguistics and philology as two separate research fields. I identify myself primarily as a linguist, who is also a professionally trained philologist: I have published three volumes of commented editions of Old Icelandic medieval texts in my Russian translations – see the pages [SAGA STUDIES] and [SAGA of ICELANDERS]. I am doing both synchronic linguistics and comparative linguistics.  On the one hand, I offered such lecture courses, as e.g. ‘Introduction to Linguistic Theory’  or ‘Parametric Syntax’; at some point of my career I was also teaching modern languages at the universities. On the other hand, I have an experience of giving such courses as ‘Comparative Germanic grammar’, ‘Historic phonology’, ‘History of the Danish language’  (see the page [CURRICULUM VITAE]). Most of my colleagues, who are doing medieval or classical studies and dealing with texts in old languages, claim that they are both philologists and linguistics at once and that linguistics gives them only one part of the tools they need in their multidisciplinary approach to remote cultures. This is not my case: when I am  dealing with texts on a dead language, I am EITHER a linguist (when I am following, say, oblique subjects or double object constructions in it- see the page [TYPOLOGICAL SCANDINAVIAN SYNTAX]) or a philologist (when I am trying to date a protograph or establish the authenticity of some poetry – see the page [SKALDIC STUDIES]). Some of our contemporaries and definitely better minds than me still may boast an integrated approach to classical and medieval texts  in our day. I admire them – see some of my reviews on page [REVIEWS], but I don’t follow their footsteps myself. Partly this is due to my narrowmindedness and to the fact that I have never been in a situation, where I could solve philological problems, for instance, give an exact dating of a saga, basing *solely *on such tools as percentage of discourse particles, Verb-Subject orders, absences of some types of relative clauses etc. At the same time I am convinced that linguistics and philology rely on principles of their own and their methods should not be mixed together.

As far as I see, modern linguistics has at least three different aspects as a science. Certainly it is one the humanities, and that it is still taught at faculties of Arts (though not everywhere – there is at least one linguistic faculty in Moscow which is divorced from philological faculty) is appropriate. But is also a natural science, since natural languages exist as system objects in space and time: it may and must be studied with methods appropriate for natural sciences, despite it certainly remains less formal than physics or chemistry. In the middle of the XXth century we realized that linguistics is also a mathematical or computational science. After seminal discoveries of Chomsky and other great minds we learned that natural and formal languages (and their grammars) share a number of basic features; accordingly, we can explore now, to what extent the grammar(s) of natural languages conform(s) to different classes of formal grammars. See some recent research findings made by myself and my colleagues involved in my current projects – pages [PROJECT RGNF] and [DIALOGUE 2008].

Linguistic research (when carried out at its best) typically has greater explanatory force and greater predictability rate than philological research. Even if one deals with chronologically remote epochs and has very incomplete knowlegde of excint languages, it is sometimes possible to get exact results, if the reasearch target is chosen correctly and research methods are appropriate. Of course, I can be mistaken and overestimate my own imperfect attempts; see the page [HISTORICAL PHONOLOGY AND ACCENTOLOGY]. I don’t think that the explanatory force of philological sciences will increase automatically, if we apply linguistic slang and import structuralist or generative notions into them and speak of, say ‘privative oppositions’ or ‘movement to a ‘specifier position’ in literary studies. On the contrary, I think that each branch should retain its method and respect its traditions.