Functional linguistics

Authored by: J. Lachlan Mackenzie

The Routledge Handbook of Linguistics

Print publication date:  July  2015
Online publication date:  July  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415832571
eBook ISBN: 9781315718453
Adobe ISBN: 9781317513049


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The notion of functional linguistics is associated in many linguists’ minds with a dichotomy between formal and functional approaches. The rivalry between the two ways of doing linguistics loomed over the field until fairly recently, with functionalism being seen by formalists as a wrong-headed negation of the principles they held dear, just as functionalists saw formalists as fundamentally misguided. Towards the end of the last century departments of linguistics, especially but not exclusively in the United States, tended to align themselves with one or the other orientation, and it is significant that Newmeyer (1998), a work that contrasts the two approaches from a primarily formalist perspective, begins with a ‘not totally imaginary’ (p. 1) dialogue that pits a formalist professorship interviewee against a functionalist one. In more recent years, however, it has become much less usual to qualify functional linguistics in negative terms, that is, simply as a rejection of formalist positions. The old antagonism has yielded to a more peaceful coexistence as publication after publication has recognized functional linguistics as having validity in its own right and as being anchored in a long and valuable tradition. This is the position to be taken in this chapter.

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