Lagura: True ‘father of modern linguistics’?

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Ferdinand de Saussure

(1857-1913)

IN THE world of linguistics, the name of Ferdinand de Saussure is mentioned with awe.

Born in Geneva in 1857 to a highly educated family, his father being an entomologist, taxonomist and mineralogist, while three of his brothers were experts in languages.

At an early age, the young Ferdinand excelled in school, most of all in Latin, Ancient Greek and Sanskrit. Later, he took up higher studies in the universities of Geneva, Paris, Berlin and Leipzig.

At 21, he wrote a dissertation on the Indo-European languages; later he studied Lithuanian, specializing on the linguistic peculiarities of this language, under Friedrich Kurschat.

It was in Paris where he taught Sanskrit for 11 years and was awarded the honorary title of “Knight of the Legion of Honor.”

Later, he accepted the invitation to teach in Geneva.

Although he had defended then published his doctoral dissertation, and even after having written later several articles in linguistics, recognition from the academe eluded him.

Only after his death when two former students, Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye, published his notes that the world learned about Ferdinand de Saussure and even gave him the title of “father of modern linguistics.”

Sadly, however, the academic honor he received got tainted with doubts. Some years after de Saussure’s death, researchers found out that a good portion of the highly acclaimed “Course in General Linguistics” was probably contributions inserted by the two former students, Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye, into the notes personally written by Ferdinand de Saussure. Moreover, some academician pointed out that ideas and notes on linguistics originally written by Friedrich Kurschat, F. de Saussure’s Lithuanian teacher, had found their way into the “Course in General Linguistics.”

Thus, the academic luster given to the man hailed as “the father of modern linguistics” got tarnished.

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