Copenhagen School


The representative figure & work:
 Louis Hjelmslev, 1899-1965


Louis Hjelmslev was born in 1899 in Copenhagen. His father was a mathematician and a prominent figure in Danish academic administration at the time, who served as rector of Copenhagen University in 1928-29. It is superficially appealing to credit Helmslevs inclination toward highly abstract algebraic theory to his fathers influence; yet not only did Helmslev himself deny such influence, but sort of work he did seems rather at odds with the specifics of his fathers research.  In addition, Helmslevs own use of mathematical terms in ways far removed from their technical acceptation I that field suggests that any influence from his father was in the form of a general intellectual atmosphere rather than any specific mathematical training.


In 1917, Hjelmslev entered Copenhagen university, where he studies Romance and later comparative philology with a number of distinguished figures, especially Holger Pedersens influence he became interested in Lithuanian, and spent the year 1921 doing research in Lithuania which resulted in his 1923 masters degree for a thesis on Lithuanian Phonetics. The year after he received his MA was spent in Prague, where his knowledge of traditional Indo-European studies was developed .He was much happier to spend 1926 and 1927 in Paris, where he studied with Meillet, Vendryes, and others; the attachment to things French formed at this time was a lasting one, as shown in the fact that during his entire career the bulk of his writing in languages other than Danish was in French.


In 1928 he produce a book (Principes de grammaire generale) that aimed ambitiously at providing a general theoretical foundation for the study of language. The continuity between this book and his later work is evident from its goal of developing an abstract formal system within which the concrete categories are found as possibilities, each having an exact location defined by conditions for its realization and its combination with other categories(Fischer-Jorgensen 1965:vi) This work was so uncompromisingly theoretical in nature that Pedersen was unwilling to accept it as a thesis for the doctorate, requiring instead that Hjelmslev produce some piece of research more directly grounded in factual material. As a result, he produced his Estudes baltiques in 1932, a rather traditional work of historical phonology dealing with Baltic phonology and especially with principles governing suprasegmental factors in theses languages: tone, accent, and quantity. Aside from earning him a doctorate, this study also served as a source of examples defining important research problems in his later work.


During the same period, he also undertook (by request) the ending of the manuscripts and other writing of Rasmus Rask. He published three volumes of Rasks manuscripts (in 1932,1933,1935) with commentary. His student Marie Bjerrum published a final volume, consisting of Rasks letters and further commentary, much later. Helmslev was obviously fascinated by Rask both personally and intellectually: he considered that the general evaluation of this scholar was completed misguided, and argued in a paper given in Paris in1950 (published in 1951) that the major goal of Rasks work, especially toward the end of his rather short life, was not the development of historical linguistics (the connection in which his name is generally cited), but the development of a general typology of linguistic structure in terms of which a basically a historical comparison of languages would be possible.


Hjelmslevs work in phonology can be said to date from 1931, the year of the International Congress of Linguistics in Geneva. At that meeting the phonologists of the Prague school were actively proselytizing for their novel approach to sound structure. One result of this was formation of phonological committees in various research centers; and Hjelmslev participated in the creation of such a committee in Copenhagen under the auspices of the Linguistic Circle of Copenhagen. The initial goal of this committee was to produce a phonological description of Danish, but Hjelmslevs work tended more toward the creation of a general theory of sound structure, especially after he began to work together with Hans Jorgen Uldall


The collaboration between Hjelmslev and Uldall began shortly after his return, within the context of the phonological committee. Its first concrete result was a paper On the Principles of phonematics, presented to the International congress of Phonetic Science in London in 1935. While the picture of phonematics presented in the paper is quite close in spirit to Praguian phonology., it also diverges quite clearly in important details. For instance, Hjelmslev and Uldall reject both the sort of psychological definition of phonemes characteristics of the very earliest Prague school work under the influence of Baudouin de Couetenay, and also any sort of purely phonetic definition which would identify phonemes with external physically properties of the speech event. Instead, they require that phonemes be defined exclusively by criteria of distribution, alternation, etc., within the linguistic pattern, as foreshadowed already in Hjemslevs earlier Principes de grammaire generale


The differences between Hjemslevs view and those of the Prague phonologists were quite explicit; indeed, this is a point Hjelmslev insisted on many times. Virtually all of his papers dealing with sound structure contain at least an aside and sometimes as the main point, a reproof of phonology as making an important conceptual mistake in basing its analysis on consideration of substance-especially on phonetic properties. Hjemslevs interaction with Trubetzkoy and Jakobson involved a considerable amount of mutual criticism, though it was never especially bitter or personal in tone on either side. Relations between glossematics and other forms of structural linguistics seem never to have been particularly warm either, however.


Since 1934, Hjelmslev had been a reader in comparative linguistics in Aarhus, where Uldall had joined him in order to continue their joint work. In 1937, Hjemslev succeeded Pedersen in the chair of general linguistics in Copenhagen. By this time, the two had decided that their views on phonematics could be combined with Hjelmslevs earlier work on grammatical categories into a general theory of language. Both felt that this was the first approach to language that treated it in itself and for its own sake rather than as a combination of the objects of other, nonlinguistic disciplines-such as psychology, physiology, and acoustic phonetics, etc. A distinct name warranted emphasizing this difference from previous linguistics and thus the field of glossematics was born.


In order to give substance to glossematics, Hjelmslev and Uldall wanted to provide a complete set of definitions and concepts that would constitute a rigorous, internally consistent framework of principles, founded on bare minimum of terms from outside the system. Such a theoretical apparatus would specify the sorts of formal system that count as languages in the most general terms, and also what constitutes an analysis of a language.


The latter notion is described in glossematic writing as a set of procedures of analysis-probably an unfortunate term, since it suggested the sort of field procedures a linguist not knowing a given language might actually apply to arrive at an analysis of it. In fact, the notion of procedure in glossematics is a specification of the form a finished analysis takes, not the way one arrives at it. To say that texts are made up of paragraphs, which are made up of sentence, which are made up of clauses, etc., is to say nothing at all about how to go about dividing up an actual text in practice , and glossematics had no real practical hints to offer on this score. Rather, it was assumed that the linguist went about learning and analyzing a language using any methods or shortcuts that turned out to be convenient: only after arriving at an analysis was it to be organized so as to conform to the glossematic procedure.


Hjemslev and Uldall kept developing and elaborating their analytic framework and system of definitions, with the hopes of publishing soon a detailed Outline of Glossematics. In 1936 at the International Congress of Linguists in Copenhagen, they distributed a pamphlet of a few pages, identified as a sample from a work of this title to be published in autumn. No year was specified for this autumn however, and it became a standing joke among linguists in Copenhagen. Such a long-delayed but much referred to work, supplying the conceptual underpinning for a good deal of other work, cannot fail to remind linguists of a more recent vintage of the Sound Pattern of English.


In 1939, as the war was beginning, Uldall finally was offered a more secure position-in Greece, with the British Council. His departure effectively severed the glossematic collaboration during the war years, but the two continued to work independently on what they still considered their joint project. Hjelmslev completed a sort of outline of the theory, but felt he ought not to publish it in Uldalls absence (it ultimately published in 1975, as a

Résumé of a Theory of Language). Instead, he produced in 1943 a sort of introduction to the theory and its conceptual basis, under the title Omkring spogteoriens grund lggelse (translated into English in 1953 with some minor revisions as Prolegomena to a Theory of Language).


Though Hjelmslev at least claimed to regard this as a sort of popular work, indeed a work of vulgarization, it is surely one of the densest and least readable works ever produced in linguistics. It is largely through this book (and reviews of it), however, that linguists outside Hjelmslevs immediate circle came to know anything about the substance of glossematics. In 1952, he taught in the Linguistic Society of Americas Summer Linguistic Institute, where he had an opportunity to present his view to a North American audience. This event certainly made glossematics better known outside Europe, but does not appear to have produced many converts to the theory.


Hjemslev and Ulall continued to work independently on the theory over the following years, but were unable to spend much time together. Uldall was briefly in London, and held a succession of positions in Argentina, Edinburgh, and later in Nigeria; he was able to spend 1951-52 in Copenhagen but by this time it appear that his and Hjelmslevs view had come to diverge significantly. They still hoped to bring out a unified Outline of Glossematics; in fact, Uldall published part1 of such a work in 1957, but Hjemslev found himself unable to write his proposed part2 on the basis of Uldalls presentation. Uldall himself died of a heart attack in 1957; and Hjelmslevs own time during the 1950s and the early 1960s was increasingly devoted to university administrative tasks rather than to the further development of glossematics. Tough he produced a number of papers on particular topics, including at least one (La stratification du language, 1954) with a general scope; he never published any more comprehensive description of his theory beyond that in the Prolegomena. He died in 1965.


The recommend web site

       (This page gives us a short introduction of Louis Hjelmslev's  


       人民書城 --結構主義語言學的三個流派

               class001800001/ hwz204263.htm




     Hjelmslev, Louis. (1970). Language: An Introduction. Madison: Univ. of