Bloomfield was born in Chicago in 1887, and grew up there and in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. In 1903 he went to Harvard, where, by virtue of some extra credit awarded on entrance, he was able to earn a BA by 1906. He then went to the University of Wisconsin, where his meeting Eduard Prokosch apparently helped him to settle on Germanic and linguistics as a career. In 1908 he left Wisconsin for the University of Chicago, from which institution he received his doctorate in 1909 for his thesis “A Semasiological Differentiation in Germanic Secondary Ablaut”.
In 1909, he began his teaching career that the University of Cincinnati, and in 1910 went to the University of Illinois. In those years his major teaching responsibility was German—often the most basic courses. This occupation with elementary language teaching was by no means just a painful necessity for Bloomfield: he concerned himself with problems of language pedagogy throughout his life, and spent much energy on bitter criticism of the attitudes of educationists whose methods he found sadly wanting in light of modern linguistic understanding.
In 1914 Bloomfield published his first major work, An Introduction to the Study of Language. This book, based on Wundt’s views on the psychological basis of language, was fairly well received, and furnishes an excellently organized and presented view of the state of general linguistics at the time. In 1921, he was offered a promotion from assistant professor at Illinois to full professor at Ohio State University. He naturally accepted, and finally had the opportunity to teach some linguistics, but his primary responsibility was still in German. A more important aspect of his years at Ohio State than his actual teaching there, though , was probably his association with the psychologist Alfred P. Weiss, whose behaviorist views quickly came to replace completely Bloomfield’s earlier acceptance of Wundt.
Bloomfield was invited to the University of Chicago in 1927. It was during this period that he and Sapir were colleagues. Most of the students in linguistics at Chicago were working with Sapir; although Bloomfield again taught some linguistics, his main responsibilities were still in Germanic philology. During his period at Chicago, he became increasingly well known as general linguist. After the publication of his 1933 book Language, Bloomfield became a truly major figure in American linguistics. In 1940 he was made Sterling Professor of Linguistics at Yale, where it was expected that he would be able to devote all of his attention to general linguistics; but unfortunately he never really settled in at Yale.
Bloomfield’s opinions about the nature of language and the procedure by which it should be investigated marked a major reorientation in American linguistics, but we cannot examine here all of the issues raised by his position. Bloomfield observes that from the standpoint of the physicist or physiologist, there are an unlimited number of properties of utterances that could be registered, but of these “only a part are connected with meanings and essential to communication. It with these that the linguist is fundamentally concerned, since the essential task of linguistics is to work out the consequences of the basic postulate that “in every speech community some utterances are alike in form and meaning”. With respect of the sound side of utterances, this implies an analysis of the system by which similarities and differences in form are utilized to signal similarities and differences of meaning.
ANDERSON, STEPHEN R. 1985. PHONOLOGY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS.