Course in General Linguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure was in many ways a reaction against the tradition of earlier branches of philology and historical linguistics which were focused primarily on the development of languages over time. The reasons for this were threefold:
- Classical philology as a discipline developed around the study of Greek and Latin.
- One primary focus of linguists in the nineteenth century (in the west) had been critical studies of the Bible, involving, inter alia, the attempt to reconstruct an Adamic language.
- The British colonization of England led to the development of the Indo-European hypothesis, and many linguistics focused on trying to understand the family tree of the Indo-European languages.
This historical study is called "diachronic". Saussure argued that it was also possible to study language synchronically, in terms of how language function as a system at a single moment in time and space, rather than comparatively or diachronically.