In many ways, linguistic criticism is a legacy of the work done in the early twentieth century by Ferdinand de Saussure, the great French theorist whose posthumously published work has been the point of departure for all modern structuralism, not only in linguistics but also in anthropology and other disciplines. American structural linguistics, the principles and research program for which were laid down by Leonard Bloomfield in his Language (1933), was concerned with establishing the structure—phonological, morphological, syntactical, and semantic—of languages conceived as systematic wholes. It dealt with what Saussure’s Cours de linguistique generale (1916; Course in General Linguistics) called the langue, the system of a limited repertoire of sounds, on whose differentiation differences of meaning depend, and of a limited number of kinds of sentence elements that can be combined in certain orders and hierarchical relationships, as distinguished from parole, particular utterances. To elicit these elements and rules of combination for a given language, linguists depended primarily on speech rather than on written texts. Furthermore, Bloomfieldian linguists tended to concentrate their efforts on the description of “exotic” languages rather than of English. Meanwhile, literary critics focused their attention on particular written texts, deemed literary, and were concerned with the interpretation and evaluation of these works of individual writers.
Poems and other literary works are, of course, works of verbal art whose...
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