Recent book publications

  • Kotarcic, Ana. 2020. Aristotle on Language and Style: The Concept of Lexis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Van Rooy, Raf. 2020. Greece’s Labyrinth of Language: A Study in the Early Modern Discovery of Dialect Diversity. History and Philosophy of the Language Sciences 2. Berlin: Language Science Press.
  • Van Rooy, Raf. 2020. Language or Dialect? The History of a Conceptual Pair. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Van Rooy, Raf, ed. 2020. Essays in the History of Dialect Studies: From Ancient Greece to Modern Dialectology. Münster: Nodus.
  • Swiggers, Pierre, ed. 2018. Language, Grammar, and Erudition: From Antiquity to Modern Times. A Collection of Papers in Honour of Alfons Wouters. Orbis Supplementa 44. Leuven, Paris & Bristol, CT: Peeters.

Upcoming conferences & lectures

Past conferences & lectures

The “Political” and the Language-Dialect Dichotomy, or Fact-Checking Noam Chomsky - Alexander Maxwell (Victoria University of Wellington; June 21, 2021)

Abstract: This paper suggests that linguists pondering the language-dialect dichotomy fall into two schools: apolitical agnostics who view the dichotomy as something political and therefore not linguistic, and objective assertionists, who declare the dichotomy ought to be analyzed on linguistic grounds to the exclusion of political factors. Since Noam Chomsky seems to straddle both schools, the paper then examines his comments on the dichotomy at length, fact-checking assertions concerning the linguistic diversity of Romance and Chinese and the putative scholarly consensus about Dutch and German. The extraordinary role of “the political” as a bugbear in linguistic thought also informs how scholars invoke the Weinreich witticism, and why it generates so much cognitive dissonance.

This talk was organized by Raf Van Rooy (University of Oslo & KU Leuven Center for the Historiography of Linguistics), and partly frames in the course "The history of western linguistics: A survey in myths", taught at the University of Graz this spring.

Language as a Specimen (open workshop at ICHoLS XV, Milan, August 23-27, 2021)

Conveners: Floris Solleveld (KU Leuven), Rebeca Fernández Rodríguez (University of Amsterdam), Anna Pytlowany (independent)

Language was never studied by linguists (or philologists) alone. The greater part of the languages of the world were first known in the West through the reports of missionaries, explorers, and colonial administrators, and what they documented reflected their specific interests. With missionaries, this meant that word lists and grammars were accompanied by Lord’s Prayers, catechisms, and Bible translations; for explorers and administrators, language was one aspect among many to cover in their accounts of faraway regions. Word lists were used to identify peoples and tribes; toponyms served for geographic description; names of plants and animals were gathered together with specimens and images of plants and animals.
Especially the role of naturalist explorers deserves closer attention in this regard. Prominent examples include Peter Simon Pallas, the editor of Catherine the Great’s comparative vocabulary (1786-89); Alexander von Humboldt gathering missionary grammars and other language materials for his brother in South America (1799-1804); and the later South American expeditions by Carl Friedrich von Martius (1817-20) and Alcide d’Orbigny (1826-33). Wilhelm Bleek first analysed the prefix system of Bantu languages on the basis of word lists compiled by naturalist Wilhelm Peters in Mozambique; the languages of the Pacific were documented by the U.S. Exploring Expedition, whose collections laid the basis for the Smithsonian Institution. Much earlier, even Hendrik van Reede’s Hortus Malabaricus (1678), with its names of plants in four languages, was also a linguistic source; one of the first catalogues of languages (Mithridates, 1555) was by Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner.
This workshop investigated the different ways in which linguistic material has been gathered and used in geographic, botanic, medical, ethnographic etc. researches, from the 16th to the early 20th century. One goal of this is to promote a cross-disciplinary perspective on the history of the language sciences; at the same time, we hope to show how such fieldwork avant la lettre contributed to shaping linguistics as a discipline.
Contributions included case studies on individual figures and collections as well as on the circulation of knowledge through specimens and language materials, theoretical reflections on different local/colonial/expert ‘ways of knowing’, comparisons between different regions and periods, or other perspectives relevant to the subject.

The Cross-Linguistic Application of Grammatical Categories and its Mechanisms from Antiquity to Modern Times (open workshop at ICHoLS XV, Milan, August 23-27, 2021)

Convener: Raf Van Rooy (KU Leuven)

How justified and adequate is it to describe two comparable linguistic features in different languages by means of one and the same grammatical category? This thorny issue is a persistent theme in current linguistic debates, but it is not restricted to modern institutionalized linguistics and has been around at least since antiquity, when the Romans adopted and adapted the Ancient Greek grammatical model. For instance, as a result of an incomplete adaptation, categories like ‘article’ slumbered for centuries in Latin grammars, well into the Middle Ages, when Romance languages started to develop actual articles. In the early modern period, the linguistic horizon of Europe expanded, stimulating scholars’ interest in linguistic diversity. This development was fostered by the Renaissance rehabilitation of long-lost languages such as Greek and Hebrew, by the invention of the printing press, and by the explorations of the world. In this context, the vernacular languages of Europe and non-European languages came into the picture too. The widening linguistic horizon often caused great difficulties, especially to scholars wanting to provide a description of languages which were (initially) unfamiliar to them and/or lacked an established grammatical tradition before the early modern period (e.g. Quechua/French). In their attempts at grammatically describing such languages, they generally borrowed terms and categories from an established tradition, often that of Latin grammar.
Against this historical background, this thematic workshop addressed the cross-linguistic application of grammatical categories and its mechanisms from antiquity to modern times. The main questions discussed were:

  1. How, why, and in which context does a scholar decide to apply a grammatical category tailored to one language to others?
  2. What underlying mechanisms ensure whether the cross-linguistic conceptual transfer is successful?

Contributors focused on (1) grammars in which this phenomenon is particularly striking (e.g. grammars with unusual models, missionary grammars) or (2) specific concepts which have repeatedly been applied cross-linguistically in various ways and senses (e.g. aorist, particle).

Language in the Global History of Knowledge (Leuven, April 29-30, 2021)

Conveners: Floris Solleveld & Toon Van Hal (KU Leuven)

This workshop wished to discuss various ways in which language and the study of language figured in the global history of knowledge. Topics include: how linguistic and philological knowledge was ingrained into other sciences and learned practices, how language and knowledge were transmitted simultaneously, the role language and language study played within different knowledge cultures, how language barriers were overcome (or not), the role of interpreters and gate-keepers, the Republic of Letters in global context, the (ambiguous) antecedents of a ‘global knowledge society’.

The Impact of Learning Greek, Hebrew and 'Oriental' Languages on Scholarship, Science, and Society in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Leuven; December 13-15, 2017)

The 2017 LECTIO conference seized the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the Leuven Collegium Trilingue as an incentive both to examine the general context in which institutes like the Trilingue emerged and—more generally—to assess the overall impact of Greek and Hebrew education in the later Middle Ages and the early modern period. Special attention was directed to the learning and teaching practices and to the general impact the study of these languages exerted on scholarship, science and society. For more information, click here.

Latin Language Manuals from Western Christianity (350–750): An International Workshop (Leuven; May 15, 2017)

This international workshop on Latin language manuals from Western Christianity, 350 to 750, took place in Leuven. The workshop program (with abstracts) can be accessed here. The keynote speaker was Louis Holtz.

Dialect: An Interdisciplinary Colloquium (Edmonton; November 3, 2015)

This interdisciplinary colloquium on the concept of "dialect" took place at the University of Alberta, Edmonton (Canada). The program of this meeting can be accessed here.

Perspectives on Language and Culture in Early Christianity (Leuven; September 10-12, 2015)

The international conference “Perspectives on Language and Culture in Early Christianity” took place in Leuven, from Thursday, September 10, to Saturday, September 12, 2015 (click here for the poster). The conference program can be accessed here and the book of abstracts here. The keynote speakers were Thorsten Fögen, Alfons Fürst, Louis Holtz, and Josef Lössl.

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