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Glossary for Case Study Six.

Prague School of linguistics


Return to Case Study Six Glossary Home    Fumbled last on: 3/29/2002 7:44:21 PM Adelaide South Australia


Prague School of linguistics[1] - Central to their approach was the belief that linguistic theory should go beyond the mere description of linguistic structure to explain the functions fulfilled by linguistic forms.   The phonological elements out of which the word forms are composed are segments consisting of what are referred to technically as distinctive features (following the usage of the Prague school).



Prague School of linguistics as of 29 March 2002.

See: Case Study Six. CS 6.2.1 Prague School

A group of language scholars based in Prague during the 1920s and 1930s, including N. S. Trubetskoy (1890-1938) and Roman Jakobson (1896-1982). Their work was chiefly in the field of Saussurean structural linguistics. They originated aspects of modern phonological theory, drew sociolinguistic distinctions between various aspects of language use (for example, between everyday and poetic language), and devised the concept of analysing both speech sounds and word meanings into ultimate components transcending individual languages. The Macmillan Encyclopedia 2001.



I have begun with the Prague School (1920s and 1930s) as several of those who were influential in it are still being cited and their work is being expanded on. What is important to a study of chatrooms is what was a Central aspect of the Prague School of Linguistics’[2] approach, the belief that linguistic theory should go beyond the mere description of linguistic structure to explain the functions fulfilled by linguistic forms.

They, the Formalists who were the members of the Prague School, concerned themselves with the writer’s technical prowess and craft skill. Before Communist disapproval ended this movement in 1930 there was a growing trend to take account of the sociological dimensions important in the writings of the ‘Bakhtin School’ which combined formalist and Marxist traditions that eventually was ended by Nazism in the 1940s. What I would briefly argue here is that the political systems of the day greatly influence the way communication is structured and interpreted. I would doubt that chatrooms could have emerged in the environment of the Communist, Marxist eras of Formalism.[3]

One aspect of the Prague School was their emphasis on the phonological elements, out of which the word forms are composed are segments consisting of what are referred to technically as distinctive features. These distinctive features are based on sounds of words.[4] However, there are two aspects of phonological elements I would consider may play a part in online communication. Firstly, if a person reads aloud would there be an effect on what the utterance in the chatroom would be?






still has a 4 era


Read aloud, especially at random, as in a person just arriving in the chatroom setting and seeing, still has a 4 era, could be read in one’s mind as ‘four era’. Then the question could be asked, ‘what is a four era?’ An era could be a time period, such as in the Internet era. It could mean many things, for example Google Search Engine gave a result of 13,300,000 for the letters, era. This would mean that era in this utterance could have any of thirteen million meanings. But in this utterance there is a shared knowledge of meaning. In baseball slang, era is the Earned Run Average and is important for a pitcher, as he or she wants to keep the era at a low number, usually fewer than three. A pitcher with a four era is allowing four runs per nine-inning game which is not considered good.

Secondly, are their sounds for emoticons? I would think that there is not. When he or she sees, :) and is thinking aloud whilst online, reading and writing in a chatroom, is there a phonological equivalent? Again, I doubt there is. What we come to then, as this thesis argues several times, is that what is said in a chatroom is only translatable by those who are knowledgeable of the online chat acts of that room.

One who is not familiar with baseball may have difficulty understanding this sequence of utterances in this baseball chatroom.






2anyone have predictions for who will take the west?






 yans, sox,orioles,jays,rays.......indians....mariners  rangers   a's,     standings


Though phonological elements are not useful in a text-based chat analysis, the use of sound is part of the emerging forms of online communication such as voice mail and voice forums where people send voice emails to one another instead of writing an email. As voice mail is similar to telephone speak and this thesis is based on text-based chat I will not explore it here. Of course, in voice email and voice forums, we cannot use the abbreviations and emoticons which are part of the emerging new language of online communication. We can also consider that the style of utterance in a chatroom is a dialect.

"speakers of one dialect may be set off from speakers of a different dialect by the use of certain pronunciations, words, and grammatical forms" (292). Roger W. Shuy

In a spoken dialect, phonological cues are important when we identify what someone means. Furthermore, the use of certain words or grammatical forms in speech would mark a person's membership within the chatroom of that dialect, taking into account shared meanings of emoticons and abbreviations. Therefore, as is shown in this baseball chatroom, having a shared knowledge (the beginning of the baseball season) is as important for a chat speech event to be accomplished as knowing what the shared language is.

126. /





sox are gonna get radke


Sox would be understood by others in the chatroom to be the Boston Red Sox baseball team and Brad Radke, at the time of this chat, was a second base player for the Minnesota Twins.

The aim of this brief look at the Prague School was to investigate the interface between linguistics and online chat. This has been an area of research, which in the past has lead to different innovative movements, like Russian Formalism, the Amsterdam School of Stylistics and the Prague School. One wishing to further research bridging gaps between ‘schools’ of the past and the current chaos of online talk might explore how the insights of one discipline borrows from the other as well as to explore the mutual influences of the past? And most importantly what can one discipline contribute to the other in our current milieu with the understanding of instant textual-based communication that I am discussing in this thesis.

Inspired by the ideas of the Prague School, the next theory I will look at, as part of an understanding of how structure in a chatroom dialogue is established is the theory of Functional Sentence Perspective (FSP). FSP is concerned with the distribution of information as determined by all meaningful elements, from intonation (for speech), to emoticons and abbreviations to context.


[1]  Prague School of linguistics as of 29 March 2002.

[2] Vachek's Josef. The Linguistic School of Prague: An introduction to its theory and practice, published by Indiana University Press in 1966.

Below is copied form the Prague School’s front page, (29 March 2002). I have copied it for reference purposes due to often occurring disappearing pages on the Internet.

‘The Prague Linguistic Circle was one of the most influential schools of linguistic thought in pre-war linguistics. Through its former members like Roman Jakobson or René Wellek (, it influenced modern American linguistics as well as many other linguists in the world.

Although the 'classical period' of the Circle can be dated between 1926, the year of the first meeting, and the beginning of WWII, its roots are in much of the earlier work of its members, and also it did not completely cease its work with the outbreak of the war.

Among the founding members were such personalities as Vilém Mathesius (President of PLC until his death in 1945), Roman Jakobson, Nikolay Trubetzkoy, Sergei Karcevskiy, Jan Mukařovský, and many others who began to meet in the mid-twenties to discuss issues of common interest.

The, at first, irregular meetings with lectures and discussions gradually developed into regular ones. The first results of the members' cooperative efforts were presented in joint theses prepared for the First International Congress of Slavicists held in Prague in 1929. These were published in the 1st volume of the then started series Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Prague.

The Théses outlined the direction of the work of the Circle's members. Such important concepts as the approach to the study of language as a synchronic system which is, however, dynamic, functionality of elements of language, and the importance of the social function of language were explicitly laid down as the basis for further research.

[3] An interesting ‘For further research’ study, and I am not aware that anyone has worked with this, is how the belief systems; religious, political, sociological and psychological, influence the communicative fields of meaning translation throughout varying historical periods. Historical Linguistics is the study of change in individual languages and in language generally but I have not found correlations to it to the political view of the time during which the theory was pursued.

[4] Phonological cues that characterize members in spoken communication do not exist in a text based chat. Instead, textual cues used by chat participants take the place of the phonological cues that would arise in speech. For example the emoticons used in a chatroom.