In the name of God
History of linguistics By Lepschy
CH.II. The early modern period By Raffaelo Simone (p.149-156)
In 17th and 18th century, in addition to grammarians, scholars, men of letters and word collectors, philosophers and scientists paid attention to language and languages.
As Chomsky mention in his book "Cartesian Linguistics", themes like mind/body debate, the problem of creativity, the man/animal/machine relation, etc. were the questions under study in that era.
In 17th century base on Genesis, they believed in the divine origin of language. (Adam"s creation of language and the history of Tower of Babel*). This issue results in long discussions on the nature of the primeval or Adamic language, in the attempt to define the characteristics of human language as opposed to the language of the angles, to the dispute on the divine or human origin of language.
These arguments also brings under consideration the question of the arbitrary or natural character of language and signs.
In these two centuries the linguistic analysis of the philosophers of the time focused on the relation between language and knowledge, between language and logic and between language and thought. For example, Descartes in his famous letters to Mersenne traces the "ideal" way reason could be linked to language.
Also in the empiricist tradition, language appears as the most powerful means for acquiring and transmitting cognition and knowledge.
Some attempts started to compare the cognitive abilities of man and animals, to study of the ability of automata to simulate intelligent human behavior, and to examine the linguistic potential of animals and machines.
One the very important subjects of linguistic thought in 17th century, was the belief on the intrinsic imperfection of language. This issue results in a reaction to purify language.
In 18th century the question of the origin of language, base on empirical data was under consideration and this issue is one of the manifestations of the widespread interest in the birth of culture, in the archaeology of human knowledge, and it is intertwined with the birth of anthropology.
Base on the concept of a double order of grammars, which was central to those centuries" linguistic thought, the distinguish between "universal grammar" and "particular grammar" was introduced.
There was two different point of view about language change those days. One view believed in the effect of element of whim in changes, and the other view was explained on the basis of the radically arbitrary character of languages which are by their nature liable to change.
In general we can pursue two lines of linguistic thought in 17th & 18th centuries:
1) a "Higher" one: which is especially dedicated to global, philosophical and speculate considerations.
2) a "Lower" one: which consists on specific and factual analysis, aimed principally at teaching, on collections or accumulations of data, on lists often daring etymologies, complicated hypotheses on the origin and kinship of language, etc.
These two lines rarely in general but sometimes in the works of Leibniz cross together. These lines of inquiry not only show the evolution of a ceaseless reflection on language but also they give the birth to methodological perspectives which later developed in the 19th century.