Presentist, trajectorial and heliocentric approaches to teaching the history of linguistics


  • John E. Joseph University of Edinburgh



history of linguistics, scientific ideologies, William Dwight Whitney, Ferdinand de Saussure, Noam Chomsky


This paper considers options for positioning the present in relation to the past in teaching the history of linguistics. It proposes three approaches as having been demonstrably practiced (presentist, trajectorial and heliocentric), plus a fourth (antiquarian) that is less likely to be publicized. They are exemplified and explored through a look at how the history of linguistics has been taught within the history of linguistics, in particular by William Dwight Whitney (a presentist), Ferdinand de Saussure (a trajectorialist) and Noam Chomsky (a heliocentrist). Key questions that arise include: What strategies and tactics can be inferred from their treatment of their predecessors? And to what extent can the teacher determine the course orientation, given that students, coming to it with their various backgrounds, experiences and expectations of the science, will receive it in different ways?

Note: A video of the session in which this was presented and the associated slide deck are available in the foreword to this issue


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How to Cite

Joseph, John E. 2024. “Presentist, Trajectorial and Heliocentric Approaches to Teaching the History of Linguistics”. Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America 9 (2): 5745.