Copenhagen School

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The Copenhagen School is a center of structural linguistics founded in 1931 by Louis Hjelmslev and Viggo Brøndal .


The Copenhagen School is one of the centers of structural linguistics alongside the Geneva School and the Prague School . In order to distinguish themselves from other linguistic traditions, Louis Hjelmslev and Hans Jørgen Uldall coined the term glossematic in 1936 with the idea of ​​obtaining a formalized description of language.

Building on Brøndal's emphasis on distinguishing the purely formal properties of a system and its substance, Hjelmslev, the main author of the Copenhagen School, put forward a formal linguistic approach in the 1930s that later became known as glossematics (double duality of the linguistic sign). He formulated his language theory together with Uldall as an attempt to analyze the expression side (phonetic and grammatical) and the content side of a language according to uniform principles. He assumed that language is not the only means of communication (cf. non-verbal communication ) and was interested in a general theory of communication signs, semiotics or semiology. The Copenhagen School relied more than any other school on the doctrine of de Saussure , although in many ways it was based on old traditions. B. tried to reconnect logic and grammar. In any case, Hjelmslev has taken over the psychological interpretation of the linguistic sign and has expanded his research in the area of ​​the sign far beyond the purely linguistic.

As an orientation of structuralism , the Glossematik de Saussure's concept of linguistic signs continues.

The main ideas are:

  1. A language consists of content and expression.
  2. A language consists of a sequence and a system.
  3. Content and expression are linked by commutation .
  4. There are certain relationships in the sequence and in the system.
  5. There is no one-to-one correspondence between content and expression, but the characters can be broken down into smaller components.

If de Saussure was more interested in langue than in parole, this was particularly true of the Copenhagen school. The idea that language is a form and not a substance was represented there in its purest form. The focus here was on the relationship system within language on a high level of abstraction. This somewhat one-sided formalism has often earned this school criticisms such as 'anti-humanism' and 'linguistics in a vacuum'.


  • Jörn Albrecht : European structuralism. An overview of the history of research. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1988, pp. 61-66.
  • Gerhard Helbig: History of modern linguistics. Under the special aspect of grammar theory. Max Hueber Verlag, Munich 1971. Therein chapter: The Copenhagen School , pp. 60–72.

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