Grammar as science: Beauzée’s theory of tense and the metaphysics of time

Lin Chalozin-Dovrat*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This article aims to deepen our understanding of Nicolas Beauzée’s (1717–89) attempt to establish a science of grammar modeled upon natural philosophy. At the heart of this endeavor stood Beauzee’s analysis of grammatical time. Beauzée’s tense theory, first published in 1765, had a profound impact on our understanding of tense as a complex system of reference, establishing order relations between events described within discourse and the moment of speech. While historians of linguistics have recognized Beauzée’s contribution to the theory of tense, its greater significance has not been hitherto appreciated: Beauzée reinvented general grammar as a modern science combining Cartesian and Newtonian principles. Building on Port-Royal’s notion of general grammar, Beauzée sought to establish “grammatical metaphysics”—a surefoundationfora science of grammar. This aspiration, especially evident in his theory of grammatical time, together with Beauzée’s numerous references to physics, astronomy, geography, geometry, and metaphysics, amounted to an elaborate strategy of scientification, taking the natural sciences not merely as inspiration but as a coveted epistemological ideal for general grammar’s scientific remodeling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-102
Number of pages24
JournalHistory of Humanities
Volume4
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2019

Funding

FundersFunder number
Cohn Institute for History
Tel Aviv University

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