Diachrony and synchrony

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Synchrony and diachrony are two complementary viewpoints in linguistic analysis. A synchronic approach (from Ancient Greek: συν- "together" and χρόνος "time") considers a language at a moment in time without taking its history into account. Synchronic linguistics aims at describing a language at a specific point of time, usually the present. In contrast, a diachronic (from δια- "through" and χρόνος "time") approach, as in historical linguistics, considers the development and evolution of a language through history.[1]

Conceptual development[edit]

The concepts were theorized by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, professor of general linguistics in Geneva from 1896 to 1911, and appeared in writing in his posthumous Course in General Linguistics published in 1916. In contrast with most of his predecessors, who focused on historical evolution of languages, Saussure emphasized the primacy of synchronic analysis of languages to understand their inner functioning, though never forgetting the importance of complementary diachrony.

This dualistic opposition has been carried over into philosophy and sociology, for instance by Roland Barthes and Jean-Paul Sartre. Jacques Lacan also used it for psychoanalysis.[2] Prior to de Saussure, many similar concepts were also developed independently by Polish linguists Jan Baudouin de Courtenay and Mikołaj Kruszewski of the Kazan School, who used the terms statics and dynamics of language.[3]

In 1970 Eugenio Coșeriu, revisiting De Saussure's synchrony and diachrony distinction in the description of language, coined the terms diatopic, diastratic and diaphasic to describe linguistic variation.[4][5][6]


  1. ^ Giacalone Ramat, Anna; Mauri, Caterina; Molinelli, Piera, eds. (2013). Synchrony and Diachrony: A dynamic interface. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: John Benjamins North America. pp. 17, 18. ISBN 978-9027272072. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  2. ^ Lacan, Jacques (1978). Miller, Jacques-Alain (ed.). The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. France: Éditions du Seuil. p. 46. ISBN 0393317757. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  3. ^ Allan, Keith (2013). The Oxford Handbook of the History of Linguistics. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. p. 172. ISBN 9780199585847. Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  4. ^ Kastovsky, D. and Mettinger A. (eds.) The History of English in a Social Context: A Contribution to Historical Sociolinguistics, Introduction, p.xiii
  5. ^ Eugenio Coșeriu (1970) Einführung in die strukturelle Betrachtung des Wortschatzes
  6. ^ Harr, A. K. (2012) Language-Specific Factors in First Language Acquisition: The Expression of Motion Events in French and German, p.12

Further reading[edit]

  • de Saussure, Ferdinand (1983). Bally, Charles; Sechehaye, Albert (eds.). Course in General Linguistics. Translated by Harris, Roy. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court. ISBN 0-8126-9023-0.