Let us assume that one would have to present the history of 20th century linguistics in a nutshell: what would be the main lines of development? Would it be possible at all to synthesize a century of theoretical development into a few pages? The present paper contains a proposal for how this might be done. I will try to identify some of the main lines in the development of 20th century linguistics, I will argue that this development is characterized by a succession of a decontextualising and a recontextualising movement, and I will compare the development of linguistic theory with the development of literary theory, where a more or less similar development may be found. Obviously, there is a price to pay for the attempt to cover such a vast domain. For one thing, I will be able to focus only on the mainstream developments in the international scene of linguistics, disregarding local traditions, isolated individual achievements, and forerunners. For an other, a historiographical programme of this type basically takes the form of a logical reconstruction: can we retrospectively find a perspective that brings order into the apparent chaos? To what extent does the development len
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