Theorie en beginsel. R.J. Dam en zijn controverse met H.J. Pos [tekst]

J. Noordegraaf

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In January 1932, Dr Roelf Jan Dam (1896-1945), a classical scholar who was the Principal of the Gereformeerd Gymnasium at Kampen, sent a fifteen page 'bezwaarschrift' (gravamen) to the Board of Governors of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. His objections were directed against the philosophical and linguistic views and methods of Dr Hendrik Josephus Pos (1898-1955), who was a professor of Classical Philology and General Linguistics at this university (1924-1932), and who is considered to have been a prominent Dutch member of the linguistic structuralist enterprise. In this connection, it is important to note that the Vrije Universiteit Pos was attached to was not a State University, but was funded by a Society which was then based on strictly Calvinist, that is to say Reformed principles. Studying four subsequent publications by Pos (1922, 1923, 1924 and 1926) very thoroughly, Dam, a strict Calvinist, became convinced that the views which Pos had put forward in these writings were not consistent with the Calvinistic principles as he himself understood them. In order to safeguard his alma mater against those un-Calvinistic and destructive teachings he asked the Governors for their opinion on the doctrine he had challenged, presenting to them an analysis of the epistemological and linguistic views held by Pos. Having confronted Pos's views with classical Reformed ideas in this field, Dam came to the conclusion that Pos's approach was not based at all upon Calvinist notions. Actually, it appears that in his scholarly work Pos, who at that time still belonged to the liberal wing of the Reformed Churches, in principle did not take into account religious presuppositions. However this may be, in a certain sense Dam's gravamen was too late: in June 1932, Pos left the Vrije Universiteit to become professor of Philosophy at the Municipal University of Amsterdam, without having replied to Dam's 'bezwaarschrift'. Dam's study, which is published here for the first time, is interesting because of the fact that, as far as I know, it is the very first paper in which Pos' early linguistic publications are analysed as a coherent body of texts from one fixed and most critical point of view. Until recently, studies on Pos's work from the first half of the 1920's were rather scarce, whereas his programmatic structuralist publications from the late 1930's have been attracting much more attention from international linguistic scholarship. It is suggested that Pos's anti-neogrammarian stance in the early 1920's may be linked up with a certain affiliation with Wilhelm von Humboldt, whose works he considered to be the pinnacle in 19th-century general linguistics. Dam had received his doctoral degree at the University of Utrecht in 1930. A couple of years before, however, in 1926, he had asked his former fellow-student Pos to act as the supervisor of the doctoral dissertation he wished to submit to the Faculty of Arts of the Vrije Universiteit, and Pos had agreed to that. In the dissertation Dam was preparing in the years 1926-28, he intended to scrutinize modern linguistic doctrines in order to find out to what extent they were consistent with Calvinist thought. Starting from a literal interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, Dam was of the opinion that from 1816 onwards, linguistics had taken a "satanic course", and he did not hesitate to express this opinion in very clear terms. For example, in his chapter on the origin of language he based himself on the story as told in Genesis. Thus, it can be argued that Dam practised a rather specific variety of God's truth linguistics. From Dam's letters kept in the Pos Archives (Amsterdam) it becomes clear that the sober minded scholar H.J. Pos could not accept such a Bible based approach. An agreement could not be reached in any way, and this meant a final split between the former fellow-students. Dam's VU dissertation was not finished. He decided to write another dissertation on a different subject and to obtain a doctoral degree elsewhere. At any rate, as one can establish a connection between Dam's unvollendete and his writing both against Pos (1932) and against those who proposed a reform of the spelling of the Dutch language in the 1930's, it might be concluded that the work done by Dam when preparing his first dissertation served as an excellent training for his gravamen against H.J. Pos.
Original languageDutch
PublisherStichting Neerlandistiek VU, Amsterdam & Nodus Publikationen Münster
Publication statusPublished - 1991

Bibliographical note

Theorie en beginsel. R.J. Dam en zijn controverse met H.J. Pos. Amsterdam: Stichting Neerlandistiek VU & Nodus Publikationen Münster, 1991.

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