LINGUIST List 2.462

Tue 03 Sep 1991

Disc: Sound-Change

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  1. bert peeters, Natural Sound-Change
  2. bert peeters, Sound-Change and Teleology
  3. "Michael Kac", Re: Natural Sound-Change

Message 1: Natural Sound-Change

Date: Tue, 3 Sep 91 10:07:20 EST
From: bert peeters <>
Subject: Natural Sound-Change
> Date: Tue, 27 Aug 91 13:12:27 PDT
> From:
> Subject: Natural Sound Change
> [...] Which
> brings me to the following recommendation (to be read before Bert Peeters'
> Martinet reference, i.e. in chronological sequence): Paul Passy. 1890.
> "Etude sur les Changements Phonetiques" Paris: Librairie-Diderot. One of the
> earliest works discussing the two great opposing forces in language: ease and
> clarity.
Correction to Rick's reference:
Passy, Paul. 1890. _Etude sur les changements phone'tiques et leurs
caracte`res ge'ne'raux_. Paris: Firmin-Didot.
(Diderot may sound more French, but at the end of the 19th century he had
long died... :-) )
In my 200-page MS referred to in earlier posts (_Diachronie, phonologie, et
linguistique fonctionnelle_) there is a chapter titled "L'e'conomie
linguistique d'Andre' Martinet mise en perspective". It contains ample
refs to people who before Martinet had said similar things without bringing
them all together under the one heading of "economy". Copies of the MS are
still available for interested LINGUIST readers who wish to comment and to
exchange publications in areas to be mutually agreed upon.
> Date: Fri, 30 Aug 91 11:47:42 CDT
> Subject: Sound change
> [...] The purpose of this note is both to request and to offer:
> to ask if anyone has found a metaphor that helps them grasp
> that elusive moment when random variation turns into nascent
> regular change; and to offer two of my own (as yet whimsical) images
> for possible discussion -- (1) the Brownian motion of molecules
> in a fluid, and (2) a stampede of wildebeests. Yes, whimsical:
> I hereby forbid any reader to treat either one as a solid proposal
> at this time.
I've always been quite impressed with Martinet's description of sound
change in terms of "fields of dispersion", "margins of security" and
"centers of gravity" (the latter NOT the kind of thing Roger Lass refers
too in an article published in the early eighties). Details and allusions
to earlier similar ideas can again be found in my MS mentioned before.
(Sorry to make so much publicity for my own work; if you get annoyed,
please stop reading and skip to the next contribution. :-) )
> [...] Kiparsky, in
> "Historical Linguistics" discusses the difference between "competence
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> (in Lyons, ed.; not his 1971 essay of the same title, in Dingwall, ed. --
> chapter 3 of K's 1982 book _Explanation in Phonology_)
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> vs. "performance theories" of sound change (referring to where change
> is thought to originate). H. Anderson, in a 1973 article in _Language_,
> distinguishes between "evolutive" and "adaptive" changes.
> My question: What does anyone today think of either or both
> of these dichotomies? Are they valid?
For readers who can't immediately identify Lyons, ed (1970): it is the
Pelican Original titled _New Horizons in Linguistics_ (Kiparsky's paper is
on pp. 302-315.
Although "change" is the commonly used terminology, we should be reminded
every so now and then that there is no such thing. In a language system
and in a speaker's competence, there is no change, no evolution, but merely
substitution of variants. Change and evolution are performance-related
concepts. For the third time around (SORRY!!) there is a bit more on this
in my MS.
Dr Bert Peeters Tel: +61 02 202344
Department of Modern Languages 002 202344
University of Tasmania at Hobart Fax: 002 202186
GPO Box 252C
Hobart TAS 7001
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Message 2: Sound-Change and Teleology

Date: Tue, 3 Sep 91 10:24:23 EST
From: bert peeters <>
Subject: Sound-Change and Teleology
> Date: Thu, 29 Aug 1991 23:57 EET
> Subject: Teleology of function/purpose
> [...] Suppose the Latin change "-nct- > -nt-" (quinctus > quintus;
> sanctus > santus; &c) took place because the sequence -nct- was
> "not easy enough". This is scarcely substantially different from
> saying that this change took place for the purpose of ease
> of pronunciation. That is: the gist of Martinet's principle of
> economy remains the same, whether economy is conceived as a telos,
> or as a function.
Not at all. If purpose of ease of pronunciation were the real motive behind
sound change, far more changes would occur than actually do and most
languages would be in a total state of anarchy. It is actually very often
possible to think of easier pronunciations than the ones that currently
prevail in a language. Yet these easier pronunciations do not necessarily
come about because the way in which we speak is not too bad after all (that
is, we can cope with our languages as they are). But at times, there will
be a quite general feeling that such or such a pronunciation is really
"not easy enough" (or in other words, is too hard). That is the beginning
of a sound change, and it's got to be explained not in terms of the result
but in terms of the origin. Hence, the gist of Martinet's principle of
economy is not that it is a disguised form of teleology. He is quite
explicit as far as that is concerned (but lots of people do not read him
carefully enough). Am I allowed to refer once more to "the" MS?
Dr Bert Peeters Tel: +61 02 202344
Department of Modern Languages 002 202344
University of Tasmania at Hobart Fax: 002 202186
GPO Box 252C
Hobart TAS 7001
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Message 3: Re: Natural Sound-Change

Date: Mon, 2 Sep 91 21:00:03 -0500
From: "Michael Kac" <>
Subject: Re: Natural Sound-Change
Rick Wojcik is 100% right in pointing out that 'natural' means different
things in different contexts, and that sometimes it appears to mean only
'frequent' (though we would, of course, be led to want to see what it is
that favors such things if it isn't obvious).
I will point out one other common sense of 'natural', this time as it's used
in reference to specific analyses of linguistic phenomena -- as in 'The na-
tural solution to this problem is ...' Here the term has a highly technical
usage, on which it means 'my'.
Michael Kac
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