LINGUIST List 2.471

Sat 07 Sep 1991

Disc: Sound-Change

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  1. Geoffrey Russom, Re: Sound-Change
  2. bert peeters, Lexical diffusion
  3. , Teleology of Sound Change

Message 1: Re: Sound-Change

Date: Tue, 03 Sep 91 11:46:19 EDT
From: Geoffrey Russom <>
Subject: Re: Sound-Change
On "natural" sound change: Any discussion of this topic would I think
have to account for the fact that there are isolated languages like
Hawaiian in which you have almost all open syllables (e.g. the name of
a fish, humuhumunukunukuapua, if I remember correctly). Japanese comes
pretty close, too. Aren't these much easier for a random foreigner to
pronounce properly than languages like English and Russian? If so,
they would appear to be more "natural" in a universal sense. It is also
worth noting that the more cosmopolitan languages (the ones with armies
and navies) tend to borrow foreign words and blend adjacent dialects
to a considerable extent (radicalism of the center), so the "standards"
we study are always being rendered more complex, creating numerous
counterexamples to "ease of articulation" that may be no more than
apparent counterexamples.
 -- Rick Russom
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Message 2: Lexical diffusion

Date: Wed, 4 Sep 91 15:54:20 EST
From: bert peeters <>
Subject: Lexical diffusion
> Date: Tue, 3 Sep 91 01:11 +8
> Subject: Sound change by lexical diffusion
> Joe Stemberger is talking about lexical diffusion. It will be some
> time before I can come up with something like a bibliography. Can
> somebody out there help with this?
One paper that comes to mind was published in 1987 in *La linguistique*.
It is by David S. Fagan, and its title is "On profiles in lexical diffusion"
(La linguistique 23:2, 1987, pp. 47 sqq). See also the brief introduction by
Andre' Martinet (pp. 43-46) titled "Notes sur les 'changements phone'tiques'".
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: Teleology of Sound Change

Date: Fri, 6 Sep 1991 15:14 EET
Subject: Teleology of Sound Change
> Date: Tue, 3 Sep 91 10:24:23 EST
> From: bert peeters <>
> Subject: Sound-Change and Teleology
> (...) 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).
Yes. Sound change isn't predictable. It is only after the Latin
change -nct- > -nt- took place that we can see that the -nct-
sequence was too hard, given the human inertia (and other factors).
> 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.
I agree that sound change must be explained "in terms of origin" (though
this isn't enough). However, that doesn't preclude teleological explanation.
> Hence, the gist of Martinet's principle of
> economy is not that it is a disguised form of teleology.
In 1949, Martinet wrote: "Puisque ... on parle pour se faire comprendre,
les de'viations accidentelles, ine'vitables, auront des changes d'e^tre
e'limine'es si elles tendent a` empe^cher la compre'hension mutuelle,
puisque le locuteur devra se corriger s'il veut atteindre son but"
(quoted from B.Peeters, La Linguistique 19, 1983, 114). This may be
a rare bird, but scarcely a lapsus. In Folia Linguistica (20, 1983,
p.540), Peeters quotes Martinet's dictum "les langues changent parce
qu'elles fonctionnent", adding by way of a comment: "c.a`.d. servent
a` la communication". Isn't Martinet represented as a crypto-
teleologist here? He didn't write "les langues changent pour
fonctionner". Why?
Enough cavilling! Peeters (Folia Linguistica 1986, p.539) objects to
Josef Vachek's statement that Martinet endorses the view that 'function'
presupposes a teleological approach. Whereas Vachek may be wrong with
respect to Martinet, he is obviously right in metatheory. Functional
explanation consists in relating a set of functions to some goal(s).
A function (qua possible action) gets its meaning or raison d'e^tre
from the goal. Martinet's and Peeters's reason for rejecting
teleology is this: "Si vraiment il y avait te'le'ologie dans
l'e'volution des langues, la plupart d'elles ne pre'senteraient
pas, dans leur version standard, la relative stabilite' dont elles
font actuellement preuve" (Peeters, Fo.Ling., p.540). So, teleology
is supposed to bring forth phonetic anarchy. This fallacy is
probably due to Martinet's autonomist conception of phonological
systems. If phonology is looked upon as a sub-system interacting
with other grammatical sub-systems (morphology, syntax, ..), nothing
of this ilk will happen. That language is neither anarchically nor
ideally organized is due to the interplay between sub-systems. The
Lautgesetz-Analogie approach is basically sound, though the
Neogrammarians lacked the systems theoretical framework.
 Whereas I'm not calling into question the "eternally unstable
balance" between the human inertia and man's communicative needs
(= Martinet's principle of economy) as a condition of sound change,
I think that isn't enough, as it doesn't pay regard for the interplay
between sound change and other types of change.
 Martti Nyman (Univ of Helsinki, Finland)
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