LINGUIST List 2.621

Tue 08 Oct 1991

Disc: Sound Change

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  1. , Unconditioned Sound Change
  2. bert peeters, 2.601 Unconditioned/-tional change

Message 1: Unconditioned Sound Change

Date: Tue, 1 Oct 91 11:15:36 EDT
From: <>
Subject: Unconditioned Sound Change
Sally Thomason does not seem to commit herself as to whether she
believes that all sound change (in those cases where we have
the evidence) starts out in a restricted environment and only
becomes "unconditioned" at the end of a protracted process. If so
(and I suspect this to be true), this would have revolutionary
implications for phonological theory, since every framework I know
of allows (indeed, encourages) us to write processes of the form
X -> Y (without a conditioning environment).
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Message 2: 2.601 Unconditioned/-tional change

Date: Sun, 6 Oct 91 16:04:16 EST
From: bert peeters <>
Subject: 2.601 Unconditioned/-tional change
> From: Sarah Thomason <sgt+A.NL.CS.CMU.EDU>
> When Bert Peeters refers to the `myth of unconditioned
> sound change', he is using the term `unconditioned' in a
> way that differs from mine and, I think, from most other
> people's use of the word. It doesn't mean `without a cause';
> it means `without any phonological conditioning factor, i.e.
> in all phonetic environments'.
When I chose to interpret "unconditioned" as 'without a cause' I did
so to denounce the inappropriateness of the term. Instead, it looks
as though I have convinced a certain number of people about my utter
ignorance of what most historical linguists mean when they use the
term. As a matter of fact, I am not at all unaware of what is usually
meant - but it is about time we start thinking about a substitute for
a word which is potentially misleading. When the labels "conditioned"
and "unconditioned" were coined, historical linguists did not know
better (witness the other label for "unconditioned", viz. "spontaneous").
Nowadays, we do know that there are no changes without causes. So why
do we stick to the old terminology?
> From: jack rea <>
[Jack Rea starts off with observations very similar to those made by
Sarah Thomason (hi, Sally!). The examples from the history of the French
language which he then very conscienciously reproduces are among those
that during my undergraduate years in Romance Philology I have heard
more often than I really wanted to - it's nice to be reminded of them
after so many years :-). After providing the data, Jack goes on thus:]
> Needless to say, it is
> always possible to manufacture a new label for this sort of thing if one is
> distressed by terminology, but usually such terminological wars are not worth
> the effort. How many today use Martinet's term 'moneme' for what is usually
> called 'morpheme', despite his preaching for it. Nor has Jakobson's use of
> 'contrast' prevailed to the extinction of its paradigmatic use.
I agree if the implication is that NOT ALL terminological wars (the examples
from Martinet and Jakobson are well chosen) are worth the effort. However,
I tend to believe that SOME are - and the one which is being discussed here
is of the latter kind.
Dr Bert Peeters Tel: +61 02 202344
Department of Modern Languages 002 202344
University of Tasmania at Hobart Fax: 002 207813
GPO Box 252C
Hobart TAS 7001
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