LINGUIST List 7.440

Sat Mar 23 1996

Disc: Bright & Daniels review, Economy

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. rmallott, Review of Daniels & Bright The World's Writing Systems
  2. Falk Yehuda, Re: vol-7-402, Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism

Message 1: Review of Daniels & Bright The World's Writing Systems

Date: Fri, 22 Mar 1996 23:36:23 GMT
From: rmallott <>
Subject: Review of Daniels & Bright The World's Writing Systems
Daniels & Bright The World's Writing Systems, as reviewed by Richard
Sproat. sounds extremely interesting. I realise that with such a massive
book it is impossible for a review to comment critically on the vast range
of matters discussed but I would have liked some indication of the views of
the authors collectively or individually on some of the most debated
issues, for example the ancient and unsettled question of the origin of
the alphabet.

The reviewer says that various theories of the transmission of Phoenician
script to the Greeks are discussed and discussion of the Greek and
Anatolian alphabets is followed by discussion of the Coptic and Gothic
alphabets; Italian scripts, and the Roman alphabet itself; Runic and Ogham;
Glagolitic and Cyrillic; and Armenian and Georgian. Does this mean that
these chapters are simply descriptive or does the book attempt to assess
the relative merits of earlier theories or present new theories? Diringer,
Gelb and Jensen have provided massive descriptions relating to the
different alphabets but is there important new thinking or evidence in the

When I get the opportunity to study it, I will be especially interested in
the discussion of featural or iconic systems, such as the Korean Hankul,
the invention of writing in modern times by experienced linguists (which no
doubt deals extensively with Bell's Visible Speech as extended and improved
by Henry Sweet). Roy Harris (The Origin of Writing. London: Duckworth.
1986) has discussed the case for and against an iconic origin of the
alphabet (an idea put forward many times) and the Korean alphabet taken
with Bell/Sweet's work shows that a visual/iconic origin is a plausible
alternative to the academic tradition that the alphabet must have evolved
step by step from a hieroglyphic or coneiform origin, something I argued a
a year or two ago in a paper for the Language Origins Society in St.
Petersburg under the title: "The Articulatory Basis of the Alphabet".

Robin Allott email:
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re: vol-7-402, Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism

Date: Tue, 19 Mar 1996 09:08:00 PST
From: Falk Yehuda <falkHUM.HUJI.AC.IL>
Subject: Re: vol-7-402, Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism
Esa Itkonen asked (LINGUIST 7-402) whether the importance of economy
principles in Minimalism makes the Minimalist Program functionalist rather
than formalist.

 I think this is a misunderstanding of the formalist position. In the
first place, "economy" of some sort has always played a role in formal
linguistic theory, back to the notion of an "evaluation metric" in early
generative grammar. These have always been economy conditions on formal
grammatical processes, and this is no less true of Minimalist economy
conditions like Procrastinate and Greed than of earlier approaches. To see
them as a radical departure away from formal theory is not justified.
 Secondly, the concept of modularity/autonomy/... of the linguistic
component, or subcomponents within it, does not contradict the idea that
some general cognitive abilities may somehow come into play in language. I
don't think there's any question that language is somehow tied to general
cognition; however, the existence of formal properties unique to language
provides the argument for some sort of modularity of the mind.

 Yehuda N. Falk
 Department of English
 The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue