Unidirectional developments?

Geoffrey S. Nathan geoffn at SIU.EDU
Thu Mar 28 14:26:31 UTC 1996

        Further to the note from Ron Kuzar on unidirectionality,
there is a long tradition in phonology whereby all changes are
LOCAL improvements.  The exact terminology is Theo
Vennemann's (see, for example, his _Preference Laws for
Syllable Structure_ (Mouton, 1988).  It is perfectly possible to
make all changes teleological, as long as one recognizes that
there are multiple teleologies.  This has been known in
phonology since the nineteenth century, and is a cornerstone of,
for example, Natural Phonology.  Therein language strives for
'improvement' both for the speaker (loosely, 'ease of
articulation') and for the hearer (loosely, 'distinctiveness,
clarity').  Any change in one direction is likely to result in a
'degeneration' in another, conflicting tendency.  Thus,
functionalist phonologists have no problem with unidirectionality,
since things go in both directions at once, and the tension
between tendencies leads to a dynamic (in)stability, and hence
to change.
        Analogs in syntax (such as a development from parataxis
to true embedding, perhaps) are easy to think of superficially,
but I suspect require a much deeper theory of functional
syntactic principles that I possess.  Perhaps others are already
aware of the analogs to fortitions (speaker-oriented phonological
processes) and lenitions (hearer-oriented ones) in morphology
and syntax.
        As I write, I can think of some suggestions.  Presumably
gluing pronouns onto the ends of verbs as they become
proto-inflections is the analog of 'ease of articulation', and the
addition of emphatic pronouns in PRO-drop languages as real
person inflections get 'worn off' would be the equivalent of a
syntactic fortition.  Just a thought...


Geoffrey S. Nathan
Department of Linguistics
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
Carbondale, IL, 62901-4517

Home phone:  (618) 549-0106  Office:  (618) 453-3421


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