Functional and social factors in language (change)

Daniel Everett dan.everett at MAN.AC.UK
Tue Nov 19 13:52:58 UTC 2002


I could just walk down the hall and tell you this, but it may be worth
mentioning to readers of this list that Paul Postal said something
years ago about language change that still seems about right to me
(though I cannot for the life of me remember where he said it). He said
that change actuation likely has the same kind of explanation as why
cars have 'fins' some years and not others, based on social questions
of style and taste (etc.) that fall outside of the study of grammar per

Several years ago, I heard Sally Thomason give a talk on the
impossibility of predicting linguistic/historical change. If I recall
correctly, such social considerations were part of her reasoning.

So your idea has some diverse (and, I would  say, quite good) company.
To the degree that Chomskyan theories recognize that change actuation
is largely a social matter and that change locus is structurally
constrained, there is a degree of compatibility here. Of course, the
Chomskyan view makes no attempt to 'integrate' functional/structural
and social factors at all. So the alternative kind of theory you
advocate would indeed be quite different from that view.


On Tuesday, November 19, 2002, at 01:39  pm, Bill Croft wrote:

>      This message picks up a thread begun by Martin
> Haspelmath some months ago, on a hypothesis about factors in
> language change proposed in my book "Explaining Language
> Change: An Evolutionary Approach" (Longman, 2000). The
> hypothesis is:
> Mechanisms of innovation are functional, mechanisms of
> propagation are social.
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