Functional and social factors in language (change)

Dick Hudson dick at LINGUISTICS.UCL.AC.UK
Wed Nov 20 08:09:16 UTC 2002

Dear Bill,
I agree that a decent theory of language should combine insights from
functionalism with those of sociolinguistics, but we shouldn't assume that
this will be a harmonious marriage of compatibles because Bill Labov has
explicitly rejected functionalism (Principles of Linguistic Change:
Internal Factors, Chapter 19: "The overestimation of functionalism").
However I think Labov is only rejecting one kind of functionalism - in
which the function of language is determined by the need of the hearer for
unambiguous input - and as you say, the need to facilitate social
interaction is an equally important function. So is the need to be easy to
produce, easy to store and easy to learn.

>      I am reviving this thread not simply because of this
>further evidence for the hypothesis I proposed. There is a
>bigger issue here which I think functionalists must address.
>A truly comprehensive alternative theory of language to the
>Chomskyan one must integrate functionalist and
>sociolinguistic theories and empirical results. After all,
>like functionalism, sociolinguistics is fundamentally usage-
>based, variationist, and in fact functional, in that the
>function of language is to facilitate social interaction in
>social groups.
>Bill Croft

Richard (= Dick) Hudson

Phonetics and Linguistics, University College London,
Gower Street, London WC1E  6BT.
+44(0)20 7679 3152; fax +44(0)20 7383 4108;

More information about the Funknet mailing list