Postal quote/directionality/talking to oneself

Steve Long Salinas17 at AOL.COM
Fri Nov 22 18:42:07 UTC 2002

In a message dated 11/22/02 12:47:54 PM, jlmendi at POSTA.UNIZAR.ES writes:
<< Of course, we are not using 'functional' in the same sense. Adopting a
linguistic innovation may be functional in social terms, but it needn't be
linguistically or structurally functional... Certain directionality (i.e.
some 'paths' open to change based on structural patterns, phonetic
conditions, economy, etc.) does not imply that the cause of the change was
functional. What's the matter then when p does not change into f and remains
as it is for hundreds or thousands of years? Is this functional inclination
waiting for his opportunity to be satisfied? >>

My point was that this is an impossible analysis.  Separating "linguistic or
structural" functionality from social functionality is like separating the
function of automobile from the function of motion.

If it is easier or more "linguistically" economical to slur a word than to
articulate it, than the mechanical directionality should be towards slurring.
 But "linguistically" the resulting sounds must approximate the sounds a
listener can recognize or the slurring will be ineffective as communication.
The listener will not respond with understanding.  Is this social or is this
linguistic?  You can only change sounds so far before you become
incomprehensible and that alone should prevent the spread of your sound

<<"Say a change starts in one speaker, or a very small group, and moves from
that focus along networks (...) This must mean that the 'reasons' for the
change can't be functional, because in fact they are different for the
initiator(s) and the followers; the motivations for the latter are
functional. Or did they pick up the original motivations as well, suddenly
discovering under the pressure of prestige that they really had the same
motivations all along?">>

And again I think what Lass is not taking account of here is that the change
is first of all totally dependent on comprehension.   This is a totally
social function.  And it is the only way that a spread can happen.
Incomprehensibility is the ever-present functional guard at the door of any
kind of change and I find it impossible to classify it it as
"non-linguistic."  As far as what motivates the sound change in the first
place, we can assume it can't be incomprehensibility.  Prestige is a pretty
useless concept, but if it means that listeners find some value ("linguistic"
or "non-linguistic") in imitating a new form of speech, we should really
assume that value was also there for the original innovator.  I don't
understand why one would think otherwise.

<<What's the matter then when p does not change into f and remains as it is
for hundreds or thousands of years? Is this functional inclination waiting
for his opportunity to be satisfied?>>

The answer is, of course, is that retaining the p is linguistically
functional in the first place.  The primary directionality is NOT change.
The primary directionality is consistency between speakers and listeners.  To
the extent that change works against mutual comprehensibilty, it is
dysfunctional.   To the extent that change eventually adds comprehensibity,
we should expect it to happen.  The fact that linguistics cannot identify the
functual value of every single change does not mean it is not there.

Steve Long

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