Postal quote/directionality/talking to oneself

Jose-Luis Mendivil Giro jlmendi at POSTA.UNIZAR.ES
Sat Nov 23 13:59:14 UTC 2002

First of all, I must apologise for a critical mistake quoting Lass' words. Where I wrote **functional** in the following paragraph, I should have written **social**:
>"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**

Steve Long wrote:

><<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.

I agree.

>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.

But all states of a language are functional. Otherwise, they would not exist.
So, a linguistic change (apart from the introduction of new words for new concepts or things) cannot properly add comprehensibility.

Let's assume that the change of [p] into [f] is a natural tendency of lenition (a minor degree of obstruction of the airflow, etc.), i.e., a tendency towards the easiness of articulation. (This assumption would explain why p > f is more frequent and regular than f>p). Even in that case, only if the use of [f] instead of [p] has some 'social' value added, it will diffuse across the language and across the speakers, following social networks.
As a consequence, the *cause* of the change is neither functional nor natural, but social (i.e. contingent from a linguistic point of view).

> The fact that linguistics cannot identify the
>functual value of every single change does not mean it is not there.

This sounds to me not only circular and unfalsifiable, but even (as the late Gould would have said) 'panglossian'.

Steve, thanks for taking into account my opinions despite my poor English.
Jose-Luis Mendivil.

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