Postal quote/directionality/talking to oneself

Matthew Anstey ansteyfamily at
Sun Nov 24 01:24:42 UTC 2002

Hi Steve,

> 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,

I think there is a danger here of explanatory reductionism, whereby
there is posited THE primary cause of language change. Paul Boersma
(Functional Phonology, 1998, phd Amsterdam) suggests that just for
phonology there are five functional principles at work, often in
conflict with one another. They are (1) speakers minimise articulartory
effort; (2) speakers minimise perceptual confusion between utterances
with different meanings; (3) listeners minimise effort needed for
perceptual classification; (4) listeners maximise use of acoustic
information; (5) speaker and listener maximise the information flow.
Principle (5) is akin to your comment above. There are other principles
we can add to this mix. For example, Gertraud Fenk-Oczlon and August
Fenk, from the University of Klagenfurt, have considered neurological
constraints such as the 3-second activity interval in which much human
activity, speech included, occurs. This is biologically fixed.
Undoubtedly, others have suggested numerous other factors at work.

Boersma goes on to show how "functional optimality theory" can describe
and explain the forms of phonology when these five principles are
quantified. (For example, the constraint *REPLACE states "do not
implement a perceptual coronal place specification as something that
will be heard as labial place, for a nasal, before a consonant.")

His is an interesting example of functional and social principles at
work,--often in conflict--translated into a linguistic model. His phd
work can be found in journal articles.

In Functional Grammar (Dik, et alia), many competing functional
constraints have been suggested for word ordering principles. Again, the
result is a matter of which principle wins out at any given time.

With regards,
Matthew Anstey

Matthew Anstey
Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
Faculteit der Godgeleerdheid
Residence: Kambah, ACT, Australia
ansteyfamily at
+61 (0)2 6296 4044

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