existence and reality

James MacFarlane jmacfarl at UNM.EDU
Sat Apr 5 15:05:47 UTC 2003

> On Saturday 05 April 2003 4:10 pm, Rob wrote:
> I see your perspective and raise you one :-) I don't see emergence as
> primarily a functionalist/structuralist thing. Though it does gel with the
> fundaments of Functionalism based on contrast rather than category.
> It's more than an esoteric theoretical issue at the syntax level.
> Phonemes change with time, and may be essentially indeterminate, but syntax
> arguably changes with each sentence. We might have to search hard to find
> evidence for emergence at the phoneme level (certain frequency effects?) but
> a category which changes with each sentence might explain lots of
> pseudo-categorical syntactic behaviour, like phraseology, collocational and
> formulaic aspects of language. (Which behave in some ways like words, and yet
> change).

In my understanding you are right on here.  The ordering of constituents
appears to be the driving force behind change in many cases.  Joan Bybee has
discussed this in terms of boundary phenomenon.  This is all about
frequency.  If two constituents (words, phonemes, morphemes) occur
frequently together then the boundaries become blurred.  I'll shamelessly
take this opportunity to plug an article that I co-authored with a fellow
student Anna Vogel Sosa entitled Evidence for frequency-based constituents
in the mental lexicon: Collocations involving the word of.  Brain &
Language, 83, 227-236   Here we found that if the collocational frequency of
the English word of  and the previous word such as kind were high, then
participants in our psycholinguistic experiment were less likely to identify
the word of, suggesting holistic storage of the two word chunk.  Exactly
what one would expect when boundaries become obscured.

An article, which has done a great deal to shape the way I think about
phonemes is Phonogenesis by Paul Hopper. In that article he argues for a
continuum between grammar and phonology.  I think he has presented a great
deal of evidence for emergence at the phoneme level.


James MacFarlane
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