grammaticalization Don't misrepresent Kuhn

Diane Frances Lesley-Neuman Diane.Lesley-neuman at
Sun Feb 26 20:39:27 UTC 2006

Dr. Givon,
I think that you are misrepresenting Kuhn's ideas here.  If you reread Kuhn,
you might see the gradual nature of the paradigm shift--he even points out how
evidence contradicting the prevailing paradigm is ignored and explained away
for a period of time until more evidence accumulates for the paradigm shift to
take place.  What Kuhn actually says contradicts the myth of the orderly
progress of the paradigm shifts, but also mythically revolutionary nature of
the so-called "revolutions". He does not contradict the accumulation of
information that produces it. He used the principles of historical
investigation to get more accurate time frames of who was doing what, and who
was communicating with whom to present a real picture of how the basic
discoveries in physics and chemistry were made.
  Also, let us keep in mind that the fields of science have become more orderly
and systematic over the years. The first years of science may have been a
little messy. We communicate with one another more, and are constantly
improving our methods.  Nevertheless, many discoveries are still accidental--
found in pursuit of solutions to other problems.
  I use Kuhn to understand what is happening in the debates over phonological
theory.  If we can take OT as an attempt at a paradigm shift, and study the the
history and the evidence, one can navigate the waters of the phonology wars
with a great deal more equilibrium and tranquility. The tableau was drawn on a
napkin in a cafe in Tucson, AZ. Or so they tell me.
Diane Lesley-Neuman, M. Ed.
Linguistics Department
Institute for Cognitive Science
University of Colorado at Boulder

Quoting Tom Givon <tgivon at>:

> The *epiphenomenon* epithet is just that. All biologically-based,
> adaptively-evolved systems can thus be dismissed as 'epiphenomena',
> because they are the product of interaction between serendipity (random
> mutation) and teleology  (not ID,but the teleological behavior of
> organisms during selection). Does that mean that evolutionary biology
> has not come up with explanatory principles that account for why
> synchronic forms are the way they are? No serious biologist would agree
> with that. Does it mean that evolutionary biology has succeeded in
> explaining everytring? No serious biologist would be so dumb as to claim
> that. Science is gradual and cumulative (not revolutionary, as Kuhn
> would have us believe), you don't solve all problems with a neat new
> theory. Not even Einstein did.
> Up to a point, linguistic *diachrony* is rather similar to
> bio-evolution. Both are ultimately adaptively-driven, thus (Labov &
> Newmeyer notwithstanding) functionally motivated. All you have to do is
> study the rich variational data a bit more carefully. Both begin with
> rathe local, low-level *variation* that eventually may engender rather
> global, often strartling consequences. Both begin with *functional
> extension* (thus early *functional ambiguity*) of an existing structure
> (or lexeme). Both are profoundly uni-directional. In both, the
> directionality (and its governing motivating principles) are *never
> 100%*, but is nonetheless  quite robust. And as Ernst Mayr said, what
> distinguishes biology from physics/math/logic  is precisely
> that--less-than-100% generalization--but generalization nonetheless. And
> finally, in both the reason for less-than-100% generalization is the
> same: *Multi-variant environment*, *competing motivations*, and the
> availability of alternatives. For example, there are at least 7-8 major
> ways (plus lots of minor ones) for grammaticalizing the 'passive'
> function (agent suppression), or the REL-clause fiunction.  And  indeed
> quite often this multiplicity of courses ius found in a single language,
> so that multiple alternative solutions (constructions) *compete* for the
> same (or rather similar) function. Why eventually one alternative is
> chosen over the others to be statistically dominant depends on those
> multiple other factors.
>  Here is another similarity with bio-evolution and diachrony--the very
> same initial popullation can re-fashion the same source-organ towards
> different target (think of the mammal forelimb; or the
> gframmaticalization of 'go', 'take', 'come' etc.). That is,
> *one-to-many*. Likewise, *many-to-one* is found is found in both
> grammaticalization (massively; that's the essence of
> grammatical-typological diversity) and in bio-evolution, although much
> less less commonly in the latter. (Think e.g. of the main metabolic
> pathways to energy production: anaerobic sulfur bacteria, oxygen-burning
> organisms; the latter plus photosynthesis; the way different organs may
> be recruited for doing respiration in different phila).
> One of the main differencs between bio-evolution and diachrony has to do
> with  the *source of the serendipity* (randomness). We have no real
> equivalent in diachrony to random mutations, since morpho-syntax gets
> forever re-cycled, rather than genetically coded. But everyday
> communicative behavior of individiuals (as Joan Bybee says) in a way
> apes the randomness of DNA mutation, by producing--in the communal
> pool--multiple variants that then compete for selection. Conversely, the
> '*selection*' part of diachronic change is much more socially dependent
> than selection in biology; although in many social species there begins
> to be an element of *social transmission* of individual innovative
> behavior, which becomes part of the overall mechanism of selection.
> Finally, if I were to hazard a guess, I'd say Newmeyer, Joseph and Janda
> have been fighting the same old rear-guard war agains viewing
> grammaticalization as a *natural phenomenon*, rather than a bizarre
> artifact ('epiphenomenon'). And of course, their work is part and parcel
> of what Chomsky has been trying to do over a lifetime; that is, viewing
> language as a unique phenomenon that is not subject to selective
> pressures (viz his recent, most intriguing, foray into evolution--of
> 'recursivity').
> I think it behooves us all to take biology a bit more to heart.
> Best,  TG
> =========================
>   Likewise, there are many targets that can be colonized by the same
> source (think of how 'go' can grammaticalize
> >On Sat, 25 Feb 2006 hilpert at wrote:
> >
> >
> >
> >>1. Unidirectionality, if it exists, is an even greater problem for
> >>functionalism than if it turns out to be false. Developments that span
> >>centuries would have to be explained independently of speakers, who only
> >>have access to three generations of other speakers. (I attribute this one
> to
> >>Janda 2001.)
> >>
> >>
> >
> >So how is this different from the argument that says that the eye could
> >not be the result of evolution through natural selection, since that
> >would require the organism to teleologically look many generations
> >down the road to see the culmination of the process?
> >
> >Scott DeLancey
> >Department of Linguistics
> >1290 University of Oregon
> >Eugene, OR 97403-1290, USA
> >
> >delancey at
> >
> >
> >

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