Reflections on Grammaticalization, Epiphenomena, etc....

Alexander Gross2 language at
Wed Mar 15 22:05:59 UTC 2006

Thanks for your reply, Mark.  Have no argument with the points you make, 
though I believe you may be using the term teleological in a sense different 
from the one I learned.  As so often happens in our field.  Take for 
instance, Chomsky 1957:

'Suppose we have a machine that can be in any one of a finite number of 
different internal states…Each such machine thus defines a certain language; 
namely the set of sentences that can be produced in this way.'

or Chomsky 2000:

'We can think of the initial state of the faculty of language as a fixed 
network connected to a switch box; the network is constituted of the 
principles of language, while the switches are the options to be determined 
by experience. When the switches are set one way, we have Swahili; when they 
are set another way, we have Japanese. Each possible human language is 
identified as a particular setting of the switches - a setting of 
parameters, in technical terminology. If the research program succeeds, we 
should be able literally to deduce Swahili from one choice of settings, 
Japanese from another, and so on through the languages that humans can 

Now if that's not a τέλος, I'd like you to explain to me exactly what a 
τέλος is.  I'd be quite surprised if the Department of Defense regarded it 
as any other than a τέλος, a teleological statement of intention, ultimately 
aimed at creating MT systems and related applications.

Are we truly in a postion to spurn teleological statements when they may be 
paying most of the salaries in the field of linguistics?

all the best!


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Mark P. Line" <mark at>
To: <funknet at>
Sent: Wednesday, March 15, 2006 2:28 PM
Subject: Re: [FUNKNET] Reflections on Grammaticalization, Epiphenomena, 

> Alexander Gross wrote:
>> Under these circumstances, it is not at all surprising that a far larger
>> truth about language has gone largely unexamined during the same time
>> period.
>> Namely that language--any language, all language--may not truly be a
>> system of communication at all but functions in large measure as a part
>> of our biological defense system, intended not so much to inform us about
>> the nature of reality but to blind us and protect us from that reality
>> whenever it becomes necessary.
> Perhaps not so much to blind and protect us, but to make reality[1]
> intelligible (whatever the cost). Making reality intelligible does have
> the common *side-effect* of blinding us to and protecting us from the
> reality (or lack thereof) we ostensibly understand, but the distinction is
> important enough to influence the quality of my nightly sleep.
> (As an aside, I'd note the teleological demon that crept into Alexander's
> language above: I don't think our biological defense system has any
> "intended" functions; it just has the functions that it has.)
> -- Mark
> [1] Alternatively, to create that reality -- if you choose not to
> postulate that there's a reality out there that could be made intelligible
> in the first place.
> Mark P. Line
> Polymathix
> San Antonio, TX

More information about the Funknet mailing list