Reflections on Grammaticalization, Epiphenomena, etc....

Mark P. Line mark at
Wed Mar 15 22:40:41 UTC 2006

Alexander --

As I understood it, you were not ascribing a purpose to Chomsky, to his
imaginary generative machine, to his imaginary switch box, to the U.S.
Department of Defense or to the community of linguists. You were ascribing
a purpose to "our biological defense system", which I understood to mean a
functional subset of the human physiome. By implying that biological
evolution is goal-directed, such an ascription opens up a Pandora's Box
that bioscience has no need to see opened.

So the short answer is that we are truly in a position to spurn
teleological statements when they pertain to biological evolution.

-- Mark

Mark P. Line
San Antonio, TX

Alexander Gross2 wrote:
> 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
> acquire...'
> 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!
> alex
> ----- 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,
> etc....
>> 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