Analytic languages and their function. (3)

Salinas17 at Salinas17 at
Sat May 27 03:31:00 UTC 2006

In a message dated 5/26/06 5:41:23 PM, amnfn at writes:
<< But the "Grand Cycle" is potentially endless, and unless we have some 
other criterion to measure by, we have no way of knowing that any of these 
languages emerged from an isolating "first language". It could be that all isolating 
languages became isolating due to stressful contact situations, where, as you 
noted, inflection became more of a hindrance to communication than a help.>>

"IF" a language can move away from inflection when inflection becomes a 
hindrance, then the "Grand Cycle" is a superficial description -- like describing 
the application of a car's brake and gas pedals as "cyclic"  -- all it tells us 
is that there are two negatively correlatable variables.  What we are seeing 
as a cycle would be instead the relative presence or absence of extrinsic 
factors -- which represent nothing regular enough to be called a cycle.

A. Polikarpov has suggested that the analytic-synthetic continum is the 
product of two different "economies" that speakers lean towards -- the need to 
reduce the memory load required by a language and the need to reduce the size of 
speech messages.

When we switch this perspective to that of the listener, comprehension might 
demand a reduction in inflection, but efficency in communication might be 
aided by an increase in inflection.  This puts the speaker in the position of a 
balancing act that may vary from listener to listener.

Early language is a different question.  If you imagine a language with the 
minimal possible use of grammatical differentiation -- one case, one tense, one 
voice, etc. -- you are essentially imaging a language with little need for 
inflection or fusion or any other synthetic feature.  It may be that such a 
language would need some modicum of syntax and some minimal number of prepositions 
to be comprehensible.  But its fundamental character would be recognizable as 
analytic.  And if such a language were to move in the direction of 
differentiating out the grammatical features we recognize in modern languages, it would 
be moving towards the synthetic. 

<<When you call synthetic languages "mature", do you assume they must 
necessarily have evolved from more analytical ones? >>

Unless an affix is entirely arbitrary and not a re-working of an earlier 
stand-alone word or phrase, one would have to conclude that such affixes could 
only be supplied by a prior, "more" analytic stage.  (If an affixes is truly 
arbitrary, then one might conclude that the synthetic feature was original and by 
design.)  In that sense, synthetic typology needs to be "mature" compared to 
an earlier analytic typology, in order to be supplied with its working parts.

But, once again, we would expect the process of going synthetic to be 
forgotten, so that a language that goes to analytic is NOT going back to its earlier 
state.  We would not expect English speakers to recognize that the possessive 
"s" was once "his" and to go back to the old usage. So it's also not really a 
"cycle" in that sense.  You can't go back to an old analytic state.  You can 
only go on to a new one.

Steve Long

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