Floating Listlessly

jess tauber phonosemantics at earthlink.net
Tue Jun 10 16:27:22 UTC 2008

Only if one assumes that classical morphemes are the theoretical bottom line do lists become absolutely necessary- and I'd guess that this is the position many, if not most, linguists hold.

However, in some language types, having large numbers of ideophones, where connotation seems a bit more salient than denotation- the list concept may become less useful. One could easily conceive of an extreme form of such a system- a language where all strings are formulaic or rule based- where context determines their reading frame- even the particulars of form/meaning mapping.

In the real world, however, such a language might be hard to live with, literally. Processing takes time- something speakers may not have the luxury of when they need to make split-second decisions. Shifts from iconicity at the phonological-featural level to lexical roots and compounds, then to derivational and inflectional morphology and so on, seem to be changes in hierarchical prioritization, partly motivated by temporal economy.

The sample of real languages we see in the world today may not be representative of the total possible- something to consider when arguing about lists and rules.

Jess Tauber
phonosemantics at earthlink.net

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