dan at daneverett.org
Fri Mar 18 19:13:49 UTC 2011
I think that it isn't difficult to imagine that languages could become more versatile over time. We have to ask 'versatile for what'. If we mean 'a better range of tools for talking about things in a particular cultural niche', then it isn't far-fetched to imagine that this is true.
Loan words seem to be prima facie evidence for languages becoming more versatile, as does a lot of the evidence from languages in contact.
I see no problem in saying that some languages are better at communication than others in particular environments. There is a serious research program waiting to be undertaken here.
And it is no more obvious that languages are communicatively equal than that they are different. No study proves either, though the former is assumed by most linguists and many (but not all) theories. In fact, I think it is the differences that have been overlooked.
On 18 Mar 2011, at 10:40, A. Katz wrote:
> I don't think that language has as yet been shown to become either increasingly complex or increasingly versatile.
> It seems to me that there is a principle of conservation of complexity, under which any rise in complexity in one system in the language results in a decrease of complexity elsewhere. This is why there are continuing cycles in language change, and language does not improve in efficiency over time.
> If it were otherwise, then some languages would be demonstrably better for communication purposes than others, and no one has ever been able to show this.
> On Fri, 18 Mar 2011, Tahir Wood wrote:
>> In the wake of all this discussion about increasing complexity, I wonder if anyone here has thoughts on versatility. Does language become increasingly versatile?
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