14.678, Disc: "Deflation" and "Inflation"

LINGUIST List linguist at linguistlist.org
Mon Mar 10 14:42:30 UTC 2003

LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-678. Mon Mar 10 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.678, Disc: "Deflation" and "Inflation"

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Date:  Sun, 9 Mar 2003 15:37:18 -0500
From:  "Jess Tauber" <phonosemantics at earthlink.net>
Subject:  RE: 14.675, Disc: "Deflation" and "Inflation

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Sun, 9 Mar 2003 15:37:18 -0500
From:  "Jess Tauber" <phonosemantics at earthlink.net>
Subject:  RE: 14.675, Disc: "Deflation" and "Inflation

Hi. Just read your LINGUIST reply to the inflation thing.

I'm not sure that the word/money comparison is that bad- in
biochemistry (where there are very numerous direct systemic parallels
between language and genetics) the standard energy currency is ATP,
adenosine triphosphate, which also just happens (out of the many tens
of thousands of different chemical intermediate and final products
flying about inside the cell) to be one of the four basic units of DNA
and RNA.  In fact, the linkage is even better- ATP is also a major
close precursor to about half of the coenzymes, which are central to
the transduction of energy and the transfer of standard basic chemical
units used to build all those tens of thousands of other chemicals.

The other DNA base units are themselves coenzymes or coenzyme
precursors.  And interestingly, the other molecular species in cells
used as basic signalling devices (such as the second messengers of
cells which transduce external signals such as hormone or nerve
impulses) are either basic standard transferrable units themselves, or
their carriers.

In other words, within the living cell ALL the coding units are either
basic energy or mass units themselves, or devices needed to handle
them (which themselves appear to be derivate of the first set to a
large extent). Thus cells do not barter as such, using some sort of
mental analogue to calculate the relative values of various of the
thousands of extant species, but have hit on a money like system. And
this money like system is also the basis for the code which controls
these processes.

Similarly in the evolution of language one finds that animal signals
(vocal and otherwise) are used to regulate the societies they are
found in, and are used in contexts relating to very specific sets of
internal and external states of the players (external also referring
to nonconspecifics).  The right signal can get one love, food,
shelter, defense, and so on- but isn't "free", as animals with large
sets of signals have good memories for faces and past acts, and expect
reciprocation at some near point- so like with money, goods and
services rendered. Thus animals weigh the veracity of the guarentor of
the "money"- just as people do with words and their truth in context
with any particular user, regardless of the particular inherent
semantic content of the word, arbitrarily defined.

Which brings me to the last point. Human words appear in large part to
derive from phonosemantically transparent ideophones or expressives-
there is massive evidence for this in the languages of the world. Such
evolution is cyclic, typologically driven, so that such phonosemantic
transparency, once transferred to the lexicon proper, tends to decay
with time. Later typological shifts will then rejuvenate the whole
system again. Such phonosemantically transparent words are NOT
arbitrarily assigned meanings- the only negotiation is with the
external context, and thus in the percept, rather than the precept.

Secondly, the semantic content of this word type is decidedly
UNderivative- ideophones in fact make reference to all sorts of
situations or phenomena, physicomechanical in nature, often
sensorimotor in execution, which imply either loss of control by
animate agencies or inherent lack of control thereof.  And they are
extremely formulaically organized, right down to the level of
distinctive features, which is what makes them phonosemantically
transparent in the first place. As the formulae are phonologically
based (not random), depending on all the internal symmetries and
complementarities of that system, there is no real room for
arbitration here either.

In other words, these forms are built directly of "basic parts" with
little tweaking (remember the biochemical description
above?). Furthermore, in the languages which have thousands of them,
standard grammaticalized machinery tends to be minimized (the numbers
of ideophones tending to be inversely related to the degree of
synthesis of the language), and instead they take over as an

Because of the direct dependency on basic exchange units with
nonnegotiable meanings, this level of communication is not capable of
"inflation" or "deflation"- being systemically central, it is beyond
the reach of arbitration. However, languages do cycle beyond this
situation, and such iconic organization yields to the symbolic-
usually by the breakup of the iconic system and the creation of an
inversely organized one (where between-unit transparency is more
important than within-unit). Thus we get syntax and morphology, and
normal grammaticalization.

It is here, in this realm, that values are far more dependent on how
we say a thing, versus what we say. Eventually "inflation" becomes so
extreme that the entire system, now rotten to the core, has to yield
again to iconicity.  The cycle completes. Kind of a communicative
approach-avoidance thing, based on trust (or not). I think the current
economic crisis is a good exemplar- when people can no longer trust
value on the basis of "because I said so", they tend to go back to the
old standards based on basic goods and services. Obviously the real
situation is not so absolute- within the larger cycle there are scores
of smaller ones of various sizes (kinda reminds me of Ptolemy-
wouldn't it be neat if there were an economic or linguistic Copernicus
or Kepler out there?).

I'm not trying to denigrate any value perhaps inherent in a system
based on abstractions and negotiation- it certainly leads to a
lifestyle more "interesting" and filled with many more new
combinatoric possibilities than one based on bare bread and bones-
just trying to point out that is somewhat more unstable given its
increasingly more tenuous connections to its original concrete and
absolute underpinnings the higher away it rises (building
metaphor). Since words are the glue holding society together up on the
higher floors, anything that weakens their value (individually or en
bloc) will weaken the overall structure. In this sense, inflation
equates with dilution, or dissolution.

Best regards,
Jess Tauber
phonosemantics at earthlink.net

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