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Darwin-L Message Log 2:7 (October 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<2:7>From PICARD@Vax2.Concordia.CA  Fri Oct  1 17:44:55 1993

Date: Fri, 01 Oct 1993 18:49:17 -0500 (EST)
From: MARC PICARD <PICARD@Vax2.Concordia.CA>
Subject: Biological and linguistic change
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

	Because of the recent change in the default 'reply-to' from the group's
address to that of the original sender of the message, the following was sent
tome directly instead of DARWIN-L:
"Marc Picard notes "In regular sound change, expediency is the name of the
game.  The human vocal apparatus prefers certain combinations of sounds, and
that's what speakers unconsciously strive for." I'd like to focus in on the
"prefer". Do you mean that certain sound sequences are, in some sense,
more difficult than others? I assume that you do mean this, and would like
some further sense of what the dfficulty might consist in. For example, in
terms of the physical energy required to utter certain sequences, is there
a preference for minima? Or, again to speak physically (I'm a philosopher
of physics, after all!), is the path length of the sequence of motions
in the cords (or other parts of the 'instrument') a minima--a preference?
Or, is it just plain DIFFICULT to play the sequence, as, by analogy,
certain chords would be difficult to finger on a guitar?
Perhaps I'm being too literal here. Maybe by "prefer" Marc meant an
esthetic evaluation, as in, the ear prefers to hear certain sounds.
That would certainly be plausible, since, for example, the overall 'sound'
of e.g., German is quite different from the overall 'sound' of e.g., French.

George Gale
ggale@vax1.umkc.edu

	First, let me state that, to my knowledge, no phonologist has ever
attributed any sound change to a desire for euphony or acoustic esthetics or
whatever. Second, instead of using the terms 'easy' and 'difficult'in relation
to spech sounds and their combinations - something which has proven to be
notoriously difficult to measure or quantify in any useful way, as far as I am
aware - I think it is much more productive to look at ASSIMILATION, which is
the type of sound change I was discussing, as an attempt to get from here to
there (an UNCONSCIOUS attempt, obviously) by the shortest possible route, on
onehand, and by getting ready for what's coming next as soon as possible, on
the other. The problem is that speakers can't see beyond their own noses, so to
speak, so that having taken a shortcut here, they will often create a situation
that is less than ideal, and which will also have a tendency to be changed.
	Here is a simple case in point, an example of which could most
probably be found in the history of any language. Unstressed vowels have a
tendency to be 'slurred' (laxed/reduced to schwa) and then deleted. More often
than not, this leads to the buildup of consonant clusters which will almost
beg to be reduced, leading to another change. These can pile up, as when Latin
AUGUSTUM wound up as French /u/ (written AOUT with a circumflex on the U which
indicates that an /s/ used to follow, cf. the family name DAOUST, and
pronouncedas a short English 'oo').

Marc Picard

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