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Darwin-L Message Log 2:10 (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.


<2:10>From CRAVENS@macc.wisc.edu  Fri Oct  1 19:40:09 1993

Date: Fri, 01 Oct 93 19:43 CDT
From: Tom Cravens <CRAVENS@macc.wisc.edu>
Subject: linguistic change and teleology
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

Another example of linguistic change creating difficulties was reported
in talks (and perhaps in print) by William Labov a little over a decade
ago. Surface deletion (non-pronunciation) of final 't' after 'n' had
produced a merger of "can" and "can't" in Northern New Jersey. Often,
speakers had to actually ask whether what was intended was c-a-n or
c-a-n-t. This ties into teleogical questions debated a few days ago, in
that it appears (once again; this is normal) that phonological change
proceeds relentlessly onward, leaving speakers to mend whatever bits get
"broken" in the process (near quote, from Nigel Vincent 1978). It
makes clear what Sally Thomason mentioned, i.e. that language change
typically occurs below the level of speakers' conscious awareness, and
to some extent beyond their control once, late in its development, the
change jumps into awareness. The major exception, i.e. speakers' resistance,
seems to be the case of taboos. In parts of the US Midwest where -ar-
and -or- have merged, so that "far" and "for" sound the same, both
with 'ar', "forty" has -ar-, but he word "fort" resists the merger.
No teleological repair of the system, but individual items can be
repaired if deemed absolutely necessary. (There are other, more colorful
examples which I refrain from citing here; the extreme is the case of
the town which petitioned the King of Spain to change its name because,
through phonological development, it had come dangerously close to a
rather vulgar term for testicles. The King obliged.)

Tom Cravens
cravens@macc.wisc.edu
cravens@wiscmacc.bitnet

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