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Darwin-L Message Log 2:11 (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.


<2:11>From WILLS@macc.wisc.edu  Fri Oct  1 21:51:51 1993

Date: Fri, 01 Oct 93 21:55 CDT
From: Jeffrey Wills <WILLS@macc.wisc.edu>
Subject: Ease of articulation
To: DARWIN-L@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

A recent poster suggested:

In sum, if the forces that govern sound change are ease of articulation
and ease of perception, as they seem to be, one should not think in terms of
the sounds themselves so much as in terms of what preceded and/or follows them
in the speech chain. 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 would agree that ease of articulation and perception may generate (motivate)
linguistic variation--and here one might speak of expediency or striving--but
the process of selection is sociolinguistic. Whether variation arises from
articulatory ease or language contact or imagination (neologisms), the success
of the variants depends on a social process (which I think is the major
external conditioning environment).
	In Tom Cravens' example from the dialect of Florence, you can attribute
the variant /h/ for /k/ to whatever motive you want (e.g. articulatory ease or
a bad cough). Such a variant is probably attested in many speakers of other
languages and surely in other dialects of Italian. But why did (this is a
historical process) only the Florentines adopt/accept/extend this variant? Why
are young speakers on the eastern boundary of the dialect area now speaking
this way? Presumably reasons of prestige or social realignment or something
else in the environment--not because the sound change is "easier" for them than
for speakers on the northern boundary who have been exposed to the same variant
and have not changed.
	Let me ask a question of the biologists:
	A person carries around a variety of codes (languages) and can engage in
code-switching (shifting to a more polite register in front of an elder, or a
more formal register in the presence of a teacher, or into a foreign language
when appropriate). How would you deal with these or parallel them in your
field? The two languages which a bilingual speaks usually influence each other
to some extent but for a long period of time these can coexist in the same
place and in the same speakers (and over many generations). I assume we should
be treating each of these codes (languages) as the "individuals" in our trees
and treating language contact as hybridization (as previously discussed). The
languages not the carriers (people) are the object of study and historical
tracking.
  But does it matter that multiple codes are carried on the same carriers?

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