Linguistic Facts (and a Few Opinions)

Steve Hoenisch

1 A System of Systems

A language is not just one system, but a system of systems.

2 Languages in Contact

"A trait that is only loosely connected and essentially free-floating can be superseded very quickly," Kroeber says (as quoted by Weinreich, p. 6).

"New hybrid languages, such as creoles and pidgins, have been formed as a result of the modifications in languages that have been in contact." -- Weinreich, 1968, p. 69.

"Invariably, in a borrowing situation the first foregin elements to enter the borrowing languages are words." -- Thomason and Kaufman, 1988, p. 37.

3 Language Change

"The commonest form of markedness constraint is some version of the claim that, at least in interanlly motivated change, more marked structures will become less marked." -- Thomason and Kaufman, 1988, p. 22.

"Many linguistic changes are best seen as simplifications, i.e., as changes from more marked to less marked in systematic terms." -- Thomason and Kaufman, 1988, p. 23. (Though changes in the opposite direction likewise occur, and so do changes in both directions at once; see p. 25.) [HINT: Read "less marked" as meaning more widespread.]

4 Culture and Society

"The more abstract the element, the more difficult the transfer." -- Linton, asserting somewhat tentatively, quoted by Weinreich, 1968, ff. 23, p. 35.

5 Education Policy

"It seems clear that knowledge of grammatical rules is an essential component of the interactive competence that speakers must have to interact and cooperate with others. Thus if we can show that individuals interacting through linguistic signs are effective in cooperating with others in the conduct of their affairs, we have prima facie evidence for the existince of shared grammatical structure. One need not as the nineteenth-century normative grammarians did, and many modern educators continue to do, attempt to judge an individual's basic linguistic ability in reference to an a priori set of grammatical standards." -- Gumperz, Discourse Strategies, p. 19.

6 Phonology

"Phonological rules of all sorts do diffuse from language to language." -- Thomason and Kaufman, 1988, p. 16.

7 History

The Prague School, including Jakobson, emphasized the structuredness of language.

8 Linguistic Development and Language Learning

"From 18 months to 4 years, the child learns the most important rules of syntax." -- Labov, in Therapuetic Discourse, p. 2.

9 Pragmatics and Discourse

"There are at least half a dozen distinct and different kinds of meaning component or implcation (or inference) that are involved in the meaning of natural language utterances. The distinctions are based on the fact that each of these kinds of inference behaves differently in projection, i.e. in the ways in which they are compounded when a complex sentence, whose parts produced the inferences in question, is built up." S. Levinson (1983: 13).

10 Syntax

"The notion of "grammatical" cannot be identified with "meaningful" or "significant" in any semantic sense. --Syntactic Structures, p. 15.

"Any search for a semantically based definition of "grammaticalness" will be futile." --SS, 15.

"I think we are forced to conclude that grammar is autonomous and independent of meaning." --SS, 17.

Last updated Feb. 5, 2006.

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