Re: teleology and language

From: Bill Spight (
Date: Tue Apr 30 2002 - 22:42:44 BST

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    From: Bill Spight <>
    Subject: Re: teleology and language
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    Dear Wade,

    > > Are languages replicated? Yes. Do they vary over time? Yes.
    > > Are they, or their components, selected? Yes.
    > Are languages replicated? No. They are artifacts of
    > developmental processes and cultural environments. They are the
    > product of repetitive and cognitive processes, not replicated
    > ones. Languages are not birthed. They mutate in loco.

    Neither you nor I nor anyone else here is the first to speak or write
    English. Even if you consider only our language production, ignoring our
    knowledge, you will find that it replicates components of English:
    phonemes, morphemes, lexemes, sememes, words, phrases, grammatical
    constructions. None of our individual construction replicates the entire
    corpus of English, OC. :-)

    > Do they vary over time? Perhaps, depending upon one's definition
    > of variance. But they are adaptations with fixed genetic
    > determinants and are produced with a set of bodily mechanisms,
    > such as the larynx and the tongue, that have arguably not
    > changed in over 60,000 years in our species.

    Examples abound. New words and phrases are coined all the time; old
    words and phrases are used in new ways; usages are dropped; etc. I used
    to think that accent was a relatively slow-changing language component.
    In the mid-60s my older sister lived in the San Francisco Bay Area.
    People spoke with a distinctive accent, which I thought of as
    Californian. The only thing I can easily impart about it is that they
    said they lived in "Califurnya". I moved here in 1991 and have never
    heard anyone speak in that accent since. Grammar does change slowly. In
    the U. S. we seem to be dropping the past perfect tense.

    > Are they, or their components, selected? No. There is no attempt
    > to choose languages- they are environmentally contained and
    > offer no selected advantage to the organisms. Any human placed
    > into any languaged environment will learn the language of that
    > environment, without fail, for a normally developing individual.

    One word should suffice: editing. :-) Of the new and old possibilities,
    each of us chooses what to use in our own language productions. I use
    "cool", but have not adopted "kewl", for instance. People argue about
    usage. Should, for instance, the third person plural pronoun be used as
    a singular, common gender pronoun, in formal discourse as it is in
    informal discourse? Humans select among their linguistic options every



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