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Evolving a Pidgin (was Re: Reduction and Grammaticalization)

From:Chris Bates <chris.maths_student@...>
Date:Monday, December 27, 2004, 16:34
>>I've recently been doing a lot of reading about how languages evolve >>TAM, person marking, case markers etc... one of my presents for >>Christmas was a book called "grammaticalization" which I asked for. >>Typically I've thought of the "wearing down" of words as being almost >>entirely due to regular sound changes but I'm beginning to wonder if >>this is true, if sometimes changes can occur in the most often used >>words and phrases which don't occur in the entire lexicon. >> >> > >Indeed, such changes are well-known. For example, in my own dialect >of English, the auxiliary verbs "is" /Iz/ and "was" /w@z/ have colloquial >allomorphs /Id/ and /w@d/ when negated: /Idn=t/ and /w@dn=t/, alongside >more formal /izn=t/ and /w@zn=t/. In some other Southern American dialects >(primarily those west of the Apalachians), this sound change has spread to >other words which have the same phonological environment, such as "business" >/bIdnIs/; but for most, including me, this is restricted to the auxiliaries. >This is more evidence supporting Zwicky and Pullum's argument that "n't" is >now a negating affix, not a clitic. > > >
Thanks for the reply. :) It seems to me that sound changes starting off in a few words (usually the most common) and spreading outwards by analogy, much as in the book "grammaticalization" it talks of usage spreading outwards by analogy, contradicts the impression that a lot of linguistics books seem to give that somehow grammar and pronunciation changes happen fast and are applied to pretty much the whole lexicon (in the case of sound changes) at the same time. This view seems to be especially common in the parametric ideas of people arguing for a universal grammar, in whose arguments apparently grammar is changed by a setting suddenly changing... I don't see how you can hold such a view unless you argue that any evidence in favour of new grammatical forms slowly evolving and spreading by analogy is false. I myself am much more comfortable with the idea of initial irregular changes spreading by analogy, in both grammar and sound changes, than I am with the idea of a parameter suddenly changing for no apparent reason, or a random sound change being applied to the entire lexicon suddenly without any initial reason. :)
>>Example: >>gonna from going to... obviously the word boundary disappeared for them >>to merge, but still /goInt@/ or something similar must for a start have >>assimilated nt to get n, a sound change I'm not sure has happened in >>recent english at least. >> >> > >Perhaps not in your dialect, but in most American ones I hear, it occurs >all the time. The fact that it's ongoing is supported by the countless >attestations of "internet" as [Inr=nEt]. This might be due to an >extension of the intervocalic flapping rule in American English to >cover /ntV/ sequences, or perhaps due to the crosslinguistic markedness >of nasal + voiceless sequences. > > >
I hadn't thought of that. :) I guess "gonna" is explained by borrowing from american english, so it's not a good example since it might not have been an irregular change. I don't know if it was or not. :) An example that struck me as possibly irregular was the development of the romance future. Basically just about the entire auxilliary verb stem vanished as they merged only leaving the final syllable or two... but the lexical item it became attached to (an infinitive) didn't seem to have undergone anywhere near the same amount of reduction.
>>So can a small number of >>clitics etc and grammatical words simply be worn down and simplified by >>constant use rather than more widespread regular sound changes? >> >> > >Yep. It's been said that if Sapir had been doing fieldwork on English >speakers, we'd have paradigms for things like [doUntS@], [kUdZ@], etc. > > >
Just out of interest, I'm thinking about designing a pidgin-style language (I need to research more how pidgins tend to be deficient as compared to creoles and other languages) and then trying to do a massive amount of grammaticalization + sound changes... basically start off with a broken language and evolve the structures, derivational and inflectional markers, etc from scratch. It would be a more interesting project than most "evolve a language from a proto-language" project where the proto-language tend to already be "complete". I guess if I did that I would at least need to design some basic details of the languages which form the pidgin.... unless I pick two nat langs, pidginize them then evolve the result a little.