Re: THEORY: How many parameters, constraints, or "types" are there?
|From:||Patrick Littell <puchitao@...>|
|Date:||Friday, December 30, 2005, 3:10|
On 12/29/05, Thomas Hart Chappell <tomhchappell@...> wrote:
> So if there are 15 or more independent binary parameters, there are more
> language "types" than there have ever been languages at any given time.
> That means, with just eight (8) constraints, there would be more "types" of
> languages, than there have ever been (estimated to be) contemporaneously-
> existing languages.
One more thing to think about: the set of attested language types is
always going to be smaller than the set of naturally possible language
types due to the simple reason that not every naturally possible type
can be produced by some reasonable diachronic process. We can produce
and parse languages that nonetheless would not occur -- not because of
being ruled out by UG, but just because the historical changes that
would produce these languages are either very unlikely or practically
So when we find that a language type is unattested, and it doesn't
look like an accident of the available data, we can't necessarily
attribute the lack to the human language faculty. So take the
nonexistent type of the Monosyllabic Inflecting language, in which
*all* inflection is performed by consonant mutation and ablaut, and in
which there is no affixation at all:
gopf : dance, pres. sing. goepf : dance, pres. pl.
ngopf : dance, past sing. ngoepf : dance, past sing.
This language is a possible human language in the sense that nothing
in the human language faculty prevents it from being learnt, spoken,
or understood. But it's not a language that is reasonably going to
evolve; it would take some unnatural changes to create precisely this
Sometime it's a tricky question why a type doesn't exist. Take this
nonexistent type, which I'll call Root-and-Anagram morphology. Each
root consists of a stop, a fricative, a vowel, and an approximant, and
the arrangement of these determines the meaning:
plas : learn twaS : eat
pals : teach tawS : feed
psal : knowledge tSaw : food
laps : school watS : eatery
spla : student Stwa : eater
spal : teacher Staw : cook
Could this sort of system reasonably evolve? Probably not, not to
this extent. The tricky question for the typologist would be whether
or not it's ruled out by UG or just ruled out by diachronic factors...
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