Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

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 impossible. 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 type. -- 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... -- Patrick Littell University of Pittsburgh Fall 05 Office Hours: Friday, 1:00-2:00 by appointment G17, Cathedral of Learning CCBC Voice Mail: ext 744 Fall 05 Office Hours: W 5:00-6:00, by appointment Building 9, room 102