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There are of course languages, such as Chinese or Japanese, whose scripts include or are made up from non-alphabetic elements. A good example of non-alphabetic script in present-day use is the Japanese kanji, itself based on Chinese pictographic script, which represents concepts rather than sounds. Such practices, of course, are also found in English, although to a much more restricted extent; the conceptual symbol '5' might be compared with its alphabetic equivalent 'five'. Perhaps also relevant in this context are the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican glypts or carved inscriptions representing deities, people and places; such forms are found throughout Mexico, but map onto distinct languages, being allotted a different phonic significance depending on the native speech of the reader (see Davies 1982:15). Classical Chinese pictograms perform a similar function (see Needham 1971: passim).
It should be noted that recent very important work by P. Kitson (see 1993 and references there cited) is currently causing a reappraisal of the limitations of the evidence for Old English dialects, and further research in this area is eagerly awaited by scholars. My comments on page 19 above on the limitations of statistical method should not be taken as a general hostility to statistics in historical linguistics; see Benskin 1994 for an important discussion.
For the notion 'prototype' applied to linguistic study, see most notably Taylor 1995, who bases his approach on the work of cognitive psychologists, particularly that of E. Rosch. Psychologists have found that any given notion normally has a core or centre of reference which is generally accepted in a given community of speech-users, and a periphery of reference which is less clearly perceived as belonging to the field. Thus, for Western Europeans, the notion vegetable has at its core such items as potato, onion, turnip etc., whereas tomato and garlic are more peripheral. It could therefore be argued that potato etc. are more prototypically vegetables than tomato etc. That this is not a universal notion can be proved experimentally by the different sets of prototypical vegetables found in non-Western European cultures. A colleague reports that an Egyptian student in her class-who was, incidentally, an excellent non-native speaker of English who had no difficulty in expressing
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com Publication information:
Book title: An Historical Study of English: Function, Form, and Change.
Contributors: Jeremy Smith - Author.
Place of publication: New York.
Publication year: 1996.
Page number: 197.
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