On Language Change: The Invisible Hand in Language

On Language Change: The Invisible Hand in Language

On Language Change: The Invisible Hand in Language

On Language Change: The Invisible Hand in Language

Synopsis

In the twentieth century paradigms of linguistics have largely left language change to one side. Rudi Keller's book is an exciting contribution to linguistic philosophy becuase it puts language change back on the linguistics agenda and demonstrates that, far from being a remote mystery, it can and should be explained.

Excerpt

I read Robert Nozick's book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, a work on political philosophy, more than ten years ago. It infected me with an idea with which I had previously been unfamiliar: the 'twin idea', as it was called by von Hayek, of spontaneous order and the invisiblehand theory.

'There is a certain lovely quality to explanations of this sort', noted Nozick. But it was not only the inherent intellectual beauty of this twin idea which attracted me; I also felt I was dealing with concepts developed by political philosophy and national economy that were just waiting to be adapted to linguistics.

Indeed, the transfer of this idea to the field of linguistics had been repeatedly and explicitly recommended by social philosophers and socio-evolutionary national economists for the past two centuries. But as the reading material of scholars is restricted by the structure of the universities and the boundaries between faculties, this offer had apparently never been taken up. This book represents the attempt to do so. It was my goal to develop and present a concept of language that does not neglect the fact that languages continuously change. If change truly is a fundamental characteristic of language, as has often been claimed in the past 200 years, it should be possible to demonstrate unmetaphorically why this is so. I do not intend to provide a survey of existing theories of language change; this has been already been done by others such as Lass (1980) and Aitchison (1991). Other authors' theories of language change are mentioned here only in relation to the theory presented in this book. the inclusion or exclusion of any such theory implies no value judgment. It is also not my aim to expound on the history of language; that here noted is employed exclusively in the explanation of the proposed theory.

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