Academic journal article Linguistic Discovery

We Just Lag Behind, or Phonetics Is Ahead of Semantics, as Usual: Author's Reply to 'The Dynamic Potential of Probabilistic Semantic Maps' by Andrea Sanso (2010)

Academic journal article Linguistic Discovery

We Just Lag Behind, or Phonetics Is Ahead of Semantics, as Usual: Author's Reply to 'The Dynamic Potential of Probabilistic Semantic Maps' by Andrea Sanso (2010)

Article excerpt

I fully agree with Sanso (2010) that diachrony is an important issue for any kind of semantic map, but I do not think this is any fundamental theoretical problem for probabilistic semantic maps. There are considerable practical problems, as Sanso points out. The crucial question is how to obtain the right sets of data. But who would have believed fifty years ago that many answers for fundamental theoretical questions of language change will come not from ancient texts, but from fresh datasets in sociolinguistics?

It is very convenient to represent diachronic changes in a strong data reduction mode. In phonetics, we have the mechanic Neogrammarian sound laws, and in semantics we can rely on the irreversible grammaticalization paths that can be framed in terms of categorial metaphors. As far as phonetics is concerned, it has become clear especially from the work of Labov (1994) that sound change is a stochastic phenomenon and that standard statistical methods such as multivariate analysis, linear regression models, and multidimensional scaling can reveal much stronger regularities in the seemingly irregular exemplar data than any discrete analysis could show. It is easy to model a diachronic development as a vector connecting mean values of different stages of exemplar data (Labov 1994:59). This is standard in sociolinguistics. Determining differences between phonemes based on exemplar data by calculating mean values has long been practiced in phonetics; see, for instance, Disner (1983) and Ladefoged (1984). But change is also visible without data reduction: "The new and vigorous changes that we have located in various cities usually show long, elliptical distributions in the direction of the change, as opposed to the more globular distribution of stable vowels" (Labov 1994:457).

Ladefoged (1984) found that "out of chaos comes order", and Labov (1994:465) finds "regularity within irregularity". But, as Labov (1994:450) points out, "[t]he Neogrammarian viewpoint must of course be modified to accept stochastic regularities in place of absolute rules", and he speculates that "[the Neogrammarians] would not have been as likely to welcome the tools of statistical analysis and probabilistic reasoning, since they were committed to discrete solutions" (1994:470). In the same way, it cannot be expected that contemporary students of grammaticalization will be over-enthusiastic about probabilistic semantic maps. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.