On Language Change: The Invisible Hand in Language

By Rudi Keller | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

The working of the invisible hand

4.1

LANGUAGE-A PHENOMENON OF THE THIRD KIND

Summarising the substance of the last two chapters once again, there exists a fundamental error which makes it impossible for those who succumb to it to grasp the nature of human culture in general and that of language in particular. This error takes the following form: the world can be divided exclusively into two kinds of phenomena, those which are made by God (i.e., existing by nature), and those which are made by people. Tertium non datur. The works of God are natural phenomena; those of humans are artefacts. Natural phenomena exist independently of human will and are therefore the object of the natural sciences; artefacts are the products of voluntary actions and thus the object of the arts and cultural sciences. This fundamental error leads to a misinterpretation of language and linguistics. Those who want to count linguistics among the natural sciences can refer to the fact that language evolves independently of human will. Those who want to count linguistics among the arts and humanities can refer to the fact that only the linguistic acts of human beings could bring about the evolution of language.

The solution to this dilemma lies in the recognition that the assumed dichotomy 'natural phenomenon vs artefact' is based on an unidentified ambiguity inherent in the predicate 'man-made'. In other words, there exists yet a third kind of phenomena apart from natural phenomena and artefacts, and language is one of these phenomena.

I have already pointed out in section 1.2 that our ordinary language often prevents us from appropriately representing evolutionary processes. In this case we are faced with the same problem. It is noteworthy that we have the adjectives natural and artificial, but

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On Language Change: The Invisible Hand in Language
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Part I - Exposition of the Problem 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Problem of Language Change 3
  • Chapter 2 - Historical Reconstruction 19
  • Chapter 3 - In the Prison of Dichotomies 39
  • Part II - Solution and Discussion 59
  • Chapter 4 - The Working of the Invisible Hand 61
  • Chapter 5 - Discussion 108
  • Chapter 6 - Conclusion 141
  • Notes 160
  • References 170
  • Index 178
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