On Language Change: The Invisible Hand in Language

By Rudi Keller | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

Discussion

5.1

LÜDTKE'S LAW OF LANGUAGE CHANGE

In complete agreement with the position taken here, Lüdtke's theory stands in the tradition of methodological individualism. His explanations are explanations from the bottom up. He does not regard language as a thing, a given inventory, a sign system or such like, but as a 'certain procedure' adopted by human beings to communicate with one another. The instruments we use in communication have no logical existence prior to their use, but are the results of communicative enterprises. The type of language change he deals with in his theory 'emerges as an inadvertent, unconscious by-product of the coupling of free decision and the search for optimisation involved in linguistic activities'. 1

This means that, to be understood, our communicative acts must have sufficient sound structure; Lüdtke calls this 'signal-negentropy'. Too little sound structure would hamper their chance of being understood by the addressee. An example should clarify this.

When I go to a pub in the evening, I say . Removed from that situational context, this noise would lack sufficient 'signal-negentropy' to be correctly understood in the sense I intend. If, in another situation, I were worried that I would not be correctly interpreted, I would have the possibility of providing my 'noise' with a bit more sound structure. I could produce 'noises' varying between and the full form . But I can only be so distinct. There is an upper limit-the full form. There is no similar lower limit. is already quite abbreviated, but would be enough under certain conditions.

Hence, we usually talk according to the maxim 'Talk in such a way that you expend the least amount of energy necessary.'

-108-

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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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