Essays on Time-Based Linguistic Analysis

By Charles-James N. Bailey | Go to book overview

2
Variation Theory and So-called
Sociolinguistic Grammars

I

From time immemorial, the human mind has struggled with how to accommodate diversity with unity, singulars with universals, temporal phases of development with timeless absolute relationships, the individual with the collective, the normal with the natural, exceptions and irregularities with systematicity, and the like. Nominalists and positivists have opted in favour of the first item in each such pair and rejected the second; it has been the other way around with idealists and rationalists (though the Labovians have (see Bailey 1992a: 240-1) strangely combined positivism with collective or social ideas in recent decades). Eventually, positivists as well as idealists have (for different reasons) ended up with a negative view of process and development, restricting their favour to static relations and a reistic view of ontology--things are real, even if the materiality or spirituality of things is viewed in opposite ways by the contending schools; see further Bailey ( 1982c: 33et passim). Until temporality got introduced into scientific thinking, it was considered more scientific to deal with changeless states. Throughout the history of thought, distinctions without a difference and keeping a balance between oppositions have presented perils for thinking. On the latter, humans have preferred either to speak of unrelated and independent polarities--the distinction of matter and form, form and function, reason and will (power), body and soul, and all the other pairs that have been mooted in the history of human thought--as involving hermetically sealed off separatenesses without even feeding relations among the compartments (cf. the way some linguists separate phonetics and phonology). Thinkers throughout history have therefore often endorsed reductionist simplifications that eliminate one or the other pole of such distinctions in order to obviate one horn of each dilemma. The notion of 'things' being distinct yet interacting and sometimes even cooperating is apparently very difficult for many to take seriously: to be different is to be at odds with.

Among the ways in which thinkers (especially in times when apologetics was respectable, and polemics, its other name, was conceived of as defending the true and countering the false, i.e. when polemics and eristics or zoilism really were differentiated) have preserved a healthy balance between the static or changeless and dynamic 'becoming' have been the following:

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