TRAMES 4, 3, 1999

Martin Ehala. Stable states and impossible changes: the limits of teleological explanation in diachronic linguistics

Tallinn Pedagogical University


The paper concentrates on the problem of cross-linguistic word-order regularities, known as Natural Serialisation Principle. It is argued that the teleological nature of this principle is due to a too broad understanding of the notion of state for a linguistic system. If the notion of state is applied to smaller subsystems of the whole word-order system, the apparent teleological tendencies within this whole can be modelled without referring to the future. Using the theory of self-organisation, the possible stable and unstable states for the system of word order are defined, and possible paths of word-order change specified. The model is tested against an unsuccessful language planning attempt in Estonian, undertaken by Johannes Aavik. It is concluded that the causes for Natural Serialisation Principle derived from the psycholinguistic constraints on language production and understanding.

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