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> Date:         Mon, 18 Jun 2001 22:37:16 -0600
> From: Tom Tadfor Little <[log in to unmask]>

> This may be true, I suppose, but it arouses my suspicion. It's difficult to
> imagine where hard evidence would come from, and it reminds me a little too
> much of the "caveman talk" of pulp fiction and B movies, which probably
> owes its origin to Europeans talking creole with native peoples and
> assuming that the grammatical simplicity of the speech was a reflection of
> the "primitive minds" of those they were talking with. It seems more
> plausible to me that lexical growth and strategies for expressing
> relationships between words would evolve in tandem, and both have probably
> been with us for as far back as one cares to go. I'm having trouble
> imagining people saying things like "I walk house" for centuries or
> millennia, not knowing whether the speaker is walking to the house or from
> the house and so missing 50% of their appointments.   ;)

I think there's also a strong tendency for people to assume that the
development of language is somehow linear --- it makes them uneasy to
think of untold cycles of gaining and losing inflection, of lexical
items being specialized or bleached out of existence and replaced,
reaching back beyond any knowable stage of human language. It's much
nicer to think that PIE arose directly out of some primitive language
so-called.

> But either way, I'll stand by my original statement, because the question
> was about "explaining" inflections as deriving from free morphemes that
> were already in place to express relationships between words...so we were
> talking about a stage well past any hypothetical "string of roots without
> syntax" proto-language. My comment was that thinking an inflectional
> strategy for expressing relationships requires explanation but that a
> free-morpheme or word-order strategy does not reflects a cultural bias. In
> fact, if the history of Indo-European languages over the last few millennia
> is any guide, one might judge the inflectional strategy to be more basic
> and the preposition/word order strategies to represent an evolutionary
> development that invites explanation.

Since languages change both ways, gaining or losing inflections at
different stages in their development, neither process can be taken as
more basic than the other. However, since traditional grammars tended
to focus heavily on inflection, and much less on word order, it's easy
to get the impression that only the rise of new synthetic endings
needs explanation --- it's easy to understand their loss by gradual
phonological attrition, and the grammaticalization of prepositions,
word order and other mechanisms that take over the functional load of
inflection is not noticed, and thus no explanation is sought.

And by the way, these processes are not strictly cyclical. Against
examples like Hindi that lost most IE cases and gained new ones by
fusing prepositions, we have ones like Finnish that added about eight
new prepositional cases to an almost complete set of ancestral ones.

Lars Mathiesen (U of Copenhagen CS Dep) <[log in to unmask]> (Humour NOT marked)