By Geoffrey Sampson
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Extra info for Schools of linguistics: Competition and evolution
However, the philosopher Hilary Putnam has recently developed an argument (Putnam 1973, 1975) which seems to show that the issue is more than a question of taste and that at least one important- aspect of language, namely semantic structure, must be regarded as a social rather than as a psychological fact. Despite my instinctive preference for Chomsky's approach to this question, I must admit that Putnam strongly vindicates Saussure as against Chomsky. Putnam's argument is subtle and elaborate, and it is not possible to do full justice to it within the scope of this bo>)k.
A state of play in chess is not affected in the slightest if we substitute a knight made of ivory for a wooden knight: similarly, in language, what matters is the form of the system, not the substance (in this case, speech-sound) by which the Saussure: language as social fact 41 elements of that system are realized. ) If, on the other hand, the language already had an [e] identical to the new [e] from [a], then a change in the system has taken place. Two phonemes have merged into one; pairs of words that previously contrasted in pronunciation have become homophones, and this change in one part of the system will have repercussions throughout the system as a whole.
This it is certainly not. It is entirely conceivable that historical changes might be determined, at least in part, by the effects they have on the synchronic system - so that, for example, changes which would create too much ambiguity simply do not occur. And indeed my use of the term 'compensatory change' has taken it for granted that some such controlling mechanism does play a part. that some historical changes come about in order to make up for undesirable effects of other changes: as when, for instance, the ambiguity resulting from loss of case-endings which existed in the classical European languages was compensated for by adoption of relatively fixed word-order in their modern descendants.
Schools of linguistics: Competition and evolution by Geoffrey Sampson