segunda-feira, 4 de março de 2013

Memorandum Concerning Language Universals

Memorandum Concerning Language Universals
Greenberg, Osgood and Jenkins

Underlying the endless and fascinating idiosyncrasies of the world's languages there are uniformities of universal scope. Amid infinite diversity, all languages are, as it were, cut from the same pattern. Some interlinguistic similarities and identities have been formalized, others not, but working linguists are in many cases aware of them in some sense and use them as guides in their analyses of new languages.

Since language is at once both an aspect of individual behavior and an aspect of human culture, its universals provide both the major point of contact with underlying psychological principles (psycholinguistics) and the major source of implications for human culture in general (ethnolinguistics).

The tendency toward symmetry in the sound system of languages has psycholinguistic implications. The articulatory habits of speakers involved in the production of the phonemes consist of varied combinations of certain basic habits, those employed in the production of the features. This appears, for example, in language acquisition by the child. At the point in the development of the English-speaking child that he acquires the distinction between b and p based on voicing versus non-voicing  he simultaneously makes the distinctions between d and t, g and k, and other similar pairs. In other words, he has acquired the feature, voicing versus non-voicing, as a unit habit of motor differentiation.

Logical Structure of Universals
Unrestricted universals

These are characteristics possessed by all languages which are not merely definitional; that is, they are such that if a symbolic system did not possess them, we would still call it a language. Under this heading would be included not only such obvious universals as, for example, that all languages have vowels, but also those involving numerical limits, for example, that every language has at least two vowels. Also included are universally valid statements about the relative text or lexicon frequency of linguistic elements.

Universal implications
These always involve the relationship between two characteristics. It is asserted universally that if a language has a certain characteristic, it also has some other particular characteristic, but not vice versa. For example, if a language has a category of dual, it also has a category of plural but not necessarily vice versa.

Restricted equivalence
This is the case of mutual implication between characteristics which are not universal. For example, if a language has a lateral click, it always has a dental click and vice versa. Equivalences of more frequently appearing logically independent characteristics are difficult to find. They would be of great interest as indicating important necessary connections between empirically diverse properties of language.

Statistical universals
These are defined as follows: For any language a certain characteristic has a greater probability than some other (frequently its own negative). This includes 'near universals' in extreme cases. Only Quileute and a few neighboring Salishan languages among all the languages of the world lack nasal consonants. Hence we may say that, universally, the probability of a language having at least one nasal consonant is greater (in this instance far greater) than that it will lack nasal consonants.

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