Origins of Grammar


How are origins useful to understanding? Origins help show the adaptations e.g. of language, mind and world; and of the parts of language and may show what aspects are not adaptations

1.       Given language

2.       Thinking and communicating about the world are among the uses of language

3.       Some essences of the world will be captured by some aspects of language

4.       An approximate theory: words mirror simple things and actions, word combinations (sentences) mirror complex things, actions, relationships, interactions…

5.       The ‘theory’ is also rough in its use of the idea of mirroring; the ‘mirror’ is neither flat nor polished…

The ‘mirror’ metaphor is inadequate even as qualified. Here is a more complete account. Cognition –the perceptual form concept sometimes called the concept-object– is both net and non-congruent with the thing; (conventional i.e. linear and not extended) language is (the result of) a mapping from the concept to the linear form; generally the concept is of a higher dimension –spatially– than that of the linear form – exceptions include the case of a spatially linear and discrete object and linear language itself; thus there is loss of information in linear-linguistic representation; in other words language is rarely literal and mostly figurative –perhaps metaphorical– except for as is to be seen; when speaker or writer and listener or reader ‘own’ the same context speaker-writer image may evoke an equivalent or similar image in listener-reader and in this sense linear-language may be literal in a varied and colorful world; however when there is no common context (even in the case of a writer later reading or a speaker later recollecting his or her own words) linear-language is figurative and falls short of ideal when identity –equivalence– is desired but productive of richness and variety of imagination when desired for expression or creative purpose. Mathematics and descriptive aspects of the world that are reducible to mathematics e.g. theoretical physics are, perhaps, literal in the restrictive sense. Written language probably lends itself better to literal communication in this sense because it is permanently open to inspection and because accompanying context is diminished. Poetry (perhaps) achieves multi-dimensional communication via a (nearly) one-dimensional medium (the multi-dimensionality is not merely spatial but includes affect)

6.       A complete grammar (word and word combination forms) would require a complete ‘picture’ of the world and its possibilities (metaphysics)

7.       Lacking a complete picture, a grammar might be practically complete for a phase of the world e.g. aspects of nature and human society

8.       The same actual form may have different sentence forms in different languages (this is because sentence form and world form are different in kind –dimension– and mirroring relationships must be conventional to some extent)

9.       And there is therefore arbitrariness in sentence and word form; but this arbitrariness is from language to language

10.    Within a given language, precisely because of the arbitrariness, elimination of (some) arbitrariness is effective (for thought and speech)            (A)

11.    This does not explain the elimination of all arbitrariness –to the extent that the forms of language are fixed– and it does not explain the variety of forms of a given language since the variety varies among languages

12.    That certain forms sound ‘right’ and others sound ‘wrong’ may be built in to biological potential (for A to work.) That there is arbitrariness but not complete arbitrariness in what may sound right or wrong seems reasonable. The incomplete arbitrariness may serve as explanation for what is common among languages and the partial arbitrariness may serve as explanation for what is variable         (B)

13.    Likewise the ability to set forms

14.    Oversetting of forms is more effective than under-setting and unless optimal degree of form is known, oversetting is likely for practical completeness (there may be other ‘reasons’ for oversetting that have no connection to optimal elaboration of grammatical form)

15.    Because of (B) all familiar grammatical forms (necessary or otherwise) seem ‘correct;’ and unfamiliar forms seem ‘incorrect’

16.    Why then is there not a universal language? Or, why is one language not universal?

17.    Perhaps due to isolation and isolating (group bonding) functions of language (even if there were a universal origin)

18.    Global communication contributes to larger groups of people speaking the ‘same’ language; conversely, larger groups may be more effectively served by greater uniformity

19.    Universal education, especially education in ‘mechanics’ of grammar but not its logic and necessities and its arbitrary and changeable factors, makes change in time slower; and despite these advantages, slave (adherence to form, resistance to variation without understanding) mentality is also a result; (does education enhance or limit slave attitudes)                                                                                                                                

20.    Changing reality, especially social arrangements and constructs and cultural constructs including aesthetics are enhanced by changing linguistic possibilities and forms

21.    A balance between form and change is good or desirable

22.    The connection between what is thought to be desirable and what happens is tenuous because of ‘inertia’ and because what is thought to be desirable may have no organic connection to actual forces of change

23.    It is a mistake to think that all variability has been eliminated even though one might think this from the extent of grammatical forms that are formally taught

24.    What is formally taught (probably) allows more freedom than I may imagine (something to be thought about; but it is clear that what is formally taught varies from formal authority to formal authority, from place to place…)

25.    In fact (among speakers and writers) there is freedom; that there is no freedom and any knowledge of how much form versus freedom there is partakes of illusion; that there is no illusion is illusory; all such illusions are encouraged by enculturation and made possible by biology; it is conventional, though not merely conventional, that there is no freedom or illusion

26.    It is in such freedom more likely than in codifying new form that change that is necessary to vitality (cultural form and content where, roughly, form corresponds to art and content to knowledge) comes about; freedom is necessary even if one does not think there is or should be any because without it there would be no change or adaptation to external change and possibility; and because without it we would not have arrived at where we are – there would be no beginning and no arrival

27.    Freedom and form are necessary; and logically necessary (well almost; in an indeterministic world there is a possibility of form without freedom but the probability appears to approach zero) and each has a ‘freeing’ (creating) manifestation, a conventional manifestation, and a slave manifestation; hypothesis: slave to freedom requires balance of form and freedom

28.    Existence of freedom will not altogether free an individual from psychosocial necessities of form; existence of form does not deliver eternal (unchanging) perfection. In an adaptive model of change, selection would occur according to what is adaptive from among spontaneous and random –the meaning of random here is that there is no necessary connection between the actual changes and adaptation– changes among speakers. (I use ‘speakers’ rather than ‘users’ to emphasize that the production of language is not separate from use even though there may be institutional and formal separations whose propagation is amplified, etched in psyche, in universal education in the service –perhaps– of efficiency and maintained through hegemony. Here, by hegemony I refer, simply, to forms of control that are maintained, not by force, but convincing the individual that the controls are good.) This brings up the question of Darwinism in cultural (including linguistic) change. A middle ground response might be that an adaptive model forms a rough envelope to actual change which remains roughly but not exclusively within adaptive boundaries. Within this envelope there is much play (whose engines are accident, playfulness and creativity) and, perhaps, occasional micro-adaptation. Play, creative power, cultivation and accident are among the engines of change