8 de setembro de 2009

Evolução e linguagem

Resumo da conferência de Augusto Silva no Congresso Internacional sobre o Impacto de Darwin

Replication, selection and language change. Why an evolutionary approach to language variation and change?

In this paper we will try to show the relevance of an evolutionary model to the study of language change. We focus on a cognitive and usage-based approach to language change: the Utterance Selection Theory of language change developed by Croft (2000) within the framework of Cognitive Linguistics (Geeraerts & Cuyckens 2007, Soares da Silva 2006). The theory of Utterance Selection takes its inspiration from neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory, particularly the Generalized Theory of Selection developed by David Hull, a philosopher of science. As Hull and others have pointed out, evolution is a two-step process: altered replication of the replicators (for instance, genes) and selection of interactors (for instance, individual organisms). Language change is also a two-step process: innovation and propagation. In the domain of language, the replicators are the utterances (defined as usage events) and the interactors are the language users. Crucially, altered replication can be equated with language innovation, and propagation of individual changes in a speech community is the linguistic counterpart of the differential perpetuation or selection of replicators.
We will highlight four reasons that justify applying an evolutionary framework to language change. Firstly, language is viewed as a system of use governed by convention. Therefore, “utterances” and “convention” play a central role in the theory of language change. Secondly, language change results from breaking with convention and selecting some of the new variants created. Utterance selection is then the primary locus of language change. Thirdly, principles of cognitive and communicative efficiency are the main motivations for language change. Finally, there are cognitive and social mechanisms that give rise to normal replication (stability), altered replication (innovation) and selection (propagation). The mechanisms for innovation are above all cognitive, this is the case of metaphor and metonymy; the mechanisms for propagation are essentially social, like accommodation, identity and prestige. All of these mechanisms occur in individual communicative acts and operate like an “invisible hand” (Keller 1994). We will illustrate the evolutionary model of language change adequacy with some examples of semantic change, subjectification and grammaticalization.

References
Croft, William (2000). Explaining Language Change: An Evolutionary Approach. London: Longman.
Geeraerts, Dirk & Hubert Cuyckens (eds.) (2007). The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.
Keller, Rudi (1994). On Language Change: The Invisible Hand in Language. London/New York: Routledge.
Soares da Silva, Augusto (2006). O Mundo dos Sentidos em Português. Polissemia, Semântica e Cognição. Coimbra: Almedina.

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