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Auteur: Masayuki IKE-UCHI

On the Irrelevance of E-languages to the Question of Language Evolution

Abstract/Résumé: E-languages (or “public languages”) are not, by their very nature, objects for scientific inquiry. Hence to raise the question of whether they “evolve” independently of I-languages is essentially illogical. It is I-languages which culturally evolve. E-languages are not real-world objects, but are instead artificial and arbitrary constructs. Thus they cannot serve as the object for serious linguistic inquiry and, naturally, they have not played any role in generative linguistic studies (Chomsky (1986, 1995)). One might then suppose that E-languages are equivalent to so-called “public languages.” The crucial question is: what are public languages? Are they languages in the socio-political sense? If they are, they are clearly not rigorous enough for any scientific inquiry, as has often been noted. It might then be proposed that public languages should be defined as conventional patterns of activity (Millikan (2003)). But after all, numerous questions again arise. What are patterns of activity? What does the term “conventional” mean? All these questions make the status of this “public language” dubious and “unintelligible,” which consequently renders it an unsuitable object for scientific inquiry (Chomsky (2003)). Now let us consider one of the paradigmatic cases of the cultural evolution of language. Actual utterances do/may “change” some time before the corresponding I-languages change. Thus they often deviate from the internal rules of I-languages through misuse, innovation, slips of the tongue, and conscious creation by blending (Taylor (2012)). Roughly speaking, first, a misuse/innovation happens to emerge in one person’s utterance (and it may be fixed in his/her I-language at this stage). Then when this error/innovation gradually gains ground (for whatever reason) and becomes prevalent, first in a certain group of people and then in a certain speech community, it may feed back into the rules of their I-languages. Correspondingly, their I-languages will change and thus those misuses/innovations in actual language use become fixed in their I-languages. One recent example is the emergence of the so-called 'ra-nuki' ('ra'-dropping) dialect in Japanese. As has been pointed out, this misuse has been gaining ground and has recently come to be widely accepted. This means that the misuse has been incorporated into the Japanese I-language. Thus the I-language of Japanese has changed/culturally evolved. In conclusion, it is meaningless to discuss the relevance of E-languages to the question of language evolution, because they cannot be objects for any serious scientific investigation, including the study of the evolution of language.