Year of publication
- 1975 (1) (remove)
- Language universals and interlinguistic variation (1975)
- Actually, the title should include intralinguistic variation along with the interlinguistic one. For variation within one and the same language is the thing which directly presents itself to the observation while it still remains to be demonstrated that phenomena in different languages can be regarded as variants to be assigned to one and the same invariant principle. There are two senses in which the terms of variant, variation are used in the following remarks: one, which has just been mentioned, concerns the assignment of variants to some definite invariant. The other implies the possibility of gradient transitions and opposes the notions of discreteness and of yes-or-no. I shall not try here to reconcile these two senses and I trust that what I intend to show will become intelligible nevertheless. Henri Delacroix (1924:126f) has reformulated an old hypothesis which seems worth exploring in connection with the search for language universals: "Une langue est une variation historique sur le grand thème humain du langage." It remains to be seen what "le grand thème" or rather "les grands thèmes" are about and what particular language-specific properties could be shown to be variants of one and the same theme. One such major theme which we shall now investigate is the interrelation between, on one side, a word or a sequence of words, and, on the other, a sentence. As this for us is not only a syntactic but also a semantic problem, we might rephrase the anti thesis as that between a term or sequence of terms and a proposition. Two alternative views on the nature of this interrelation seem conceivable: A. The interrelation is yes-or-no, i. e. an element or a string of elements either constitutes a term (sequence of terms) or a proposition. B. The interrelation is of gradient nature, i. e. we find intermediary stages. Both alternatives are appropriate, but under different circumstances.