Friday, 26 January 2007


So assume all the signs in some language are arbitrary, uncontaminated by onomatopoeia let alone psychomimes. All it needs to evolve motivated signifier-signified relations is users who sometimes mutilate signifiers during acquisition, and who may pass on their modified signs without piquing corrective mechanisms (see note 1). This seems obvious but is scarcely mentioned in the stuff I’ve read. Any capacity to misrecognise, misremember, misspeak or mispronounce while speaking a language may be a pressure on that language to evolve such relations. A certain kind of capacity for neologism turns up the radiation dial; so does the segmentation of the language-using community by solid but not impermeable membranes (the kinds that paper over classes, generations and comparable social groups – see note 3).

Note 1: In a system of very few signs, for example, any sign that is new to a competent user might be recognised as new to the language. Depending on the culture such signs might be rejected or embraced with jaded sick glee at the total expense of the spawning sign. Both responses are “corrective,” although it’s easier to see why in the former case.

Note 2: What would it be like if me and my friends went to Hogwarts?

Note 3: ... such that an agent may stray through a membrane and dump a load of mutilated signs with an emissary's swagger. If the formulations of a signifier veer randomly and automatically since any given Olden Days, then the splitting, isolation and reconciliation of social groups will also create pressure to evolve motivated signs. If two social groups are locked into different practices and worlds of things (e.g. one group interwoven with napkins and horses, the other with tills and serviettes), that pressure will receive support (or at any rate lack of a specific counterpressure): very similar signs - candidates for parsimonious cull - may survive by virtue of tribally-sensitive discrimination of signifieds. (Also cf. fates of coexisting signifiers for initially identical signifieds, in the case of Chicken v. Poultry (CA, 10 Sep 1066)). Keyword: trope.

Note 4: I’m looking for someone creepy. What I really want is a man who can freak me out.

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