Linguist Forum

Specializations => Phonetics and Phonology => Topic started by: mallu on October 24, 2014, 09:06:52 AM

Title: sound change rules
Post by: mallu on October 24, 2014, 09:06:52 AM
Is the sound change a- e universal?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on October 24, 2014, 02:04:12 PM
No. Why would it be universal?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: mallu on October 25, 2014, 08:14:16 AM
I was asking whether the phenomena is found cross-linguistically.In certain dravidian languages it is very common.Is that the case of any other language of the world?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: freknu on October 25, 2014, 09:17:27 AM
'Universal' would mean present in all languages.

Anyway, in languages with i-mutation the change a→e is quite common. However, it's not so much the sound change but the actual underlying process that is important. Many languages can share the change a→e, but it's the reason why that is of interest.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: mallu on October 25, 2014, 10:41:15 AM

Anyway, in languages with i-mutation the change a→e is quite common. However, it's not so much the sound change but the actual underlying process that is important. Many languages can share the change a→e, but it's the reason why that is of interest.
- I would very much like to know the reason.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: freknu on October 25, 2014, 10:54:02 AM
Well, i-mutation is caused by i/j in nearby (or same) syllables, causing a vowel to move further forward, i.e. to be fronted. The equivalent sound change for consonants would be palatalisation, as consonants themselves cannot be 'fronted' as such. This because i/j to varying degrees possess the qualities 'front' and 'palatal', which can colour nearby sounds.

E.g.

back [ɑ] → centre [ɜ] → front [ɛ]
back [ɔ] → centre [ɞ] → front [œ]
back [u] → centre [ʉ] → front [y]
front low [æ] → front mid-low [ɛ] → front mid-high [e] → front high [i]

As can be seen from the examples, i-mutation commonly causes non-front vowels to be fronted, and front vowels to be raised — they move closer towards the sound i.

This is not the only reason [a] might change to [e], but it is a fairly common change, and probably quite well studied.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on October 25, 2014, 11:19:55 AM
Vowels change naturally across languages. They almost always change to a nearby vowel. So for most languages where [a] and [e] are neighbors (or close) in the distribution of vowel phonemes, this isn't an unusual change. In many cases this is just fronting of a low unrounded vowel. But in languages with many contrasts that would be less likely, or would involve many steps.

Freknu's answer points out that there can be instances of assimilation where [a+i] becomes [e] (either two vowels merging together, or long distance assimilation, along the lines of vowel harmony). Another example of this is in Arabic dialects where diphthongs [ai] and [au] become [e] and [o].

But another way that this can happen is in a chain shift, where vowels move around in one way or another. This is why the English letter A is actually an example: original [a] shifted to [e], along with various other changes during the Great Vowel Shift around 500 years ago in English.


As a general answer to your question, this is fairly common because [a] and [e] are fairly close in their articulation, but I don't think this is any more common than any other similar vowel change between close vowels.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: mallu on October 29, 2014, 02:32:11 AM
Can this change happen the otherway,that is from  '|e|'to '|a|'?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: freknu on October 29, 2014, 02:40:52 AM
Of course, e.g. PG. *ē becomes ON. á: *knēaną → kná.

There is no inherent restriction on which path a sound shifts, towards the front, towards the back, higher, lower, anything is possible. It all depends on the underlying phonological structures and processes.

As I mentioned earlier, it's not so much the sound change as the underlying process that is important. Can /e/ shift to /a/? Yes, but that's unimportant. WHY (if so) does /e/ shift to /a/, is what is important.

Then again, I am kind of generalising (a lot), but the underlying processes are important as sounds can change for many reasons, and it's important to distinguish between the underlying reasons.

To put it in a medical proverb: study the disease, not just the symptoms.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: mallu on October 29, 2014, 03:21:41 AM
Yes,Why it happens is an interesting question.Can you suggest some literature that shed some light on it?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: freknu on October 29, 2014, 03:26:01 AM
Sorry :( I'm more of an amateur linguist having learned what little I know by myself or from forums such as this. When it comes to actual academic experience is have none.

djr and the others might have some suggestions, though.

Also, what in particular are you interested in? Sound changes cover such an unfathomable large scope that it would be impossible to write a single book to cover everything.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on October 29, 2014, 08:26:51 AM
Actually answering "why" is all but impossible. But we can talk in more general terms than just [a] becoming [e]. We can look at how this relates to more general patterns. For example, is it the only change at that time? Was the [e] space previously unfilled? If we look at Arabic dialects that previously had just three vowels and now have five, we note that diphthongs are more articulatory work and then they (ai, au) settled into the mid vowel space (e, o). That's not entirely a "why" answer, but it's getting closer.

Another way of looking at what freknu said is that it's entirely irrelevant whether one particular vowel becomes another particular vowel. It might be a little interesting for people who like languages, but beyond that it's of absolutely no value to know the details. It is more interesting to know the FACT that a vowel changed to a different vowel. And it is also interesting to know which vowels most often become which other vowels. Generally, as I said, they're not too far off in the articulatory space and they may be open spaces (or might result in a push chain where what was there also moves somewhere else).

Another way to look at this would be to ask WHEN this happens (not WHY). Are there any typological patterns to that? This is a kind of fronting. It probably often occurs in cases of vowel harmony (see Turkish). Maybe other cases too. That tells us something about the interaction between sounds and how they're represented as mental categories (involving, for example, phonological features).
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: freknu on October 29, 2014, 08:29:00 AM
Actually answering "why" is all but impossible. But we can talk in more general terms than just [a] becoming [e]. We can look at how this relates to more general patterns. For example, is it the only change at that time? Was the [e] space previously unfilled? If we look at Arabic dialects that previously had just three vowels and now have five, we note that diphthongs are more articulatory work and then they (ai, au) settled into the mid vowel space (e, o). That's not entirely a "why" answer, but it's getting closer.

Well, that's kind of the "why" I was thinking about :P

/ai/ → /eː/ is monophthongisation of a (unstressed?) diphthong, causing compulsory lengthening and fronting of /a/. That is a "why", or perhaps "how" would be more appropriate :)

"Why" this then in turn happened is probably impossible to know, as you said.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on October 29, 2014, 09:09:52 AM
Most stochastic models of diachronic phonology offer fairly compelling explanations of why changes happen. There's no one size fits all answer for *e->a, but (like freknu suggests) stress patterns are going to be a good first place to look for clues.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on October 29, 2014, 12:09:47 PM
Can it predict change? If it can't predict change, then it can't actually answer why. It can get closer, and it can generalize, but solving the "why" question would be the single biggest leap in historical linguistics since it began with the discovery of Proto-Indo-European.

I'm guessing those models look at stability and distribution within a system and look at why things move to optimize it. But can they get us to actually being able to predict changes? If so, I'm very interested!
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on October 29, 2014, 12:23:45 PM
Well, yeah...of course they predict change. That's what makes them stochastic.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on October 29, 2014, 12:28:04 PM
Do they work using post hoc analyses or can they actually perform without hints? For example, have any successfully explain the great vowel shift or grimm's law?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on October 29, 2014, 12:37:26 PM
Explaining the great vowel shift or grimm's law would be, by definition, post hoc. But, to answer what I think you're asking...yes, there are non-teleological analyses of both. This is a fairly mainstream thread in contemporary phonology.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on October 29, 2014, 12:43:34 PM
Quote
Explaining the great vowel shift or grimm's law would be, by definition, post hoc.
Not in a close system where the results are not included as training data or as an endpoint for the analysis. If you can feed in (only) Early Middle English and have a algorithm output the results after the Great Vowel Shift, I'd be very impressed. If not, then I don't see how this is "predicting".

I know that a lot of work is done to look at why these things happen. But I don't get the impression it's yet reliable or predictive. Instead, it suggests reasonable post hoc analyses for observations and suggests that some of these changes (or maybe all) are motivated by the properties of the system before the change.

If it's actually beyond that point now, I should update the curriculum for the class I teach, especially regarding the section on sound change.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on October 29, 2014, 12:50:40 PM
I'm really having a hard time following you. Do you understand what a stochastic model is? You seem to be treating diachronic structure as a deterministic system. Do people actually claim that?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: freknu on October 29, 2014, 12:55:35 PM
Do they work using post hoc analyses or can they actually perform without hints? For example, have any successfully explain the great vowel shift or grimm's law?

Wouldn't unstressed /ai/ → /eː/ already be a "stochastic" (why is it random?) prediction?


The actual phonetic realisation may vary, but the only contrast needed in this case is back /a/ versus front /e/, diphthong /ai̯/ versus monophthong /eː/.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on October 29, 2014, 12:58:11 PM
(why is it random?)

In this kind of modeling, "random" just means underdetermined. It doesn't mean absolutely random.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: freknu on October 29, 2014, 01:22:35 PM
(why is it random?)

In this kind of modeling, "random" just means underdetermined. It doesn't mean absolutely random.

I see.

So that would then be the answer to my next question, how could you possibly predict which change would occur? But since there are not enough constraints (stochastic) you can merely predict the likely outcome, not the exact outcome?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on October 29, 2014, 01:50:08 PM
Quote
I'm really having a hard time following you. Do you understand what a stochastic model is? You seem to be treating diachronic structure as a deterministic system. Do people actually claim that?

I understand that it's based on probabilities. And I guess in that there's no categorical distinction between "effective" and "ineffective", unless you have a metric for a specific purpose.

However, my main point is the following: we can't claim to "understand" the past (in the sense of "why") if we can't predict the future (with a reasonable level of probabilistic accuracy).

To rephrase:

We CAN make explanations such as: "if this happened [eg, great vowel shift], then it was probably this reason"
But we can't really make explanations such as: "this is what the language was like, and therefore the next logical step was this [eg, great vowel shift], even with some probability (where that probability allows us to, a fair amount of the time, make the right guess)"
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on October 29, 2014, 07:16:48 PM
I see.

So that would then be the answer to my next question, how could you possibly predict which change would occur? But since there are not enough constraints (stochastic) you can merely predict the likely outcome, not the exact outcome?

Right, that's the nature of non-deterministic systems. A basic model of trait inheritance will be able to tell you why I have a son with red hair and a son with dark hair. Hoping to also explain why it's the older one in particular who got the red hair, however, requires a fairly fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of genetics.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on October 29, 2014, 07:31:57 PM
To rephrase:

We CAN make explanations such as: "if this happened [eg, great vowel shift], then it was probably this reason"
But we can't really make explanations such as: "this is what the language was like, and therefore the next logical step was this [eg, great vowel shift], even with some probability (where that probability allows us to, a fair amount of the time, make the right guess)"

You've got it exactly backwards. Stochastic modeling allows us to make predictive estimations about the next state of a system given its current configuration. It *never* allows us, however, to look back at a transformation and assign it one cause from among many. That's just not how non-deterministic systems work.

I gather you're just not familiar with this work. That's fine, of course, but if you really find the possibility of what I'm describing so hard to believe, there's no reason for you to take my word for it. "Evolutionary Phonology" by Blevins (2004) is probably the easiest place to start; I've pointed you there a few times before during similar conversations, I believe.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on October 29, 2014, 08:04:37 PM
Hmmm... can stochastic models actually answer a "why" question at all though? They seem to simulate and number crunch, but to actually say "why" we'd need to understand. Or is the idea that the algorithm is a kind of understanding?

An interesting case is Hidden Marchov Chains. They work fairly well for implementing certain aspects of language computationally. But they are essentially meaningless and uninformative-- they work with hidden statistical operations and they give a reasonable output. But they don't really help us "understand". Unless you mean that the why question is answered by an algorithm in the general case.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on October 29, 2014, 09:30:29 PM
Hmmm... can stochastic models actually answer a "why" question at all though?

Think about what you're asking here. "Why" is a question of causation, but the entire point of calling something non-deterministic is to say that its basis of cause cannot be exhaustively specified. That's not a limitation of our knowledge; it's an intrinsic part of how non-deterministic systems function.

For this kind of phenomena, any coherent model of cause is necessarily going to be stochastic. For example, something like Evolutionary Phonology presumes variation as an inherent property of messy, material speech, but then goes on to demonstrate that basic facts of perception and articulation make some transformations more likely and some configurations more stable. It's a Markov model in every sense, but to call it "meaningless and uninformative" strikes me as pretty bizarre. I mean, good gravy, it's a comprehensive, systems-based explanation of phonological change! What more could you possibly be hoping for?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on October 29, 2014, 10:52:19 PM
Quote
That's not a limitation of our knowledge; it's an intrinsic part of how non-deterministic systems function.
Ok, so then why would that be an answer to the "why" question? :)

In other words, I think I agree.


Quote
It's a Markov model in every sense, but to call it "meaningless and uninformative" strikes me as pretty bizarre.
It depends on what we mean by "meaning" or "informativeness". I'm talking about it from the perspective of the researcher understanding from it. This gets into issues like the Chinese room-- personally I'd rather actually understand Chinese than be able to perfectly imitate it. If it turns out that linguistics (or parts thereof) are just probabilistic, then I'm not too interested in studying them (I wouldn't mind showing it and moving on though). [I won't ever mind doing descriptive linguistics, though, I suppose!]
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on October 29, 2014, 11:20:13 PM
Ok, so then why would that be an answer to the "why" question? :)

In other words, I think I agree.

Huh?

It explains why sounds change (for example, from *e->a) by describing the system pressures that favor the transformation, the system pressures that disfavor it, and the mechanisms of change itself. What more could you possibly hope for?

It depends on what we mean by "meaning" or "informativeness". I'm talking about it from the perspective of the researcher understanding from it. This gets into issues like the Chinese room-- personally I'd rather actually understand Chinese than be able to perfectly imitate it. If it turns out that linguistics (or parts thereof) are just probabilistic, then I'm not too interested in studying them (I wouldn't mind showing it and moving on though). [I won't ever mind doing descriptive linguistics, though, I suppose!]

If a system is built on probabalistic mechanisms, "understanding it" requires building a representation that includes probability. There's nothing particular to linguistics about that. It's just a basic issue of epistemology. The comparison to questions about consciousness is completely missing the point.

Edit: type-o change-o
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on October 30, 2014, 01:42:47 AM
Hmm. What would it mean to "understand" a coin flip? I suppose in that sense what you're describing is possible.

On the other hand, how advanced is this research? Does it resemble something that actually works? Again, if you apply it to Middle English does it fairly often predict something like the Great Vowel Change?

I'm also uncertain about how much is conditioned in that way and how much is truly random based on social factors (and arbitrary variation that happens to be associated with them).
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on October 30, 2014, 01:54:39 AM
Hmm. What would it mean to "understand" a coin flip? I suppose in that sense what you're describing is possible.

Do you understand what Markov models represent? If so, why are you comparing them to a stateless probability event?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: jkpate on October 30, 2014, 02:10:37 PM
Ah, I've been occupied with travel but want to chime in real quick.


Quote
It's a Markov model in every sense, but to call it "meaningless and uninformative" strikes me as pretty bizarre.
It depends on what we mean by "meaning" or "informativeness". I'm talking about it from the perspective of the researcher understanding from it. ... If it turns out that linguistics (or parts thereof) are just probabilistic, then I'm not too interested in studying them

I remember sharing this sentiment when I was first beginning in Linguistics. I knew a bit of stats, but felt that probabilistic approaches were at best an ugly kludge to just get the right answer rather than a route to deeper understanding. This sentiment changed when I realized that probability distributions are richly-structured objects in their own right. What did it for me was the work described in Johnson (1997) (http://web.science.mq.edu.au/~mjohnson/papers/johnson-97.pdf), which showed that simply conditioning on more or less information could dramatically change probability distributions. That is, there is a direct connection between how linguistic structures are put together and how probability distributions over those structures behave. Saying that something is "just probabilistic" is glossing over an enormous range of interesting and structured behavior.

Another resource you might consider is Sutton and McCallum's tutorial introduction to Conditional Random Fields (http://homepages.inf.ed.ac.uk/csutton/publications/crf-tutorial.pdf), with particular attention to the difference between naive Bayes and logistic regression, and what happens when you plug these classifiers into each other (so that the predicted class of one classifier is the "observation" of another classifier). Alternatively, I haven't had a chance to watch the talks myself yet, but I just saw that Christopher Bishop has three Machine Learning Summer School lectures on graphical models available via youtube (http://mlss.tuebingen.mpg.de/2013/speakers.html). (The other videos are by big names too, and look to be worth watching as well, but probably won't speak as directly to what it means to be a structured probability distribution).

Getting a handle on this all means sitting down and understanding the math, but I promise it is worth it if you want to understand what the models MalFet is talking about mean.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on October 30, 2014, 11:54:21 PM
I don't have anything against statistics. I just don't see it as the same kind of understanding as other approaches. Maybe it all ends up just being about whether it's deterministic or not, although when phrased like that I don't explicitly agree with that sentiment either.

Having an algorithm that can run a simulation of language isn't too bad-- it does explain something in a sense, or at least it imitates it relevantly.
But it also seems to miss the social factors-- who in the social network is prominent and what distribution of the variation do they happen to contribute? Historical change is, I think, more than just optimization of the system. Sometimes that may "explain" it (post hoc), but it isn't the full story.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on October 31, 2014, 12:30:48 AM
Who said anything about optimization? Markov models are fundamentally atelic. That's the whole point.

Also, isn't it a bit disingenuous for you to be making claims about what stochastic models do or don't "miss" without having actually read any of them? The book I recommended to you just a few posts up, for example, could be summarized as a diachronic application of Labovian sociolinguistics. If you think it's ignoring social dynamics, you're not understanding the argument.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on October 31, 2014, 03:48:35 AM
What's the tangible result from this approach? Pick a situation (real or hypothetical), and what would you say is the answer to "why"?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on October 31, 2014, 09:05:00 PM
Palatalization of velar obstruents in Salish: coarticulation with front vowels causes advancement of the tongue body, which favors articulatory patterns that are perceptually difficult to distinguish from palato-alveolar affricates (see Guion 1998 for experimental data). New learners acquire this as a form of allophonic variation (potentially free, potentially socially conditioned), which has the cross-generational effect of first expanding the scope of acceptable phonetic realization before resettling on exclusively palatalized forms.

There's an obvious typological lesson here, too, explaining why the palatalization of voiceless obstruents is vastly more common cross-linguistically than the palatalization of voiced obstruents, but that's getting a bit beyond the scope of the issue here.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on October 31, 2014, 11:09:41 PM
I like that answer. It doesn't seem entirely categorically different from answers like "t became d due to lenition", just much more sophisticated and better defined.

How much of that is post hoc-- explaining events after seeing them, and how much is actually predictive, given a more general case "why" for the current state toward a next state? I know those are similar, but to me what you said is a perfectly reasonable case of figuring out what happened, but it doesn't sound so different from "if this happened, then it was probably due to this". Is that a fair characterization, or does this line of research get beyond that?

Looking at a change and figuring out what it probably came from is one side of the puzzle. The other is looking at a language and figuring out how it will probably change. If both questions can be answered (at an above chance level), that's a first step toward the "why" question.

It also strikes me, in the typological generalization perspective, as something like "grammaticalization" theory, where some paths are more common than other paths (although in this case it's based on phonetic/articulatory information rather than cognitive/conceptual factors). The trouble is that it is difficult to distinguish frequent sequences of changes from actual cause and effect, although the implications are very interesting.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on November 01, 2014, 02:53:21 AM
You're still thinking about this in terms of predictive versus post-hoc explanations, but that's a fundamental misunderstanding of how non-deterministic phenomena work and how Markov systems represent them. There is no post-hoc here. Post-hoc is not even a conceptual possibility in this framework. There can't be a post-hoc because these are non-telic accounts of emergent phenomena.

The material mechanisms of change are, generally speaking, validated by both typological and experimental data. But, ultimately, since linguistic change is an aggregate phenomenon of populations, the question of cause is dramatically overdetermined. What an explanation accounts for are pressures on the system, and that's true of virtually all non-trivial accounts both inside linguistics and in other fields.

In other words, the idea that a good account should take Middle English and predict the Great Vowel Shift "fairly often" is completely misconstruing the nature of language. It's not something that happens fairly often. That's what makes it interesting. A model that predicts it a likely transformation out from Middle English would just be incorrect.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: jkpate on November 01, 2014, 08:22:57 AM
Suppose we wanted to model Texas Hold 'em poker. There are many sources of randomness, including the shuffled deck, individual player propensities for bluffing and risk-taking, and individual player assessments of other players. So there is a lot of room for explaining the factors that contribute to various player decisions and hand outcomes. However, each individual outcome is low-probability, and the prospect of predicting the outcome of any particular deal is hopeless.

I think djr33's concern can be addressed with some discussion of overfitting. When fitting a statistical model, it's possible for the parameters to capture some regularities that happen to exist in the training data but do not generalize to new observations. Insisting that your model predict the actual outcome with high probability, however, encourages overfitting: you want the model to put an appropriate amount of probability mass on plausible events that, by chance, did not occur in the training data. An appropriate metric for this would be something like the perplexity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perplexity) of a held-out test set, which measures how well the predicted probabilities of events match their true probabilities.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on November 01, 2014, 10:05:22 AM
Quote from: MalFet
Post-hoc is not even a conceptual possibility in this framework.
Post-hoc is a kind of analysis. Surely any kind of analysis can be applied to a certain data set after the results are known (or before). My point is that there's a distinction between an analysis that lines up well with what we know (consistent with data post-hoc), and an analysis that expands our knowledge on its own.

Quote
There can't be a post-hoc because these are non-telic accounts of emergent phenomena.
Then perhaps the "why" question simply doesn't apply at all-- if the phenomena don't really exist anyway, then the "why" is just because it's an illusion, and the real question is what is underlying in the system. That may be a fair point.

Quote
In other words, the idea that a good account should take Middle English and predict the Great Vowel Shift "fairly often" is completely misconstruing the nature of language. It's not something that happens fairly often. That's what makes it interesting. A model that predicts it a likely transformation out from Middle English would just be incorrect.
Ok, now we're getting somewhere. I can certainly see that argument. But then how/why would anyone attempt to answer the "why" question? It seems like the answer is always some form of "an unlikely change occurred compared to the state of the language". This goes back to what I said: we can't really answer a "why" question at the level of human understanding/knowledge. There may very well be an algorithm that can describe what happened, but to answer a question like "why does [a] become [e]" seems to still not have a good answer. In fact, you just said it-- the best we could say would be something like "it probably wouldn't". And we can add some correlated factors (like proximity in the vowel space) to say "why", but it's far from something concrete (perhaps a deterministic explanation).

On the other hand, I'm not sure I agree: do you think that what happened in Middle English was due to chance, if you consider all variables? I know that's a philosophical question, but to me it seems like some properties of ME and its speakers actually determined that result, and it would probably repeat itself given the exact same situation. So the "why" question then could in theory be answered but by omniscience in a relatively uninteresting way.

For now I think I'll stick with what a colleague says-- "Shift happens!" (And there are various ways we can model it and understanding contributing/correlated factors like articulatory variability.)


jkpate, that sounds like exactly what I'm thinking here (though I wasn't thinking of it in those terms). Thanks. And what does that say about the "why" question?
To me, any "why" question regarding poker would be post-hoc-- why was it good to get the two of clubs? because in the end it worked. Or why did I win? because I got the two of clubs. But trying to understand the system beyond that would involve, basically, counting cards (and knowing the mental states of the players). So I'm not convinced it's very useful to ask a "why" question for poker or language change. Does that seem reasonable or unreasonable to you?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: jkpate on November 01, 2014, 11:10:57 AM
jkpate, that sounds like exactly what I'm thinking here (though I wasn't thinking of it in those terms). Thanks. And what does that say about the "why" question?
To me, any "why" question regarding poker would be post-hoc-- why was it good to get the two of clubs? because in the end it worked. Or why did I win? because I got the two of clubs. But trying to understand the system beyond that would involve, basically, counting cards (and knowing the mental states of the players). So I'm not convinced it's very useful to ask a "why" question for poker or language change. Does that seem reasonable or unreasonable to you?

It does not sound reasonable to me. The whole point of a model is to draw more general conclusions than "because in the end it worked." It could work for very different reasons, depending on what was going in a particular hand, and what had been observed to work in the dataset as a whole. For example, in a particular deal, perhaps the flop had a 2 of spades, and the winner rarely bluffs, so the winner was able to pull a convincing bluff when a 2 of clubs was drawn and there were two face-up 2s. To draw this conclusion, we need to aggregate different statistics across multiple observations. A model specifies how we aggregate statistics. In this example, there are conclusions that are general across players ("a bluff is x% more likely to be successful if the bluffer rarely bluffs" and "a bluff is x% more likely to be successful if <certain card combinations> are face up"), conclusions that are specific to a player across hands ("Steve rarely bluffs", "Steve is x% more likely to bluff if it involves going all in", "Steve doesn't care who has the big blind when it comes to bluffing"). In other words, a model allows us to determine whether, and the extent to which, variables relate to each other across observations. Probability distributions are not just a mud of unstructured correlations.

For language change, this could take the form of identifying that some kinds of changes are related to  communicative variables, other (potentially overlapping) kinds of language change are related to maintaining or breaking down social strata, geographic adjacency to other languages with particular features, and so on.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on November 01, 2014, 02:59:01 PM
I still see that as answering a how question. (And that is important, scientific, and interesting.)
But I think often why is confused with how.

I think this either means:
1. We can know the HOW, but the why is always because "shift happens".
Or:
2. In the case of language change, HOW=WHY.

Perhaps you're of the second perspective?


In fact, this might be a more general situation in science: Why? Because. How? [insert long scientific explanation here]

There's wikihow.com but no wikiwhy.com... seems fitting?


"How" can be answered with a story. Science (in the best case scenario) gives us accurate stories about how the world works.
"Why" can be answered by motivating that story in a deeper way-- you'd need to ask a literature studies researcher "why" literature works, which ends up, I think, circular, possibly with "because we believe it"-- so the why of language change is the why of science-- because scientists believe science.

Or, we can just conflate how and why, and that might be correct.

But I've always found this question, when someone asks me, very strange: "Why did English develop like it did?" (Or any similar question.) I can certainly give a story about how English came to be, with its strange spelling and so forth, but I feel that I have to stop there, even if I'm just speculating-- I can't imagine a "why" answer.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: freknu on November 01, 2014, 03:22:48 PM
I think you're making a far too narrow (and probably colloquial) interpretation of "why".


Why did /a/ shift to /e/?

Now, you might say that the decision by A and B to shift all /a/ to /e/ is the "why", but that actually says nothing about why /a/ shifts to /e/. If you instead focus on vowel space, vowel harmony, fronting, palatalisation, etc., then that will tell you "why" — even though to colloquial interpretaton it may not appear to do so, as it doesn't have an anthropomorphic agent and/or cause which is so often confused with "why".

The decision by A and B are environmental pressures, only due to their anthropomorphism they are given more weight and "reason" compared to "random" environmental pressures.

So, why did /a/ shift to /e/?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on November 01, 2014, 04:03:30 PM
Quote
I think you're making a far too narrow (and probably colloquial) interpretation of "why".
I'd actually think it's the opposite-- that colloquially we use "why" very broadly. Applying stricter conditions on it is my scientific agenda. If I casually ask you "why did it change" I might be happy with a response like "because the vowels are close and speakers started pronouncing them differently". If that's all that is required for a "why" then it doesn't seem like a hard question at all.


So do you see a distinction between how and why?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: freknu on November 01, 2014, 04:07:19 PM
So do you see a distinction between how and why?

Sure, and in my example I would say the decision is the "how", while phonological processes is the "why".
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on November 01, 2014, 04:20:27 PM
Why? :)
(If you're ignoring agentivity.)
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: freknu on November 02, 2014, 02:04:36 AM
Why? :)

Em... the decision shows "how" the phonological change occurs, phonological processes shows "why" the phonological change occurs. If you want a phonological "why", then you need to study the problem phonologically. If you want an anthropomorphic/social/agentive "why", then you need to study the problem anthropomorphically/socially/agentivally.

Two different things.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on November 02, 2014, 03:08:07 AM
Quote
There can't be a post-hoc because these are non-telic accounts of emergent phenomena.
Then perhaps the "why" question simply doesn't apply at all-- if the phenomena don't really exist anyway, then the "why" is just because it's an illusion, and the real question is what is underlying in the system. That may be a fair point.

Who said the phenomena don't exist? Who said anything about "illusion"? Where are you getting this? I am sincerely confused.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: Daniel on November 02, 2014, 12:15:14 PM
Shouldn't one study the underlying cause of an emergent phenomenon?
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: jkpate on November 02, 2014, 01:42:00 PM
If a phenomenon is emergent, then there is no singular underlying cause.
Title: Re: sound change rules
Post by: MalFet on November 02, 2014, 08:17:32 PM
As jkpate has suggested, if you're trying to find the underlying cause of an emergent phenomenon, you're failing to appreciate what the word means. Emergent systems have properties that can neither be reduced nor displaced to something else. That's the entire point.

I have no idea why an analysis of causality "at a level of human understanding" should require a simple vector between cause and effect. After all, human understanding has been engaged with far more interesting material relationships for millennia now, as far back as we can trace. If you want to stipulate for yourself that "why" has no place outside of determined causation, that's your choice to make of course, but you're going against a few centuries of very well-established convention for the word in epistemology and the philosophy of science.