In this programmatic paper, I argue that the universal constraints of Optimality Theory (OT) need to be complemented by a theory of diachronic adaptation. OT constraints are traditionally stipulated as part of Universal Grammar, but this misses the generalization that the grammatical constraints normally correspond to constraints on language use. As in biology, observed adaptive patterns in language can be explained through diachronic evolutionary processes, as the unintended cumulative outcome of numerous individual intentional actions. The theory of diachronic adaptation also provides a solution to t h e teleology problem, which has often been used as an argument against usage-based functional explanations. Finally, I argue against the view that the grammatical constraints could be due to accident. Thus, an adaptive explanation must eventually be found, whether at the level of language use and diachronic change (as proposed in this paper), or at the level of biological evolutionary change. 1. Preferences in competition: an old and new concept 2. Why are the constraints the way they are? 3. User optimality and adaptation 4. A mechanism for adaptation: diachronic change 5. Variation and selection in language 6. Grammatical optimality reduced to user optimality 7. Are grammatical constraints due to accident? 8. Conclusion 1. Preferences in competition: an old and new concept There is a long tradition in theoretical linguistics which holds that structural patterns of grammar are determined by highly general preferences or constraints that may come into conflict with each other. Gabelentz (1901:256) was very clear about the tension between the "striving for ease" (Bequemlichkeitsstreben) and the "striving for clarity" (Deutlichkeitsstreben). The neogrammarians were primarily concerned with the conflict between phonological tendencies (leading to exceptionless sound changes) and the tendency toward morphological analogy. Havers (1931:191ff) discusses in great detail the interaction of various general "conditions and forces" in syntax. With the advent of structuralism and its rigid synchrony/diachrony separation, this kind of thinking went out of fashion, as the focus was now on explicit and elegant descriptions of individual languages, rather than on highly general (if often vague) explanatory principles. But after several decades of abstention, linguists again began to become interested in highly general principles; and since principles can be formulated in a more general way if they are violable, this meant that the idea of conflicting preferences resurfaced. Within one tradition, such competing preferences were called naturalness principles in conflict (e.g. Dressler 1977:13, Dressler et al. 1987:7, 93); in another, competing motivations (Haiman 1983:812, Du Bois 1985, Croft 1990:§7.4). Langacker (1977:102) used the term optimality:
Vor dem Hintergrund der seinerzeit in Deutschland vorherrschenden friedenspolitischen berzeugungen hatte die Diskussion über den Golfkrieg Anfang 1991 eine besondere Brisanz. Der öffentlich ausgetragene erregte Streit über die Berechtigung des Krieges demonstrierte in außergewöhnlicher Kompaktheit, welche argumentativen Mittel politischen Diskussionen zugrunde liegen. Ziel dieses Aufsatzes ist es, den Gebrauch solcher Mittel anhand von Materialbeispielen bewußt zu machen und ihre kommunikative Funktion zu charakterisieren. Dabei zeigt sich, daß viele Kommunikationsteilnehmer in starkem Maße dazu neigen, manipulative Argumentationstechniken einzusetzen und die Sachauseinandersetzung mit typischen Verfahren der Konfliktaustragung zu überlagern.
With literature and empirical evidence, this article argues against the existing claim that what if -questions are idioms and proposes that they are the result of the syntactic and semantic combination of what and if -conditionals. With further evidence, it is argued that what can be a propositional anaphor which occurs in different contexts, rather than being restricted to what if -questions. A formal characterization of the syntactic and semantic properties of the propositional what is formulated in the framework of Dynamic Syntax, demonstrating how this word makes semantic and syntactic contributions to the interpretation of utterances in English as a mechanism of interaction between interlocutors.
In the 15th century, at a time when codification via dictionaries and grammars had not yet taken effect, printers, editors, and compositors were already producing pamphlets and books that had to meet the new requirements of the letterpress, especially as regards the arrangement of white space and uniform line justification (even-margined on the left and right). The following analysis investigates five German editions of the Mirabilia Romae (Marvels of the City of Rome), a well-known pilgrim guide, all printed in 1500 for the contemporaneous Jubilee year and thus for short-term sale. The results show that compositors used different means for text alignment: In addition to deviations in line counts and the repositioning of lines, they chose extended or contracted spelling variants, predominantly on the second half of the page. The most frequent variants are abbreviations in the form of tildes. However, just a few spelling patterns with tildes were used. With respect to explanatory processes in a historical perspective, the results call for a closer consideration of page format, text layout ( mise-en-page ) and line justification when evaluating spelling variation in early book printing.
The use of punctuation in German incunabula is often described as arbitrary, irregular, and unsystematic (cf. Masalon 2014: 54–56). This concerns the inventory, frequency, and function of punctuation marks as well as pragmatic aspects such as how typesetters treated punctuation in their respective target texts. In this paper, punctuation is not seen as an independent linguistic subsystem, but as a means of text segmentation that – along with other measures (e. g. capital letters, pilcrows, and white space) – was used to structure a text with respect to its formal appearance, helping the reader to decode information. This case study is based on a corpus of German pamphlets written by the Bohemian astrologer Wenzel Faber and printed annually beginning in 1481 at various print shops, principally in Leipzig and Nuremberg. The analysis finds significant changes in the editions before and after 1490. These changes include an increasing consistency in the intensity of text segmentation, and a use of capital letters and punctuation marks developed from a polyfunctional to a monofunctional approach. Finally, different types of text segmentation are proposed, each characterized by a specific relationship between its frequency and its function. Despite this overall tendency, one must still take into account that typesetters followed individual punctuation practices in their search for suitable forms of text segmentation.
In German printings of the early 18th century, the shift from the hitherto dominant sentence-dividing punctuation mark, the virgule, to the comma, takes place astonishingly rapidly. It is also astonishing that until recently, research has barely devoted itself to this phenomenon, even though it is at least a turning point in the history of the highest-frequency punctuation mark in German writing.
The paper examines to what extent the transition from the use of the virgule to the comma is carried out in a phase-specific manner. Previous samples have indicated the influence of the font choice on the choice of punctuation: Printers or typesetters in the early 18th century set the comma especially in the environment of the Antiqua script, which is used to graphically label non-native words or syntagms. Is this a kind of “gateway” to the comma?
By means of a corpus analysis in micro-diachronic sections, the status of the virgule/comma variation will be associated with the typographic variation in terms of the use of Latin Antiqua type and the German type.