This blog is intended as an informal repository for my ideas about linguistics and language. My blog posts tend to be poorly organized; even as I write today, one child is watching distracting spongebobs and tearing around the house with a cowboy hat; I could wait and write this when there is no distraction, but by then I'm exhausted. And now is when I have my ideas.
My goal is to lay out the theory that would explain the phenomena of linguistics as I see it, in a single volume. I have been teaching for almost thirty years, have started learning several languages and have watched several children learn and acquire language. Linguists of all kinds have spelled out features of language and language learning, yet I'm still unsatisfied with what I've read, and I want to correct that. It's not that I want to reinvent the wheel; where they have pointed out something that is accurate, I will keep it and use it. But where it is not in the proper framework, or needs to be clarified, I'd like to do that. I'll give several examples.
One of the main points of my work will be that what is known in sociology as the Looking Glass Self must be integrated into models of language construction. I have read a little about the Looking Glass Self (enough to know that whether I use a hyphen in the name is itself taking a stand), but my first order of business, if I were to do business in order, would be to define how it should be the basis of our analysis. This is chapter one. My ideas come from a number of studies that Charles Horton Cooley did with his own child and the child's developing sense of self, with respect to her language. Volumes of data in there imply that we develop our language based on the way we see ourselves being seen by others; this is an intuitive concept, yet I've never seen it fully integrated into explanations of language development.
Second, language is primarily a self-organized system, thus the URL of this blog, which is an oblique reference to traffic, specifically Chicago traffic, which to some degree is the inspiration for this project. Traffic is the best corollary for what happens in language: it's an entire system made up of the sum of its parts; each of the parts acts independently according to its own best interests; each person (driver or speaker) has a perception of the best way to act, which is the crucial variable; that perception is influenced by "rules" or "law," or to be more specific, perception of rules or perception of law, but these are not the primary determiners of what happens. In some cases, law makes no difference at all, or, there is no law that one could possibly be aware of. A self-organized system has its own points, or densities, that are crucial in the way it operates. It would be my job to find these points, define them, and start proving that they would be the same for every language.
For example, there would be a point in the development of a language that mutual language would be necessary; people could co-exist without it, but after a point, they develop it naturally, because it's easier that way. Each individual decides that with life as he/she lives it, it would be easier if he/she joined in with others on a mutual set of symbols that would make communication easier. If the vast majority of languages developed an oral form but not a written form, what would explain this? Languages and cultures would reach a point at which having a written form would be beneficial; what would make a culture do this? Then, when the oral form of a language changes, for example during the Great Vowel Shift, the generally agreed sounds of a language as mutually agreed upon change. At what point can we say that the language has changed? The crucial variable in this equation would be the perceptions of the individual users of the language. When enough of those perceptions have been altered, we can say that the language has been altered.
A study of other self-organized systems, among them traffic systems, would help find out how entire systems behave even as they rely on the perceptions of their individual users. Traffic, as I have said, is the most easily and mutually understood of these systems, but evolution of species, nerve system, and many others give instructive help here. I lay out the path of my research here, so you'll recognize what you see in the blog later on.
I have already done some writing on this, which I will reference soon. I'm not sure it's in a proper place, yet, or even passable readable form. If not, maybe that's my first task. I wrote it a few years back. It didn't pass gracefully into oblivion, as many of my ideas do> I wanted to pursue it. Here I am, with my plate full, and I still intend to pursue it.