2 - Phonology and morphology  pp. 43-108

Phonology and morphology

By Roger Lass

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The history of the Victorian Age will never be written: we know too much about it. For ignorance is the first requisite of the historian – ignorance, which simplifies and clarifies, which selects and omits, with a placid perfection unattainable by the highest art.

Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians (1918)

History, change and variation

Any system S (a language, culture, art-style, organism …) can be understood in a number of complementary ways. Two of the commonest are:

  • (a) Structural: what is S made of? How is it put together, and what are the relations among the different components?
  • (b) Functional: how do the components of S work to fulfil the overall function of the system, as well as their own special functions?

Such understanding often feels incomplete without a third dimension:

  • (c) Historical: where did S and its parts come from? How much change has there been to produce what we see now, and what kind?

This can be split into some interesting subquestions, which define one way of doing history:

  • (d) How much of what we see at a given time is old, and how much is new?
  • (e) Of the old: how much is doing what it used to? How much is doing new things? What is the new doing (e.g. has it taken over any old functions, or developed novel ones?); does anything appear to be ‘junk’, not doing anything at all?


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