Limiting the Arbitrary

Linguistic naturalism and its opposites in Plato's Cratylus and modern theories of language

John E. Joseph | University of Edinburgh
ISBN 9789027245854 (Eur) | EUR 105.00
ISBN 9781556197499 (USA) | USD 158.00
ISBN 9789027283726 | EUR 105.00 | USD 158.00
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The idea that some aspects of language are ‘natural’, while others are arbitrary, artificial or derived, runs all through modern linguistics, from Chomsky’s GB theory and Minimalist program and his concept of E- and I-language, to Greenberg’s search for linguistic universals, Pinker’s views on regular and irregular morphology and the brain, and the markedness-based constraints of Optimality Theory. This book traces the heritage of this linguistic naturalism back to its locus classicus, Plato’s dialogue Cratylus. The first half of the book is a detailed examination of the linguistic arguments in the Cratylus. The second half follows three of the dialogue’s naturalistic themes through subsequent linguistic history — natural grammar and conventional words, from Aristotle to Pinker; natural dialect and artificial language, from Varro to Chomsky; and invisible hierarchies, from Jakobson to Optimality Theory — in search of a way forward beyond these seductive yet spurious and limiting dichotomies.
Publishing status: Available
Table of Contents
“[A] must-read for any serious linguist, let alone a linguistic historiographer. [The author's] mission is to challenge linguists to reflect on their own fundamental assumptions and to recognize that there is nothing much new under the sun — and in this he succeeds admirably. The whole is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.”



Main BIC Subject

CF: Linguistics

Main BISAC Subject

LAN009000: LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Linguistics / General
U.S. Library of Congress Control Number:  00062112