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Non-linguistic Conditions for Causativization as a Linguistic Attractor.

  • Author(s): Nichols, Johanna
  • et al.
Abstract

An attractor, in complex systems theory, is any state that is more easily or more often entered or acquired than departed or lost; attractor states therefore accumulate more members than non-attractors, other things being equal. In the context of language evolution, linguistic attractors include sounds, forms, and grammatical structures that are prone to be selected when sociolinguistics and language contact make it possible for speakers to choose between competing forms. The reasons why an element is an attractor are linguistic (auditory salience, ease of processing, paradigm structure, etc.), but the factors that make selection possible and propagate selected items through the speech community are non-linguistic. This paper uses the consonants in personal pronouns to show what makes for an attractor and how selection and diffusion work, then presents a survey of several language families and areas showing that the derivational morphology of pairs of verbs like fear and frighten, or Turkish korkmak fear, be afraid and korkutmak frighten, scare, or Finnish istua sit and istutta seat (someone), or Spanish sentarse sit down and sentar seat (someone) is susceptible to selection. Specifically, the Turkish and Finnish pattern, where seat is derived from sit by addition of a suffix-is an attractor and a favored target of selection. This selection occurs chiefly in sociolinguistic contexts of what is defined here as linguistic symbiosis, where languages mingle in speech, which in turn is favored by certain demographic, sociocultural, and environmental factors here termed frontier conditions. Evidence is surveyed from northern Eurasia, the Caucasus, North and Central America, and the Pacific and from both modern and ancient languages to raise the hypothesis that frontier conditions and symbiosis favor causativization.

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