End of ADS-L Digest - 22 May 1998 to 23 May 1998


From: Automatic digest processor (5/20/98)
To: Recipients of ADS-L digests

ADS-L Digest - 18 May 1998 to 19 May 1998 98-05-20 00:01:19
There are 7 messages totalling 271 lines in this issue.

Topics of the day:

1. Law/Principle of Least Effort (2)
2. Single Swallow Summers
3. Sri Lankan psychologist taxi driver syndrome
4. "Is it raining out?"
5. ADS-L Archive Search (2)


Date: Tue, 19 May 1998 10:05:48 -0400
From: Larry Horn
Subject: Re: Law/Principle of Least Effort

At 7:31 PM -0500 5/18/98, Gerald Cohen wrote:
> I am grateful to Larry Horn for his 5/18/98 message concerning the
>Law/Principle of Least Effort. It's been a while since I've worked on this
>topic, and I appreciate the update.
> I realize it's risky to advance thoughts without first checking the
>latest literature, but here goes anyway.

Sorry; by calling your attention--and that of others who might have been
interested--to the work I mentioned (not that I'd necessarily classify Paul
1890, Zipf 1935, or Martinet 1962 as exactly hot off the press), I hadn't
intended a pre-emptive strike. I was just trying to indicate that most
research taking the Principle of Least Effort seriously does look at
countervailing forces as well. Here's Paul (from the Strong translation of
the second edition of the Principles of the History of Language, 1890, p.

"The more economical or more abundant use of linguistic means of expressing
a thought is determined by the need... Everywhere we find modes of
expression forced into existence which contain only just so much as is
requisite to their being understood. The amount of linguistic material
employed varies in each case with the situation, with the previous
conversation, with the relative approximation of the speakers to a common
state of mind."

Zipf, Martinet, and the others I cited all have some version of
countervailing or antinomic forces operating in the determination of this

> I approach the Law/Principle of
>Least Effort from the perspective of my work on syntactic blends, and from
>that work it seemed clear to me that in many instances the above
>Law/Principle is violated by blends.

Right; I'd say that some blends are motivated by what I call the Q
Principle (the hearer-based requirement of sufficiency of informative
content, as opposed to the speaker-based least effort tendency reflecting
what I call the R Principle). That's what I think is going on, for
instance, in those cases of redundant affixation we were discussing a few
weeks back (unthaw, dissever, reduplicate, irregardless), and I think it
operates in some of your examples. English "pleonastic negation", as in 'I
miss not seeing you around anymore', and negative concord in general would
reflect this tendency for clarity over economy (as would other varieties of
concord or agreement). In many cases, least effort is violated in parole
while maintained in langue, the result being that these duplications are
seen as errors, as in your "simultanously at the same time" or
"although...but" examples.

> To take just a few examples. There's French "pleonastic ne," which as
>far as I can tell adds nothing to the content of the message and yet takes
>additional effort, however minimal, e.g.: Il est plus riche que je ne
>pensais. (Literally: He's richer than I didn't think.")
> Secondly, I once heard someone say: "simultaneously at the same
>time"--without his intending any special emphasis. I've also heard "It's
>full up," whereas "full" alone would suffice.
Expressivity in the latter case, I'd think. "Full up" is more emphatic
than just plain "full". Here's Martinet (1962: 140): "The importance of
redundancy does not, of course, invalidate the concept of language economy,
but reminds us of its complexity." Sounds like hand-waving, to be sure,
but the point is that each case has to be investigated to determine the
nature and force of the interacting principles. The "ne" of French
embracing negation is a particularly interesting case, because it
represents an intermediate stage in the evolution of negative expression as
described by Jespersen (1917) and others (I have a Zipfian-type account of
this in Chapter 7 of my Natural History of Negation). What happens in
"Jespersen's Cycle" is the following: a preverbal negative marker weakens
for (least-effort-based) phonological reasons until it becomes a proclitic,
too negligible (according to the Q Principle) to serve as the sole
indicator of negative force, and it begins to be reinforced by a
post-verbal indefinite or negative polarity marker of minimal quantity,
either of which may spread from a particular context to other verbal frames
(as with Eng. 'not' < 'ne-wiht' [meaning 'no thing/creature'; cf. not a
whit] or Fr. 'pas' [lit. 'step', orig. with motion verbs: 'I didn't walk a
step']). (Jespersen: 'The incongruity between the notional importance and
the formal insignificance of the negative may then cause the speaker to add
something to make the sense perfectly clear to the hearer'--as they'd put
it in the Oval Office, "Let me make this perfectly clear: I ne knew it
NOT!") Eventually, this reinforcer, with or without incorporated
concordial negation, takes on the primary role of negator, supplanting the
phonetically weakened proclitic, which is now seen as redundant or
pleonastic. Thus the (temporary) persistence of the "embracing" ne...pas
negation of French, like its counterparts in Middle English and Middle
Dutch, reflects a half-way house in the dialectic between a least-effort
(R-based) tendency toward weakening and simplification and an
information-preserving (Q-based) tendency toward (re)strengthening. The
proclitic eventually disappears, as happened in English and Dutch and is
happening in colloquial French. The final stage in the process may be a
movement of the new post-verbal negator to an earlier position before the
verb, to satisfy the "Neg-First" tendency to signal negation as early in
the utterance as possible. This, of course, makes it a candidate for later
procliticization (cf. "I d'know") and the cycle begins again.