The natural: Its meanings and functions in the history of linguistic thought

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Attempts at distinguishing one part of language from another on the basisof naturalness, or certain other criteria that recapitulate the dichotomy of something that is grounded versus something that is not, can be regarded as normative, and ultimately tautological. A historical continuity exists linking such attempts across the centuries, despite changes in terminology and shifts in the balance of the sometimes contradictory conceptions of what in language is natural. This paper examines the history of eleven conceptual features traditionally associated with linguistic naturalness: mimesis, orality, physicality, rationality, simplicity, unplannedness, rusticity, musicality, purity, systematicity and efficiency. The aim is to uncover some of the underlying methodological and ideological assumptions of modern linguistics by examining how these concepts have been deployed. This offers a way forward beyond the limits which the implicit tautology has imposed upon our explanatory and analytic imaginations.


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