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A Selectionist Model Of The Genesis Of Phonic Texture:
Systemic Phonology & Universal Darwinism

Chris Cléirigh

Ph.D. Dissertation,
Department of Linguistics
University of Sydney
(August 1998)


This thesis develops notions of phonological function and structure from a Systemic theoretical perspective and provides a framework for modelling language as a complex adaptive system evolving according to Darwinian principles.

In discussing function, a distinction is made between phonological systems and structures that signal lexicogrammatical positions and those that do not; the former are described as cohesive in function, the latter as structural only. The phonological texture of a language is said to derive from its evolving structural and cohesive resources.

In discussing structure, alphabet-derived particulate phonological models are complemented with those of wave and field. Cycles of phonological prominence (tonic, rhythmic, moraic) are interpreted, on the quantum physics model, as probability waves that measure the syntagmatic location of a phonological particle (tone group, foot, syllable). Several types of field are introduced: quantum, charged, vector and phonogenetic, the last parallel to (biological) morphogenetic fields. Directionality in phonological vector fields is related to the linguistic notion of phoricity. Comprehensive descriptions of the articulatory textures of Irish (and, in the Appendix, of Australian English) are used to illustrate the theoretical model of function and structure. The model of structure is briefly extended to English lexicogrammar in the concluding chapter.

The Darwinian framework for modelling language draws on Darwinian models of the brain and culture by Edelman and Dawkins, respectively. Neurological systems, functioning through the selection of randomly adaptive variant neuronal groups in populations, are taken to be the substrate from which language, functioning through the selection of randomly adaptive variants in populations, emerges. The relation between lexicogrammatical and phonological systems is held to be proportional to that between genetic information and DNA molecules.

In the concluding chapter, language is, in turn, said to be the substrate from which higher level, language-dependent cultural (meme) systems, also functioning through the selection of randomly adaptive variants in populations, emerges.

Chapters (for download)

Title Page, Abstract, Acknowledgements


Tables and Figures

Chapter 1 Prolusion

Chapter 2 Phonological Texture (part 1, part 2)

Chapter 3 Creating Articulatory Texture In Irish: Structure (part 1, part 2)

Chapter 4 Creating Articulatory Texture In Irish: Cohesion (part 1, part 2, part 3)