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The theoretical role of novelty in conversation

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Thesis type
(Thesis) M.A.
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Mainstream contemporary linguistics is founded on Saussure's assumption that linguists must abstract away from all variation in conversation from an assumed linguistic norm, since such variation is a product of language-external influences that interfere with the natural homogenizing effect of language. Saussure and his followers are keen to apply this method to language because it forms the basis of nearly all successful physical science. However, the structure of conversation is such that novel variation can affect the basis of further variation, however locally and however minutely. This makes conversation more akin to the subject matter of biology than that of the physical sciences. For this reason, linguistics might profit from setting aside the method of physical science and adopting instead the method of biology, in which variation and difference are assumed to be of theoretical importance.
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