[Source:] As other commenters have noted, looking for logic in language is almost always futile. No natural language is logical. But there is a historical logic to language development; even if the existence of a phrase is a historical accident, it's sometimes interesting to see when that "accident" took place, and why.

Are there any famous, reputable linguisticians who have advocated and espoused the quote above, which emphasises the import and importance of 'historical logic to language development'?
I already know that this (bolded noun phrase) differs from the notion for logic in language, which may not exist.

  • 1
    A number of interesting papers arise if you google +"historical logic" language or even just +"historical logic". But they all agree with what Dominick is saying: historical logic isn't the kind of logic you (LePress) so fervently seek. Historical "logic" is something that permits us to weave stories. But that's all they are: stories, rationalizations (a posteriori), not reasons (a priori).
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 11:17
  • @DanBron +1. Thanks for the advice.
    – user5306
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 19:38
  • Maybe this ELU post exemplifies the above: english.stackexchange.com/a/196356/50720
    – user5306
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 2:49

1 Answer 1


You (and the source) are confusing the technical and colloquial sense of the word logic here.

When you say There's a certain logic to language. or Even language is logical. you're saying something like, The way language works make sense. But this is radically different from saying, Language can be described using the apparatus of formal logic.

Most linguists will agree with the former but many fewer will agree with the latter.

No historical linguist believes that historical changes can be described by logical formalisms but many of them believe (particularly in the past) that it is governed by laws similar to those of physics. For instance, Grimm's Law. Today, most historical linguists will talk about tendencies or regularities but no one believes that even sound change laws are a given in the same way that the laws of physics are.

William Labov gave a great overview of the history and present of the thinking on language change in the first chapter of Vol 1 of his Principles of Linguistic change.

  • Thanks. Would you please clarify it is governed by laws similar to those of physics? I'm inexperienced in physics; so to which laws do you refer?
    – user5306
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 19:39
  • This does not refer to specific laws. Just the idea of natural laws - like the law of themodynamics. Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 4:19

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