Stephen Carlson wrote:
David Lim wrote:
I think even in English word order is still very flexible so that it may sometimes not bear any meaning at all. For example:
"him alone you will serve"
"you will serve him alone"
Is there a difference between the two in modern English? Some will use the former (probably because they read the scriptures) but others will use the latter. And neither of them are trying to make a distinction from the other alternative.
Yes, there is a difference, and there is an entire book about it: Betty J. Birner and Gregory Ward, Information Status and Noncanonical Word Order in English
(Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1988).
Oh my goodness. I do not interpret any difference if I were to hear a stranger saying it. Even if I knew the speaker well, if he often uses both kinds of constructions, I would not be likely to ascribe any meaning to the difference, intentional or otherwise. Now, I am sure that many others will agree with me by simply understanding language the way I do, even if they do not want to admit it. Unless one insists that most users of a language never fully understand one another because they are rarely aware of such differences, an equivalent insistence that there is always a difference in meaning between these two example phrases cannot be considered valid at all. Consider more:
"him only you will serve" , "him only you shall serve"
"only him you will serve" , "only him you shall serve"
"only him will you serve" , "only him shall you serve"
"you will serve him only" , "you shall serve him only"
"you will serve only him" , "you shall serve only him"
Any good English grammar or dictionary will mention that the distinction between such alternatives are not observed by a significant proportion of English users. And there are too many such references to list.
Stephen already answered you with an excellent book. there is another set of ideas that need to be brought into the discussion as well, and that is Relevance Theory. Meaning/communication is negotiated between coder and decoder. They do not always have to make the best choices or the right guesses about the effects on the other and communication often breaks down, nevertheless, meaning negotiation is taking place.
If a friend walks in and says, How are you?
and on another occasion walks in and says 'How do you do?'
there will be alot of unspoken processing going on to sort out the difference. (Hey, what'd I do? where are we going with this?)
The person may even respond, "What do you mean?" even though the greeting is as clear as can be.
A choice was made, and it is interpreted accordingly.
Your example demonstrates that exactly the same sentence may mean different things when spoken/written by different people and when heard/read by different people and when communicated at different times. That is precisely why I said that linguistics can only suggest
"explanations" for communication after
communication. The meaning is not dependent on any fixed rules (even unknown rules) alone, but always depends on individual style and situation. Moreover, your example is flawed because everyone I know use different phrases for greeting and often arbitrarily. Whether there is an unconscious choice does not matter. The fact remains that there can often be absolutely no difference in meaning. Many times also I have seen a miscommunication take place when the hearer assumes that there was
a reason for an apparent change in the way the speaker said something, and on clarifying, realises that nothing
Now to make it clear, I am not saying that we should always ascribe everything to style, but that if there is significant variation then it is unwise to attempt to find reason
for it that is independent of the language user.