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Darwin-L Message Log 1:20 (September 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<1:20>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Sun Sep  5 19:47:18 1993

Date: Sun, 05 Sep 1993 20:53:39 -0400 (EDT)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: Geology and Language, and a Darwin-L Update
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

Greetings again to all new subscribers to Darwin-L, and thanks for the many
introductions.  Darwin-L is now just 48 hours old, and already we have more
than 130 subscribers from 13 countries; perhaps this is a listserv box-office
record?  Yesterday I sent out a personal greeting to everyone, and will
repeat that message in a day or two when the initial burst of subscriptions
begins to settle down.  People who have posted general queries already should
not be discouraged if they don't get immediate replies; when a new list opens
many subscribers will just watch how things go for a while before jumping in.
Feel free to post your queries again in a few days when things settle down.
In the mean time, since I know we have both geologists and linguists among
us, I thought I would mention a fascinating book that recently appeared:

 Naumann, Bernd, et al. (eds.).  1992.  Language and Earth: Elective
 Affinities Between the Emerging Sciences of Linguistics and Geology.
 Amsterdam: John Benjamins.  (Studies in the History of Language Sciences,
 vol. 66.)

It is a symposium volume with papers in English and German on a variety of
19th century linguists and geologists, including Schlegel, Grimm, Lyell,
Whitney, Fuchsel, Werner, Darwin, and Hutton.  (And it is outrageously
priced.)  As a sample of the kind of comparisons these early authors made,
consider John William Donaldson in 1850:

 "The study of language is indeed perfectly analogous to Geology; they both
 present us with a set of deposits in a present state of amalgamation which
 however may be easily discriminated, and we may by an allowable chain of
 reasoning in either case deduce from the _present_ the _former_ condition,
 and determine by what causes and in what manner the superposition or
 amalgamation has taken place."  (The New Cratylus; or Contributions Toward
 a More Accurate Knowledge of the Greek Language. London.  From the second
 edition, 1850:14.)

And geologists may recognize the allusion in this linguistic title:

 Johnes, Arthur James. 1843.  Philological Proofs of the Original Unity and
 Recent Origin of the Human Race, Derived from a Comparison of the Languages
 of Asia, Europe, Africa, and America; being an inquiry how far the
 differences in the languages of the globe are referrible to causes now in
 operation.  London: John Russell Smith.  (Second edition, 1846.)

The allusion is to Charles Lyell, whose influential Principles of Geology
(1830-33) was titled in full: Principles of Geology, being an attempt to
explain the former changes of the earth's surface, by reference to causes now
in operation. "Causes now in operation" is the idea behind the geological
principle of "uniformitarianism" or "actualism", which was applied widely in
linguistics at the time.  There is even a recent historical monograph on
linguistic uniformitarianism:

 Christy, Craig.  1983.  Uniformitarianism in Linguistics.  Amsterdam: John
 Benjamins.  (Studies in the History of the Language Sciences, vol. 31.)

If anyone comes across conscious applications of similar geological ideas in
fields other than linguistics I would be interested to hear about them.

Bob O'Hara, Darwin-L list owner

Robert J. O'Hara (darwin@iris.uncg.edu)
Center for Critical Inquiry and Department of Biology
100 Foust Building, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Greensboro, North Carolina 27412 U.S.A.

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