Darwin-L Message Log 1:230 (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.

<1:230>From HOLSINGE@UCONNVM.BITNET  Tue Sep 28 10:24:35 1993

Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1993 10:48:01 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: Heritability and cultural evolution
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

> In short, we have a non-theory which people want to use to explain an
> unspecified phenomenon.

Let's try to make this discussion a bit more concrete.  I'll propose an example
of a specific phenomenon, then we can argue about whether there is a theory of
cultural evolution available to explain it.  Then phenomenon is the family
resemblance among languages.

I know next to nothing about linguistics, but I take it as relatively
non-controversial that there is such a thing as the family of Indo-European
languages that includes such branches as Balto-Slavic (Baltic-Lithuania,
Latvian; Slavic-Sorbian, Serbo-Croatian, Ukranian, Russian, etc.), Germanic
(Icelandic, Faroese, English, German, etc.), Italic (Portugese, Spanish,
Catalan, French, etc.), and Indo-Iranian (Persian, Kurdish, Tajik, Urdu,
Hindi, etc.).

I suggest that knowing nothing more than that human beings tend to speak the
language of their parents and their community and that (until recently in the
historical past) human populations have been relatively immobile these family
resemblances are explicable are a result of descent with modification, just
as the family resemblances among groups of vertebrates.  To predict the
details of geographic distribution of these languages requires more knowledge
of the history of human movements, but we don't actually need to know *how*
human language ability is acquired, provided we know *that* human offspring
tend to speak the language of their parents.  Knowing how language ability
is acquired will yield additional insight into the mechanisms of language
change, but may shed little light on the pattern of linguistic relationships.

-- Kent

|  Kent E. Holsinger    Internet: Holsinge@UConnVM.UConn.edu |
|  Dept. of Ecology &     BITNET: Holsinge@UConnVM     |
|  Evolutionary Biology, U-43              |
|  University of Connecticut               |
|  Storrs, CT 06269-3043               |

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