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Darwin-L Message Log 1:235 (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.


<1:235>From LANGDON@GANDLF.UINDY.EDU  Tue Sep 28 14:55:14 1993

Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1993 14:55:14 -0500
From: "JOHN LANGDON"  <LANGDON@GANDLF.UINDY.EDU>
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Heritability and cultural evolution

In message <24340.749244209@pogo.isp.pitt.edu>  writes:

> And right, there is no obvious analogue in language history to
> natural selection, though certainly developmental tendencies of
> various degrees of specificity can be identified.

And why doesn't natural selection apply to language evolution? Because there is
no correlation between a change in language and its tendency to be generally
adopted or lost. There is no directionality to the change.

A better analogy might be genetic drift in which random changes ("mutations")
might be equally randomly kept or lost and the robusticity of the language (or
inertia to change) correlates with population size. How well can genetic drift
model other non-genetic systems?

The tendency for horizontal transmission of words or more still makes language
very different from a genetic system. Likewise long-distance transmission
through print or other media adds a unique dimension to language, one that has
the effect of increasing its robusticity.

JOHN H. LANGDON      email LANGDON@GANDLF.UINDY.EDU
DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGY    FAX  (317) 788-3569
UNIVERSITY OF INDIANAPOLIS   PHONE (317) 788-3447
INDIANAPOLIS, IN 46227

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