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Darwin-L Message Log 1:262 (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.


<1:262>From John_Wilkins@udev.monash.edu.au  Wed Sep 29 18:38:41 1993

Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1993 09:36:29 +0000
From: John Wilkins <John_Wilkins@udev.monash.edu.au>
Subject: RE: Heritability and cultural evolution
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

Reply to:
     RE>Re: Heritability and cultural evolution
Kent E. Holsinger <HOLSINGE%UCONNVM.BITNET@KUHUB.CC.UKANS.EDU> wrote:
  Sally Thomason makes an important point:

  > [Descent with modification] is not the way to look at *all* resemblances
  > among language families --- there are other sources of similiarities,
  > including structural principles common to all human languages, easy-to-
  > learn sounds and sound sequences, and other typological factors that do not
  > in themselves provide evidence for descent with modification ....

  This is clearly the case.  A biological systematist (more precisely, a
  cladist) might describe this as saying that only uniquely derived features
  shared between two or more languages provide evidence of common ancestry.

  Since I know nothing about linguistic evolution, I'd be curious to know
  whether there is evidence for independent origin of certain language features
  or if common features of otherwise unrelated languages always represent
  borrowing.

This is a good question. I too would like to know the linguists' answer to
this. There are undoubtedly homologies in language as well as convergent
traits. Thomason's point, though, does not invalidate an evolutionary tree
model, it merely pushes back the homologous innovation (perhaps into the
biological realm -- many similarities of language must be the result of
biological mechanism, although not as far as Chomsky insists necessarily). The
key word is "independent" -- cultural independence is not absolute, if homo sap
arose from a  band of primates. All cultures are lineal descendents of an
aboriginal culture, and a biological pool of traits.

John Wilkins - Manager, Publishing
Monash University, Melbourne Australia
Internet: john_wilkins@udev.monash.edu.au
Tel: (+613) 565 6009

Monash and I often, but not always, concur

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