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Darwin-L Message Log 1:271 (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.


<1:271>From sally@pogo.isp.pitt.edu  Thu Sep 30 13:24:34 1993

To: HOLSINGE%UCONNVM.BITNET@kuhub.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Heritability and cultural evolution
Date: Thu, 30 Sep 93 14:27:51 -0400
From: Sally Thomason <sally@pogo.isp.pitt.edu>

Kent Holsinger asks if linguists regard ease-of-learning/perception
as an internal constraint (or, rather, tendency, because there are
always exceptions) or an externally imposed problem.  Certainly
linguists' terminology differs from biologists' terminology here:
for a historical linguist, internally-motivated/caused change is
anything that comes from within the language & its speakers,
including changes that arise in the acquisition process (first-language
acquisition, that is); change that has to do with contact, whether
between dialects of one language or between different languages, is
externally-motivated change.  But I'm not sure what the implications
of this terminological difference are, if any.

 One could certainly try to draw a distinction between "internally-
motivated" changes that happen as a result of [an analogue of]
natural selection for efficient solution of a similar problem; such
changes could be contrasted with changes that arise through specific
imbalances in a linguistic system.  But I think the line would be
hard to draw, because -- to paint in very broad strokes -- you
wouldn't, in principle, expect *any* internally-motivated change
if you didn't have imbalances in the system.  But this is a far-out
hypothetical case; a language is a very complex sort of thing, and
there are always imbalances, as a result of history (even aside
from the kinds of dialect variation that, as someone has already
pointed out, result from earlier changes).  But then, I guess this
too resembles the situation in biological evolution?

  Sally Thomason
  sally@pogo.isp.pitt.edu

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