Darwin-L Message Log 4:68 (December 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.

<4:68>From mufw@midway.uchicago.edu  Fri Dec 17 11:29:50 1993

Date: Fri, 17 Dec 93 11:29:45 CST
From: "salikoko mufwene" <mufw@midway.uchicago.edu>
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: RE: DARWIN-L digest 95

 Tom Cravens writes:
>     The metaphor of ecology is of interest here, I think, if we
>     distinguish between the ecology of the linguistic system(s) and
>     the ecology of the society in which the language is employed.
>     The first determines the types of mutations which are churned
>     out constantly, the second (in very vaguely characterizable
>     terms) determines which of the mutations actually will be
>     incorporated permanently in the language in question. The first
>     is approachable, with lots of thorns and controversial theories.
>     Research on the social parameters of change suggests that
>     acceptance is socially, not linguistically, motivated.

  I see "ecology" qua 'environment' as a relative concept. So what is
identified as ecology is really relative to what is discussed. For instance,
if one discusses a particular structural feature, e.g. relative pronouns in
English ("who, which, etc." but not "that"), one has to consider the range
of alternatives that compete with the pronoun-strategy. Influences from
outside, such as from Latin and French in the Middle Ages, become part of
this systemic ecology. On the other hand, if one looks at the overall
language and what happens to it, there are dynamics of ethnographic order
that become very relevant. The other kind suggested, "ecology of the
society in which the language is employed" is relevant, too, such as when
one studies meaning change, particularly those prompted by change in the
physical/cultural environment.
Salikoko S. Mufwene
Linguistics, U. of Chicago

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