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Darwin-L Message Log 5:61 (January 1994)

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.


<5:61>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Tue Jan 11 12:07:48 1994

Date: Tue, 11 Jan 1994 13:13:13 -0400 (EDT)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: Systematics and linguistics
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

We seem to be having a problem with mail posted to the list from bitnet
addresses.  Two or three messages have been sent to the ukanaix administrator
describing the problem, but I have not yet had a response.  Anyone who is
trying to post from a bitnet address and isn't having any luck may forward the
bounced message to me (Bob O'Hara, darwin@iris.uncg.edu) and I will post it.

This comes from Kent Holsinger:

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In the course of an interesting exchange between Jeffrey Wills and Bob O'Hara
about systematists and linguists attitudes about relationships, Jeffrey makes
the following observation:

    Borrowing between distantly related or "unrelated" languages can often
    give the illusion of close relationship ... Biologists also have the
    problem of convergence, but for language this seems to be a much more
    common phenomenon.

I think there is an important observation lurking here.  The appropriate
biological example is *hybridization* not *convergence*.  Hybridization between
species can lead to the appearance of characters in one species that were
"borrowed" from another species in a way that seems exactly analogous to the
way in which English "borrowed" many words from French following the Norman
invasion.  (I'm a biologist, not a linguist, so I may have missed something
important.  If so, please correct me.)

Hybridization also causes problems for biological systematists.  When there
is hybridization, relationships cannot be expressed as a tree.  They are
reticulate.  In sexually reproducing species, for example, it's not possible
to describe the relationships among individuals in a population as a tree
because the indvidual genealogies are connected in many complex ways.

The reason hybridization doesn't impose an insuperable burden on biological
systematists is that biological evolution is *mostly* non-reticulate once
you get above the level of species.  Jeffrey Wills argument would suggest
that reticulation is much more prevalent in language evolution than in
biological evolution, especially at higher levels.  If biologists had the
same degree of reticulation to worry about, I'm sure we'd have many of the
same misgivings.

-- 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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