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Darwin-L Message Log 5:72 (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.


<5:72>From sally@pogo.isp.pitt.edu  Thu Jan 13 20:46:54 1994

To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Systematics and linguistics
Date: Thu, 13 Jan 94 21:50:15 -0500
From: Sally Thomason <sally@pogo.isp.pitt.edu>

Scott DeLancey makes good points about the problem of
distinguishing chance from genetic relationship from
borrowing in languages that are distantly related, if
at all.  When I said that it is usually possible to
make the distinction between borrowing and inheritance,
I had in mind situations in which there's still enough
evidence available -- it's true, as Scott says,
that time obscures the difference.  It's quite possible
that, at time depths around (say) 10,000 years, one could
prove the existence of a historical connection between two
languages, but not the nature of that connection.  And
this is presumably quite different from the situation
in biology.  In historical linguistics, the decay and
ultimate disappearance of systematic correspondences in
related languages is what places a time limit on the
possibility of establishing family relationships.

   Sally Thomason
   sally@pogo.isp.pitt.edu

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