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Darwin-L Message Log 5:98 (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.


<5:98>From delancey@darkwing.uoregon.edu  Tue Jan 18 13:06:53 1994

Date: Tue, 18 Jan 1994 10:54:52 -0800 (PST)
From: Scott C DeLancey <delancey@darkwing.uoregon.edu>
Subject: Re: Systematics and linguistics
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

On Tue, 18 Jan 1994, Kent E. Holsinger wrote:

> Now I'm confused.

We may be talking at cross purposes here.

> I suggested the parallel with convergent evolution because
> Sally Thomason seemed to suggest that borrowing (hybridization as we
> biologists would call it) is extremely limited between distantly related
> languages.

This isn't reliably true, and I don't think it's what Sally was saying.
I think her point was that as a historical linguist trying to trace the
lineage of languages, you can usually (given adequate data) identify
borrowing.  The standard (and empirically fairly robust) assumption in
historical linguistics is that even in languages which have borrowed
large amounts of vocabulary (e.g. English) it is always possible (given
adequate data) to trace one primary line of descent--e.g. English, despite
having something like 50% non-Germanic vocabulary, is clearly a Germanic
language that has borrowed from Romance languages, not the other way
around.

> Her comments were, as I recall, offered in response to my suggestion that
> perhaps linguistic evolution is more reticulate than biological evolution.
> She was arguing (and I *thought* Scott agreed with her) that reticulation
> wasn't the correct explanation.  Well, if reticulation isn't the answer, then
> convergence is the only alternative I can think of.
>
> What am I missing?

We may be experiencing some confusion here about what we are trying to
explain.  Linguistic evolution is clearly more reticulate than biological
evolution; again, I think Sally's remarks were more oriented to the
problem of determining genetic relationships than to the question of
what kinds of histories languages, as opposed to species, may have.
     So we may have shifted a bit off the original topic.  If "reticulation
isn't the answer, then convergence is the only alternative" -- to
what question?

Scott DeLancey                             delancey@darkwing.uoregon.edu
Department of Linguistics
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403

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