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Darwin-L Message Log 5:110 (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.


<5:110>From delancey@darkwing.uoregon.edu  Wed Jan 19 16:54:55 1994

Date: Wed, 19 Jan 1994 14:46:16 -0800 (PST)
From: Scott C DeLancey <delancey@darkwing.uoregon.edu>
Subject: Memetics (was: Re: Systematics and Linguistics)
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

Victor Golla asks:

> Scott DeLancey, in an earlier posting today, writes:
>
> >   There are both biological and memetic aspects to the origin of
> >   language
>
> Scott, could you tell us what you mean by "memetic"?

Woops.  Well, yes, I can tell you what *I* mean by it ...

The term "meme" was proposed by Dawkins, in _The Selfish Gene_, as
a way of referring to parallels between self-replicating patterns
which replicate biologically (i.e. genes) and patterns of behavior
which replicate through cultural (very broadly construed) transmission,
which he analogically calls memes.  The notion and the term (or
at least the term) are very trendy in various circles these days
(so "meme" is a successful meme).  This would be an interesting
topic for this list, if there were any way of getting ahold of
it in a moderately rigorous fashion.  The problem is, of course,
what exactly is a meme?  To the extent that we know anything
about them, we know them only phenotypically, i.e. what we have
available to study are the equivalent of traits, not genes.
     But, anyway, linguistic transmission, like other cultural
transmission, is the kind of thing Dawkins has in mind (though his
specific examples are things like particular ways of making pots),
and I guess in using the word I had in mind to refer simultaneously to the
parallels to genetic transmission and evolution that we were talking about
and the clear differences between biological and linguistic evolution.

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

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