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Darwin-L Message Log 5:186 (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.


<5:186>From SMITGM@hawkins.clark.edu  Thu Jan 27 17:45:06 1994

To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: "Gerard Donnelly Smith"  <SMITGM@hawkins.clark.edu>
Organization: Clark College, Vancouver WA, USA
Date: 27 Jan 94 15:48:38 PST8PDT
Subject: re language adaptation

The adaptation of song by birds in an attempt to overcome the
dampening effects of thick forests sounds plausible for birds. Can we
then postulate that thickly forested topography influenced human
speech in the same manner?  No, because human's form much tighter
social units than birds.  We probably didn't need langauge sounds
that penetrated the forest depths in order to attract mates, our
close-knit social units made it easy to communicate desire.

Concerning climate and language:  First let me point out that I am
not a linguist, nor an anthropologist.  Just merely an English
teacher at a small community college who enjoys learning and
discussion.  Now, my two-cents.  If the theory concerning Germanic
consonants has validity, then Inuit langauge should also contain hard-
short consonants, and predominately short vowels.  If langauge can be
affected by climate, then polar bears shouldn't growl and acrtic
wolves shouldn't howl since they might freeze their tongues.

Someone stated that one of my post was rather obvious, but remember
for the novice, nothing is obvious.  So, let me hazard several
syllogism while attempting to keep my foot out of my mouth, and
attempting not to shoot my self in the foot.

If human langauge is affected by climate, then animal langauge should
be also.  If animal languge can adapt to topography, then we might
propose that human langauge can be influenced by topography.  In the
alps, large horns are blown to spread news.  In Africa, drums were
used to carry messages far beyond the range of the human voice.
Apparently, humans attempt to compensate for distance by using tools.
Then might not it follow, that we consciously chose sounds for their
range as well as their emotive value.  For example, if I am angry I
am instinctively more likely to growl, than to giggle.  If I wish
someone on the other side of the woods to hear me, I might
consciously choose more penetrating words, or the harsher sounds my
vocal chords can procude, rather than the softer tones.  If I dwell
in a humid climate, I might not need as many penetrating sounds since
sound carries better through the thicker atmosphere.  I can clearly
recall more clearly hearing the distant train (our farm was three
miles from the tracks) on humid days, than on hot dry days.

Apparently we can argue that the enviroment does shape language, now
whether or not that environmental influences is then recorded and
passed on through the genes, I am not qualified even to speculate.

"If a wise man gives thee better counsel, give me mine again.  I
would know that a fool follows it, for a knave gives it."

Dr. Gerard Donnelly-Smith            e-mail: smitgm@hawkins.clark.edu
English Department, Clark College

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