Darwin-L Message Log 1:249 (September 1993)

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.

<1:249>From lgorbet@triton.unm.edu  Wed Sep 29 00:23:53 1993

Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1993 23:27:26 -0600
To: Darwin-L@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: lgorbet@triton.unm.edu
Subject: Re: Language, Evolution, Linguistics

Seeing Dave Policar's post tonight made it dawn on me that some tendencies
we linguists have might be a bit surprising and misleading to  colleagues
in other disciplines.  Specifically, I suspect that it is easy to
underestimate the responsiveness of linguistic systems to their
environments in part because much of the academic linguistic world is
inclined to regard any aspect of language that *is* responsive as (ipso
facto) trivial and uninteresting.

So, for example, changes in vocabulary, in the complex phrases that
communities make conventional, in the finer points of meaning for
linguistic forms are not "where it's at" in linguistics or even in
historical linguistics.  Rather, it's linguistic *form* which is "really
linguistic".  Not that form is not also responsive to various kinds and
levels of selection on the basis of functioning, both individual and
social, as a growing body of work attests .

But the picture that tends to get painted in linguistic scholarship is one
that is systematically biased against anything that responds to external
forces.  It's as those the rule were "if it can be changed readily, it's
superficial and unimportant".  In a sense, of language as a biological
phenomenon, this is true.  But as several posters have remarked previously,
what has evolved (in a strictly biological sense) is the capacity for such
a responsive system.  And surely, the tendency for all those "superficial"
changes in language is part of the fodder that aided its (biological)
evolution to the present state.
*  *  *

Larry Gorbet
University of New Mexico
Anthropology Department    (but I'm really in Anthro
Albuquerque, NM 87131-1086  *and* Linguistics!)

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