Darwin-L Message Log 1:265 (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.

<1:265>From GA3704@SIUCVMB.SIU.EDU  Wed Sep 29 21:43:26 1993

Date: Wed, 29 Sep 93 21:37:30 CST
From: "Margaret E. Winters" <GA3704@SIUCVMB.SIU.EDU>
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: language change

Perhaps a short summary would help!  It is useful in some ways to
consider the possible explanations for resemblances between languages:
  1. sheer coincidence (the word for `man' in Dinka, a Nilo-Sudanic
   language, is `man'.)
  2. universals and universal tendencies - of the kind Sally
   Thomason talked about - there are physical and cognitive
   structures that we share as human beings and which, there-
   fore shape languages around the world.  There are, for
   example, no languages which have sounds made by vibrating
   the tip of the tongue against the pharynx (I've had near
   accidents in class while students try - DON'T) by virtue
   of our anatomy.  On the other hand, a large number of
   languages from many families and geographic areas derive
   spatial adverbs and prepositions from body parts.
  3. genetic relationship - we've been talking a great deal
   about language families and I won't say more.
  4. contact - this can range from lexical borrowing (the
   word for `baseball' in Japanese and Hebrew is taken
   directly from American English) to the spread of full
   grammatical structures through long-term geographic
   proximity (Greek and Rumanian lack infinitive forms -
   Greek through a complex history involving sound changes
   and reanalysis, Rumanian through being in the same part
   of the world - to simplify).
How much this does or does not fit with biological evolution is
far beyond my knowledge, but that, of course, is why I keep reading
and enjoying the list!
        Margaret  <ga3704@siucvmb.siu.edu>

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