Darwin-L Message Log 1:275 (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.

<1:275>From sally@pogo.isp.pitt.edu  Thu Sep 30 17:32:07 1993

To: "JOHN LANGDON" <LANGDON@gandlf.uindy.edu>
Subject: Re: Heritability and cultural evolution
Date: Thu, 30 Sep 93 18:35:43 -0400
From: Sally Thomason <sally@pogo.isp.pitt.edu>

John Langdon infers that changes due to imbalances in the system (I
think that's what he had in mind -- my screen cut off part of his
comment, on the right edge) "would not by themselves account for
the actual divergence of languages."

 Why not?  If such imbalances cause changes (creating other
imbalances, which in turn cause changes, creating other imbalances,
etc.) -- as they certainly do -- then all we have to do is wait
long enough, and we'll have separate languages, if we started out
with two identical speech forms.  (O.K., there is no such thing in
the real world; there's always variation.  But there are close
enough analogues; all that's required is two groups of people speaking
what would be considered the same dialect.)  Maybe you wouldn't
get the divergence if you could predict identical changes in identical
dialects; but you can't, because tendencies are merely tendencies,
and if you cut off contact between two halves of one speech
community, different changes will occur in the two groups' speech.

 I think the most you would be able to get historical linguists
to agree to is that, in the total absence of contact with different
dialects and languages (also not a serious possibility in the real
world), language split might be delayed some.  But eventually it
would occur.

 I can't prove this: no test cases.  But it's the reasonable inference
from the facts -- language change affects all living languages, and
changes are not predictable.

  Sally Thomason

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