Darwin-L Message Log 4:19 (December 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.

<4:19>From diane@ling.edinburgh.ac.uk  Wed Dec  8 10:22:34 1993

Date: Wed, 8 Dec 93 15:48:31 GMT
From: D Nelson <diane@ling.edinburgh.ac.uk>
Subject: Extinction
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

Before I post my query for discussion, a brief introduction: I am
currently working on a PhD in the syntax and morphology of Finnish at
the University of Edinburgh.  My main research interests are in
synchronic syntax, but I am becoming increasingly intrigued by
diachronic linguistics, especially in the context of general theories of
evolution (this I can partly credit to reading this list!)

Anyway, this seems like an obvious place to post this query:

In linguistics the term "extinct" is used to describe languages of which
there are no longer native speakers. Thus Latin is extinct, and so is
Motor, a language formerly spoken in Siberia. But extinction of a
language can occur in two ways: either the last known native speaker
dies, and the language becomes moribund (as in the case of Motor) - in
which case extinction is an event rather than a process - or the
language evolves into another language or languages, as Latin did.
Because the second type of extinction is processual, it is only in deep
hindsight that a language can be declared "extinct".

What is the definition of "extinct" in both historical linguistics and
in evolutionary biology? Is it valid to draw parallels between
extinction of a language and extinction of a species? Do geneticists
have a separate term equivalent to "moribund" to describe species which
reach evolutionary "dead ends"? At what point can a species be declared
extinct if it evolves into another species?

In terminological confusion,

Diane Nelson

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