Darwin-L Message Log 4:35 (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.

<4:35>From delancey@darkwing.uoregon.edu  Thu Dec  9 18:42:44 1993

Date: Thu, 9 Dec 1993 16:32:46 -0800 (PST)
From: Scott C DeLancey <delancey@darkwing.uoregon.edu>
Subject: Re: DARWIN-L digest 88
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

On Thu, 9 Dec 1993 GGALE@VAX1.UMKC.EDU wrote:

> A silly question came to my mind after reading Nelson's interesting question,
> and its equally interesting responses. Couldn't a language, whether extinct
> or pseudoextinct, be brought back to life? [sort of a linguistic 'Jurassic
> Park' maybe?] Take Latin, for example. Surely enough 'fossils' and other
> specimens of Latin exist that a rich linguistic context could be supplied to
> any community that desired--for whatever reason--to raise its upcoming
> progeny as native speakers of Latin? Wouldn't that count? I mean, I suppose
> we could dig far enough to find some technicalities to rule it out a Real
> Latin; but it seems to me that maybe this might be a case of bringing
> something back from the Dead.

The standard example of this is Hebrew in Israel; somebody else mentioned
Irish Gaelic, but that's not as clear an example because a) it wasn't
entirely dead yet, and b) the revival isn't all that successful--it isn't
the case that children are now again acquiring it as a first language.
Nearly everyone in Ireland still learns English as their first language
and Irish in school (if at all).  Various Native communities in North
America are currently interested in this idea, but I don't think the
prognosis there is very good.
   There's still a question of exactly how parallel this is to
something like the Jurassic Park scenario.  There are differences
(it's somewhat controversial how much and what kind) between
children's first language acquisition and adults' second language
acquisition.  There's reason to think (again somewhat controversial)
that the mental representation of the learned language is different
under these circumstances.  Then, to take a thought experiment,
if we were to "revivify", say, Spanish, in a non-Spanish speaking
community, it's not at all clear what kinds of differences might
obtain between that Spanish and Spanish spoken in populations to
which it had been transmitted normally.
   Possibly a better analogy than the JP scenario for something
like this hypothetical revivification of Latin would be genetic
simulation, i.e. reverse engineering genetic material to try and
approximate a species based on knowledge of the phenotype.

Scott DeLancey       delancey@darwking.uoregon.edu
Department of Linguistics
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403

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