Darwin-L Message Log 4:58 (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.

<4:58>From KIMLER@social.chass.ncsu.edu  Wed Dec 15 13:44:53 1993

From: KIMLER@social.chass.ncsu.edu
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Date: Wed, 15 Dec 1993 14:49:07 EST5EDT
Subject: Re: fitness in linguistics

How nice to see the reminder from Salikoko Mufwene that genetic
fitness "makes no sense without reference to ecology."  As with all
the comparisons of cultural change to biological evolutionary change,
the difficulties for the metaphor lie in finding the proper
equivalents.  Although they need an "ecological setting" for the
idea of fitness to make sense, I am not quite certain what linguists
want the "ecological setting" for linguistic fitness to mean.  Is it
the world of meaning, or a set of constraints in the body's
sound-producing apparatus, or a search for inherent universalisms in
the structure and function of the brain's linguistic capacity?  All
of this?

The methodological question to ask of all "cultural evolution"
comparisons [refer to DARWIN-L discussions on cultural evolution, a
few months back] is why one is interested in explanations that are
"genetic" (universal rules from shared structures) rather than
"ecological" (contingent circumstances and history).  Are there
enough universal patterns of linguistic change to find something
"below" historical circumstance and cultural choices?

William Kimler
History, North Carolina State University

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