Darwin-L Message Log 4:61 (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.

<4:61>From KIMLER@social.chass.ncsu.edu  Thu Dec 16 14:22:37 1993

From: KIMLER@social.chass.ncsu.edu
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Date: Thu, 16 Dec 1993 15:27:24 EST5EDT
Subject: Re: fitness

In response to my question about the "ecological setting" for
linguistic change, Tom Cravens writes:

   The metaphor of ecology is of interest here, I think, if we
   distinguish between the ecology of the linguistic system(s) and
   the ecology of the society in which the language is employed.
   The first determines the types of mutations which are churned
   out constantly, the second (in very vaguely characterizable
   terms) determines which of the mutations actually will be
   incorporated permanently in the language in question. The first
   is approachable, with lots of thorns and controversial theories.
   Research on the social parameters of change suggests that
   acceptance is socially, not linguistically, motivated.

This is exactly the issue I had in mind, and the sort of clean
thinking about universal "generators" versus universal "valuators"
that all biology-to-culture theories need.  Thanks to the linguists
for some great examples of finding universals, with a topic usually
left out of sociobiology discussions, despite the obviously huge
importance of language for culture.

As a historian, it's also reassuring to see the recognition of
historically-located "social parameters."  Might we more simply call
that independent and unique "choices", or are there universals at
that level, too?  Quests for universal historical "rules" are old-
fashioned among historians, but what about their appeal for the
historical sciences?

William Kimler
History, North Carolina State University

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