Darwin-L Message Log 5:89 (January 1994)

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.

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<5:89>From J_LIMBER@UNHH.UNH.EDU  Mon Jan 17 19:02:59 1994

Date: Mon, 17 Jan 1994 20:05:21 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: Systematics and linguistics
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

Scott Delancy writes:
>There is no imaginable process that would produce convergence in
vocabularies.  Similarities in vocabulary beyond what can be expected
by chance can only reflect common inheritance (i.e. genetic relationship)
or borrowing...."

I'm not sure what counts as "imaginable" but how about the following?
1. phonetic symbolism
2. acquistion processes gently favoring "simple" forms over complex ones.
3. Zipf's Law--the more frequent concepts tend to have shorter forms
4. interactions of (3) and (4) with other factors.

While I don't imagine these are very important in any direct way, they might
well make assessing "Similarities in vocabulary beyond what can be expected
by chance" very tricky indeed. What is "chance" anyway?

   John Limber, Psychology, University of New Hampshire

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