Darwin-L Message Log 5:91 (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.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<5:91>From hantuo@utu.fi  Tue Jan 18 03:31:33 1994

To: Darwin-L@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: hantuo@utu.fi (Hanna Tuomisto)
Subject: Re: Systematics and linguistics
Date: 	Tue, 18 Jan 1994 11:32:50 +0200

Sally Thomason made a number of points about the convergence of
vocabularies in unrelated languages, and they made a lot of sense even to a
layman like myself. I can very well imagine that phonetic constraints
produce similarly structured words independently in different languages.
This could perhaps be considered analogous to e.g. structural convergence
in biological organisms due to environmental constraints. However, even if
the form of words could 'converge' in this way, I cannot imagine any
mechanism how the meaning of the words could do the same. Therefore it
seems that the most likely fate of such similar but independently evolved
words is that they mean entirely different things, and hence do not
contribute to the similarity of vocabularies.

As a native speaker of Finnish, I'm familiar with plenty of jokes that make
use of the similarities in the structure of words in Finnish and Japanese.
In the style of: "What's a supermarket in Japanese? Of course 'Mokomaki
kamakasa'". In Finnish this means more or less 'such a heap of things'.
I've got no idea if any part of it means anything in Japanese, but I hope
it's nothing offensive.

Some South American indian languages, notably Quechua, seem to share quite
a few words with Finnish. As far as I know, these similarities are based on
no historical relationship between the languages. The words I know have
entirely different meanings in the two languages, like 'runa' or 'ruuna',
which means 'people' in Quechua but 'gelding' in Finnish. But I've heard
that these two languages actually do share words that have the same meaning
as well. Does anyone on the list know how common such shared words are? And
has someone analyzed them to see what is behind this coincidence?

Hanna Tuomisto

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