Darwin-L Message Log 5:105 (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.

<5:105>From HOLSINGE@UCONNVM.BITNET  Wed Jan 19 07:21:12 1994

Date: Wed, 19 Jan 1994 08:12:33 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: Systematics and linguistics
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

Thank you, Scott, for the clarifications you offered.  I think we were talking
at cross purposes, which is what I suspected although I didn't know what I had
misunderstood.  Just to make sure I have it straight let me repeat what my
understanding of the parallels are:

1) Both biological systematists (well, cladists at least) and historical
   linguists attempt to identify similarities that are due to common descent.
2) Given enough data historical linguists are often (generally?) able to
   trace a single, primary line of descent even in a language like English
   in which over half of the vocabulary is borrowed.  This is analagous to
   the ability of biological systematists to identify characters in a species
   that have been introduced through hybridization, given enough data.
3) In both biological systematics and historical linguistics resemblances
   decay enough over time that it may become difficult (perhaps in the case of
   languages, impossible) to identify historical relationships, even though in
   both cases we are (reasonably) certain that our objects of study all share
   a single common ancestor some time in the distant past.  To use cladistic
   terminology, both life and human languages are monophyletic.
4) Convergence, the independent aquisition of similar characteristics in
   different groups, is possible in both biological and language evolution.

Two important differences seem to have emerged:

1) Hybridization/borrowing is more frequent in language evolution than in
   biological evolution (at least biological evolution above the species
2) Convergence is more frequent (or at least more frequently invoked) in
   biological evolution than in language evolution.

Does that sound like a reasonable summary?

-- Kent

|  Kent E. Holsinger            Internet: Holsinge@UConnVM.UConn.edu |
|  Dept. of Ecology &           BITNET:   Holsinge@UConnVM           |
|    Evolutionary Biology, U-43                                      |
|  University of Connecticut                                         |
|  Storrs, CT   06269-3043                                           |

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