Darwin-L Message Log 5:157 (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.

<5:157>From CRAVENS@macc.wisc.edu  Wed Jan 26 17:30:24 1994

Date: Wed, 26 Jan 94 17:38 CDT
From: Tom Cravens <CRAVENS@macc.wisc.edu>
Subject: Re: History of "adaptation" in historical linguistics
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

Someone else can answer the question more informatively (sorry!) than I can,
but I have a faint memory of having run across a form of the climate-
determines-language view in the voracious reading period of my graduate
student days. The idea was vaguely that a warm climate would make for
indolence, thus "soft" sounds, e.g. weakening of consonants and the like,
whereas a cold climate would make for vigorous consonantism. I think
someone had even put forth the idea that people wouldn't want to keep
their mouths open for long in a frigid climate, thus vowels would be minimal
in number and short in duration (or was it that vowels would be minimal and
short in a hot, dry climate, since you'd evaporate with your mouth open
too long? -- the argument could be turned either way). In any case, to my
knowledge, none of this was taken very seriously at the time (19th C),
and linguists rarely mention it today. It's still around in the popular
lore, though. Not long ago a Brazilian professor of literature reported to
a friend of mine that Portuguese is "slurred" because it has always been
spoken in benign climates, and that Brazilian is more slurred than
Continental Portuguese since Brazil is hotter. This is all nonsense (scads
of counter-examples, if nothing else), but it appears to be very
appealing (and linguists seem to be unwilling or unable to get through
to the general public).

Tom Cravens

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