Darwin-L Message Log 5:162 (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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<5:162>From J_LIMBER@UNHH.UNH.EDU  Wed Jan 26 21:38:03 1994

Date: Wed, 26 Jan 1994 22:44:59 -0500 (EST)
Subject: RE: History of "adaptation" in historical linguistics
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

Regarding influences of climate and environment generally on the
differentiation of languages, its my impression that various 16th & 17th
century writers speculated on virtually everything that might conceivably
influence languages and national character, etc..  See, for example, the
references in Chambers (1946) Language and nationality in German Pre-Romantic
and Romantic thought. MOdern Language Review, XLI.

Brown (1967) reports "Despite the suggestive remarks of writers such as
Gottsched, Wincklmann, and Michaelis, however, the first full statement of the
relationship between environment..and language is found in the writings of
Herder..."concerning Diligence in Several Learned Tongues..in which he traced
the differing qualities of languages to both climate and the customs of
nations who spoke them...

The idea that language is a living entity--prevalent at this time--lends itself
directly to theories of environmental influences and "evolutionary" processes
shaping specific languages from the original Babel.

"Thus transformed itself this plant--human speech--according to the soil that
nourished it and the celestial air tht drenched it became a Proteus among the
nations." [Herder (1755) in Brown, p.74]

Brown (1967) W.v.Humboldt's conception of linguistic relativity. Mouton's Janua
Linguarm series minor.

Condillac, too, responding to Locke, talks about the "genius of languages"--as
if this is a common topic.  For example he says, after giving some example "not
in the least doubt but I shall be contradicted..I have frequently met with
persons who look upon all languages as equally ADAPTED for all kinds of


John Limber, Psychology, University of New Hampshire

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