Darwin-L Message Log 11: 94–120 — July 1994

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

Darwin-L was an international discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences, active from 1993–1997. Darwin-L was established to promote the reintegration of a range of fields all of which are concerned with reconstructing the past from evidence in the present, and to encourage communication among scholars, scientists, and researchers in these fields. The group had more than 600 members from 35 countries, and produced a consistently high level of discussion over its several years of operation. Darwin-L was not restricted to evolutionary biology nor to the work of Charles Darwin, but instead addressed the entire range of historical sciences from an explicitly comparative perspective, including evolutionary biology, historical linguistics, textual transmission and stemmatics, historical geology, systematics and phylogeny, archeology, paleontology, cosmology, historical geography, historical anthropology, and related “palaetiological” fields.

This log contains public messages posted to the Darwin-L discussion group during July 1994. It has been lightly edited for format: message numbers have been added for ease of reference, message headers have been trimmed, some irregular lines have been reformatted, and error messages and personal messages accidentally posted to the group as a whole have been deleted. No genuine editorial changes have been made to the content of any of the posts. This log is provided for personal reference and research purposes only, and none of the material contained herein should be published or quoted without the permission of the original poster.

The master copy of this log is maintained in the Darwin-L Archives (rjohara.net/darwin) by Dr. Robert J. O’Hara. The Darwin-L Archives also contain additional information about the Darwin-L discussion group, the complete Today in the Historical Sciences calendar for every month of the year, a collection of recommended readings on the historical sciences, and an account of William Whewell’s concept of “palaetiology.”

DARWIN-L MESSAGE LOG 11: 94-120 -- JULY 1994

<11:94>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Sat Jul 16 00:06:46 1994

Date: Sat, 16 Jul 1994 01:07:52 -0500 (EST)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: "Local knowledge" / "geohistoricity"
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

Bill Lynn's discussion of geohistoricity, as he calls it, has been very
interesting to me.  The term itself does strike me as odd (I want to read it
as a technical geological term), but the concept itself is I think an
important one in the historical sciences.  It is similar in some respects to
what the anthropologist Clifford Geertz calls "local knowledge".  In a
collection of essays by that name he observes: "Like sailing, gardening,
politics, and poetry, law and ethnography are crafts of place: they work by
the light of local knowledge."  (Perhaps our legal historian, Peter Junger,
knows this essay.)

I want to connect this idea more firmly with the historical sciences by
extending the notion of "local" to time as well as space, so we can speak
of not just geographically local events and objects, but temporally local
events and objects also.  I also want to offer an anecdote:  This past term
I tried to teach a small undergraduate course that dealt with the historical
sciences as a whole.  One of the things I talked about was the Antiquarian
Period of the late 1600s and early 1700s -- a very fascinating period indeed.
An important figure of the time was John Ray; most systematists will know him
as one of the most important pre-Linnean systematists.  They may not know
that he was also one of the first comparative linguists (of a sort), and
published a comparative dictionary of Greek, Latin, and English, as well as
the first English dialect dictionary.  We looked at his dialect dictionary
in class; this is its full title:

  Ray, John.  1691.  _A Collection of English Words Not Generally Used, with
  their significations and original, in two alphabetical catalogues, the one
  of such as are proper to the northern, the other to the southern counties.
  With an account of the preparing and refining such metals and minerals as
  are gotten in England_.  London: Printed for Christopher Wilkinson.

One of my clever students said, "What are the metals and minerals doing in
there?"  At the end of the volume (which is a delight to read), there is a
secton of several pages on mining.  In the first English dialect dictionary?
Why?  Well, here is one answer: they are in a way out of place in this
particular volume, but if we consider why Ray is interested in them at all
the answer is clear: his is interested in local knowledge, and he is amassing
not simply loose particulars, but loose particulars acquire meaning by being
situated geographically and temporally.  The discussion of mines and minerals
in the dialect dictionary is not a discussion of general principles; it is a
specific description, in some detail, of the milling of silver in
Cardiganshire, the smelting of tin in Cornwall, "the manner of the Wire work
at Tintern in Monmouthshire", "the Allom Work at Whitby in Yorkshire", and so
on.  Ray's collection of mining details, geographically detailed, invited
comparison and historical explanation, just as his collection of words,
geographically detailed, also does.  (And as his natural history collections
did.  I wonder about the significance of the word "collection" in his
dictionary's title.)  While Ray certainly didn't have the time depth that we
have today for our understanding of natural history or linguistic history, he
was laying the foundations for the study of "the original" of all these
things by connecting them together in space and time as best he could.

To make a crude generalization, but one that has some merit: the distinction
between scientific/theoretical understanding on the one hand, and historical
understanding on the other, is that scientific/theoretical understanding is
acheived by situating objects and events in an atemporal or universal
framework, whereas historical understanding is acheived by situating objects
and events in particular temporal and spatial contexts, _not_ as loose
particulars, but as intricately connected things ("embedded", as Bill said).

In conventional philosophy, particulars are important only insofar as they
instantiate universals.  But being instances of universals is only one way
particulars may be given meaning; another way is by seeing them as embedded
parts of larger particulars, just as we may understand a city by embedding it
in a state, or a war by embedding it in the course of a century.  The
acheivement -- the task of the historian or historical scientist -- is to do
the embedding: to take the loose particular and so deeply embed it temporally
and geographically that it can no longer be shaken loose.

The general disregard on the part of philosophers for this mode of
understanding particulars (in contrast to the elevation of the mode whereby
particulars are understood as instances of universals) may perhaps be itself
an historical legacy of the slight regard Greek philosophy had for history as
a subject of inquiry.  (Now there's an entertaining irony: I'm trying to
understand the traditional primacy of universal knowledge in philosophy by
embedding philosophy-as-a-particular in its historical context. ;-)

This topic connects on one side with the epistemological or explanatory
character of historical narrative.  A very fine paper on this subject that
might be of interest to some Darwin-L members is:

  Hull, David L.  1975.  Central subjects and historical narratives.
  _History and Theory_, 14:253-274.

Hull argues that narratives explain by integrating or individuating their
central subjects; that is, by knitting them into particular wholes.   A
related fascinating paper that considers the role of historical narrative
in scientists' understanding of the character of their own work is:

  Rouse, J.  1990.  The narrative reconstruction of science.  _Inquiry_,

This is a paper that I know Polly Winsor is familar with, and has looked
at in the context of her work on how scientists use the history of their
own fields in their writings.

Bob O'Hara, Darwin-L list owner

Robert J. O'Hara (darwin@iris.uncg.edu)
Center for Critical Inquiry and Department of Biology
100 Foust Building, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Greensboro, North Carolina 27412 U.S.A.


<11:95>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Sat Jul 16 00:13:07 1994

Date: Sat, 16 Jul 1994 01:14:19 -0500 (EST)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: Missouri Botanical Garden on World Wide Web (fwd from TAXACOM)
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

--begin forwarded message--------------

Date: Thu, 14 Jul 1994 15:09:51 +22304552
From: "Alan V. Tucker" <tucker@MOBOT.MOBOT.ORG>
Subject: Missouri Botanical Garden Web Server

Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) proudly announces its new World Wide Web
server.  The site includes a tour of the Garden, a brief history lesson,
the Flora of North America project, information about educational programs,
a gateway to other biological Web sites, and access to our database.  Over
600,000 WAIS-indexed records reside in the taxonomic database, accessible to
any Web or gopher user.

Visit the Missouri Botanical Garden Web at:


You can reach the dataset through the Web, or through gopher (mobot.org).

Send comments to Alan Tucker (tucker@mobot.org).

--end forwarded message----------------


<11:96>From ad201@freenet.carleton.ca  Sat Jul 16 10:29:21 1994

Date: Sat, 16 Jul 1994 11:30:48 -0400
From: ad201@FreeNet.Carleton.CA (Donald Phillipson)
To: Darwin-L@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Northrop Frye on stories & belief

W. Troy Tucker (WTUCKER@BOOTES.UNM.EDU) wrote July 15 about cultural
evolution, consistency and truth:

>I'm sympathetic to Turkel's position when he states:
>"beliefs are spontaneously and randomly generated within cultures.
>These beliefs are not necessarily adaptive.  Those cultures which have
>a significant load of unadaptive beliefs are in danger of extinction,
>whereas those cultures which have adaptive beliefs will continue to

A strong argument from literary studies corresponds partly to
Chomsky's assertion the structure of language is genetically
"hard-wired."  The Canadian critic Northrop Frye came to the
conclusion that (for whatever reason) the human species needs ideas to
survive, and the species invents and transmits those ideas at the most
primitive level in the form of narrative stories.  In a nutshell:

"Ideology is always a secondary and derivative thing, and... the
primary thing is a mythology.... People don't think up a set of
assumptions or beliefs; they think up a set of stories, and derive the
assumptions and beliefs from the stories."  (Criticism in Society, ed.
Imre Salusinzsky (London: Methuen, 1987) p. 31.

Frye came to this general conclusion only late in life, after decades
of work on the taxonomy of literatures.  Except for people who are
extraordinarily well-read, this is difficult stuff, but extremely
carefully substantiated.  (Frye never said much about science, but you
get the impression his life was a moral crusade to make literary
criticism into a cumulative fact-based social discipline, rather than
merely propaganda and personal opinion, i.e. turn it from an aesthetic
party-game into a science.)

Frye's famous Anatomy of Criticism (about the most-cited 20th century
book) gives the core doctrine, but there are later simplified such as
the following from an (unsigned) computer file I picked up a few years
ago.  Looking for structure, Frye suggests three organizations of
myths and archetypal symbols.

"UNDISPLACED MYTH: stories about Heaven and gods, Hell and demons. The
first category expresses an apocalyptic vision (a glimpse of the
genuine eternal reality that hides behind the illusory world around
us). The second category expresses a demonic vision (a perverted, evil

"ROMANCE:  this is a world that begins to resemble human experience,
but it contains implied mythical patterns -- superhuman heroes, magic
and other wonders.

"REALISM:  emphasis here is on content and representation, and mythic
structures are often deeply concealed.  We read about a world
apparently our own, obeying natural laws.  But displaced mythic
patterns are still built into the story.

"An archetype is a symbol, usually an image from the natural world,
which recurs often enough in literature to be recognizable as a common
element of the reader's literary experience. (An example is the red
flower which has symbolized the deaths of young men from the Greeks to
the present.) Archetypal imagery reflects categories of human desire
and fear.  Desire creates images of apocalyptic unification; fear
creates images of demonic isolation.

"The VEGETABLE WORLD creates such archetypes as the garden, grove and
park (apocalyptic); the sinister forest or wilderness (demonic).

"The ANIMAL WORLD creates such archetypes as domesticated animals,
especially sheep (apocalyptic), and wolves, predators and dragons

"The MINERAL WORLD creates such archetypes as the city and temple
(apocalyptic) and the desert and prison (demonic).

"The apocalyptic vision ultimately portrays all these categories
as becoming unified in the image of Christ:

   "divine world = society of gods = One God
    human world = society of men = One Man
    animal world = sheepfold = One Lamb
    vegetable world = garden, park = One Tree
    mineral world = city = One Building, Temple

"The demonic vision portrays these categories as cruel parodies in
which the individual is oppressed and cut off from both society and
the natural world. Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is a great modern

"Archetypal images often reflect the cycles of the natural world: day
and night, the seasons, the human life cycle. Images associated with
different seasons are also associated with different modes of
literature:   spring = comedy
              summer = romance
              autumn = tragedy
              winter = irony and satire."

Fry concluded these four cultural Modes are primordial and
characterise any culture.  Modes and archetypes are not merely popular
and therefore common decorative features:  they are mechanisms
essential to make the stories go, which define them.  You could tell
the story of Cinderella or Richard Nixon in any of these four Modes,
and it would be a really different story, even while the facts
remained the same.

While Frye never announced any criteria of judgement he thought he
could defend, one can classify traditions or particular historical
periods by their characteristic Modes, e.g. Western culture in the
20th century is obviously more Ironic than any civilization we know.

(One confirmation is that "straight" versions of classic fairy tales
have almost disappeared.  Children now commonly encounter them through
television, usually parodied or ironically invoked.  Perhaps parody is
irrestibly cheaper than comedy or romance in corporate business, which
TV has become.  I am apprehensive that a dominant cultural core of
Irony, displacing other modes, may be anti-adaptive i.e. do actual
harm -- but would need to prove this by adequately describing our
cultural environment, and I don't know how to do this.)

Greek and Irish literature are characteristically Tragic in a way
French and English simply aren't.  The literary 19th century was
obviously a period of either Comic or Romantic optimism:  it seems no
accident that 19th century American literature is predominantly Comic
and social-reforming theory (Comte, Marx etc.) fundamentally Romantic.

We shouldn't let these ideas run away with us, and Turkel's "beliefs
are not necessarily adaptive" is a helpful reminder at this point.
But Frye's basic doctrine is both better carpentered at its source
than any other literary scholarship and intuitively appealing to
people interested in the dynamics of belief ("stories") and the
various orders of authorized or confirmed truths.

 |          Donald Phillipson, 4180 Boundary Rd., Carlsbad         |
 |        Springs, Ont., Canada K0A 1K0; tel: (613) 822-0734       |
 |  "What I've always liked about science is its independence from |
 |  authority"--Ontario Science Centre (name on file) 10 July 1981 |


<11:97>From sally@isp.pitt.edu  Sat Jul 16 11:10:40 1994

To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Heroic myths and William Jones
Date: Sat, 16 Jul 94 12:11:50 -0400
From: Sally Thomason <sally@isp.pitt.edu>

Polly Winsor asks (unless I misunderstood her) for examples of
heroic myths in historical sciences.  One of the most spectacular
in linguistics is the story of Sir William Jones, who went out to
India as a representative of the British Raj and came back with
the marvelous story of Sanskrit and its obvious historical links
with Latin, Greek, and many other European languages -- all these
must, he said, be sprung from some common source, which, perhaps.
no longer exists.  (That last bit is mostly a direct quote, but
without the quotation marks because I don't have the sources here
to check.)  Jones is credited with being the first to pull Indic
into what became known as the Indo-European language family, and
is quoted or at least cited in just about every introductory
linguistics textbook.  (Jones said this at the end of the 18th c.)

   He did say what he is quoted as saying, but his work has also been
cited as evidence that just looking through word lists is enough to
establish family relationships among languages.  What is rarely
remembered (because almost no one really *reads* Jones) is that,
along with his valid hypothesis about Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, &c.,
he also posited some family groupings that were wildly off target
-- modern Indic languages not related to Sanskrit at all, for
instance (but they are in fact descendants of ancient Indic, of which
Sanskrit is the main attested form), and so forth.  William Poser
& Lyle Campbell have written about this, giving details of Jones's

   That is: his eloquent quotation deserves to be remembered, but
it's a myth that he was any kind of forerunner to later (19th-century)
methodologies that grew into standard historical linguistics as we
know it today.

  Sally Thomason


<11:98>From LKNYHART@macc.wisc.edu  Sat Jul 16 15:07:30 1994

Date: Sat, 16 Jul 94 15:08 CDT
From: Lynn K. Nyhart <LKNYHART@macc.wisc.edu>
Subject: Re: On the shoulders of giants
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

To elaborate on John Langdon's note about Newton's sarcasm in using the phrase
"standing on the shoulders of giants":  Langdon mentions Newton wrote it in a
letter to Hooke; he does not mention that Hooke was a short hunchback with whom
Newton was engaged in a priority dispute!  So the target of the sarcasm may
have been close at hand.

I'm a little surprised that in the various messages on this subject over the
past few days, no one has thrown in what must be the definitive work on the
phrase:  Robert Merton's On the shoulders of Giants:  A Shandean Postscript.  I
don't have a reference to the original publication date, but it has been
reissued in what is called "the post-Italianate edition" in 1993 by the U. of
Chicago Press, weighing in at 320 pages.  I looked at the original edition some
years ago, and remember finding it charming and fascinating--a tour through the
history of the phrase.

Lynn Nyhart
History of Science
University of Wisconsin-Madison


<11:99>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Sat Jul 16 16:21:46 1994

Date: Sat, 16 Jul 1994 17:23:01 -0500 (EST)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: Museum techniques seminar (fwd from ARCH-L)
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

This notice of a cross-disciplinary seminar on museum identification
techniques just appeared on ARCH-L.  I thought it might be of interest
to some Darwin-L members.

Bob O'Hara (darwin@iris.uncg.edu)

--begin forwarded message--------------

      a short course in collections management and conservation

Presented by the San Diego Natural History Museum in conjunction with
             International Academic Projects, London
                ***    September 21-24, 1994   ***

This is a four-day, intensive professional course on the practical
identification of museum materials, designed for anyone who works with
collections of historic, cultural, artistic or scientific objects.
Accurate identification of the materials from which objects are made is
vital to decisions in classification, conservation, documentation,
exhibition, and storage. The course will focus on identification of a
wide range of natural and manmade materials, using visual and physical
techniques. Identification of deteriorated and corroded surfaces and the
causes of deterioration will also be covered.

Materials to be studied and analyzed in depth include wood, bone, horn,
ivory, shell, glass, ceramics, metals, adhesives, plastics, and other
materials commonly found in museum objects. Emphasis is placed on
techniques that use a minimum of technological or destructive sampling

Both lecture and laboratory sessions will be offered. Participants are
encouraged to bring problematic materials from their own collections or
areas for discussion and identification. The course will be taught
primarily at the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.

Course instructors are Bob Child, BSc, FIIC, FSA, Head of Conservation,
National Museum of Wales, and Sally Shelton, MA, Collections Conservation
Specialist, San Diego Natural History Museum. Both are visiting lecturers
to the International Centre for the Study and Restoration of Cultural
Property (Rome), and have taught other IAP courses.

Course fees are $225 for registrations postmarked on or before 1
September, $250 for those marked after. Course fees do not include
transportation, lodging, or meal costs.

For further information and registration, please contact Sally Shelton at
the following address:
San Diego Natural History Museum
P. O. Box 1390
San Diego, CA   92112
phone (619) 232-3821, x226; FAX (619) 232-0248
email libsdnhm@class.org

Support for this course is provided in part by the Bay Foundation through
          a grant to International Academic Projects, London.

--end forwarded message----------------


<11:100>From sarich@qal.berkeley.edu  Sun Jul 17 00:13:54 1994

From: Prof Vince Sarich <sarich@qal.Berkeley.EDU>
Date: Sat, 16 Jul 1994 22:13:34 -0700
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Gosse and Omphalos

I was encouraged to see Gosse's Omphalos taken somewhat seriously by both
Phillipson and Winsor.  I have, ever since being introduced to it more than 40
years ago by Martin Gardner's Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science,
considered Omphalos to be of the more ingenious creations of the human

Phillipson comments that <It would be irreligious not to the best science we
can, trying to make it better.  Why did God put fossils there, if not for us to
dig up and perform science upon?>

Gosse, on pg 369-71 of his 372-page work, comments:

"Finally, the acceptance of the principles presented in this volume, even in
their fullest extent, would not, in the least degree, affect the study of
scientific geology.  The character and order of the strata; their disruptions
and displacements; the successive floras and faunas; and all the other
phenomena, would be facts still.  They would still be, as now, legitimate
subjects of examination and inquiry.  I do not know that a single conclusion,
now accepted, would need to be given up, except that of actual chronology.  And
even in respect of this, it would be rather a modification than a
relinquishment of what is at present held; we might still speak of the
inconceivably long duration of the processes in question, providing we
understand ideal instead of actual time -- that the duration was projected in
the mind of God, and not really existent.

The zoologist would still use the fossil forms of non-existing animals, to
illustrate the mutual analogies of species and groups. ..... He would still use
the stony skeletons for the inculcation of lessons on the skill and power of
God in creation; and would find them a rich mine of instruction, affording some
examples of the adaptation of structure to function, which are not yielded by
any extant species.  Such are the elongation of the little finger in
Pterodactylus, for the extension of the alar membrane; and the deflection of
the inferior incisors in Dinotherium, for the purposes of digging or anchorage.

In short, the readings of the "stone book" will be found not less worthy of
the God who wrote them, not less worthy of man who deciphers them, if we
consider them as prochronically, then if we judge them diachronically,

Winsor comments that: "This unassailable, pure, perfect reconciliation was
satisfying to neither camp, and still is not, because it implies that God has
no compunction about deceiving us."

Gosse was not unaware of this sort of objection, and he addressed it on pp 347
et seq:

"It may be objected, that, to assume the world to have been created with
fossil skeletons in its crust -- skeletons of animals that never really existed
-- is to charge the creator with forming objects whose sole purpose was to
deceive us.  The reply is obvious.  Were the concentric timber-rings of a
created tree formed merely to deceive?  Were the growth lines of a created
shell intended to deceive?  Was the navel of the created Man intended to
deceive into the persuasion that he had a parent?

These peculiarities of structure were inseparable from the adult stage of
these creatures respectively, without which they would not have been what they
were.  The Locust-tree could not have been an adult Hymenoea, without
concentric rings; -- nay, it could not have been an exogenous tree at all.  The
Dione could not have been a Dione without those foliations and spines that form
its generic character.  The Man would not have been a Man without a navel.

To a physiologist this is obvious; but some unscientific reader may say, Could
not God have created plants and animals without these retrospective marks?  I
distinctly reply, No! not so as to preserve their specific identity with those
with we are familiar.  A Tree-fern without scars on the trunk!  A Palm without
leaf-bases!  A Bean without a hilum!  A Tortoise without laminae on its plates!
 A Carp without concentric lines on its scales!  A Bird without feathers!  A
Mammal without hairs, or claws, or teeth, or bones, or blood! .....

If, then, the existence of retrospective marks, visible and tangible proofs of
processes which were prochronic, was so necessary to organic essences, that
they could not have been created without them, -- is it absurd to suggest the
possibility (I do no more) that the world itself was created under the
influence of the same law, with visible tangible proofs of developments and
processes, which yet were only prochronic."

In a separate posting I send along a long excerpt from an essay by Dorothy
Sayers in which she comments on Gosse (without mentioning him by name), and
also the nature of reality and creativity.


<11:101>From peter@usenix.org  Sun Jul 17 09:58:40 1994

Date: Sun, 17 Jul 94 07:53:52 PDT
From: peter@usenix.org (Peter H. Salus)
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: no subject (file transmission)

In general, I refrain from responding to items on the
net, because I find most of it unproductive and resulting
in merely raising my blood pressure. However, I feel it necessary
to respond to Sally Thomason third-hand slighting of Sir
William Jones.  I would recommend that those interested
in the topic at all either look at Jones himself (a
complete reprint of the Works was done a year or so ago;
there is an excellent selection in the anthology put together
by S.S. Pachori (OUP, 1993) ) or at the excellent work by
Aarsleff, Cannon, etc.  Rosane Rocher's work on Halhed is
especially revealing.  Attempts at deconstruct real achievements
on the part of pygmies are both irritating and futile.

(who wrote the Preface to Pachori)


<11:102>From sarich@qal.berkeley.edu  Sun Jul 17 12:37:26 1994

From: Prof Vince Sarich <sarich@qal.Berkeley.EDU>
Date: Sun, 17 Jul 1994 10:36:58 -0700
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Dorothy Sayers from the grave on some recent postings

From Creative Mind by Dorothy Sayers (an essay in Creed or Chaos? Methuen,
London, 1947):

Or take again the case of the word <reality>.  No word occasions so much
ill-directed argument.  We are now emerging from a period when people were
inclined to use it as though nothing were real unless it could be measured; and
some old-fashioned materialists still use it so.  But if you go back behind the
dictionary meanings -- such as "that which has objective existence" -- and
behind its philosophic history to the derivation of the word, you find that
<reality> means "the thing thought."  Reality is a concept; and a real object
is that which corresponds to the concept.  In ordinary conversation we still
use the word in this way.  When we say "those pearls are not real," we do not
mean they cannot be measures; we mean that the measurement of their makeup does
not correspond to the concept <pearl>, that, regarded as pearls, they are
nothing more than an appearance; they are quite actual, but they are not real.
As pearls, in fact, they have no objective existence.  Professor Eddington is
much troubled by the words <reality> and <existence>; in his Philosophy of
Physical Science he can find no use or meaning for the word <existence> --
unless, he admits, it is taken to mean "that which is present in the thoughts
of God."  That, he thinks, is not the meaning usually given to it.  But it is,
in fact, the precise meaning, and the only meaning, given to it by the

I have taken up a lot of your time with talk about words -- which may seem
very far removed from the subject of creative mind.  But I have two objects in
doing so.  The first is to warn you that my use of words will not always be
your use of words, and that the words of the common poet -- the creator in
words -- must never be interpreted absolutely, but only in relation to their
context.  They must be considered as fields of force, which disturb and are
disturbed by their environment.  Secondly, I want to place before you this
passage from the works of Richard Hard -- an eighteenth-century English divine.

"The source of bad criticism, as universally of bad philosophy, is the abuse
of terms.  A poet they say must follow nature; and by nature, we are to
suppose, can only be meant the known and experienced course of affairs in this
world.  Whereas the poet has a world of his own, where experience has less to
do than consistent imagination."

It was the Royal Society who announced in 1687 that they "exacted from their
members a close, naked, natural way of speaking ..... bringing all things as
near the mathematical plainness as they can."  Words, they imply, are not to be
metaphorical or allusive or charged with incalculable associations -- but to
approximate as closely as possible to mathematical symbols: "one word, one
meaning."  And to this Hard retorts in effect that, for the poet, this use of
language is simply not "natural" at all.  It is contrary to the nature of
language and to the nature of the poet.  The poet does not work by the analysis
and measurement of observables, but by a "consistent imagination."

Poets create, we may say, by building up new images, new intellectual
concepts, new worlds, if you like, to form new consistent wholes, new unities
out of diversity.  And I should like to submit to you that this is in fact the
way in which all creative mind works -- in the sciences as every where else --
in divine as well as in human creation, so far as we can observe and understand
divine methods of creation.  That is, that within our experience, creation
proceeds by the discovery of new conceptual relations between things so as to
form them into systems having a consistent wholeness corresponding to an image
in the mind, and, consequently, possessing real existence.


For the next instance of consistent imagination, I will ask you to wander with
me down a very curious, little bypath.  It was during the last century that the
great war was fought between churchmen and men of science over the theory of
Evolution.  We need not fight afresh every battle in that campaign.  The
scientists won their battle chiefly, or at any rate largely, with the help of
the paleontologists and the biologists.  It was made clear that the earlier
history of the earth and its inhabitants could be reconstructed from fossil
remains surviving in its present, and from vestigial structures remaining in
the various plants and animals with which it is now peopled.  It was scarcely
possible to suppose any longer that God had created each species -- to quote
the text of Paradise Lost -- "perfect forms, limb'd, and full grown," except on
what seemed the extravagant assumption that, when creating the universe, he had
at the same time provided it with the evidence of a purely imaginary past that
had never had any actual existence.  Now, the first thing to be said about this
famous quarrel is that the churchmen need never have been perturbed at all
about the method of creation, if they had remembered that the Book of Genesis
was a book of poetical truth, and not intended as a scientific handbook of
geology.  They got into their difficulty, to a large extent, through having
unwittingly slipped into accepting the scientistUs concept of the use of
language, and supposing that a thing could not be true unless it was amenable
to quantitative methods of proof.  Eventually, and with many slips along the
way, they contrived to clamber out of this false position; and today no
reasonable theologian is at all perturbed by the idea that creation was
effected by evolutionary methods.  But, if the theologians had not lost touch
with the nature of language; if they had not insensibly fallen into the
eighteenth-century conception of the universe as a mechanism and God as the
great engineer; if, instead, they had chosen to think of God as a great,
imaginative artist -- then they might have offered a quite different
interpretation of the facts, with rather entertaining consequences.  They
might, in fact, have seriously put forward the explanation I mentioned just
now; that God had at some moment or other created the universe complete with
all the vestiges of an imaginary past.

I have said that this seemed an extravagant assumption; so it does, if thinks
of God as a mechanician.  But if one thinks of him as working in the same way
as a creative artist, then it no longer seems extravagant, but the most natural
thing in the world.  It is the way every novel in the world is written.

Every serious novelist starts with some or all of his characters "in perfect
form and fully grown," complete with their pasts.  Their present is conditioned
by a past that exists, not fully on paper, but fully or partially in the
creatorUs imagination.  And as he goes on writing the book, he will --
especially if it is a long work, like The Forsyte Saga or the "Peter Wimsey"
series -- plant from time to time in the text of the book allusions to that
unwritten past.  If his imagination is consistent, then all those allusions,
all those, so to speak, planted fossils, will tell a story consistent with one
another and consistent with the present and future actions of the characters.
That is to say, that past, existing only in the mind of the maker, produces a
true and measurable effect on the written part of the book, precisely as though
it had, in fact, "taken place" within the work of art itself.

If you have ever amused yourselves by reading some of the works of "spoof"
criticism about Sherlock Holmes (e.g., Baker Street Studies, or
H. W. Bell's Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson), you will see just how far
pseudoscientific method can be used to interpret these fossil remains scattered
about the Sherlock Holmes stories, and what ingenuity can be used to force the
indications into an apparent historical consistency.  As regards the past of
his characters, Conan Doyle's imagination was not, in fact, very consistent;
there were lapses and contradictions, as well as lacunae.  But let us suppose a
novelist with a perfectly consistent imagination, who had contrived characters
with an absolutely complete and flawless past history; and let us suppose,
further, that the fossil remains were being examined by one of the characters,
who (since his existence is contained wholly within the covers of the book just
as ours is contained wholly within the universe) could not get outside the
written book to communicate with the author.  (This, I know, is difficult,
rather like imagining the inhabitant of two-dimensional space, but it can be
done,)  Now, such a character would be in precisely the same position as a
scientist examining the evidence that the universe affords of its own past.
The evidence would all be there, it would all point in the same direction, and
its effects would be apparent in the whole action of the story itself (that is,
in what, for him, would be "real" history).  There is no conceivable set of
data, no imaginable line of reasoning, by which he could possibly prove whether
or not that past had ever gone through the formality of taking place.  On the
evidence -- the fossil remains, the self-consistency of all the data, and the
effects observable in himself and his fellow characters -- he would, I think,
be forced to conclude that it had taken place.  And, whether or no, he would be
obliged to go on behaving as if it had taken place.  Indeed, he could not by
any means behave otherwise because he had been created by his maker as a person
with those influences in his past.

I think that if the churchmen had chosen to take up that position, the result
would have been entertaining.  It would have been a very strong position
because it is one that cannot be upset by scientific proof.  Probably, the
theologians would have been deterred by a vague sense that a God who made his
universe like this was not being quite truthful.  But that would be because of
a too limited notion of truth.  In what sense is the unwritten past of the
characters in a book less true than their behavior in it?  Or if a prehistory
that never happened exercises on history an effect indistinguishable from the
effect it would have made by happening, what real difference is there between
happening and not happening?  If it is deducible from the evidence,
self-consistent, and recognizable in its effects, it is quite real, whether or
not it was actual.


You will probably be tempted, by your habit of mind, to ask -- what does all
this prove?  It does not, in the scientific sense of the word, prove anything.
The function of imaginative speech is not to prove, but to create -- to
discover new similarities and to arrange them to form new unities, to build new
self-consistent worlds out of the universe of undifferentiated mind-stuff.

Every activity has its own technique; the mistake is to suppose that the
technique of one activity is suitable for all purposes.  In scientific
reasoning for example, the poetUs technique of metaphor and analogy is
inappropriate and even dangerous -- its use leads to conclusions that are false
to science, that build it new unities out of quantitative likenesses, and
things that are numerically comparable.  The error of the Middle Ages, on the
whole, was to use analogical, metaphorical, poetical techniques for the
investigation of scientific questions.  But increasingly, since the seventeenth
century, we have tended to the opposite error -- that of using the quantitative
methods of science for the investigation of poetic truth.  But to build poetic
systems of truth, the similarities must be, not quantitative, but qualitative,
and the new unity that will emerge will be a world of new values.  Here,
metaphor and analogy are both appropriate and necessary -- for both these
processes involve the arranging of things according to some quality that the
dissimilars have in common: thus (to go back to my earlier simile) common
language and an infuriated cat, though in quantitative respects very unlike,
have in common a certain quality of intractability.  And thus, too, the
associative values of words, which make them such bad tools for the scientist,
make them the right tools for the poet, for they facilitate the establishment
of similarities between many widely differing concepts, and so make easy the
task of the creative imagination building up its poetic truths.

Vincent Sarich


<11:103>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Sun Jul 17 22:00:15 1994

Date: Sun, 17 Jul 1994 23:01:28 -0500 (EST)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: Stories we like to tell in the historical sciences
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

Polly Winsor asks about heroic (or otherwise) stories we like to tell in
the historical sciences.  I can offer an anecdote about one.

I teach a small course for first-year undergraduates on Darwin and the Origin
of Species; it's a mixture of science, history, and how to write complete
sentences and paragraphs.  I always devote one meeting to telling the
Darwin/Wallace story: how Darwin had been working for years on descent and
natural selection, and how Wallace, in a malarial fit in Indonesia, came up
with the very same ideas regarding natural selection, wrote them down in a
couple of days, and sent his manuscript to Darwin, not knowing that Darwin
had already come to the same conclusion.  This past year after I told the
story, one student came up to me and said with genuine enthusiasm: "That was
great. It kept my attention through the whole class."  I smiled politely, and
thought to myself, "Gee, I'm really glad you enjoy all the rest of our
classes so much."

After this encounter I did toy with the idea of teaching an entire course
through short stories, biographical and otherwise, but I haven't the skill
or background to carry through with such a plan at the moment.  It does
seem as though it might be worth trying sometime, though.

A very thought-provoking paper on some of the rhetorical characteristics
of writing in the historical sciences is:

  Miller, Carolyn R., & S. Michael Halloran.  1993.  Reading Darwin,
  reading nature; or, on the ethos of historical science.  Pp. 106-126 in:
  _Understanding Scientific Prose) (Jack Selzer, ed.).  Madison: University
  of Wisconsin Press.

Polly and others might find it of interest.  I think there is much more
to be done along the lines that Miller and Halloran sketch.

Bob O'Hara, Darwin-L list owner

Robert J. O'Hara (darwin@iris.uncg.edu)
Center for Critical Inquiry and Department of Biology
100 Foust Building, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Greensboro, North Carolina 27412 U.S.A.


<11:104>From sarich@qal.berkeley.edu  Sun Jul 17 22:45:40 1994

From: Prof Vince Sarich <sarich@qal.Berkeley.EDU>
Date: Sun, 17 Jul 1994 20:45:11 -0700
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Thomason, Salus, and historical linguistics, Part 1

If this is flaming, or something too close to it, I apologize -- and if you
think it is, please ignore Part 2.

Let me strongly second Peter Salus' comments on the Thomason posting.  I think
the Darwin-L community should also be aware that Jones here is a proxy for
Joseph Greenberg, whose Language in the Americas is to most linguists as the
Origin of Species is to the Institute for Creation Research.

Those of you interested in the quality of the arguments involved here might
want to look at some of Lyle Campbell's (recommended by Thomason) efforts.  I
include some of his most egregious.  The first is from an article co-authored
with Terence Kaufman which appeared in the American Anthropologist 85: 362-372

"We do not take at all kindly to WB's (1981:908) caricature of our
reservations concerning widespread forms, called Pan-Americanisms by some, for
such reservation is a standard criterion of distant genetic research in the
Americas (Campbell 1973).  We in no way appealed to or necessarily believe in
the hypothesis attributed to us of "a gigantic Proto-Amerind phylum" (WB
1981:908), rather we made reference to the legitimate practice in the
investigation of remote relationships in the Americas of avoiding widespread
forms.  It is generally recognized that certain forms recur with similar sound
and meaning in very many American Indian languages (cf. Swadesh 1954).
Acknowledgement of the widespread forms presupposes no particular explanation;
while some may feel that these support some far-flung genetic connection (cf.
Swadesh 1954; 1967; Greenberg, 1960; etc.), it is possible that some widely
shared similarities may be due to onomatopoeia, sound symbolism, perhaps
diffusion, accident, or other undetermined factors." (pp 365-6)

Here Campbell and Kaufman, in their second rejoinder to Witkowski and Brown,
slip over into caricature.  It is frankly difficult to believe that even they
take what they write here seriously.  Their words here make it clear that
whatever it is that they are doing, it isn't science -- though, it has to be
noted here, it is, for much of recent American Indian linguistics, a perfectly
representative statement.  Yet consider how much illogic it exhibits in so few
words.  Campbell and Kaufman write, apparently oblivious to the import of their
words, of "the legitimate practice in the investigation of remote relationships
in the Americas of avoiding widespread forms."  How remarkably convenient -- if
you don't like the conclusion, then just rid yourself of the only data which
could possibly lead to it.  What, one wonders, would they say about a zoologist
who wrote of "the legitimate practice in the investigation of remote
relationships among organisms of avoiding certain widespread forms such as the
presence of feathers, hair, tetrapod limbs, or amniotic eggs"?  How else are
"remote relationships" to be investigated other than by documenting "widespread
forms"?  Then we get the obligatory mantra when they tell us that these "widely
shared similarities may be due to onomatopoeia, sound symbolism, perhaps
diffusion, accident, or other undetermined factors."  Well, yes, so they might
-- indeed, we can be quite certain that all of these, including the
"undetermined" ones, will have been involved, to some extent, in producing
linguistic "similarities".   But, as already noted at some length, the critical
point here is that, in the absence of written records, there is no possible way
of even beginning to isolate and identify those similarities resulting from
"onomatopoeia, etc" UNTIL one has developed the phylogenetic tree linking the
languages under study.  What that tree cannot explain, and there will always be
a good deal that it cannot, is then to be looked at for evidence of
"onomatopoeia, etc."  But it is obviously and inherently true that ANY
similarity could be "explained" by appealing to these other factors.  It is
just as obviously true that this is not the case for phylogenetic explanations.
 The latter are falsifiable; the former are not -- or, more fairly, they are
not until we have the tree of relationships. That most linguists writing on the
subject refuse to take cognizance of these elementary tenets of the scientific
enterprise is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of contemporary "discussions"
concerning language relationships in the Americas.

Campbell has repeated the same message more recently in, among other places,
his review of Language in the Americas for Language  64:591-615 (1988):

"To evaluate LIA properly, legitimate methods in remoter genetic research,
together with the proper cautions that their use dictates, must be considered.
I take these up here, concentrating on criteria needed to establish a proposed
remote relationship as plausible; these same criteria serve also to evaluate
such proposals, LIA among them.

To begin, one must assemble a number of similarities and matchings, and then
one must take care to eliminate (or at least qualify) all which lack sufficient
semantic or phonetic similarity, or which could be explained by factors other
than common ancestry -- e.g. borrowing, chance, onomatopoeia, sound symbolism,
and universal or typological interconnections.  Convincing proposals must
minimize these other possible explanations of the compared material, leaving
the genetic explanation as the most probable.  Unsuccessful proposals do not
usually fail because of lack of similarities or matchings, but because of the
lack of care in distinguishing genetic from nongenetic potential accounts of

and in a letter last year to Scientific American  May 1993, pg 12:

"Greenberg's methods have been disproved. Similarities between languages can
be the result of chance, borrowing, onomatopoeia, sound symbolism and other
causes.  For a proposal of remote family relationship to be plausible, one must
eliminate the other possible explanations."

I shall repeat myself by quoting fairly extensively from a recent manuscript
of mine entitled Occam's Razor and Historical Linguistics.  Anyone who wants to
read the whole thing just ask by e-mail.

This lengthy quote is a second posting.

Vincent Sarich


<11:105>From sarich@qal.berkeley.edu  Sun Jul 17 22:51:01 1994

From: Prof Vince Sarich <sarich@qal.Berkeley.EDU>
Date: Sun, 17 Jul 1994 20:50:32 -0700
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Thomason, Salus, and historical linguistics, Part 2

As noted in Part 1, the following is part of a manuscript entitled Occam's
Razor and Historical Linguistics. It is available for the asking.

Occam's Razor

The question of differentiating "acculturation" from an "Ursprache" as the
explanation of similarities between two languages remains, and many more recent
writings make it clear that it remains current.  And it is here that Sapir
could have, but didn't, tell us just what was fundamentally wrong with the
world view that said you had to start with  "acculturation"; i.e, diffusion or
horizontal transmission, and only come to the "Ursprache", or common ancestry,
hypothesis after you had found "acculturation" wanting as the explanation.   So
let me, 74 years after the fact, and most presumptuously, try to say what Sapir
ought to have said.

To begin, let me repeat that it is a difference in world view that we are
dealing with here.  Absent a direct, written, historical record, one could
never provide linguistic data which would allow, in general, an objective
decision as to whether similarities among languages are due to "acculturation"
or an "Ursprache" -- from here on, diffusion/horizontal transmission or common
ancestry.  After all, it is not as if diffusion is some relatively rare,
undocumented phenomenon.  It happens frequently, and we all know it does.  That
isn't what the argument is all about.  What it is all about is whether, given a
reasonable choice between diffusion or common ancestry as the explanation of
perceived similarities among a group of languages under study, one chooses the
one or the other TO BEGIN WITH.  In other words, is one's working hypothesis,
as compared to conclusion, going to be common ancestry, or is it going to be
diffusion?  Put this way, it becomes obvious that the choice between the two
has to be made in terms of their relative productivities and testabilities --
and, once that point is grasped, the choice is clear.  Why?

Start with some of the languages Boas dealt with in his 1894 article and 1907
letter: Tlingit, Haida, and some Athapascan tongue; and consider the
similarities among them.  There can be no doubt that these are many and marked.
Boas said so in 1894 and 1907 (see quotes above), and so did Levine in his
1977 doctoral dissertation (The Skidegate Dialect of Haida, Columbia, p 11):

"Thus there are signs of a developing concensus within Na-Dene studies that a
proto-Athapaskan-Eyak-Tlingit did indeed exist, and that extremely prolonged
contact between this language or its daughter languages and the ancestors of
modern Haida is entirely adequate as an explanation of resemblances between
Haida and the revised Na-Dene group."

Note that Levine goes seemingly out of his way to tell us just how many and
marked these similarities are when writes "EXTREMELY PROLONGED CONTACT".  Why
the necessity for such a strong phrase?  Presumably because there are extremely
obvious; i.e., many, and marked similarities, resulting from this "extremely
prolonged" contact.  And it has to be conceded that this "extremely prolonged
contact" is in fact "entirely adequate as an explanation of resemblances ....."
But an entirely adequate explanation is by no means the same as the best
explanation.  The reason is a simple one.  Levine's "entirely adequate
explanation" requires first a differentiation between Haida and
proto-Athapaskan-Eyak-Tlingit (whether from a common source is neither here nor
there), as diffusing similarities is obviously logically impossible, followed
by a lengthy period of contact -- in other words, 3 separate events/processes.
It also has to be noted here that this matter of producing the differences in
the first place is simply ignored; that is, Boas and his intellectual
descendants seem to take for granted the existence of all these different
languages.  But if diffusion were the force they claim it to be, then how did
these languages get to be so different from one another?  That matter is never
addressed, and it is difficult to resist the suggestion that the penchant for
behavioral creationist thinking produced an unconscious creationist scenario
for languages -- they had not evolved away from one another, but were simply
created different.

The common ancestry explanation, on the other hand, requires but a single
event/process -- the development/existence of a proto-Na-Dene.  This sort of
choice, then, is not a difficult one to make, and hasn't been so for more than
600 years.

Bertrand Russell, in his Wisdom of the West, tells us that William of Ockham
(or Occam) (ca 1300-1349) wrote something along the lines of "it is vain to do
with more what can be done with less."  For Occam the entities in question were
the forms, substance, and the like, with which traditional metaphysicians were
concerned.  Later thinkers primarily interested in questions of scientific
method then gave his insight a more familiar twist -- entia non sunt
multiplicanda praeter necessitatem -- entities should not be multiplied beyond
necessity.  Occam's razor, as it has become to be called, is then, for us, a
general principle of economy; that is, if a simple explanation will do, it is
counterproductive to seek a more complex one.  I am of course not oblivious to
the fact that a great deal of mischief can be involved in defining "simple" and
"complex", but most scientists would agree that the dimensions involved here
are the number of real-time events necessary to explain the observations,
directionalities, and testability.  And we accept Occam's Razor for a very
simple reason -- it works better than anything else we have.  This is hardly to
say that it is perfect; that is, it always leads to the correct choice among
competing alternatives.  Nature does not have to be parsimonious.  But science
does.  Science without the principle of parsimony isn't science.  Thus the
ultimate answer to Boas lies in the realm of whether historical linguists are
to play the game using the same rules as other scientists.

The fact here is that there is no similarity between two languages that could
not, in principle, be explained by diffusion.  Yet the fact is that no one, in
practice, chooses this explanatory mode. Levine, for example, accepts
Tlingit-(Eyak/Athapaskan) and Eyak/Athapascan as genetic units; that is, each
can be defined by shared innovations (the biologist would say shared derived
features, or, in the cladist jargon, synapomorphies) which occurred along
lineages of common ancestry.  This is logically necessary, as no one today is
going to put himself in the position of overtly positing "created different" as
an explanation of differences.  But the differences are necessary to make
diffusion possible, and thus one has to leaven one's discussion with at least
some genetic linkages among the languages concerned.  Yet what is it about
Tlingit-(Eyak/Athapascan) similarities that allows us to conclude that the
three form a genetic unit, while forcing us to conclude that those between them
and Haida are best explained by appealing to diffusion?  We are not usually
told.  Nor, given that we are usually talking in terms of similarities and
differences in degree, rather than in kind, could we be.  This, then, as noted
above, becomes a directionality problem.  Do we start with diffusion as our
working hypothesis, and then go on to common ancestry as necessary; or do we
start with common ancestry, and go on to diffusion after having demonstrated
that common ancestry is an inadequate explanation?

The answer here is simple and straightforward.  If we start with diffusion, it
will never be found wanting.  There is, in principle, no similarity among
languages that could not be explained by diffusion.  And the diffusion
hypothesis can, therefore, make no falsifiable predictions.   One might ask,
however, why this isn't equally true of a common ancestry explanation?  Why
could not common ancestry, in principle, also explain all similarities among
languages, and thus be equally untestable?

The basic reason is that any common ancestry explanation is going to be very
severely constrained by having to provide, and conform to, some sort of
statement about the actual genetic relationships involved; that is, a
phylogenetic tree.  It isn't generally appreciated just how severe a constraint
this is.  If, for example, we have even as few as 10 seemingly related
languages, there are 2,027,025 possible unrooted, bifurcating trees linking
them.  Yet it is a rare comparative data set involving a reasonable range of
degrees of difference among the constituent units which will not objectively
exclude all but a very small number of those possible trees -- provided one
accepts the principle of parsimony. .........

    One might ask here, "Well, couldn't one do just as well in a diffusionist
mode if one accepted the same principle?"  The answer has to be, "Yes, but if
you accept parsimony as a guiding principle, then you have already ruled out
diffusion as the primary hypothesis."  If you don't accept parsimony, of
course, then there is nothing to agree on as a guiding principle, and we might
as well go back to arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a

It Isn't Just the Linguists

A. L. Kroeber, one of the greatest of all anthropologists and the founder of
my Department, wrote in his Anthropology (1948:179):

"In the approach to the problem, one consideration stands out.  If the human
races are identical in capacity, or if, though not absolutely alike, they
average substantially the same in the sum total of their capacities, then such
differences as they have shown in their history or show in their present
condition must evidently be the result mainly of circumstances external to
heredity.  In that case, knowledge of the historical or environmental
circumstances, and analysis of the latter, become all-important to
understanding.  On the other hand, if hereditary racial inequalities exist, one
can expect that the historical or cultural influences, however great they may
be, will nevertheless tend to have their origin in the hereditary factors and
to reinforce them.  In that case, differences between two groups would be due
partly to underlying heredity and partly to overlying cultural forces tending
on the whole in the same direction.  Yet even in that case, before one could
begin to estimate the strength of the true racial factors, the historical one
would have to be subtracted.  Thus, in either event, the true crux of the
problem lies in the recognition and stripping-off of cultural, social, or
environmental factors, so far as possible, from the complex mass of phenomena
which living human groups present.  In proportion as these social or acquired
traits can be determines and discounted, the innate and truly racial ones will
be isolated, and can then be examined, weighed, and compared.  Such, at any
rate, is a reasonable plan of procedure.  We are looking for the inherent,
ineradicable elements in a social animal that has everywhere built up around
himself an environment -- namely his culture -- in which he mentally lives and
breathes.  It is precisely because in the present inquiry we wish to get below
the effects of culture that we must be ready to concern ourselves considerably
with these effects, actual or possible."

Although written many years ago, the message remains current.  Its resilience
is documented, just to note 2 recent efforts in the genre, in Degler's
scholarly In Search of Human Nature and John Horgan's semi-popular Eugenics
revisited in Scientific American, teased on the cover for the duller among us
as The dubious link between genes and behavior.  The problem with Kroeber's
apparently sensible advice, at least for anyone who accepts that we evolved
from non-human ancestors, is that it cannot possibly work.  One cannot proceed
by "the recognition and stripping-off of cultural, social, or environmental
factors", for the simple reason that nothing would be left after the effort --
and this is almost certainly why it is generally put this way.  The point is
that there is essentially no observation about human behavior that could not be
"explained" by some combination of "social, cultural, or environmental
factors", just as there is no similarity among languages that could not be
"explained" by diffusion.  Start with diffusion, and nothing could possibly be
left to explain.  But just as diffusion, in a world which evolved, presupposes
differentiation (obviously you cannot diffuse similarities), and, therefore, a
larger number of events, so too does an appeal to "social, cultural, and
environmental factors" in explanations of human behavior.  Now note here than
in arguing this one is not being so silly as to deny the fact that diffusion
does occur, and that it is necessary to appeal to it as the correct explanation
of any number of similarities among various languages; nor to deny the enormous
effect of "social, cultural, and environmental factors".  We, after all, are
not conceived (this term is used in literal physical sense; that is, ovum plus
sperm) as physical, social, or moral adults, nor is there anyone who could deny
this reality.  But the point here is that those social, cultural, and
environmental factors have to have something to work on (just as diffusional
processes have to have something to work on), and that something has a specific
individual genetic structure that evolved over time.  One does not apply
Occam's razor; that is, reduce the number of real-time events necessary to
explain a set of observations, by ignoring those which did actually occur.  Nor
does opt for impossible directionalities.


There exists, and has, for a long time, a very strange situation among, in
particular, American historical linguists.  I have attempted, though hardly
exhaustively, to document it here.  I have also indicated why Boas took the
anti-evolutionary position he did.  Why people like Campbell, Kaufman, Bright,
Goddard, and on and on, hold their untenable positions is not at all as clear.
I can only suggest that they wish to remain big fish in their little linguistic
ponds, and not become little fish in the very large pond that is Greenberg's


Vincent Sarich


<11:106>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Mon Jul 18 00:28:13 1994

Date: Mon, 18 Jul 1994 01:29:28 -0500 (EST)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: July 18 -- Today in the Historical Sciences
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro


1635: ROBERT HOOKE born at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight, England.  Though
he will be remembered primarily as an experimentalist associated with the
Royal Society, Hooke's researches will range widely, covering in addition
to mathematics and mechanics, geology and the nature of fossils as well: "My
first Proposition then is, That all, or the greatest part of these curiously
figured Bodies found up and down in divers Parts of the World, are either
those Animal or Vegetable Substances they represent converted into Stone, by
having their Pores fill'd up with some petrifying liquid Substance, whereby
their Parts are, as it were, lock'd up and cemented together in their Natural
Position and Contexture; or else they are the lasting Impressions made on
them at first, whilst a yielding Substance by the immediate Application of
such Animal or Vegetable body as was so shaped, and that there was nothing
else concurring to their Production, save only the yielding of the Matter
to receive the Impression, such as heated Wax affords to the Seal; or else a
subsiding or hardning of the Matter, after by some kind of Fluidity it had
perfectly fill'd or inclosed the figuring Vegetable or Animal Substance, after
the manner as a Statue is made of Plaister of Paris, or Alabaster-dust beaten,
and boil'd, mixed with Water and poured into a Mould."  (From _Lectures and
Discourses of Earthquakes, and Subterraneous Eruptions.  Explicating The
Causes of the Rugged and Uneven Face of the Earth; and What Reasons may be
given for the frequent finding of Shells and other Sea and Land Petrified
Substances, scattered over the whole Terrestrial Superficies_, London, 1705.)

Today in the Historical Sciences is a feature of Darwin-L, an international
network discussion group for professionals in the historical sciences.  For
more information about Darwin-L send the two-word message INFO DARWIN-L to
listserv@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu, or gopher to rjohara.uncg.edu (


<11:107>From sally@isp.pitt.edu  Mon Jul 18 08:10:50 1994

To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: no subject (file transmission)
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 94 09:12:01 -0400
From: Sally Thomason <sally@isp.pitt.edu>

    I thank Peter Salus for his reminder that I wasn't clear
in my posting on the Sir William Jones myth: I did not intend
at all to take anything away from his considerable achievements
in various fields, or from the eloquence (and correctness) of
his statement about Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, etc.  It isn't his
fault, after all, if 20th-century linguists have made a myth
out of his most famous linguistic utterance, and it isn't a
criticism (and I meant none) of an 18th-century scholar to say
that he didn't have the knowledge and methodological expertise
of the late 19th century.  (I have to add here, though, that
the Hungarian Gyarmathi, also in the late 18th century, *did*
reportedly carry out something very like later 19th-century
methodology in comparing Hungarian and Finnish and pointing to
systematic correspondences that, he believed, argued for a
relationship.  I say "reportedly" here because I haven't read
Gyarmathi; this story too is in all the handbooks.  And, it goes
on, the reason Gyarmathi gets only a footnote in the history of
historical linguistics, while the 19th-century giants -- many of
them monosyllabic Germanic types, Grimm, Bopp, Pott, Rask,
etc. -- get the glory is that Gyarmathi was working on
unfashionable languages, while they were working on Germanic

   In any case, in the Jones myth, the blame, if any accrues to
setting up a myth, goes to the 20th-century linguists who have
misunderstood and sometimes misused his linguistic findings,
certainly not to Jones himself.  I bet he's not the only
intellectual giant of the past this has happened to.

   Sally Thomason


<11:108>From sally@isp.pitt.edu  Mon Jul 18 08:37:14 1994

To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Thomason, Salus, and historical linguistics, Part 1
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 94 09:38:26 -0400
From: Sally Thomason <sally@isp.pitt.edu>

   It's only because I try hard to avoid ad hominem discussions
that I didn't mention Joseph Greenberg in my posting on the Sir
William Jones myth.  It's true, as Vince Sarich suggests, that
Greenberg and his colleague Merritt Ruhlen are the most prominent
current linguists who appeal to the methods of Sir William Jones
as evidence that their own very similar methodology is valid.  But
I don't think Greenberg and Ruhlen are the only modern linguists
who have used Jones in this way; and, as I said in my initial
posting on the myth, introductory linguistics textbooks do
present Jones, at least implicitly, as a proto-historical
linguist, because of his famous dictum about Sanskrit, Greek,
Latin, etc.

   Ad hominem arguments about substantive matters are not, to
my mind, the way to carry on scholarly discourse.  Even if
someone is acting in bad faith, with inappropriate personal
motivations for arguing a particular position, I think the only
way to discuss the issues is to discuss the issues -- that is,
to analyze the arguments, not their proponents' psyches.  So
I won't comment on Sarich's substantive points here, especially
as I doubt if this discussion would be all that interesting
to nonlinguists.

   But if anyone is interested in the substantive points Sarich
raises, some of them are discussed in a paper I wrote several
years ago; it's supposed to appear in a volume edited by Allan
Taylor, to be published by Stanford University Press, but there's
no sign of its appearance yet.  If the book ever does appear, people
will be able to read a variety of perspectives on the Greenberg
controversy.  The reason I mention my own paper is that that's
the only one I can offer to send to people.  If you'd like to see
it, send me email (to me privately, not to the whole list by
REPLY mode!).  I won't actually be able to send copies out until
I'm back in Pittsburgh in September -- I'm out of town for the
summer -- but I'll keep a list.  The paper is called "Hypothesis
generation vs. hypothesis testing: A comparison between Greenberg's
classifications in Africa and in the Americas".  (The paper, and
the putative book, come from a conference devoted to examination
of Greenberg's American classification.)

   Sally Thomason


<11:109>From witkowsk@cshl.org  Mon Jul 18 08:49:32 1994

Date: Mon, 18 Jul 1994 09:51:51 -0500
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: witkowsk@cshl.org (J. A. Witkowski (Banbury Center, CSHL))
Subject: Re: On the shoulders of giants

The discussion of the "...standing on the shoulder's..." quotation brings
to mind another one involving standing:

"... I want to stand at the rim of the world , and peer into the darkness
beyond, and see a little more than others have seen of the strange shapes
of mystery that inhabit that unknown night."

(This is from a letter written by Bertrand Russell to Collette O'Neil (the
stage name of Lady Constance Malleson) in 1918. Russell was in Brixton
prison at the time, serving a six-month sentence for "...having in a
printed publication made certain statements likely to prejudice His
Majesty's relations with the United States of America").

Did he manage to do it? What is the current assessment of Russell's
contributions to knowledge?


<11:110>From peter@usenix.org  Mon Jul 18 09:55:53 1994

Date: Mon, 18 Jul 94 07:56:54 PDT
From: peter@usenix.org (Peter H. Salus)
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Thomason, Salus, and historical linguistics, Part 1

I'd like to turn this a bit to an examination of Jones, whom I
admire tremendously, only very slightly for the few sentences
from the 9th Anniversary Discourse which linguists mis-use and
(as Sally points out correctly) mythologize.

Jones was a true savant of the later 18th century.  His
reputation as a jurist, translator and poet preceded his
years in India by several decades.  Jones' essay on the law of
bailments, for example, remained the standard in Britain and
on this side of the Atlantic till the first world war (I own
a copy from the 1890s printed in Hartford).  His translations from
the Persian were what influenced FitzGerald to "do" the Rubaiyat.
His "Caissa, or the game at chess," influenced Franklin (then
in Passy).  His translations of Isaeus are still robust.  He
was elected to The Club weeks before Boswell was.  His conception
of and presidency over the Asiatick [sic] Society of Bengal
made it the oldest of such learned societies, half a century
older than (say) the AOS.

Jones' work on the Indian philosophers is cited by Schopenhauer
in the first chapter of The Will...; his essay on Indian music is
still cited; with his essay on the Indic and Graeco-Roman pantheons
he initiated the field of comparative religion; with his translation
of the Shakuntala he influenced Goethe and Emerson directly
and all of the Romantic Movement indirectly.  His statue at
St Paul's has him holding the translation of the Manusmrti.  He
was seen as a jurist and comparatist.

One could say much, much more.  Read Pachori or Cannon or (even) me...



<11:111>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Mon Jul 18 10:08:41 1994

Date: Mon, 18 Jul 1994 11:09:54 -0500 (EST)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: Subspecies, myths, and cabbages
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

The following comes from Peter Stevens, in response to the earlier queries
regarding subspecies, and the role of disciplinary histories/myths in the
historical sciences.

Bob O'Hara (darwin@iris.uncg.edu)

--begin forwarded message--------------

The earliest references to subspecies about which I know (and I have not looked
hard) are in the german literature:  Konrad Sprengel (Anleitung zur Kenntniss
der Gewachse, p. 123, ed. 2, 1817) and Link (-Elementa philosophiae botanicae-,
p. 441. 1824) distinguished subspecies from  varieties; the former (cabbages
and cauliflowers) bred true, while the latter did not.  Even earlier in 1784 J.
F. Ehrhardt (see Chater & Brummitt, Taxon 15: 98, 1966) defined subspecies
(also "Halbarten" or "Scheinarten") as "plants which agree in essentials almost
completely with each other, and are often so similar to each other that an
inexperienced person has trouble in separating them, and about which one can
conjecture, not without reason, that they had formerly a common mother,
notwithstanding that they now always produce their like from seed." (!!: see
also Link, -Philosophica botanica-, p. 197. 1798; Willdenow, Grundriss der
Krauterkunde, p. 223. 1792 [he thought such subspecies were really species];
Persoon, -Synopsis plantarum-, 1805 [his subspecies perhaps were doubtful
species]).  (Note that the more complex early infraspecific hierarchies often
involved cultivated plants.)  But the rank of subspecies did not "take".

And myths?  George Bentham, the great English systematist of the middle of the
19thC (Jeremy Bentham's nephew); an amateur with no formal education,
selflessly spending his whole time on botany, producing some of the classics of
19thC. botanical literature (the -Flora australiense-, the -Genera plantarum-
[with J. D. Hooker]).  Bentham is certainly up there in the pantheon in
histories of British botany.  I used to think (when I was young/younger than I
am now) that such a life would be ideal, and that if I could secure
remuneration of ca 500 pounds sterling per annum I would be set for a similar
life....  Certainly, a Ph. D. would not be necessary.  Of course, Bentham did
not produce his classifications -in vacuo-, and I do not think that it detracts
to situate his work in the context of mid nineteenth C. British Imperialism.
Certainly, it helps us appreciate the tensions that underly his
classifications, and to understand why they are not classifications in a
conventional sense.

If the Bentham I thought I knew had not existed, would I be where I am now (and
would that be a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?)?

Peter Stevens <p_stevens@nocmsmgw.harvard.edu>

--end forwarded message----------------


<11:112>From sturkel@cosy.nyit.edu  Mon Jul 18 11:20:32 1994

Date: Mon, 18 Jul 1994 11:58:49 -0400
From: sturkel@cosy.nyit.edu
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: cultural evolution, consistency and truth

The idea that beliefs are parasites is intriguing, but I'm not sure
that the biological analogy is being taken a little too far.

E.B. Tylor in 1871 defined culture as:  "That complex whole which
includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom and any other
capabilities and habits acquired by [people] as members of society."

Culture is actively taught and learned by members of society; this is
the process of acculturation.  An anology here, which may make cultural
evolution seem Darwinian, may be to see mistakes in the process as
mutations.  It is possible to imagine a variety of ways in which mistakes
can be made when culture is transmitted from one generation to the next.

If we couple the abilities and idiosyncracies of both the teacher and the
learner, it is possible that a tremendous amount of individual variation
in beleifs is created.  It is also possible that groups of learners who
share a common teacher and other learning variables would produce some
kind of "variety" of cultural beliefs.  It is also possible that the
probability of producing any given error is independent of its fitness.

I studied at Cornell, and was therefore influenced by Hockett, so my
readiness to accept Chomsky's structuralism is inhibited.  On the other
hand, Levi-Strauss has been applying structuralism to culture for some
time.  Tylor long ago suggested that the ways in which humans could
solve problems is limited, which would result in duplications across
geographical regions and which would not be related to diffusion.

spencer turkel


<11:113>From FBIO2024@ALTAIR.SELU.EDU  Mon Jul 18 11:38:34 1994

Date: Mon, 18 Jul 1994 11:39:23 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Re: Subspecies, myths, and cabbages
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: Southeastern Louisiana University

Many thanks to Bob O'Hara and Peter Stevens for some early history on
subspecies. It is interesting that as a zoologist, my search has been
confined to the zoological literature. How narrow of me. But anyway,
here is another tidbit about the origins of "subspecies". Apparently
the first usage of a trinomial in conjunction with the label or
category subspecies was by H. Schlegel in 1844 in a description
of variation in a group of birds.

Brian I. Crother fbio2024@selu.edu


<11:114>From BONN@nickel.laurentian.ca  Mon Jul 18 11:47:30 1994

Date: Mon, 18 Jul 1994 12:43:59 -0500 (EST)
From: "Bonnie Blackwell, (519)253-4232x2502" <BONN@nickel.laurentian.ca>
Subject: Re: Materials for a course in History of Genetics
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

may i ask how you define the word historigraphy?  how does that differ
from history?
a nonhistorian


<11:115>From dringe@unagi.cis.upenn.edu  Mon Jul 18 18:30:07 1994

To: Darwin-L@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: historical linguistics
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 1994 19:31:24 EDT
From: Don Ringe <dringe@unagi.cis.upenn.edu>

Dear Colleagues--  Since the matter's been raised on this list, I think readers
ought to be aware that most linguists' rejection of the claims of Greenberg and
Ruhlen is based on solid principles; it isn't a matter of prejudice, nor does
it reflect an inability to think straight.  For example, many take issue with
G & R's methodology because the inexact method of comparison they use makes it
impossible to determine whether the similarities on which they base their
claims of language relationship are significantly greater than could reasonably
have arisen by chance alone.  Professor Greenberg, at least, has been
confronted with this objection repeatedly (in several different versions), but
his published responses don't seem to address it (cf. e.g. the exchange in
*Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society* 137 (1993), No. 1, pp.
79-109).  G & R do say explicitly that the likelihood of chance resemblances is
so vanishingly small that it can safely be ignored; those who wish to evaluate
that claim might begin by examining the math on which it is based (laid out in
*Scientific American*, Nov. 1992, p. 98).
I emphasize that the reasons most of us reject G & R's work aren't arcane; if
you work through the first few chapters of an elementary text on applied
probability theory (up through the point at which the binomial coefficient is
introduced) and learn a little basic old-fashioned phonology (the phoneme,
phonotactics, and the distribution of phonemes), you've got all the tools you
need to judge for yourself.  --Don Ringe, Linguistics, U. of Pennsylvania


<11:116>From dringe@unagi.cis.upenn.edu  Mon Jul 18 19:31:25 1994

To: Darwin-L@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 1994 20:32:42 EDT
From: Don Ringe <dringe@unagi.cis.upenn.edu>

Dear Colleagues--  This is a correction to my previous posting.  I did not mean
to say that Greenberg & Ruhlen's method actually makes it *impossible* to
determine whether the similarities they're finding are significantly greater-
than-chance; I meant to say that *they* have not been able to show that those
similarities are significantly greater-than-chance.  I will try to be more
careful about how I put things.  --Don Ringe


<11:117>From kent@darwin.eeb.uconn.edu  Tue Jul 19 06:55:00 1994

Date: Tue, 19 Jul 94 07:56:52 EDT
From: kent@darwin.eeb.uconn.edu (Kent Holsinger)
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re:  historical linguistics

The recent debate about Greenberg and Ruhlen's methodology prompted me to
wonder if historical linguist's critique of G & R has any parallel in
evolutionary biology.  I think there is one.  Let me describe it briefly
and see whether the linguists here agree.

Suppose we have a sample of genetic data from N populations.  To keep things
simple, let's suppose the data consists of allele frequency estimates at a
series of independently inherited loci.  With this data it is possible to
calculate the similarity or difference between any pair of populations.  It
doesn't make any difference which of the several measures of similarity or
difference we use, so let's assume that we have calculated Nei's genetic
distance between all N(N-1)/2 pairs of populations.  Evolutionists have
commonly used distance measures of this sort to reconstruct the phylogenetic
relationships among the set of N populations.

Joe Felsenstein pointed out over 10 years ago, however, that there is a
potential problem with this procedure.  For *any* pattern of pairwise
genetic distances two different types of explanation are possible:

   (1) The least distant populations have the most recent common ancestor
       and the most distant populations have the least recent common
       ancestor, i.e., the pattern of distance reflects the pattern of
       historical relationship among the set of populations.
   (2) The least distant populations exchange individuals more frequently
       than the most distant populations, and individuals that are
       incorporated into a new population are able to reproduce there, i.e.,
       the pattern of distance reflects the frequency with which populations
       exchange genes.

Felsentstein showed that with allele frequency data alone it is not possible
to distinguish (1) from (2).  In fact, it's not possible to distinguish either
(1) or (2) from an appropriate combination of the two either.  To distinguish
(1) from (2) requires either evidence that the populations are not
reproductively compatible or additional data about the historical relationships
of the alleles.

It appears to me that the dispute between G & R and other historical linguists,
basing my opinion only on what I've read here, centers on the question of
whether similarity in vocabulary among languages is a result of (1) or (2).
G & R seem to assert that the similarity they find is a result of (1) while
most other historical linguists assert either that the data G & R present
does not allow (1) to be distinguished from (2) or that (2) is a better
explanation of the similarities G & R find.

Is that a reasonable summary of the dispute?  Is the disagreement between
G & R and other historical linguists similar to the disagreements among
biologists about when (whether) distance methods can be used to uncover
historical relationships?

-- Kent

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


<11:118>From PICARD@VAX2.CONCORDIA.CA  Tue Jul 19 11:00:02 1994

Date: Tue, 19 Jul 1994 11:59:30 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: On the shoulders of giants
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

	I'd like to thank everyone whos responded, either privately or on
the list, to my query about a comment I thought Einstein had made about
standing on the shoulders of giants. Although one respondent mentioned that
the quote was from the introductory chapter to ALBERT EINSTEIN: PHILOSOPHER
SCIENTIST (and that's probably where I saw it long ago), it seems clear
that it was Newton who said: "If I have seen farther than others, it is
because I have stood on the shoulders of giants".
	It is also clear that the imagery was not originally his, as a few
people pointed out. For example, there was Robert Burton's "a dwarf standing
on the shoulders of giants may see further than a giant himself" Bernard
de Chartres' "we, like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, can see more and
farther, not because we are keener and taller, but because of the greatness
by which we are carried and exalted", and Lucan's "pygmies placed on the
shoulders of giants see more than the giants themselves"

Marc Picard


<11:119>From dringe@unagi.cis.upenn.edu  Tue Jul 19 11:58:38 1994

To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: historical lx
Date: Tue, 19 Jul 1994 12:59:54 EDT
From: Don Ringe <dringe@unagi.cis.upenn.edu>

Dear Colleagues--  Many thanks to Kent Holsinger for his interesting posting.
Our collective disagreement with many "long-range" language comparatists
(including, but not limited to, Prof. Greenberg and Ruhlen) actually goes
deeper than that:  we're saying that the methods they use cannot distinguish
between homologous and analogous characters (!).  At issue, of course, is how
to identify homologous characters in comparative/historical linguistics.  The
standard criteria are very strict; many "long rangers" insist that they are too
strict.  The rest of us are not convinced.
Further, I'm suggesting that the problem goes even deeper than *that*.  I'm
saying that no long-range comparatist has even shown cogently that the
similarities on which his or her proposal of relationship are based are
distinguishable from random noise.  This is not a positive claim--that is, I'm
not claiming that the similarities adduced in, say *Language in the Americas*
are demonstrably well within the expected random range; I'm saying that *we
don't know yet*, and before any long-range claims can be taken seriously their
proponents must at least show that the evidence adduced passes this minimal
test of plausibility.  That seems unobjectionable to me, but it's met with a
great deal of resistance.
But the most interesting thing in the whole picture is that, according to
(admittedly primitive) preliminary tests, the linguistic similarities on which
the standard methods are based do pass the basic "greater-than-chance" test of
plausibility.  So far as I know, standard "Neogrammarian" methods were not
devised with that in mind, so this limited finding amounts to independent
corroboration that the standard methods are at least getting at *something* in
the raw data (not that any of us doubted it).
I say "so far as I know" because of an interesting historical quirk:  one of
the Neogrammarian generation, Hermann Grassmann, was also an eminent
mathematician.  Does anybody know whether his work reveals cross-fertilization
of his two fields?
Cheers!  --Don Ringe


<11:120>From GGALE@VAX1.UMKC.EDU  Tue Jul 19 12:40:30 1994

Date: Tue, 19 Jul 1994 12:40:35 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Totally germane discussion from LINGUIST (LINGUIST@TAMVM1.TAMU.EDU)
 forwarded by ggale@vax1.umkc.edu
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

Date: Mon, 18 Jul 94 12:45 GMT
From: James M Scobbie <SPSCOB@main.queen-margaret-college.ac.uk>
Subject: linguistics in the media and endangered languages

You might be interested to know that about 10 minutes, a third,
of BBC Radio 4's Science Now was devoted to endangered languages,
featuring interviews with (sorry, I have no names) a prof from
an Australian uni, and an editor of the world linguistic atlas.
(Tuesday July 12th 1994)

I thought it was significant that the topic of language loss
and endangerment was addressed in the science slot. The discussion
centred on the metaphor of mass extinction, and the loss to
science of the raw materials of study. Some thought was given to
the practical: a museum approach to moribund languages and
I guess 'social' help for endangered languages by governments
and intergovernmental agencies to encourage child learners. There
were some numbers mentioned about loss and some speculation about
the maximum number of languages spoken ever (15,000). The loss
of 1000 languages in the next century out of 6,500 was mentioned,
I think, and I think this was said to be similar to the last
century. Shrinking jungle pockets were conjoured up, but
explicitly mentioned were the fate of minority
european languages and the perceived economic pressures of being
monolingual English speaking in Australia, say.

There was one main thing I wanted to bring up, apart from
just reporting this pleasing 'popularisation of linguistics'
('linguistics' despite the fact that
there was no discussion about what linguistic diversity *is*,
or what any of these languages was *like*). The metaphor of mass
extinction really works. Scientists, and the lay public,
understand what is meant by a loss of 10% or 20% of all species in
a 100 year time frame, and they are horrified by the prospect.
This is something we can really use to get people interested
in the actual structures of the languages that in the abstract
they are getting concerned about.

It was expressed that the loss of linguistic diversity is like a
reduction in the gene pool, and consequently weakens all our
(linguistic) lives and (linguistic) potentials
as human beings. First, note how different this is from the idea
often expressed in the media of 'if only we all
spoke the same language...'. Second, it
struck me as an metaphor some linguists would be very uncomfortable
with. At first hearing, I thought the comparison basically said
'language-determines-thought' in that a lesser diversity of language
determines less diverse thought 'available' to us (ie a species).
Of course, I gave an involuntary alveolar click or two at the way
the programme was heading. (ie I disapproved)

Then I caught myself and took the metaphor in a more professional way:
without diversity we (ie linguists) cannot get to the cognitive core of
language, because we'd mistake typological accident with cognitive
cause. But no, I don't think the comment was offered in this spirit.
My initial appreciation was closer to the mark, though I think I was
pigeon-holing the argument in a familiar way.

This led me to think more about my knee-jerk reaction, a common one instilled
into linguistics students against Sapir-Whorf straw men, a disdain
for all comments that might be taken to imply that language
determines thought.

People (students) always like the notion, and are quite happy with a
weakish version of it. Linguists* often seem to be fighting against it.
I think instead us linguists should be using the accessible
gene-pool diversity metaphor to our advantage. At the very least
typlogically diverse languages broaden our
understanding of what a human language can be, and indicate
what aspects of 'thought' can be grammaticalised. This the lay public
can understand, and are predisposed to respond to it favourably...
I feel that the public can be convinced that a mass extinction
of languages is a bad thing and requires action (money), even if
they don't know FA about linguistics. And perhaps they'll
even get a little interested. And perhaps, even if language doesn't
strictly determine thought, knowledge of language
can!  The fewer languages there are to know, the worse off we are.

* in my experience of 'formal' linguistics in early undergrad classes
where the student learns the position against a misrepresented Sapir-Whorf.
These are the classes that tens of thousands of university students go
to, remember.

Darwin-L Message Log 11: 94-120 -- July 1994                                End

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