Tom Givon tgivon at
Tue May 31 21:49:09 UTC 2005

With all due respect, taking evolution, especially of social species, to
be a matter of purely accidents (random mutations) is not the most
sophisticated approach to evolution, nor the one favored by (at least
most) evolutionary psychologists. The late great Ernst Mayr said is best:
"(adaptive) behavior is the pace-maker of evolution". And adaptive
behavior, a constant factor in selection, is not random, but rather
purposive, thus in a clear way 'intentional' (if mostly non-conscious).
There is a wonderful recent book by Boyd & Richerson on cultural
evolution "Not by genes alone" (U. Chicago, 2005). I shows that there is
no principled contrast between biological and cultural evolution. This
'continuum' position is the most standard one in EP today--that culture
is an extension of biological evolution, that it is just as adaptive (tho
obviouly more complex), and that it is much older than humanity. By the
same token, biology didn't cease with human culture. The two consitute a
finely blended continuum, and trying to erect a barrier somewhewre in the
middle is but another Cartesian/Platonic exercise.

By the way, Dan, with all my great admiration to Aristotle as the founder
of adaptive biology, empirical political science, pragmatics, and even
(according to at least one expert) also the founder of
socio-biology/evolutionary psychology, I still find nothing in his
treatment of language that transcends the logic of The Categories and
thand the Posterior Analytic, nor the structuralism of De
Interpretatione. If you want to find arguments for "language as a natural
(physis) phenomenon rather than as an arbitrary (nomos) one", you can
find it in Socrates' position in Plato's Cratylus. It is not clear
whether Plato side with Socrates (physis) or Cratylus (nomos). And
Cratylus position is essentially the same as Aristotle's De
Interpretatione (nomos).

Best,  TG

Daniel Everett wrote:

> I don't disagree terribly with Steve Long's post. But since the
> 'truth' of whatever Aristotle or Plato proposed is largely past its
> 'sell-by' date, I think their value is mainly as inspiring this or
> that programme, with the interpretation that best fits this or that
> individual's reading. Not a lot of precision to get worked up about
> for the most part.
> I do agree with Steve's last line strongly: "When we look at function
> however, that blur disappears.  What so-called
> "evolutionary psychology" does not understand is the compelling power
> of culture
> and intentionality.  Whatever accident allowed human language, the
> history of
> language since than has hardly been been accidental, in the precise
> sense that
> biological evolution is driven by the accidental."
> There is a large article appearing on some of these issues in this
> summer's edition of Current Anthropology, with commentaries by
> several eminent anthropologists and psychologists/psycholinguists. A
> near-final version of the paper (sans the commentaries and my reply)
> can be downloaded from my website. Basically, my point is that
> language evolution is on-going and heavily influenced by culture.
> Dan Everett
> ---------------------------------------------
> Daniel L. Everett
> Professor of Phonetics & Phonology
> School of Languages, Linguistics, and Cultures
> University of Manchester
> Manchester M13 9PL UK
> Fax: +44 (0) 161 275 3031.
> Phone: + 44 (0) 161 275 3158
> "It does not seem likely, therefore, that there is any direct
> relation between the culture of a tribe and the language they speak,
> except in so far as the form of the language will be moulded by the
> state of the culture, but not in so far as a certain state of the
> culture is conditioned by morphological traits of the language." Boas
> (1911,59ff)

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