Evolution and Grammaticalization (2)

Salinas17 at aol.com Salinas17 at aol.com
Wed Mar 1 01:55:41 UTC 2006

In a message dated 2/28/06 1:19:35 PM, phonosemantics at earthlink.net writes:
<< Things aren't as random as all that- each new generation takes its cue 
from the prior one, however imperfectly. This means there is already a 'memory' 
of prior selection.  >>

Of course, new generations take biological "cues" from prior ones - that's 
exactly what genetics is.  And of course there's a memory of prior selection -- 
that's exactly what genes are.  But non-mutating genes could not produce the 
diversity of evolution.  We'd all be unicellular if it wasn't for mutation.

Yes, from all the evidence we have, things ARE THAT random in biological 
evolution -- unless you are talking about something non-naturalistic like 
intelligent design.  Even organism that appear to induce mutations (those that "have 
evolved to evolve") are not using any other means than accelerated random 

In contrast, the larva may turn into a butterfly without randomly mutating, 
but that controlled morphological change is not evolution, but a product of 
evolution.  All the examples you give, as far as I can tell, go to complexity.  
Traits held in reserve reflect nothing more than the evolution of organisms 
that hold traits in reserve.  None of this contradicts randomness as the 
generating engine of diversity.

The choice is basic.  Either there is randomness or there is some 
intentionality intervening that generates variations.  The only way to make raw 
biological evolution and language evolution congruent is to say that either language 
changes are all randomly generated or that the expansion of biological diversity 
on this planet was somehow intentional.

This brings us back to "unidirectionality" and functionalism.  If changes in 
language are fundamentally driven by the intentions of individual humans, 
wherefrom the uni- in unidirectionality?  The answer is the common objectives of 
those intentions -- what humans have in common to SPEAK ABOUT, i.e., 
communication.   We probably should assume that the rules of effective information 
exchange are at least as rigid as putting up a barn.  There is not a lot of wiggle 

And "growth" in grammar was probably driven by the same intentionality that 
morphed neolithic wagons into Ferraris, or megaphones into cellphones.  But, of 
course, where local objectives in language might diverge, we'd expect to see 
Dan's Pirahas, or Homer mysteriously calling a blue Aegean sea, "wine-dark."  

We technically should not call any of this "evolution."

Steve Long

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