Further biological/linguistic parallels?

jess tauber phonosemantics at earthlink.net
Tue Mar 28 20:43:14 UTC 2006

Another possible parallel between biological and linguistic processes was brought to mind today by another newsfeed piece- 'Scientists Discover Interplay Between Genes And Viruses In Tiny Ocean Plankton' (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060328083400.htm).

Apparently in the ocean lower planktonic species are constantly updating their genetic makeup not just through random mutation or sexual exchange, but by massive turnover mediated by seaborne viruses. One big happy genetic near-continuum.

In a way, this very much resembles the sorts of areal clusters of (politically independent) languages (such as in the North American Pacific Northwest, or aboriginal Australia) that can wreak havoc with nice clean historical genetic analyses, where form/structure borrowing may be extreme. 

The organisms in question are not known for very sophisticated immunity-type reactions to outside gene insertion, unlike higher ones that get most of their variability from internal recombination and mutation. But this adds tp a point I tried to make in earlier posts that the big generalized 'cosmopolitan' societies tend to internally differentiate and thus control their own development- whereas smaller specialized ones tend to be more at the mercy of outside forces. 

Other factors such as environmental compartmentalization, may also contribute to continuum/isolation effects which in linguistics can be modeled using areal groupings versus branching tree models.

Jess Tauber
phonosemantics at earthlink.net

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