Monogenesis and "simple Darwinian grounds"

Michael C. Morrison 8-543-4706 mmorrison at VNET.IBM.COM
Sat Jan 31 16:50:18 UTC 1998

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
*** Reply to note of Fri, 30 Jan 1998 13:24:02 -0500 (EST)
*** by mcv at
I have to say that this subject is endlessly fascinating, but I also
have to ask, what's the point?  Almost by definition, we will not
know the answers to the questions it raises or the uncertainties
Miguel lists.  Consider current historical linguistic knowledge
and supposition:
 - All spoken languages extant today are descended from some prior
   language.  Many of these prior languages are no longer represented
   by any other current usage.  For example, modern Italian can be said
   to have descended from either Latin or a cousin to Latin; neither
   Latin nor a reputed cousin is in use today by native speakers.
 - Most (if not all) historical data we have about modern languages
   comes from the written record as presented to us through history
   or archaeology.  At most, this written record gives us insight
   into language as used maybe 8000 years ago.
 - Comparative work has given us much data about languages that
   predate the written record.  This data is by no means certain,
   but for some language families, we have some consensus about the
   proto language, for example, proto-Indo-European.  But even these
   proto languages only extend our view of the past by another few
   thousand years or so.
So at the best, our current knowledge of our earliest languages only
takes us back 10, maybe 15, thousand years.  What about the other
85,000 years of human language (assuming humans developed language
about 100,000 years ago, as seems probable -- unproven, but likely)?
Can we ever know about these truly ancient languages?  If the answer
is 'no', then the whole monogenesis v. polygenesis argument becomes an
exercise in philosophy, not in linguistics.  If the answer is 'yes',
then we can solve the problem because we will have found either one
superfamily for all languages or several superfamilies.
Personally, I don't believe we will be able to reconcile the many
language families of today to a degree that will answer the genesis
question.  Based on the data with which we have to work, I doubt
any overarching superfamily will be accepted by the field as a
whole, and so the debate will continue.  Sigh
Michael C. Morrison   Santa Teresa Laboratory      Phone (408)463-4706
IMS User Technology   IBM Software Solutions       Fax   (408)463-3696
Lotus Notes ID:       MCMORRIS at IBMUSM50   IBMLink:  MORRISON at TORIBM
Internet ID:          MMORRISON at VNET.IBM.COM  or  USIB47H4 at IBMMAIL.COM
IBM Mail Exchange:    USIB47H4 at IBMMAIL     or   USIB4MCM at IBMMAIL
X.400 Address:        G=mcmgm; S=morrison; P=ibmmail; A=ibmx400; C=us

More information about the Histling mailing list