iffr762 at utxvms.cc.utexas.edu iffr762 at utxvms.cc.utexas.edu
Tue Feb 2 20:58:41 UTC 1999

[ moderator re-formatted ]

On Tue, 2 Feb 1999 X99Lynx at aol.com wrote:

> In a message dated 2/1/99 10:54:13 PM, DLW wrote:
> <<I was not talking about words, I was talking about languages.>>

> Without trying to obstruct or snipe, the parallel is still tough to draw.
> Evolution's "method" is random change.  It would be equivalent to generating
> thousands of random languages that could not survive (that don't work to
> communicate) in order to get one that does.  It would be the equivalent of
> untold numbers of random versions of, say, German that were tried and dropped
> before getting a version that survived.  (And then immediately starting the
> process all over again.)

	If "language" is more or less abstractly equivalent to "species",
then this is not a good counter-example.  We do not get thousands of
species that do not survive (not counting those that did survive for a
while but went extinct, not the same thing).  But I admit the nature of
the innovations is somewhat different.  Biology innovates through
individuals, whereas language does not so much innovate through idiolects
(the "abstract equivalent) as through simple innovations, which, to the
extent they get off the ground, are scattered across idioloects. But I
think it is a given that within any language there are many innovations
that do not "get off the ground", and thus can wind up invisible to us
strange folk who study such things.

> That was my point with saying that culture and language are Lamarckian.
> There is intentionality that guides them.  Intention guides change in a very
> different, much less explosive but much less wasteful way.  Language is aimed
> at an objective - communication.  Biological evolution however has no
> objective, does not care where its going, it just goes.

	Yes, it just goes, quite significantly constrained by various
functional considerations.  Language might be said to do the same, since
the intent of users is in effect subsumed by functional considerations:
what does not work to communicate cannot survive.


More information about the Indo-european mailing list