Modality-Independent Evolution

X99Lynx at X99Lynx at
Fri Jan 29 18:09:24 UTC 1999

In a message dated 1/29/99 3:42:35 AM, DLW wrote:

<<A language is not some sort of abstract system that develops in the ethereal
realm, free from functional considerations. >>

And the physical world is not an abstract system, but physics is.
Linguistics, like any discipline, limits its purview to handle a manageable
and pertinent number of variables.  Within this scope, it shows admirable
predictive power.

<<Language is constrained and influenced by external forces, such as
the need for clear perception and for "ease of articulation".>>

That's just a small start.  Language is a cultural, a biological and a
physical event.  And a full functional analysis brings into play all the
consequences of anyone speaking language, anywhere.  And that includes not
only the effects on the world and others and on oneself but also the context
in which they happen.  And there probably are cases where language is meant
NOT to promote either clear perception or "ease of articulation."

Once one travels beyond the methodology of linguistics, the variables one
ought to consider honestly become very large in number.

<<Biological evolution is fundamentally conservative, as it must be.>>

Just read some new work coming out of the fact that there are 10million to
100million viruses in a single teaspoon of ocean water, with over 600,000
species (if you'd call them that.)  There may be more animal life at the
bottom of the sea than there is on the surface of the earth.  There may be as
many as 1,000 new microbe species created every day.

The number one consequence of evolution is biological diversity.  The
mechanism of genetics attempts to conserve forms from one generation to the
next.  Over the long run, it has been no match for evolution.  Or we'd all be
unicellular microbes right now.  That was the point of Origin of the Species.

<<...but fundamentally the basis for any new entity is the old entity,
biological or linguistic.>>

That is somewhat true, but the mechanisms are entirely different.  In between
the old and new - there is much more that goes on in biology.  A word, not
being an entity or a species, does not have to go through natural selection to
emerge differently.

<<Using Darwian rather than Lamarckian ways of thinking does not
help at all in the difficult business of sorting out which traits are
archaisms and which are innovations.>>

But it does.  Culture is Lamarckian.  Traits can be passed on in less than a
lifetime and can be the result of intention.  There is no intention in natural
selection, only a continuous output of diversity.  Innovations and "archaisms"
are all the same to evolution - there is no sorting out between them.

<<They just had no way of knowing that the trait in question was an

I don't know the study.  But recorded cases of stripes showing up in horses
are called "avatars" and have to do with generations-skipping recessive traits
in genes.  If the stripes are archaic, it would probably mean they came from a
common ancestor, but may have skipped many generations (in horses or zebra
ancestors.)  Its either that or parallel development - e.g., bats and birds
both have wings, but their common ancestor did not.  Wings developed
independently in both.  One or the other.  Nothing more.

<<It was DNA studies that led to the conclusion that "there is no such thing
as zebras"...>>

Quite to the contrary, there are still zebras.  They may just no longer
qualify as a species.

[ Moderator's comment:
  I think they qualify as 3 species, but not a single genus.  But I'm not a
  biologist, I'm a linguist, so I must state that this is a provisional, if
  moderately informed, opinion.
  --rma ]

<<"the intergrade problem">>  This is a taxonomic problem.  It doesn't affect
the analysis of descent.  Hybrids do this all the time and in them it is a
genetic matter.

The comparison of biological evolution to language studies probably has much
validity, but its hard to see how it directly affects linguistics, which
applies a special but different methodology and for good reasons.

Steve Long

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