Blog Rating

Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

« Cheep! Cheep! | Main | Progress or Rut? (Part Two) »



Well, the question here is, "What is evolution?" If we define evolution as involving a genetic change, then of course Bickerton is right since some kind of genetic mutation made language as we have it today possible, regardless of whether its immediate predecessor was very different or only minimally different. I think all Bickerton is saying is that language change over time (say from Old English to Modern English) isn't the result of change at the genetic level. If this were not so, we'd expect to see far greater qualitative linguistic diversity than we see. I think everyone in linguistics and biology would agree. So, strictly speaking 'evolution' isn't involved in diachronic language change.

But that doesn't mean that evolution's partner natural selection isn't involved. In fact, Salikoko Mufwene has made this argument nicely in his book "The Ecology of Language Evolution." He argues that Darwinian processes are active in determining how languages change and which languages win or lose in multi-lingual situations. I recommend the book.

Gordon Worley

Of course, part of the problem here is equivocating on "evolution" as TLTB says. "Evolution" comes from Latin "evolvere", to unroll, and it wasn't until recently that it came to have a scientific meaning [ ]. The trouble is that although people rarely say "evolve" to mean "unroll" anymore, they do use it in a sense that is conflated with Darwinian differential reproduction with inherited modification. My guess is that, like many people who have never learned much about population genetics, the researchers mentioned in this post don't really understand Darwinian evolution, but some folk idea of evolution that partially overlaps with the technical meaning. Thus, what they are saying is probably irrelevant, because they aren't even talking about the same thing as us, and I would further venture that if they really understood evolution they wouldn't make such elementary mistakes.
BLOGGER: "they aren't even talking about the same thing as us" I wonder who us are.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Bookmark and Share

Your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz

Visitor Data

Blog powered by Typepad