LINGUIST List 13.2673

Wed Oct 16 2002

Disc: Darwinism & Evolution of Language

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Nemonemini, Re: 13.2645, Disc: Darwinism & Evolution of Language
  2. Andy Wilcox, Disc: Darwinism & Evolution of Language

Message 1: Re: 13.2645, Disc: Darwinism & Evolution of Language

Date: Wed, 16 Oct 2002 12:43:47 EDT
From: Nemonemini <>
Subject: Re: 13.2645, Disc: Darwinism & Evolution of Language

> Part of your argument is invalid; evolution as seen by Darwinism or
> Evolution Theory is not simply "random genetic evolution", but
> mutation AND selection. The former is random, the latter obviously
> not.
Thank you for the replies. I will first respond to one point here. 

Over and over I met this objection about the term 'random'. I will
post a webpage on the matter. It is partly from the work of Richard
Dawkins that this distinction arises. Now it is considered as a result
that while mutation is random, natural selection is non-random. ?! If
that's the way you define it, fine. But what does this mean? It simply
means that selection, I would take it, is seen as 'envrionmentally
de-randomized'. The issue of 'random evolution' is left untouched by
this revised terminology. You can't have you cake and eat it too, in
this case. Otherwise we should claim, as I do claim, non-genetic
directional processes for evolution, while Dawkins would emphatically
not claim. The point is clarified perhaps in the introduction to
S. Kauffman's At Home in the Universe, where 'chance and necessity'
are distinguished. If there is some unknown factor of necessity in the
large to evolution, in any regard, then this will de-randomize the
overall pattern of evolution. That's not the same as the 'non-random'
aspect of natural selection, which is not likely to leave a
large-scale non-random pattern of this type.

I make this claim about non-random patterning in world history on the
basis of historical data, then infer from the putative overlap of
'history and evolution' that something is missing in accounts of the
descent of man. And if history is any guide it is a truly difficult
aspect of evolution. For it requires both the large scale and the
short, very short, range.
Thus the question of 'non-random natural selection' was not the
substance of the original use of the term 'random' by Darwin critics,
as in 'random evoluton'. To say that natural selection is non-random
does not mean that evolution overall is non-random. The latter means
that something very large scale on the order of genuine
'macroevolution' is a factor. That is hard to detect, and very hard to
analyze. But it is NOT very hard to detect the existence of such a
thing in the short range of world history. A strong claim. The model
does in fact provide such evidence. It is hard to deal with such a
large data set, yet this is a mere five thousand year stretch, and, to
be sure, at a very late stage of evolution. We don't normally consider
this evolution at all. But the case is very strong that it
is. However this induces a basic 'reality' question. It is not so much
that we see linguistic evolution, as that we see there is a complex
component to the core questions of 'cultural evolution' that is macro.

In terms of history, to say that history shows a non-random pattern
(as my own material on world history) is a statement beyond even the
level of genetics. We see indirect evidence of long range processes.
It is hard to avoid this conclusion after adopting careful
periodization analysis of the known civilizational sequence in its
mainline. This shows clear 'de-randomization', i.e. things just take
off on a centuries level cue or tempo. That's devastating. Darwinism
assumes such things could not exist and defaults to
'causal-sequential' reductionist genetics. Such evolution is real in
any case, but its claim to exclusivity becomes highly questionable.

But, as to history, we can see large-scale, fast tempo, macro
accelerants at the centuries. But abstract system dynamics,
independent of place and period, returning in hopscotch sequences.
This is the worst case scenario for Darwinists. At least it has flavor
of naturalistic processes. The question of linguistics arises from
the clear correlation of sudden literary phenomena in the basic macro
tempo. You can say that's purely culural and not organismic, but I
doubt if that is the real issue.

The material of the eonic model needs amplification. I will post
additional commentary to make this strange form of basically simple
periodization-analysis clearer. 

Thank you for your comments.

John Landon
Website on the eonic effect
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Message 2: Disc: Darwinism & Evolution of Language

Date: Wed, 16 Oct 2002 20:21:02 +0300
From: Andy Wilcox <>
Subject: Disc: Darwinism & Evolution of Language

It may be politeness that has prevented anyone from pointing out the 
literature that grew up in the 1990s on language origins and evolution, 
in most of which some kind of Darwinian perspective is taken for 
granted. Anyone wanting to read the literature could work backwards from 
Knight C, M Studdart-Kennedy & J R Hurford (eds), 2000, The Evolutionary 
Emergence of Language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, a volume 
itself full of fascinating speculations on the matter. 

One comment:
Brian Drayton wrote
... what we can talk about in Darwinian terms is the evolution of
the language faculty, not the evolution of cultures or particular
languages etc, which are incredibly complex and in aspects" Lamarkian"
in general style.

Yes, absolutely. It's essential to distinguish between the "evolution
of the language faculty", (or, "the origin of language/of UG"), and
the subsequent evolution of languages and their associated cultures.
However, if one takes a gradualist view of language origins, then the
line between these gets blurred, as there have been sufficient
generations for developing language itself to form part of the
changing ecology within which physiological evolution took place. Not
that we can accept Lamarque's direct biological inheritance of
acquired characteristics, but it's worth thinking about Baldwinian
inheritance, in which an adaptive behaviour of which some organisms
are better capable than others is passed on along with the genes that
gave some members of the species an aptitude for the behaviour. See
Terence Deacon's The Symbolic Species, a model of what a popular
science book should be, and one to recommend to non-linguist friends
who might otherwise have read only The Language Instinct.

Andrew Wilcox 
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