LINGUIST List 13.2704

Sun Oct 20 2002

Disc: Darwinism & Evolution of Lang

Editor for this issue: Renee Galvis <>


  1. H.M. Hubey, Re: 13.2673, Disc: Darwinism & Evolution of Language
  2. Nemonemini, Re: 13.2673, Disc: Darwinism & Evolution of Language

Message 1: Re: 13.2673, Disc: Darwinism & Evolution of Language

Date: Thu, 17 Oct 2002 11:41:29 -0400
From: H.M. Hubey <>
Subject: Re: 13.2673, Disc: Darwinism & Evolution of Language

>Date: Wed, 16 Oct 2002 12:43:47 EDT
>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

Actually this is simply a matter of definition. It goes like this:

random + deterministic = random
random*deterministic = random

The former is "additive noise" and the latter "multiplicative noise",
and both are random. "Random" is not equal to "uniforrmly random",
thus one can find broadbrush patterns in random phenomena.
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Message 2: Re: 13.2673, Disc: Darwinism & Evolution of Language

Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2002 09:42:46 EDT
From: Nemonemini <>
Subject: Re: 13.2673, Disc: Darwinism & Evolution of Language

In a message dated 10/16/2002 11:17:15 PM Eastern Daylight Time, writes:

> 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.

Thanks for the references for what I am sure is a lot of interesting
material emerging on the actual data of the evolution of
language. That's the first priority, what actually did happen? How did
language evolve? This 'eonic model' is, from one point of view,
strictly isolated to its data in world history, but its implications
for the evolution of language spring from a basic challenge to current
thinking springing from the realization that 'evolution' of the type
seen in the eonic effect is operating on a scale and with an effect
far surpassing what we might expect from reductionist assumptions.

The periodization model offered forces the issue here. It is like
accounting. There is a discrepancy found in the direct patterning of
the data at a rough three century interval compared to the whole data
set of five thousand years of recorded history. Things happen, and
they happen fast, and they happen via creative renewals of individuals
who just appear, but within definable ranges. The accounting shows
that with respect to the intervals indicated this process in
non-random therefore.

For we can see that, just as an example, the sudden flowering of an
immense linguistic-cultural heritage, the Greek, shows a macro factor
we hadn't suspected. We have been so distracted by confusions over the
parallel Judaic with its theistic historicisms that we have retreated
to a foxhole and failed to see what the less controversial and
non-spiritualized example of Greek history shows plainly, sequence
clustering of fast advance.

This raises a problem of considerable complexity. There are many ways
to get confused here. How do we explain the dispersed yet coherent
cultural crescendo of linguistic-artistic phenomena in the Greek
example starting with the Greek Archaic and proceeding through the
Classical? The method to highlight the phenomenon does not fully
explicate its implications, one of which is that linguistic phenomena
are closely integrated with their meaningful cultural-mythological
content. More than that, the effect is across-the-board, i.e. we see
in the exact time-frame indicated the parallel emergence of political,
proto-scientific and philosophical achievements, then the birth of
democracy from Greek city-state republics.

In general, we have something that requires a second look, if the
methodology could be developed. That is, the linguistic history of
Greek in this time-frame. From the crude accounts in Linear B, and the
probable backward extension of Homeric verse to this era, no doubt, we
are suddenly in the midst of a nearly instant jumpt to the stylistic
profundity of, for example, Platonic prose. This is all inaccountable
on the scale indicated. Note that there are two evolutions here,
e.g. the slow outstanding entry stream of the Homeric type of bardic
tradition, and the sudden transformation as the stream crosses the
phase boundary. This model attempts the unified account of both slow
and fast 'evolutions'. It is this factor of 'relative
transformations', and the resulting issue of temporal streams and
eonic sequence, that is the sticking point, one that confuses all
analysis. This indicates in general the pivot point of action is an
integrated and very abstract parameter spectrum at a very subtle level
indeed. Early linguistic evolution might well have shown somesuch
integrated 'evolution' of language in relation to 'song and dance',
but that is speculative, of course. It is good to be wary with such
analysis. We simply lack methods to deal with such issues.

But if I read essays about the Great explosion, cultural and
linguistic, in the Paleolithic, I find a tantalizing suggestion that
this kind of massive sudden advance is characteristic all the way
through. I cannot take these statements any further without hard data
at the level of centuries, however. And one would need actual
histories of a sequence of such accelerating periods. We see only the
results at ten thousand year increments, at best.

The finest grain if it is something like ten thousand years
ca. -40000, will turn into another slow-fast debate that cannot easily
be resolved until the picture becomes more detailed. There is not much
one can do with that still too fuzzy data.

The distinction of the evolution of the language faculty versus the
cultural evolution of language structures is, of course, crucial. But
the eonic model suggests the point where the two become entangled and
demand a unified theory. It can be seen more directly in what is
loosely called the evolution of ethics, a misnomer.

Darwinian and sociobiological explanations adopt extreme reductionist
thinking and wish to show the genetic factor in this, e.g. ethical
mutants on a case basis, say, the process of kin selection in the
appearance of altruism. But the problem is that altruism is merely an
isolated behavior in a range of all possible behaviors. The crucial
thing is the evolution of the 'agent' of ethical or any other
behavior, one able to act one way or another way, and for whom this
potential of multiple behaviors is the issue. This is very tricky,
because it can't mean the 'evolution of free will', so much as a
relative degree of agency against a backdrop of complete evolutionary

Clearly such an evolution is not yet complete even for modern men!

That, by a liberal sprinkling of pixie dust, suddenly lands us in the
domain of the 'evolution of freedom'. Surprisingly that may be the
crucial point where science can move. Freedom is so directly the
opposite of causality that we suspect a higher formalism of the two in
a unified theory of man's evolution. That's clearly indicated by the
eonic model.

This is the stance of the 'eonic model', and we see that 'freedom and
necessity' are more than cliches of philosphy, they have palpable
realizations that can be modelled, up to a point.

We are seeing the transition from passive evolution to (relatively)
'free' history.

This isn't an issue of free will, as such, but some element of choice
or selection of multiple potential, etc... This kind of evolution can
be clearly seen in history, where the statement 'man makes himself'
can suddenly become a question, 'does man make himself', and we see,
through the simple contrast of fast and slow periods, the elusive
driver behind the halting efforts of actual 'men making history'.

In any case, the eonic model is only that, a model. The issue is not
its full or comprehensive explanation, but as it were, an 'IF'. If the
data of world history responds to this kind of model, and does, then
we are highly suspicious that world history shows not one but two
evolutions overlaid one on the other. This stance at once clarifies
the puzzling clustering of the data we actually have since the
invention of writing and the slow accumulation of records whose
innocent clues are revealed only in retrospect, and after long

John Landon
Website on the eonic effect
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