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Re: Linguistic and Biological Systematics

On Mon, 4 Jun 2001 Dinogeorge@aol.com wrote:

> In a message dated 6/4/01 2:03:59 PM EST, tmk@dinosauricon.com writes:
> << Unfortunately, "language" and "species" also correlate in the number and
>  frequent vagueness of their definitions and usages. But language families
>  (and subfamilies, etc.) do correspond pretty well to clades. It's kind of
>  interesting that language classification has always been cladistic. >>
> That's one reason I brought up the analogy in the first place. If we can
> agree on a classification methodology for languages (hah), then maybe we
> might also be able to agree on a classification methodology for organisms,
> using the same principles.

Well, both linguistic classification and cladistic classification agree on
the principle of monophyly, insofar as higher rankings are concerned.
(This works for language because, even though, as another member pointed
out, languages can have words derived from disparate other languages, they
still descend primarily from one other language. English may have words
derived from French, Latin, Greek, and Old Norse [I can't think of any
derived from Celtic, BTW], it's still primarily descended from
Anglo-Saxon. One good test of this: it's possible to construct a sentence
entire of Anglo-Saxon-derived words, but pretty difficult to make one only
of French-derived words, or Latin-derived words). Nobody has ever proposed
a paraphyletic grouping of languages, TMK.

But when it comes to defining lineage segments (be they languages or
species), I don't know that linguistics or biology has worked out a
robust, universally applicable definition. (My favorite definition of
"language" is "a dialect with an army and a navy".)

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