Darwin on cultural evolution

From: derek gatherer (dgatherer2002@yahoo.co.uk)
Date: Fri 13 Feb 2004 - 13:24:31 GMT

  • Next message: Chris Taylor: "Re: Darwin on cultural evolution"

    Here's a passage from Darwin's Descent of Man 2nd Ed. Chaper 3:

    "The formation of different languages and of distinct species, and the proofs that both have been developed through a gradual process, are curiously parallel.[Sir C. Lyell in The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man, 1863, chap. xxiii] But we can trace the formation of many words further back than that of species, for we can perceive how they actually arose from the imitation of various sounds. We find in distinct languages striking homologies due to community of descent, and analogies due to a similar process of formation. The manner in which certain letters or sounds change when others change is very like correlated growth. We have in both cases the re-duplication of parts, the effects of long-continued use, and so forth. The frequent presence of rudiments, both in languages and in species, is still more remarkable. The letter m in the word am, means I; so that in the expression I am, a superfluous and useless rudiment has been retained. In the spelling also of words, letters often remain as the rudiments of ancient forms of pronunciation. Languages, like organic beings, can be classed in groups under groups; and they can be classed either naturally according to descent, or artificially by other characters. Dominant languages and dialects spread widely, and lead to the gradual extinction of other tongues. A language, like a species, when once extinct, never, as Sir C. Lyell remarks, reappears. The same language never has two birth-places. Distinct languages may be crossed or blended together.[Rev. F. W. Farrar, in an interesting article, entitled Philology and Darwinism," in Nature, March 24, 1870, p. 528] We see variability in every tongue, and new words are continually cropping up; but as there is a limit to the powers of the memory, single words, like whole languages, gradually become extinct. As Max Muller[Nature, January 6, 1870, p. 257.] has well remarked:- "A struggle for life is constantly going on amongst the words and grammatical forms in each language. The better, the shorter, the easier forms are constantly gaining the upper hand, and they owe their success to their own inherent virtue." To these more important causes of the survival of certain words, mere novelty and fashion may be added; for there is in the mind of man a strong love for slight changes in all things. The survival or preservation of certain favoured words in the struggle for existence is natural selection.

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