Re: memetic speciation? [was what's in a meme]

Bill Benzon (
Fri, 20 Jun 1997 07:11:56 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 20 Jun 1997 07:11:56 -0500
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: Re: memetic speciation? [was what's in a meme]

If Price asks:

>Is there a good accessible referenc eon the subject?

Merritt Rulen, A Guide to the World's Languages: Volume 1: Classification,
Standford U Press, 1991.

This books has a complete taxonomy and an appendix discussing
Cavalli-Sforza's work.

Theodora Bynon, Historical Linguistics, Cambridge U Press, 1977

This volume explains methodology.

>I am just starting
>trying to explore what has or has not been written on linguistic taxonomy/
>non taxonomy. I don't see especially after John Wilkins observations on
>plant species that linguistic cross pollination lower down the hierarchy
>renders a taxonomic approach invalid.
What the tree says is that a given linguistic species has one parent
species -- that's how trees are constructed. But, many linguistic species
clearly have contributions by many parent species. Of course, not all of
these contributions are equally important (and just how would one estimate
the importance of a contribution, from a distribution of sources). My
point, at a minimum, is that the tree simply doesn't represent the genetic
relationships which in fact exist between languages.

Now consider culture in general. During the late middle ages a book on
mathematics made its way from the Islamic world to Europe. This book
codified the so-called Arabic numeral system and the calculation procedures
based on it. That system is much better than the Roman system and is, in
fact, the system we use today. I doubt that the modern world would be
possible without that calculation system. So, it has been trememdously
important in the development of European cultures over the last several
centuries. But, in the context of all the memes afloat in medieveal
Europe, that's just one meme-complex among many.

If we do large-scale memetics like comparative linguists to linguistics,
then the geneological relationship between modern scientific cultures and
the New East may well be obscured. That's the kind of problem I'm
concerned about.

William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A
Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA

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