Re: Meme pools?/ evolution and ecology

Bill Benzon (
Mon, 23 Jun 1997 07:27:28 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 23 Jun 1997 07:27:28 -0500
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: Re: Meme pools?/ evolution and ecology

Hans-Cees Speel:
>To me language is one of the things I can not handle systematically
>in memetic theory. That is becuase words and memes, 'belong to' a
>language, but language is also many things more. I think the
>definition of what is language is so broad, it halts systematic
>thinking (at least for me).

Language is certainly tricky. I've spent a good time thinking about
semantics and favor a general class of models called cognitive or semantic
nets. A cognitive net is a directed graph where the nodes are concepts and
the edges are relations between concepts (if you don't know what a digraph
is, imagine a spider web; the strands are edges while the junctures are
nodes). In this sort of model the meaning of a concept is a function of its
position in the network. That makes is rather difficult to think of
concepts as discrete atomic units of meaning. Meaning, whatever it is, is
distributed throughout the net.

>I know languages evolve, or at least parts of it (meanings of words
>and so on). Other parts like the way we build sentences evolve much
>slower. I have no idea what the selective forces are here. Or in
>other words, what stops or pushes variation here, and the selection
>of variation.

There has been some research of the evolution of grammar (See _The
Evolution of Grammar_ by Bybee, Perkins, & Pagliuca, U Chicago Press). One
thing that seems to be going on over time is a differentiation of syntactic
functions. As for what the selective force, I'd guess it has something to
do with coherence and efficiency of linguistic process.

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

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