New Preprint on Language Evolution
I just submitted a new preprint to Humanities Commons (DOI), titled "Evolutionary Aspects of Language Evolution". The study is a contribution to a forthcoming anthology on "Evolutionary Thinking Across Disciplines", ed. by Agathe du Crest, Martina Valkovic, Philippe Huneman, and Thomas A. C. Reydon, which will appear in the Synthese Library (Springer) some time next year. This is the abstract:
While it has been known for a long time that human languages can change in various ways, it was only in the early 19th century that scholars realized that certain aspects of language change proceed in a surprisingly regular manner, allowing us to reconstruct historical stages of languages which have never been documented in written sources. The findings led to the establishment of historical linguistics as a scientific discipline, devoted to the investigation of how languages change and why. Although evolutionary thinking plays a major role in historical linguistics, practitioners often have the tendency to emphasize the peculiarities of language evolution rather than the commonalities with other kinds of evolution. In part, this seems to be justified by some phenomena for which it is difficult to find counterparts in different disciplines. In part, however, this may also due to a communication problem that is characteristic for interdisciplinary research, since scholars lack a common terminology. As a result, it is difficult for linguists to explain their particular evolutionary views on language change to practitioners from other disciplines, while evolutionary terminology from disciplines such as biology is difficult to grasp for linguists. In the study, I will try to present some important evolutionary aspects of language change for which it is hard to find counterparts in other disciplines and then point to current challenges of evolutionary studies in historical linguistics which have to deal with these aspects.