[b-hebrew] Evolution of Languages & Organisms

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Wed Jun 16 14:54:47 EDT 2004

On 16/06/2004 11:10, david.kimbrough at charter.net wrote:

>Although my MS is in air chemistry and my PhD is in water chemistry, my BS is in biology.  For the record, evolution is not A theory, it is THE theory.  The science of biology makes no sense without evolution.  This applies to bio-molecular pathways, comparative physiology and anatomy, behavior, taxonomy, ecology, and any other branch one can name.  Without evolution, biology is a static collection isolated facts.
>Has anyone every seen wild packs of Chihuahuas or Great Danes running about?   Or indeed, even any evidence that either of these breeds even existed more than 2,000 years ago?.  Of course not.  These wildly different breeds of dogs, indeed all dogs, are the result of many years of selective breeding of wolves (dogs and wolves can inter-breed incidentally).  Only dogs (wolves) with certain features, both behavioral and physical, were allowed to breed.  Selective breeding is exactly how biological evolution works, except there are no people involved.  Only organisms with certain characteristics survive and reproduce while those that lack them, don?t.  So there is nothing random about evolution.  

The problem with this argument is that breeding of dogs and any other 
animals or plants quickly comes up against limits. By breeding dogs you 
cannot turn them into cats or even foxes. There are limits to the 
changes which can be bred into a single species, which make it 
impossible to create new species with new traits not in the original 
species, not already inherent in the DNA pool of the species. You have 
to find a further mechanism for change beyond these limits. Mutation 
provides a possible mechanism, but there is still the need to start with 
a breeding population, not just one individual, with the beneficial 
mutation. I don't claim to be an expert on this, but this is the 
question which as far as I know has not yet been answered satisfactorily 
- even to the satisfaction of evolutionists like Stephen Jay Gould from 
whom I have derived (from memory) this argument.

>Languages likewise evolve.  Once there was a language called Latin with an extensive written record (linguistic fossils if your like).  It evolved into a large number of daughter languages although Latin itself is dead.  There is a long written record documenting this evolution.  One can see how these languages share certain features (vocabulary and grammar) among themselves and their parent language but how differences increased over time.
>It is hypothesized that Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit all evolved from some more ancient common language (proto-Indo-European).  There is no *fossil record* of this evolution.  However, just as Latin?s daughter languages show a pattern consistent with *evolution*, so do Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit.  These languages share some vocabulary and have similar syntax but show differences as well, differences that increase over time and distance, just as Portuguese and Romanian did.  So while the hypothesized language of proto-Indo-European can never proven to the same degree as Latin is proven to exist, there is strong evidence.  The same is true of proto-Semitic or proto-Hebrew.

I accept much of your analysis here. But the analogy is only a rough 
one. Changes to languages are not restricted to the possibilities 
already inherent in a language's DNA, but can leap in any direction at 
any time. There is also a possibility, indeed commonly realised, of 
cross-fertilisation between languages, even totally unrelated ones, 
which does not apply to organisms (except perhaps to bacteria which can 
acquire DNA from one another). So we can end up with hybrid languages, 
such as creoles, which are just as fertile (arguably more so) as the 
more pure-bred ones. In fact modern English is to a large extent a 
hybrid between Old English and Old French, which are related but only 
distantly so, with major cross-fertilisation from Latin, Greek, Old 
Norse etc and minor influence from many other languages. So we can't 
necessarily derive a clear-cut genetic tree for languages, in the same 
way that evolutionary biologists can in principle for organisms.

So, to come back to Hebrew at last, no one can know what changes and 
cross-fertilisations there were in Semitic languages before the earliest 
written records. So there must be a large degree of speculation.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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