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  • Author or Editor: William Croft x
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Linguistics and evolutionary biology have substantially diverged until recently. The chief reason for this divergence was the dominance of essentialist thinking in linguistics during the twentieth century. Croft (2000) describes a thoroughgoing application of Hull's (1988) generalized theory of selection to language change. In this model, tokens of linguistic structure in utterances ('linguemes') are replicators and speakers are interactors. Current debates in the philosophy of evolutionary biology (e.g. Sterelny and Griffiths, 1999) are then applied to language change. Hull's generalized theory is post-synthesis: it recognizes a distinction between replicator and interactor and is independent of levels of biological organization. Biological issues such as mechanisms of inheritance (e.g. Lamarckism) and of selection (e.g. intentional behavior) are simply irrelevant to the generalized theory of selection outside biology. However, there are many striking parallels between biological evolution and language change that are likely to be consequences of the generalized theory of selection, including flexibility of adaptation to the environment, emergent structure, evolutionary conservatism, vestigial traits, exaptation, and the absence of “progress”. The evolutionary theory of language change is not evolutionary psychology, but it is mimetics; this approach is defended against Sterelny and Griffith's criticisms.

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