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le mercredi 27 mai à 11:00

Johann-Mattis List (DFG Research Fellow, Centre des Recherches Linguistiques sur l’Asie Orientale, EHESS, and Team ’’Adaptation, Integration, Reticulation, Evolution’’, UPMC, Paris)

salle de formation du PRABI

par Vincent Daubin - 27 mai 2015

Similarities and differences between evolutionary processes in linguistics and biology

Among biologist as well as linguists, it is now widely accepted that there are many striking parallels
between the evolution of life forms and the history of languages.
Starting from the rise of language
studies as a scientific discipline in the early 19th century, up to today’s recent “quantitative turn” in
historical linguistics, scholars from both disciplines have repeatedly pointed to similarities between
the respective research objects in biology and linguistics.
During the last two decades, this has lead
to a new school of ’’quantitative historical linguistics’’.
Based on the key assumption that the
characteristic processes of language change and biological evolution are so similar that the methods
designed for one discipline may also be used in the other one, methods which were originally
designed to study biological evolution (methods for phylogenetic reconstruction, sequence
alignment, or biological network analysis) have now repeatedly been applied to linguistic data.

Unfortunately, not all analogies which have been made between evolutionary processes in
linguistics and biology reflect true similarities in the processes.
Striking differences between the
research objects of both disciplines are often ignored.
In the talk, I will review proposed similarities
between evolutionary processes in the two disciplines and discuss their methodological
implications.