Article ID: CBB925765228

Semiotic Systems with Duality of Patterning and the Issue of Cultural Replicators (2017)


Two major works in recent evolutionary biology have in different ways touched upon the issue of cultural replicators in language, namely Dawkins’ Selfish Gene and Maynard Smith and Szathmáry’s Major Transitions in Evolution. In the latter, the emergence of language is referred to as the last major transition in evolution (for the time being), a claim we argue to be derived from a crucial property of language, called Duality of Patterning. Prima facie, this property makes natural language look like a structural equivalent to DNA, and its peer in terms of expressive power. We will argue that, if one takes seriously Maynard Smith and Szathmáry’s outlook and examines what has been proposed as linguistic replicators, amongst others phonemes and words, the analogy meme-gene becomes problematic. A key issue is the fact that genes and memes are assumed to carry and transmit information, while what has been described as the best candidate for replicatorhood in language, i.e. the phoneme, does by definition not carry meaning. We will argue that semiotic systems with Duality of Pattering (like natural languages) force us to reconsider either the analogy between replicators in the biological and the cultural domain, or what it is to be a replicator in linguistics.

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Authors & Contributors
Kaplan, Judith R. H.
Alter, Stephen G.
Pollock, Sheldon I.
Kronfeldner, Maria E.
Lifschitz, Avi
Lauzon, Matthew
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Critical Inquiry
Philosophia Naturalis
Journal of the History of Ideas
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Historiographia Linguistica: International Journal for the History of the Language Sciences
Cornell University Press
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Pennsylvania
Editions de linguistique et de philologie.
Linguistics; philology
Language and languages
Metaphors; analogies
Science and literature
Darwin, Charles Robert
Jespersen, Otto
Greenberg, Joseph
Holmes, Oliver Wendell
Rush, Benjamin
Davy, Humphry
Time Periods
19th century
21st century
20th century
18th century
20th century, late
17th century
Great Britain
United States

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