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References

Uniformity of natural law is the necessary methodological basis for all scientific inquiry see e. Hooykaas 32, , and as such has unsurprisingly not received special mention in the linguistic literature. Certainly none of those questioning the substantive uniformitarianisms in Sections 3. Uniformity of process, however, has a particular linguistic champion in the work of William Labov e. Only occasionally does Labov suggest that there might be an empirical issue at stake.

If the principle is necessary on methodological grounds, whether it is correct or not is beside the point, so here Labov is straying into substantive uniformitarianism. A similar stance is found in Song Here the assumption of a particular substantive uniformitarianism is justified on methodological grounds. The short survey of uniformitarianisms in linguistics presented above suggests that this picture needs to be nuanced somewhat.

Hooykaas is able to show that proponents of uniformitarianism were not unified in what, exactly, they thought was uniform across space and time e. The fundamental problem is that all methodological uniformitarianisms are reliant on a corresponding substantive claim. For instance, if it can be shown that, in a given domain, the processes or causes operative in the past were not the same as those operative today, this poses severe problems for the view that it is a matter of scientific good practice to assume that they were.

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Even the uniformity of law is not immune in principle to this objection: it is at least a logical possibility that natural law does not operate uniformly, though how this would ever be demonstrated is unclear. To return to the example of the genetic uniformity underlying the language faculty: even synchronically it might be the case that the language faculty is non-uniform, to a limited extent. But there nevertheless might be good reasons to assume that it is uniform — for instance, the desire to avoid scientific racism, or more generally sensitivity to the social or political implications of this kind of research.

This leads to an alternative view of methodological uniformitarianism, which I will term uniformitarianism as null hypothesis cf. Roberts As above, what we need to discover is whether these are immanent or configurational. However, the italicized sections are crucial: given the right kind of evidence, it is possible to make a case against this version of uniformitarianism in a given domain. Uniformitarianism here involves making an assumption as a starting point for historical research, and is not to be understood as an intellectual straitjacket.

Exactly how highly we value such a principle of simplicity is likely to depend on our metaphysics and where we place ourselves in the grand old conflict between rationalism and empiricism. As we have seen, usage outside linguistics is not uniform in this regard. Some e. Kennedy use the term exclusively for the methodological heuristic.

Others e. Scharnberger ; Romano suggest that the term be used exclusively in its original, substantive Whewellian sense.


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Still others e. Shea recommend that the term be abandoned entirely.

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Historical linguists should be more aware than most that lexical items change, and that attempting to legislate about their usage is often a distraction from more contentful questions cf. Disambiguating the term, or using it consistently, is therefore useful only insofar as it leads to more conceptual clarity and less confusion, regardless of how the terminological pie is sliced. As seen in Section 3, some substantive uniformitarian claims are better supported than others given the current state of our knowledge: for instance, uniformity of the human language faculty during recorded history seems to be on much safer ground than uniformity of human societal structures, and the uniformity of natural law is virtually unassailable.

Finally, it is advisable to avoid using uniformitarianism or actualism as a stick to beat other researchers with. Actualism may be necessary for good historical science, but individual assumptions of uniformity should not be immunized against critique. To elevate them to articles of faith is a much greater threat to good historical scientific discourse. As I have demonstrated above, uniformitarianism as understood in linguistics is not itself a uniform notion, and does not reflect the conceptual or empirical advances in other areas of historical science.

The distinction is crucial, since the danger exists that substantive hypotheses are illegitimately elevated to the status of methodological necessities for rhetorical purposes, in order to score points against those who disagree. This danger is exacerbated by the fact that for every methodological principle of uniformity there is a corresponding substantive assumption that does duty as null hypothesis. Nor was Lyell enormously original in his uniformitarian thinking: the crucial ideas reached Lyell from the work of James Hutton via John Playfair, and were present in earlier work see Gould 61—97 for discussion and contextualization.

Romano provides a recent and comprehensive review of the fate of the term in geology. Mayr — identifies six distinct components see also Simpson Lightfoot I gloss over these distinctions in what follows. Roberts allows for the possibility that a language might lack finite clausal embedding.

See in particular Roberts — for discussion of the implications of different conceptions of UG for uniformitarianism. The argument presented in the main text extends to this principle too: this is only the case where the distribution of likelihood is governed by immanent rather than configurational factors.

Many thanks to Guy Deutscher for making a version of this paper available for me to read. As will be clear from the discussion above with reference to Gould ; , Hooykaas , and Romano , the situation outside linguistics in fact appears to be somewhat more complex. Collins suggests that this challenges the Uniformitarian Principle. The considerations in this section suggest that, if so, it challenges only a particular substantive uniformitarian claim about the universality of pragmatic competence , with no deeper methodological implications.

Darwinism, traditional linguistics and the new Palaeolithic Continuity Theory of language evolution

Japanese, Korean, Tamil have remained consistently OV throughout their history. Here there are two different substantive claims and a methodological imperative, illustrating clearly the multiple meanings that are prevalent in writings on uniformitarianism in linguistics. Hooykaas observes that metaphysics has very often played a role in discussions of uniformitarianism, even if the two things ought to be independent of one another.

Thanks to editor Johan Rooryck and three anonymous reviewers for Glossa for their useful feedback. The usual disclaimers apply. Baker, Victor R.


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Catastrophism and uniformitarianism: Logical roots and current relevance in geology. In Derek J. Scott eds. London: Geological Society Special Publications. Balashov, Yuri. Uniformitarianism in cosmology: Background and philosophical implications of the Steady State Theory. Bax, Marcel. Out of Ritual: A semiolinguistic account of the origin and development of indirect language behavior. Bern: Peter Lang. Bergs, Alexander. The Uniformitarian Principle and the risk of anachronisms in language and social history. Oxford: Blackwell. On the validity of glottochronology.

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Current Anthropology 3. Berwick, Robert C. Why only us? Introduction: Changing views of syntactic change. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


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Journal of the Royal Society Interface Bowern, Claire. Punctuated equilibrium in linguistics. In Keith Brown ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier. Australian languages: Classification and the Comparative Method. Language classification: History and method.