Do languages really "evolve"?


It seems for Christy, then, there are no sociobiological threats to linguistics & anthropology or to USA society? Sociobiology simply doesn’t exist for Christy and it’s links to evolutionary psychology are impossible to point out. And though Christy might just have expressed here a “sociobiologized view of linguistics” in saying what she did, though she can easily deny that because she hasn’t read Wilson himself, what we should look at instead is how evolutionism & naturalism can sneak up on people unrecognized & reveal themselves in their choice of terms.

While it is undoubtedly true that some “linguists say languages evolve,” as you say, Christy. It is also true that other linguists (& not just fringe ones!) don’t say that “languages evolve,” but rather look scientifically at how languages change and develop, etc. Do you wish to argue with that fact? Please speak clearly & directly to this one point, as I’m finding the continuity of your claims hard to follow.

I would advise you to become more careful with making loose generalizations - e.g. “Linguists say”. 1) You simply can’t speak for all linguists & in this case I’m curious if you’ve even studied the ‘great controversy’ of origins in your field. 2) This one can so easily be shown wrong in the literature.

Sorry for Christy’s moderator oversight, but no, not all linguists say (or believe) that languages evolve. (Including the largely most cited one in the game!) That is a point of fact that a humble BioLogos moderator, a good balanced communicator should easily and willfully acknowledge … happily in acceptance of truth. I am not asking for more than truth, Christy. I am not trying to rival you, but to show what it does not appear you have yet seen. And this is something crucial in understanding religion in the Abrahamic faiths, not just in/for a pocket niche of evangelicals uplifting natural science.

Let me add that Christy’s so-called “standard” is also easily shown as “naturalized” in the contemporary field of linguistics. It is a naturalized, not a theological ‘standard’ that Christy now appears to be appealing us to with her evolutionary linguistics promotions. The turn to semiotics and biological semiotics is fascinating for what it is now opening, but leading science is not a BioLogos priority compared with de-converting YEC evangelicals.

Please watch your assumptions more carefully, Christy, than you are now doing. The Logos in BioLogos betrays a standard naturalised reading of Scripture, as you are likely aware. We can be more inspired and inspiring on this site than that, so please stop dipping into the secular humanist barrel for your ideas & notations. The people you might appeal to as authorities in your evolutionized linguistics aren’t role models for their naturalization of humanity, in so far as it costs theological understanding of human identity. It may be that your husband’s cultural reading of Logos & Scripture speaks louder on important topics here than your scientific-naturalised reading of Logos & Scripture, don’t you think?

So, respectfully to what you are trying to do in linguistics, anthropology & missionary work, please stop trying to naturalise linguistics using evolutionistics (that in other social sciences & humanities you claim repeatedly is disallowed & morally wrong, thus contradicting yourself with your own field!), especially as you haven’t even read some/many of the key texts (e.g. Wilson & Wilson) needed to have an understanding of the difficulties involved in making some of your claims.

BioLogos, does this translate into: evolution made easy for everyone - theistic version, just like D.S. Wilson says … except for the double truth dilemma involved?

Have any of you read E.O Wilson's books "Sociobiology: The New Synthesis" and "On Human Nature?"
Have any of you read E.O Wilson's books "Sociobiology: The New Synthesis" and "On Human Nature?"
(Lynn Munter) #3

Wait, what? This is a ‘distinction’? I just googled ‘do languages evolve’ out of curiosity, and got back a lot of results examining scientifically how they change and develop. If they weren’t using the word evolve they wouldn’t have appeared in the search results.

I am interested in which “not just fringe” linguists conscientiously avoid using the word “evolve” in all their work, on bizarre moral principles, because I took multiple linguistics classes in college and never heard that this was at all an issue.

(Christy Hemphill) #4

First of all, let me say what I think and you say what you think. Feel free to ask a question about what I think, but do not attempt to write out my thoughts and beliefs for me. See our gacious dialogue guidelines: “Please avoid attributing beliefs, motivations, or attitudes to others.” FAQ/Guidelines

I have no idea what this even means, or what a “sociobiological threat” is.

“Evolve” is a verb in the English language that means “change over time” or “develop slowly” and that is what languages do. Whether I use the word “evolve” or “change” or “develop” to describe the linguistic process is irrelevant, because they are synonymous. In describing exactly how languages evolve, or change, or develop, it becomes clear that the linguistic processes that lead to change over time differ from biological processes that lead to change over time and they cannot be modeled using exactly the same models, as the article I linked to pointed out.

Linguists do say it all the time and I was making a correct generalization about a field I work in. I never said or implied all linguists say anything.

Feel free to cite whatever sources you are alluding to, as all of the “great controversies” in linguistics that I am aware of have nothing to do with denying that languages change over time or denying that languages can be grouped into phylogenetic trees, or refusing to use vocabulary that has parallels in biology like “ancestral form” “extinct” “related” “homologous” or “genetic relationship.” These terms have different nuances when applied to linguistics, but they are useful and clearly widely used.

Umm…Okay… Why are we bringing my husband into this? I do my own theology and Scripture reading. And as far as I know, you have no clue what either of us thinks about much of anything.

I have no idea what this means. Applying ideas from biological evolution has zero relevance in my day to day work. Understanding how the particular variety of Me’phaa I study has evolved from an ancestral form by studying genetically related varieties is actually very helpful. I don’t tell you how to do your job.

I am happy to discuss areas of disagreement, but please drop the condescension and lecturing tone. It’s very off-putting.

(Christy Hemphill) #5

(ETA: Don’t know why this isn’t showing up in time order, but it should be at the top of the thread, since it was what Al-Khalil was responding to in the first post.)

Linguists say languages evolve and that languages can be organized into phylogenic trees, and there are parallels between biological evolution and language change. Clearly the processes differ on multiple levels. The similarities however, are not uniquely noted by BioLogos contributors. Speaking of the evolution of languages and the ancestry of language families is standard in the field of linguistics.

(Christy Hemphill) #7

It occurred to me that maybe @Al-Khalil is confusing the assertion “Languages evolve” (meaning they change over time and develop into new languages) and “The ability to use language evolved” (meaning that human communication through language is a part of the biological evolutionary development of the human species). For the record, all I was ever talking about was the first assertion.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #8

Wow, that’s ridiculous and I think ironic as the folks here seem to be more willing to go where evidence takes them than any group I’ve come across. I really do appreciate you bringing in other view points though myself am confused generally speaking by your entire post. I don’t see how Sociobiology doesn’t ‘naturalize’ linguistics even further in the first place as the entire method is based upon natural selection explaining human behavior. Now, I haven’t read any of Wilson’s 20-30 books he’s written, so maybe I am missing something here. At the end of the day are you trying to imply that all the languages came about after the Tower of Babel and suggesting otherwise is against the…

If not more clarity would be greatly appreciated.

(sy_garte) #9

No, that isnt it, @Christy. I can say this because about a month ago, on the thread called “Does biology need the theory that all life shares a common ancestor” I had a similar encounter with Al Khalil, which seemed at first as bizarre and incomprehensible as this one. I eventually found out (after some questions and answers on the thread) that the problem was that I used the term “Darwinian theory” instead of “Darwinian evolutionary theory”. This provoked a comment from Mr. Khalil of a very similar tone to that used here in his first attack on your assertion that languages evolve. I believe that Mr. Khalil is a purist in language when related to evolution, and is concerned that there is a sociobiological (thus the threat) tendency to see evolution everywhere, including language, technology etc.

I probably should not be butting in here, but I thought it might be a good idea to try to interpret (based on my own experience) what it actually might be that Al Khalil is trying to say. Of course I must add the caveat that I might be entirely wrong, in which case, I am as confused as to what his meaning and purpose is, as you are.

(Phil) #10

In any case, it is interesting how this post has evolved.


Then why do they publish so very little on the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis or the Third Way of Evolution? Just Dr. Sy_Garte. Top biologists around the world are focused on it, but not BioLogos.

(Jon) #12

Do you have any scientifically sound reasons for rejecting evolution?


Let us recall one of Christy’s recent “claims” about what evolution does and doesn’t mean, where it does and doesn’t apply and see how that makes her thread here look in her defence of “linguistic evolution.” Is it consistent or inconsistent and in either case, is it at least clear?

Christy wrote:

“I find the whole premise that you can move from biology (evolutionary or otherwise) to ethics pretty suspect. When people start trying to say evolutionary biology opens up all these windows of insight into psychology or sociology, I think they are overreaching and usually just seeing what they are inclined to see.”

Christy thus seems to stop her ‘theory’ against evolutionary biology with linguistics, not with other humanities or social sciences. So what makes the big difference between linguistics & other social sciences fields that don’t morally evolve?

Is linguistics really an amoral field, a naturalistic one, just like evolutionary biology?

Choosing words carefully is irrelevant?! I’m sure you can guess what grade students get who try to argue that? :wink: If you really believe evolution, development & change are synonyms, then all of your former qualms about evolutionary psychology and evolutionary morality become mute.

If you’re going to treat those three terms as synonyms, then nothing more is needed. Game over. And by the way, the field evo-devo doesn’t exist because that’s redundant according to your synonym mandate?


That’s a strange question to field, since I’m not “rejecting evolution” any more than Christy is. = )

(Phil) #15

I think the reason is that the purpose of this site is not to discuss the state of science but rather the interface between science and faith as the mission statement reads:
BioLogos invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.

Certainly, posters discuss various topics as they desire, and blogs may touch on various viewpoints, but ultimately, I would not expect a focus on a specific approach unless it has impact on the subject of biblical faith.



I thought we had cleared that up. The problem was your use of the term “Darwinism” (that was what the thread was still called then). You apologized, after making clearer your meaning, due to what you were shown that it was unclear.

To now put this on me is poor behaviour as I thought we had graciously agreed with each other.

No, distinguishing “Darwinian theory” from “Darwinian evolutionary theory” had nothing to do with it.

“concerned that there is a sociobiological (thus the threat) tendency to see evolution everywhere, including language, technology etc.”

While sociobiology has lost much of it’s former allure, the ideology is still kindled under the term “evolutionary psychology,” which apparently even Christy feels it is necessary to take a stand against, i.e. as soon as ethics are involved. Do you know anyone around here, Sy_Garte, who sees “evolution everywhere, including language, technology etc.”? Do you know anyone anywhere?

I’d be very curious to hear more about this Dr. Sy, so that you’ll stop seeing me as a “purist” (connotation?) when it comes language, rather someone concerned pragmatically with getting things right today. For me, blurring what evolves with what doesn’t isn’t the best way to move forward. Perhaps you agree?


“Then why do they publish so very little on the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis or the Third Way of Evolution? Just Dr. Sy_Garte. Top biologists around the world are focused on it, but not BioLogos.” - Al-Khalil

“I think the reason is that the purpose of this site is not to discuss the state of science but rather the interface between science and faith.” - jpm

We are totally agreed. Thanks.

(Jon) #18

Is there a reason why you don’t want to answer it?

(Jon) #19

That is a patent misrepresentation of what she wrote.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #20

What are you talking about? Let’s look at EES for example. As the EES website itself affirms:

  • Evolutionary biology is a highly successful research program
  • Following the advent of Modern Synthesis, the field of evolutionary biology has continued to evolve, allowing incorporation of new theoretical and empirical findings
  • Evolutionary biology has never been more vibrant, and it would be a distortion to characterize it as in a (Kuhnian) state of ‘crisis’
  • The EES requires no ‘revolution’

So… I’m not sure why you are raging about all of these top biologists researching EES (when 16 biologists total attended the big conference they had in 2008). In amusing fasion, PZ Myers lamented after that conference that… the meeting was overhyped and ruined by creationists.

One of the leaders in the movement even has said ‘the new developments in evolutionary biology by no account should be viewed as refutation of Darwin. On the contrary, they are widening the trails that Darwin blazed 150 years ago and reveal the extraordinary fertility of his thinking.’

And another evolutionary biologist (Jerry Coyne) blasts the entire EES movement on his personal blog:

So you are very, very off in your blasting of BioLogos for ignoring what’s going on in the field and misunderstanding what they are even trying to do.


It looks like a loaded question.

(Lynn Munter) #22

Not sure what point you’re attempting to make, but…

Evolution of technology

Evolution of language