Cladistic Parsimony, Historical Linguistics and Cultural Phylogenetics: Cladistic Parsimony, Linguistics, Phylogenetics

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Mind & Language, ISSN: 0268-1064, Vol: 32, Issue: 1, Page: 65-100

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Frank Cabrera
Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences
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Here, I consider the recent application of phylogenetic methods in historical linguistics. After a preliminary survey of one such method, i.e. cladistic parsimony, I respond to two common criticisms of cultural phylogenies: (1) that cultural artifacts cannot be modeled as tree-like because of borrowing across lineages, and (2) that the mechanism of cultural change differs radically from that of biological evolution. I argue that while perhaps (1) remains true for certain cultural artifacts, the nature of language may be such as to side-step this objection. Moreover, I explore the possibility that cladistic parsimony can be justified even if (2) is true by appealing to the inference pattern known among philosophers as ‘Inference to the Best Explanation’ (IBE).

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