Cladistic Parsimony, Historical Linguistics and Cultural Phylogenetics

Mind and Language 32 (1):65-100 (2017)
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Abstract
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: that cultural artifacts cannot be modeled as tree-like because of borrowing across lineages, and that the mechanism of cultural change differs radically from that of biological evolution. I argue that while perhaps 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 is true by appealing to the inference pattern known among philosophers as ‘Inference to the Best Explanation’.
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First archival date: 2016-05-11
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