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Darwinism and the Linguistic Image

Language, Race, and Natural Theology in the Nineteenth Century

Stephen G. Alter

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In the nineteenth century, philology—especially comparative philology—made impressive gains as a discipline, thus laying the foundation for the modern field of linguistics. In Darwinism and the Linguistic Image, Stephen G. Alter examines how comparative philology provided a genealogical model of language that Darwin, as well as other scientists and language scholars, used to construct rhetorical parallels with the common-descent theory of evolution.



The emphasis throughout on how analogies can influence belief is important and persuasive. All told, Alter has provided a rich and rewarding account of the often subtle connections that bound the nineteenth-century sciences of language and life.

By far the most comprehensive discussion of the contributions made by linguists for and against Darwin's theory. There are lessons here for the contemporary understanding of human evolution.

Alter's analysis is a real intellectual treat. Anyone interested in Darwin, linguistics, or the role of analogies and metaphors in science should find this to be a fascinating study.

Anyone who enjoys noting instances of convergence between the sciences and the humanities, will like this short, elegantly written book. It draws expertly both on Charles Darwin's theoretical notebooks and on recent scholarship in the history of linguistics.


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Stephen G. Alter, Ph.D.

Stephen G. Alter, professor of history at Gordon College, Massachusetts, is the author of Darwinism and the Linguistic Image, also available from Johns Hopkins.