“Curiously parallel”: Analogies of language and race in Darwin's descent of man. A reply to Gregory Radick


In the second chapter of The descent of man , Charles Darwin interrupted his discussion of the evolutionary origins of language to describe ten ways in which the formation of languages and of biological species were ‘curiously’ similar. I argue that these comparisons served mainly as analogies in which linguistic processes stood for aspects of biological evolution. Darwin used these analogies to recapitulate themes from On the origin of species , including common descent, genealogical classification, the struggle for existence, and natural selection, among others. Skeptical of this interpretation, Gregory Radick sees the naturalistic account of language formation in the Descent comparisons as reinforcing Darwin’s idea that languages and the races of mankind have both undergone progressive development. Yet the details of Darwin’s language–species comparisons, as well as the polemical context in which they appear, show that they were not aimed at so limited a function. Rather, they addressed issues related to species transmutation in general

Download options


    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 72,855

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library


Added to PP

50 (#230,773)

6 months
1 (#386,031)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Citations of this work

Race and Language in the Darwinian Tradition (and What Darwin's Language–Species Parallels Have to Do with It).Gregory Radick - 2008 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 39 (3):359-370.

Add more citations