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Published September 1998 | Published
Journal Article Open

The Common Cause Principle in Historical Linguistics


Despite the platitude that analytic philosophy is deeply concerned with language, philosophers of science have paid little attention to methodological issues that arise within historical linguistics. I broach this topic by arguing that many inferences in historical linguistics conform to Reichenbach's common cause principle (CCP). Although the scope of CCP is narrower than many have thought, inferences about the genealogies of languages are particularly apt for reconstruction using CCP. Quantitative approaches to language comparison are readily understood as methods for detecting the correlations that serve as premises for common cause inferences, and potential sources of error in historical linguistics correspond to well-known limitations of CCP.

Additional Information

© 1998 by the Philosophy of Science Association. Received July 1997, revised December 1997. I would like to thank audience members at the Society for Exact Philosophy annual meeting in Montréal, where an earlier version of this paper was presented. For comments upon earlier drafts, I would like to thank David Hull, Merrilee Salmon, Wes Salmon, Elliott Sober, and especially Alexis Manaster Ramer

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