“Bridging Disciplines: Evolution and Classification in Biology, Linguistics and the History of Sciences”

Ulm University, Wissenschaftszentrum Schloss Reisensburg, Germany, 24-26 June 2011


Networks in linguistics and biology date back to the 18th century, but models of reticulation instead of tree representations have only recently gained growing interest. They are now widely employed and used on a formalized basis: in biology, research in procaryot evolution suggests lateral gene transfer as a major feature in the development of bacteria. In the field of linguistics, mutual borrowings between languages, wave-like distribution of lexical innovations and diffusion of lexical and morphological features are rather the rule than the exception. In the humanities, networks can be used to express hybridization of cultural phenomena as an alternative to established phylogenetic models.

For these reasons, network models allow a more realistic representation of borrowing and lateral transfer than traditional phylogenetic trees. In the process of mutual references between biology, linguistics and the social sciences, scholars from different disciplines have transferred concepts and metaphors across disciplinary boundaries. Therefore, social network analysis may help historians to model institutional, spatial and personal relationships between key persons in the history of linguistics and biology, allowing them to explain the co-development of theories in the two disciplines.

The international conference is organized as part of the research project Classification and Evolution in Biology, Linguistics and the History of Science, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Organizers intend to encourage further exchange between scholars from the sciences and humanities. Participants will explore in detail, whether networks instead of pedigree models can provide a more appropriate model of development, enabling us to describe processes in both the sciences and the humanities.

Renowned biologists, linguists, historians and philosophers of science will present current research and engage in discussion. Presentations by scholars from nine countries will include the following topics:

-          The role of lateral gene transfer in prokaryote evolution

-          Phylogenetic classifications and network approaches in linguistics

-          Exchange of concepts and practices between disciplines


Please see the Program (pdf)