Taxonomic controversy

« previous post | next post »

The latest (20 June) New Scientist has an article ("Are orangs our nearest relatives?" by Graham Lawton, pp. 6-7) on an article in a recent Journal of Biogeography (by Jeffrey Schwartz and John Grehan) proposing a family tree for primates in which orangutans rather than chimpanzees are the closest relatives of human beings. (Schwartz has been arguing this position for about 20 years.) The now-orthodox position is based on DNA similarities, which Grehan argues fails to distinguish between "derived novelties" and "primitive retentions". Other evolutionary biologists dispute this.

My purpose here is not to judge the evidence and the arguments, but only to point out that the derived novelty vs. primitive retention distinction is a familiar one from the field of linguistic taxonomy, where it goes under the names "shared innovations" vs. "shared retentions", shared innovations outweighing shared retentions in establishing how closely languages are related to one another.

Comments are closed.