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Stammbaum Theory

  The 19th-century, German linguist August Schleicher examined the ways in which languages are related to one another in distinct language families. Schleicher was the first to propose a family tree structure (Stammbaum) which can be used to reveal the common ancestors of related languages. Of particular interest was Schleicher\'s application of Darwinian concepts of evolution to his Stammbaum theory. Schleicher suggested that languages are living organisms, subject to the laws of natural selection. In the UK, for example, the domination of English over minority languages such as Gaelic and Welsh would be taken as an example of the survival of the fittest. The inherent nature of English as a strong language ensures its selection and propagation. Political and social pressures on the spread of one language at the expense of another were not entertained. Although no longer influential, as an early attempt to incorporate the study of language within the biological sciences, Stammbaum theory was far in advance of its time. MS  



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