Date: Mon, 3 Nov 1997 14:00:06 -0600

From: "Salikoko S. Mufwene" s-mufwene[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UCHICAGO.EDU

Subject: Re: "race" (was PC Dictionaries?the N word? racism? race?)

I couldn't resist commenting on the present exchange on 'species',

although I should know better than butting my nose into things I understand


Duane Campbell wrote:

The truth is that the term race is not very well

defined (nor is species, which puts meat and potatoes on taxonomists'

tables) and may be used slightly differently by different botanists or


Actually biologists define the term "species", except that there are

about three definitions of it, of which I remember only two:

1) individuals claiming the same ancestry (but not necessarily sharing

features--at least not the same ones among them all) may be grouped in the

same species;

2) individuals sharing the same features (regardless of their

ancestry) may be grouped together under the same species.

Theoretically one may collapse the two criteria and be more strict

about their notion of 'species'. I suppose much of this variation depends

on the kind of work one is doing and what kind of classification interests

them, and for what purpose.

Inasmuch as there not different rates

of reproductive success in "interbreeding" between the various human

"races," there is no such thing, technically speaking, as a human

subspecies or "race."

Quite the contrary. One homogeneous species expanding out of Africa

(according to this week's theory) gradually became geographically isolated

and evolved into slightly different strains with identifiable genetic

characteristics. Races.

This is actually where variation within the original species,

ecology, and selective success in reproduction come to work hand in hand.

If there were no variation within the original species, the migrating

population would either adapt to the new ecology and develop no new

biological features that would distinguish it from the population left

behind, or it would fail to adpt and perish. It can of course interbreed

with a population belonging to a different species (related or unrelated)

and they can produce descendants of a different kind, leaving it up to

ecology to throw the dice and give selective advantage to some members of

the new population. External ecology won't introduce new features into a

population but in will work on variation within a population to favor some

features/genes and produce out of it a population which may be identified

as a separate species later. This situation ultimately leads to the

question of whether we humans descended from some ape ancestor or whether

there is a missing link and the current apes would just be our cousins.

That is the biology of it.

You presented one interpretation of it that dismisses the role of

ecology, which has increasingly become more and more signifant in studies

if evolution.



Salikoko S. Mufwene s-mufwene[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

University of Chicago 773-702-8531; FAX 773-834-0924

Department of Linguistics

1010 East 59th Street

Chicago, IL 60637