Viva Origino Vol.41 No.1

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Toratane Munegumi
Naruto University of Education, Naruto, Tokushima 772-8502, Japan

   Professor Koji Ohnishi of Niigata University suddenly passed away on 22 February, 2013, just before the 38th Meeting of the Society for the Study of the Origin and Evolution of Life, Japan (SSOEL Japan). I first met Professor Ohnishi in 1987 at the 15th Meeting of the SSOEL Japan in Sapporo. At that time, his dual research specialisms in biology and linguistics intrigued me. Since this was my first SSOEL meeting, I did not have much knowledge about the study of the origins of life, and I could not understand the reason why he had specialized in both biology and linguistics. My next meeting with Professor Ohnishi was in 1993 at the ISSOL meeting in Spain. As I was walking down the sloping road of a Spanish castle, I met Professor Ohnishi walking up the same road. We stopped and talked. He said, with a happy smile, that he was walking around the castle to catch butterflies; this is a good memory.
    I have continued studying the origins of life with much interest, more widely and deeply than when I first met Professor Ohnishi. I guess that I can now understand a little of the relationship between biology and linguistics. Since the first organism was presumably born on the primitive earth, which was an exclusive environment, the system of the first organism might not have had the most rational structure and process, and consequently became an initial condition that confined the system of the later organisms.
  The history of language in many ways resembles the history of the evolution of organisms. For example, it has been considered that the Indo-European language family originated close to the Black Sea [1] or Turkey. The first Indo-European language spread through Europe, where it evolved in different directions and under many kinds of conditions. The Germanic language spread to the British Isles, where it evolved into English and relegated the original Celtic languages to the remote regions. In the 11th century, the Duke of Normandy, William I, became the King of England. The Norman conquest of Britain created a dual-structured language (social bilingualism [2]) composed of Norman French for the higher class of society and English for the lower class of society. In the 15th century, William Caxton opened a printing house and published many books to help standardize English spelling [2]. By trade, Caxton was not a linguist but a printer. He decided on the English spelling in his books using his own judgment; however, Caxton’s spelling became commonplace once his books spread throughout England. Caxton’s English became so widespread that in time, it became Standard English. Nowadays, English spelling still defends the initial framework that was constructed by Caxton. Consequently, in the history of the development of English language there is an analogy (or chemistry) between “linguistic origin and evolution” and an “organism’s origin and evolution.”
  The first organism emerged in the primitive earth, which was an exclusive environment. It then evolved without completely cancelling the initial system to finally produce the present system. One of the directions that the study of the Origins of Life has taken is to understand the pathways that progress from the initial conditions to the present system. In addition, it has tried to understand the survival strategies that are used by organisms. The late Professor Ohnishi investigated the difference between many languages in terms of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. He attempted to construct an evolutionary tree of languages.
  Unfortunately, his death means that our Society no longer has a person who can show us the chemistry between organisms and languages. This is indeed very sad. However, our society has many researchers who are working with diverse topics. I hope that our society will progress but still retain its tolerance of diverse views, praying for the response of Professor Ohnishi’s soul.

1. McCrum, R., MacNeil, R., and Cran, W.: “The Story of English,” Penguin Books, New York, 1987.

2. Hashimoto, I.: “Eigo-shi Nyu-mon,” Keio University Press, 2005.



  インド・ヨーロッパ語族の発祥地は黒海の付近[1]またはトルコ付近であるといわれるが、そこで始まった最初の言語がヨーロッパ各地に広まり、それぞれの地域で、それぞれの進化を遂げた。そのうち、ゲルマン系の言語はそれを使う民族により、大陸からグレートブリテン島にも流れ、ケルト系の言語を追いやって広まり英語となった。その後、11世紀にはノルマディー公ウィリアム一世がイングランドの王となると、フランス語が聖職者と王侯貴族で、従来の英語が一般民衆で使われるという言語の二重構造(社会的二言語使用状態 [2])が形成された。15世紀になると、ウィリアム・キャクストン(William Caxton)が印刷所を開設して、多数の書籍を出版したことにより、英語の方言と綴りの統一が進んだとされる[2]。本来印刷工であり、言語学者でなかった彼は、独自の判断により綴りを決めていたようであるが、その綴りで発表された書籍が広まると、人々はその綴りを基準に言語活動を進める。結果的に綴りが統一されたのである。現在の英語の綴りはこのウィリアム・キャクストンが標準型として提示した初期条件により枠がはめられたわけである。このような「言語の初期条件と進化」と「生命体の起源と進化」との間には共通点がある。

1. McCrum, R., MacNeil, R., and Cran, W.: “The Story of English,” Penguin Books, New York, 1987.
2. Hashimoto, I.: “Eigo-shi Nyu-mon,” Keio University Press, 2005.