Alexis on classification

Larry Trask larryt at
Sat Jan 24 17:45:20 UTC 1998

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Alexis M R writes:
> There is another issue I would like to broach. As I argued in
> my paper on Pakawan and Coahuiltecan in Anthro Lx last year
> (and in my survey of Nsotratic in Studies in Lg in 1993),
> in recent (and not-so-recent) debates about lg classification,
> people too often reason as though refuting a part of somebody
> else's argument FOR a proposed classification constitues an
> argyument AGAINST that clasifcation.  This seems plain bad
> logic to me, and yet it is seems to be prevalent.  Any
> comments?  AMR
I agree that such reasoning is in principle illogical.  In practice,
though, the outcome is sometimes different.
In my own various critiques of comparisons of Basque with language L,
I have invariably concluded that the overwhelming majority of the
individual comparisons adduced fail to stand up, even on the Basque
side alone, before anyone has considered those comparisons from the
other side, and I have further concluded that what is left
undemolished is insufficient to constitute interesting evidence: it's
nothing more than a handful of arbitrary and miscellaneous
I therefore see no great obstacle to reasoning as follows: "Look --
you've spent years scouring these languages for evidence of
relatedness, and all you've been able to come up with is this
miserable collection of junk.  Therefore, there are good grounds for
concluding that the languages are not discoverably related at all."
So I attach importance to the volume of evidence.  Destroying just one
or two pieces of a more sizeable case does not demolish the case, but
destroying almost all of the case presented leads me to conclude that
the case itself is not there.
Larry Trask
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH
larryt at

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