Alexis on classification (again) (fwd)

Richard M. Alderson III alderson at
Tue Jan 27 19:04:28 UTC 1998

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Alexis wrote:
>Where then are the competent critics of controversial classificatory proposals
>in linguistics?
Unborn as yet?  At least, not yet studying linguistics?
Nostratic (to take the example of one of the largest families proposed) has had
its Jones (Pedersen) and its Bopps & Rasks (Cuny, Illich-Svitych, et al.), but
it hasn't seen its Schleicher yet, much less its Neogrammarians.
It takes a very long time to become a competent Indo-Europeanist, and there at
least the student has the advantage of 200 years of publications and pedagogy.
In order to further Nostratic studies, we need to do with Indo-European what
the Indo-Europeanists have always done with Latin and Greek:  Assume that the
student simply knows those languages, needs to learn Sanskrit and half a dozen
others, and can be taught the rudiments of Indo-European at the same time.
Thus, to produce competent Nostraticists, we need to assume a background in
Indo-European, and teach Uralic, Altaic, Kartvelian, and so on, while teaching
the rudiments of Nostratic.  But to do that, we have to have decent historical
work in all those fields that can simply be treated as correct, much as we
treat Greek and Latin and Hittite and Gothic and Vedic and all the others when
we teach (or learn) Indo-European--and we certainly aren't there, yet.  (We
also know, of course, that new discoveries about any language may change every-
thing we thought we knew.)
That covers only one "superfamily", of course, and that won't produce those who
might be competent to judge any other "controversial classificatory proposals",
if those who are to be considered competent must be expert in more than one of
the sub-families in the proposal.
Alternatively, we might expect that competent critics could be found among
those trained as historical linguists no matter what language area they have
chosen to concentrate their work in, and ask that these judge proposals by the
rigour of the methodology applied to produce them.  Why is this unsatisfactory?
                                                                Rich Alderson

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