Alexis on classification (again)

manaster at manaster at
Tue Jan 27 14:50:44 UTC 1998

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Then just one last question, directed to anyone who cares to
respond, not necessarily Larry, although I would like to hear
from him of course:
Where then are the competent critics of controversial
classificatory proposals in linguistics?
Alexis MR
On Tue, 27 Jan 1998, Larry Trask wrote:
> Alexis writes:
> > But I am not trying to argue that Sapir for example should
> > get credit for recognizing Pakawan despite the lack of data
> > in his published work on this.  In fact, I never said anything
> > about credit.
> OK; my apologies, then, but you did give me the impression that you
> thought Sapir had done something interesting.
> > I am concerned about the fact that a lot of linguists, yourself
> > among them, have been publishing all kinds of statements about the
> > validity or otherwise of work in linguistic classification while
> > staunchly avoiding getting their hands dirty at all or only doing so
> > in cases where one is shooting ducks in a barrel.
> I have indeed blasted a few encupated anatids, but it's not my fault
> that my specialist language seems to attract nothing else.
> As for getting my hands dirty, I have already explained that I do not
> choose to undertake comparative work, because I believe I am better
> qualified to do other things.  We can't *all* be comparativists,
> Alexis -- somebody has to do the work ;-)
> [on the absence of informed evaluations of Nostratic and other
> proposals]
> It may just be that few of us feel competent to undertake a
> magisterial scrutiny of proposals embracing vast numbers of languages
> and families.
> > Of course, I find the uncritical acceptance of untested
> > or even provably wrong proposals on the other side (whether
> > in the case of Nostratic, Dene-Caucasian, Amerind, or
> > any other such proposal) equally distressing.
> Good.
> Larry Trask
> University of Sussex
> Brighton BN1 9QH
> UK
> larryt at

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