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Scott DeLancey delancey at
Wed Jan 28 20:34:58 UTC 1998

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
On Tue, 27 Jan 1998 manaster at wrote:
> Even if ALL the evidence presented by someone for
> theory X is refuted (or if no evidence was ever
> presented in the first place, as happened with Sapir
> several times), that does not mean that X is false
> or incapable of being shown true or even unworthy of
> further effort.
I wouldn't dream of disagreeing with this.  I think we're
actually mixing up two separate debates here.
I do know the mind-set that you are objecting too; I have a
little experience with this myself.  (Many folks of that temperament
don't like Penutian any bettre than they do Altaic).  And indeed,
the attitude that, if someone can demolish the evidence that's
been put forward for a relationship, then that hypothesis of
relationship can be considered refuted from then on, is irrational
and absurd.
But if we ignore those people--i.e. if we argue simply the
logical merits of the issue, rather than the actual ideological
climate of contemporary historical linguistics--then I stand
by my earlier posting.  Myself, I'm a confirmed monogeneticist;
on simple Darwinian grounds monogenesis has to be correct.  So
I assume that all languages are related at some level.  The issue
facing any comparativist working on a relationship that is not yet
established is, are these languages demonstrably related at the
level that I am working at.  As I said, the default hypothesis
has to be no--we cannot claim relationship without some evidence.
Therefore, if all the putative evidence for a relationship has
been refuted, we are back to square one--no evidence, therefore
no assumption of relationship.  (As we all know, there's a lot
of room for disagreement about what kinds and amounts of evidence
are necessary to license a working hypothesis about relationship,
but that's a methodological issue, not a logical one).  No assumption
of relationship means just that--it most definitely does not mean
that investigating the possibility further is an irresponsible
waste of time, as some of our colleagues do seem to assume.
Scott DeLancey
Department of Linguistics
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403, USA
delancey at

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