Alexis on classification

manaster at manaster at
Thu Jan 29 13:53:52 UTC 1998

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Dr. Thomason errs: Unger is not a specialist on the ALtaic
problem and does not claim to be, what Nichols refers to
is Unger's summary of an unpublished paper by Larry Clark
which in turn is supposed to have been a summary for the
panel of the views of Doerfer and Rona-Tas, two well-known
experts on the Altaic question.  This is what makes Nichols'
entirely erroneous statments third-hand, and as to why they
are erroneous, there is no better argument than that Rona-Tas
in fact has consistently refused to reject Altaic (as opposed
to Doerfer). Anyone who knows anything about Altaic studies
would know that, and would also know that Dr. Nichols'
statements are entirely unfounded.  As for Dr. Thomason's
further implications, I would add that (a) one of the coauthors
of my paper in JL is R-S Georg, himself a well-regarded
specialist on the Altaic languages AND an opponent of the
Altaic theory (yes, OPPONENT but a well-informed and honest
one), and (b) I dont think the editors of JL need any lessons
from someone with Dr. Thomason's record.
On Wed, 28 Jan 1998, Sarah G. Thomason wrote:
> Let's see: Alexis Manaster Ramer accuses Johanna Nichols of making
> "attacks on Altaic...based on third-hands [sic] sources".  Nichols
> asks for references.  Manaster Ramer gives one reference to a work
> by Nichols (therefore at most one attack).  As evidence for his
> assertion that she attacks Altaic, he quotes her negative
> assessment of the evidence in favor of the Altaic hypothesis.  Perhaps
> Manaster Ramer views any argument against a proposal that he favors as
> an attack on the proposal; I hope and believe that most linguists are
> more cautious in using such inflammatory terms.  And it isn't
> clear, to me at least, why he says that her assessment is based on
> third-hand sources: Unger is a specialist, and the panel he's
> reporting on was composed of himself and other specialists.  They
> may have been wrong, but even if they were, that wouldn't justify
> Manaster Ramer's characterization of their, or of Nichols', comments
> on Altaic.  Polemics won't help convince people, so one hopes that
> the editors of JL will check Manaster Ramer et al.'s paper carefully
> for accuracy and tone before publishing it.
>   --  Sally Thomason
>       sally at
> P.S. I, for one, disagree with Manaster Ramer's view of the
>      value of his own critique of Greenberg's Amerind vs. other
>      criticismss of Greenberg's proposals.  Rankins' IJAL review
>      is outstanding, as is Poser's IJAL article.  And there are others, too.

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