phonetic resemblances

Alexis Manaster-Ramer manaster at
Tue Jan 26 21:59:35 UTC 1999

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Larry writes:

"As I have pointed out on various lists,
phonetic resemblances play no part in standard comparative linguistics,
which is based entirely upon patterns."

I don't think this is quite true.  Perhaps it SHOULD be, but
in fact, as Eric Hamp pointed out c. 1976, Indo-European
lx got started by comparing sets where there IS transparent
similarity like Gk. pate:r : Skt. pita: long before it
discovered the patterns Larry refers to and moreover
the patterns discovered first were again those involving
phonetically similar segments.  "Weird" correspondences
like Armenian erk- for initial *dw- or z for *bhy were
discovered much later.  I think that the same is true
in the case of other language families, e.g., Uto-Aztecan,
Semitic, etc.

And people who seem to practice standard comparative
ling, and in fact claim to be its defenders, do appeal
to phonetic similarity.  E.g., Campbell in his critique
of my proposal of a Pakawan language family does so

It is not entirely clear to me whether this is as it should
be.  Nor whether it is possible to establish a language
family strictly on the basis of "patterns" without
phonetic similarities. In theory, it should be possible.
But I don't think I know of any examples where this has
been done.

Alexis MR

More information about the Histling mailing list