phonetic resemblances

Larry Trask larryt at
Wed Jan 27 10:38:09 UTC 1999

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
On Tue, 26 Jan 1999, Alexis Manaster-Ramer wrote:

> ----------------------------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.

Yes, I am happy to concede this.  Obvious phonetic resemblances have
frequently -- probably even usually -- attracted the attention of
linguists to language families whose members are rather closely related.
But I know of no case in which a genetic link has been demonstrated on
the basis of phonetic resemblances, nor can I conceive of a way of doing
this other than a rigorously statistical one.

Larry Trask
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

larryt at

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