phonetic resemblances

Max W Wheeler maxw at
Wed Jan 27 11:23:47 UTC 1999

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
On Wed, 27 Jan 1999, Larry Trask wrote:

> 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.

Indeed, but can one imagine a statistical procedure which would take
account of phonetic resemblance due to lexical borrowing?

This takes us back to the point raised before on this list. There is no
algorithm for demonstrating relationship on the basis of word lists.
Phonetic resemblance may suggest a hypothesis, but it is neither
necessary nor sufficient to confirm (or its absence, to refute) it.

Max Wheeler


Max W. Wheeler <maxw at>
School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences
University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QH, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1273 678975; fax: +44 (0)1273 671320

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