phonetic resemblances etc.

Alexis Manaster-Ramer manaster at
Sat Jan 30 15:20:06 UTC 1999

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

"A demonstration that languages are related is far too large to post on an
electronic list.  To see such a demonstration, you must consult the
specialist literature, and you must be prepared to devote quite a bit of
time and effort to understanding the evidence."

While I respect Larry and we usually agree about a lot of stuff, this is
just plain wrong, and I think it is a cop-out typical of the people who
like to criticize work on language classification but who rarely do it
themselves and who also seem to be reluctant to discussing specific
examples such as those I have repeatedly cited.

What now follows is a crystal-clear example not only of an argument which
is not too large but also of one which I have repeatedly cited as showing
that Larry (and Rich and Sally) are quite wrong in their claims about how
language relatedness actually gets established, perhaps because, again, it
is not a topic they work on very much.  Other examples of language-
relatedness arguments which probably could easily be accommodated on this
or any list include Swadesh and Hamp's work on the relatedness of
Chukchee-Kamchatkan and Eskimo-Aleutian, Hamp's work on the relatedness of
Indo-European and Hattic, etc. Please note the name Hamp!! (On the other
hand, these two arguments do not exemplify my broader points about
phonetic similarity and lexical comparison).

ACCEPTED BY CAMPBELL (1996 and passim).

          Mamulique   Garza      Comecrudo

sun       atl        ai         al
moon      kan        an         eskan
water     aha(?)     axe        apanekla
road      --         aie        aaul
man       (kessem)   knarxe     na
woman     kem        kem        kem
sky       --         apiero     apel

        Goddard's entire argument for this relationship follows:

        The case for relating Garza and Comecrudo seems strong; the
agreement in the words for 'sun' and 'road' is particularly striking and
shows a consistent phonological pattern suggestive of an historical sound
law.  The sparse Mamulique data compare well with Garza and Comecrudo as
far as they go.

I cannot emphasize this too strongly.  This is the ENTIRE argument, given
by Goddard and fully endorsed by Campbell, two of the most vociferous
advocates of the position that linguistic relatedness demands
morphological and not just lexical comparisons and that correspondences
and not just phonetic similarities are necessary.

Note further:

(A) The "historical sound law" Goddard alludes to is never stated. He is,
of course, talking about the relation between ai and al and that between
aie and aaul.  But there is no single sound law that can be invoked here.
Presumably (I have forgotten to ask him), he is talking about the
relationship between Garza "i" and Comecrudo "l", but there surely a
problem given that Comecrudo "l" also "corresponds" to Garza "r" (as in
apiero : apel).

(B) The reason Goddard puts a question mark next to Mamulique aha 'water'
is that this is not attested as such.  All we have is the sentence aha
moxo cuexemad 'give me water', but there is no evidence that 'water' here
is aha and not moxo or cuexemad.  In reality, I have shown (but Campbell
laughs this off) that cuexemad is the verb here, whose stem (*cuexe) is
cognate with words meaning 'to drink' in related languages, so that the
true translation was presumably 'cause- to-drink' rather than 'give'.  So
'water' has to be either aha or moxo.

(C) The reason Mamulique kessem is parenthesized by Goddard is presumably
he does not consider it cognate with the other forms form 'man'.
This is correct, as
shown by languages which have distinct cognates for the two etyma.


Campbell, Lyle
1996            Coahuiltecan: A Closer Look. Anthropological
Linguistics, 38.4:620-634.

Goddard, Ives
1979            The Languages of South Texas and the Lower Rio
Grande. _In_ The Languages of North America: Historical and Comparative
Assessment, edited by Lyle Campbell and Marianne Mithun, 355-389.  Austin
and London: University of Texas Press.

See also:

Manaster Ramer, Alexis
1996a           Sapir's Classifications: Coahuiltecan.
Anthropological Linguistics 38.1:1-37.

1996b.  Sapir's Classifications: Haida and the Other Na-Dene
Languages. Anthropological Linguistics 38.2:179-215.

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