Arabic and IE

Robert R. Ratcliffe ratcliff at
Sun Jan 31 19:54:27 UTC 1999

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Alexis Manaster-Ramer wrote:

> ----------------------------Original
> message----------------------------
> Robert Ratcliffe and Shilpi Bhadra are I am sure trying
> to be helpful, but it is surely disinformation to tell
> someone who is clearly a novice to the field that
> Semitic is not related to IE period (as per Bhadra)
> or at least not now known to be so related (as per
> Ratcliffe) instead of saying that

> (a) the vast majority of linguists have never studied
> the question at all,

I thought my original response was fair enough, but as one who has
studied the question (I've published on comparative Afroasiatic and
compartive Semitic issues and I was a Classicist once) I'll elaborate:
Arabic is a member of the Semitic family, which is itself a branch of a
'super-family' or 'phylum' termed Afroasiatic. No further genetic
connections are now known.

> (b) of the small number who have, most probably think
> there is insufficient evidence for positing a relationship,
> but many think that there is, and
> many (I think many more) others that the evidence
> points to a fairly high probability of
> a relationship, but

As I said in my post there is evidence for a HISTORICAL relationship
between Semitic and IE, but not a genetic one-- through contact.

> (c) among the much much smaller number who have
> studied the problem INTENSIVELY, the proportions
> seem to shift toward more support and less opposition
> of a relationship, but

I would put Joseph Greenberg in the class of those who have studied the
problem intensively, certainly he knows Afroasiatic as well as anyone,
and I believe he excludes Afas from Nostratic. Another intensive student
of the problem is Saul Levin ("Semitic and IE: the principal
etymologies"). I beleive his overall position is agnostic, but he
certainly establishes a contact basis for many of the similarities.

> (d) no one has really done a census, so the proportions
> I suggested in (b) and (c) are anecdotal,
> (e) those who support or if dead did support a
> relationship include some leading specialists in
> IE and/or Semitic, e.g., the great IEnist Holger
> Pedersen, even if most of the leading specialists
> in each field have always either ignored the question
> or been against,

I think it is premature to look for a relationship here until we have a
more thorough reconstruction of Proto-Afroasiatic. Semitic is the branch
of Afas which has been most closely in contact with IE for the longest
period. As long as the comparison is with Semitic only without
considering the Afas context, there is no way to know whether the
similarities are genetic or simply reflect an ancient ME Sprachbund.

> I really fail to see why reasonable scholars keep
> trying to deny that opinions which they do not
> share on topics which they may not have studied
> in depth (I know of no published work by either
> poster on this topic) actually exist, instead of
> being content that at least for now theirs is
> the majority position.
> I do not see why so many linguists try to deny the existence
> (now or before they died)
> of Pedersen, Dolgopolsky, Illich-Svitych, Bomhard,
> Moller, Starostin, or indeed my own.

I didn't mean to slight anyone, but if you remember the poster asked
about *phonetic similarities between words in Arabic and Modern European
languages*.  Even if these languages are genetically related at great
time depth it is unlikely to be apparent from phonetic similarities. (I
think we would all agree about that, wouldn't we?)  My post was mainly a
warning to be aware of other sources for similarites among languages.

Robert R. Ratcliffe
Senior Lecturer, Arabic and Linguistics,
Dept. of Linguistics and Information Science
Tokyo University of Foreign Studies
Nishigahara 4-51-21, Kita-ku
Tokyo 114 Japan

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