Arabic and IE

Alexis Manaster-Ramer manaster at
Sun Jan 31 20:15:07 UTC 1999

----------------------------Original message----------------------------

On Sat, 30 Jan 1999, Alice Faber wrote (inter alia)

> Alexis Manaster-Ramer disingenuously summarizes work on potential
> Semitic/Indo-European relationships:
I really hate that qualifier 'disingenuously'.  I thought
I was so 'ingenious'.

> > (a) the vast majority of linguists have never studied
> > the question at all,
> True
Finally, somebody I respect and who I think everybody
respects admits this fundamental point.

> > (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,
> Point (e) is where I have a problem. For those who don't know me...

There is no question in my mind that Dr. Faber is a really
well-known and (although this is an independent point)
truly exceptionally wonderful historical linguist, both
in and out of Semitic.

> What Alexis is totally omitting  ...  is any
> mention of the Afro-Asiatic family, of which Semitic comprises one group. The
> other language groups in Afro-Asiatic are Egyptian, Berber, Chadic, Cushitic,
> and Omotic.


> My understanding of most larger affiliations for
> Semitic is that are in fact filiations for Afro-Asiatic and not merely
> Semitic, but it's worth making that explicit.
Of course, Alice is right, but I just did not want to make my
posting an advertisement for Nostratic.  Of course, too, since I
have somehow become one of the main advocates of taking Nostratic
seriously in recent years, I agree fully.

For those few people who do not know this, the Nostratic theory,
so named by Pedersen (whom I mentioned in the post Alice is
responding to), holds (in most of its versions, but not all)
that IE, Afro-Asiatic, Altaic, Uralic, and some otherlanguage
families (about which there is some room for disagreements) form
a bigger family, called Nostratic (some other names have also
been proposed).

> Furthermore, and now I'm speculating wildly, if I were seriously
> interested in
> linking Afro-Asiatic with other language stocks, Indo-European, or, indeed,
> any other Eurasian language stock, is *not* where I would look first. Rather,
> I would look seriously at Nilo-Saharan.

This could well be right, but historically Nilo-Saharan was all
but unknown to the pioneers of Nostratic..  As it happens, I also
know next nothing about it, so for the time being, I cannot
try to test Alice's hypothesis.  But the question is not
I dont think a really that important.  It is quite often the
case that we put together language families in a way that later
turns out to require revision.  When Armenian was recognized
as Indo-European, people took it to be a part of the Iranian
group of languages.  That turned to be wrong, but it does not
mean that Armenian is therefore any more or less IE.  It does not
matter where you start so much as where you end up.

> I fear that at least some of the
> interest, especially from non-specialists, in relating Semitic and
> Indo-European is motivated by a notion of "Judeo-Christian cultural
> tradition" that may, itself, not be supported by the historical record.
I dont think this attribution is true in the case of the principal
Nostratic scholars such as Pedersen or Illich-Svitych or Dolgopolsky
or Bomhard etc.  It certainly is not something true of me.
And I don't know if all this matters. Chomsky's view of about
the innateness of linguistic capacities may have been influenced
by his views about human equality-or vice versa, but that does not
have any bearing on whether he is right or wrong.


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