Arabic and IE

Alexis Manaster-Ramer manaster at
Sun Jan 31 23:32:31 UTC 1999

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

On Sun, 31 Jan 1999, Robert R. Ratcliffe wrote:
> 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.

The Afro-Asiatic connection is itself widely question by
people who work within Semitic and by one important figure
in comparative linguistics, Gerhard Doerfer.  Of course, they
are crazy to take this view, but their existence does show
that it is not wise to identify truth with universal
acceptance of a proposition.

The proposition that Afro-Asiatic and hence Semitic
IS related to Indo-European is held by many fewer
scholars, and rejected by many more, than the thesis
that Semitic is part of Afro-Asiatic.  Nonetheless, both
the Afro-Asiatic and the Nostratic hypothesis are
legitimate linguistic theories held by enough
competent scholars to be true or at least probable
so that it is in my view disinformation to respond
to the question of whether Semitic to related to
IE by stating the former as a fact(without admiting
the existence of contrary opinions) and not even
mentioning the latter at all.

My worthy opponent has every right to reject Nostratic,
although he has not cited any evidence that he has
the qualifications to judge this theory on its
merits or that he has even read the relevant
literature, but he has no right whatever to pretend
that I, for example, do not exist.

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

There is well-known literature on BOTH points.
As matter of fact some of the best work on
contacts between the twain was done by people who
also think they are (distantly) related, but
apparently not everybody reads the literature.

> 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.

Of course, Greenberg excludes AA from his version of Nostratic,
which he calls by another name, but anyone who has read
Greenberg also knows that Greenberg believes that AA and
Nostratic are themselves distnatly related.  Moreover,
I do not deny that many linguists reject the AA-IE
connection. I deal with them, in print, all the time:
Ringe, Hamp, Serebrennikov, Doerfer, and many others
certainly exist(ed).  It is MY existence that I would
like acknowledged, and that of Pedersen, Illich-Svitych,
Dolgopolsky, Bomhard, et al.

> I think it is premature to look for a relationship here until we have a
> more thorough reconstruction of Proto-Afroasiatic.

You may feel that way, but you have no right to pretend that
there are not scholars who not only"look for a relationship"
but think they have found one.  The very formulation of this
sentence is unfair.  We are not talking about an idea that
has just been broached but one which is almost as old as
the idea of AA itself.

> 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.
No Nostratic scholar does this and to suggest that they (we?)
do is another piece of disinformation.  In fact, Illich-Svitych
and Dolgopolsky were among the pioneers of modern AA
comp. ling., with major contributions in Chadic and
Cushitic, respectively, while at the same time
being the cofounders of modern Nostratic studies.

But you keep writing as though you are unaware of or
would like to ignore the existnece of the existence
of these scholars, and others like me.

> > 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?)

Of course, we agree, but it is still unbelievable that anybody
would continue to defend the idea of teaching people about AA
without any mention of Nostratic.

Moreover, as noted, you misrepresent Greenberg's views and still
do not seem to want to acknowledge that Illich-Svitych or
Dolgopolsky or Bomhard or Pedersen or I or any number of
others I could have named have (had) ANY views at all.


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