Discussion: Nostratic

Johanna Laakso johanna.laakso at univie.ac.at
Wed Dec 20 19:17:55 UTC 2000

Dear Uralists,

Patrick C. Ryan sent us a message asking for Uralists' assistance in his
Nostratic studies. I did not forward it to the list at once, the most
important reason being that the link he gave did not work. I can imagine
that most of us are - to put it mildly - wary of proto-language comparisons
based on secondary sources, without first-hand expertise, and that most of
us are simply very, very weary of "discussing" these matters with
over-energetic laymen. However, being also very, very tired, I do not want
to censor any contributions merely on this basis, and forward the following
message (the most relevant parts of our discussion, with PR1 for excerpts of
the original message, JL for my comments, and PR2 for Pat's meta-comments).
Please feel free to form your opinion.



-----Ursprüngliche Nachricht-----
Von: proto-language <proto-language at email.msn.com>
An: Johanna Laakso <johanna.laakso at univie.ac.at>
Datum: 20 December 2000 18:06
Betreff: Re: To all of you

Dear Johanna:

----- Original Message -----
From: "Johanna Laakso" <johanna.laakso at univie.ac.at>
To: "proto-language" <proto-language at email.msn.com>
Sent: Wednesday, December 20, 2000 2:02 AM
Subject: Re: To all of you

Dear Pat,

I haven't forwarded your message to URA-LIST yet, for two reasons. The more
powerful one is that the link you mentioned does not work ("page does not
[PR1]> http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/2803/c-Uralic-7.htm

[PR2]Very sorry. Since geocities introduced case-sensitivity, one has to be


[PR1]> I had been relying on Décsy but a friend from another list made me
> that there have been many new developments in Uralistics, and that this
> information needed many corrections.
> I like in a provincial city that virtually has no library, and I am unable
> to purchase the Uralic references he has indicated would be necessary ---
> this time.

[JL] Another reason: I believe that most URA-LISTers will be pretty
reluctant to
spend their time e-mailing information that has already appeared in print.
In my humble personal opinion, you'll have to face the truth: you just can't
do anything in Uralistics without buying, stealing or borrowing ;-) the
necessary reference books. As for the Nostratic hypothesis: I hope you are
aware of the many critical treatments of these problems that have appeared
in recent years.

[PR2] Yes, I am aware of resistance to the Nostratic hypothesis. I am also
convinced that it is primarily ideological rather than philosophical.

[PR1] > For example, Décsy lists *kura, 'basket'. My friend tells me that
> current root form would be *kori.

[JL] Décsy’s ideas of FU or PU etymologies are pretty idiosyncratic, and
Uralists do not share them. You would fare better with Uralisches
Etymologisches Wörterbuch (by Károly Rédei, appeared in print in the 1980s
but should exist as a data bank at the University of Koblenz - see

[PR2] This is a splendid resource, to be sure, but it does not really serve

It is not possible to do a search by WORD or by Uralic form such as, e.g.
possible on Starostin's Etymological Database for Caucasian, Dravidian,
Sino-Tibetan, etc. In fact, it would be more appropriate to call it a
"Dictionary" rather than a true database.

And, of course, Rédei is out of print.

[JL] but even the UEW
contains many reconstructions that many colleagues are not quite happy with.
A concise list to start with is in Pekka Sammallahti's article in the book
"The Uralic languages" (ed. by Denis Sinor, published by Brill 1988).

Actually, the word "root" is not quite appropriate in Uralistics - it is
used in Indo-Europeistics, where this concept is slightly different from
what you obviously mean, that is: an underived reconstructible word stem.

[PR2] Yes, I will be getting that book after Xmas.

I would be grateful if you would explain this ("root") in a little more

[JL] I don't have Décsy's book in my study (and I don't think it's
worthwhile to
go downstairs to the library and check it), but I have some doubts
concerning the feasibility of *kura (just now, I can't think of any Uralic
basis for this reconstruction). Your friend's suggestion sounds even more
doubtful; he must have thought of Modern Finnish _kori_ 'basket', which is a
quite recent loanword from Swedish.

[PR2] I will reproduce what he wrote:

"> The 'basket' etymology is based on Mari (Cheremis) k=FBr=FBks 'Gefäss aus
> Birkenrinde' and Proto-Samoyedic *kor (with identical meaning). This
> etymology is phonologically quite acceptable and the PU form can be
> reconstructed as *kori. (the distribution, as you notice, is quite
> restricted; there are also other suggested cognates, but they appear to me
> as phonologically dubious)."

[PR1] > So you see my problem.

[JL] I hope you see it, too: trying to make proto-Uralic comparisons without
necessary reference books or an elementary ability to evaluate the age or
etymology of Uralic words is a sad and hopeless enterprise.

[PR2] I hope when you visit my website, you will see that I am not the silly
tinkerer you must have concluded.

When I wrote the essay, I knew of no URA-List, and had no reason (since I
spoke with Décsy personally) to suspect that his etymologies were not in
good standing in the Uralic community.

My informant, and I have no way to judge his competence except
impressionistically, has pointed me in the same directions as you have but
has been kind to help me with specific information that was used to improve
the presentation and data of the essay.

I was hoping I could impose on the URA-List for some additional assistance.

I know, on the IE-List, regardless of what is in Watkins and Pokorny, many
of the IEists have interesting, informative, and slightly different opinions
which are illuminating. I was only hoping to benefit from the expertise of
members here in the same way.

Is it possible that you might reconsider?


PATRICK C. RYAN | PROTO-LANGUAGE at email.msn.com (501) 227-9947 * 9115 W.

St. Little Rock, AR 72204-4441 USA WEBPAGES: PROTO-LANGUAGE:
http://www.geocities.com/proto-language/ and PROTO-RELIGION:

ec at ec hecc, vindg=E1 mei=F0i a netr allar n=EDo, geiri vnda=FEr . . . =
a =FEeim
mei=FEi, er mangi veit, hvers hann af r=F3tom renn." (H=E1vam=E1l 138)

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