disinformation on Uralic

Johanna Laakso johanna.laakso at univie.ac.at
Sat Sep 1 16:32:42 UTC 2001

I very much appreciate and want to support Johanna Laakso's enterprise of collating the "false" statements on Uralic. This will form essential material for general linguists to understand and appreciate these languages, and also I believe it will be important for us Uralists to help us "sort the wheat from the chaff".

  Regarding references to "blatantly and indisputably false statements" on Uralic, I would like to suggest looking at my forthcoming book "The Uralic language family: facts, myths and statistics", Transactions of the Philological Society, Blackwell, to be published by the end of 2001. This identifies several false statements, and I hope the book is written in an objective way so that it will be valuable, whether or not you agree with its conclusion (which is that Uralic is not a valid node).

  I would suggest that a study of the sort being proposed could profitably be extended. There are certainly "true" statements about Uralic - these are statements that are supported by the evidence. And there are indeed a significant number of "false" statements, which are contradicted by the evidence, such as are being collated in this enterprise.

  But there is a third category - and a more serious and important one in my view. These are statements that are neither supported not contradicted by the evidence. One might say that these statements are "not even wrong" because there is no way to tell whether they are true or false. These should properly be labelled as "speculations", but often in Uralic studies one finds them presented as if they were "facts".

  For example, in a detailed anaysis of Tunguz and nearby Uralic languages published between 1975 and 1988, Sinor identifies many "flawless" correspondences. He says "I am quite certain that if from all the Uralic and Altaic languages only the Northern Tunguz and Ob-Ugric were known, no-one would deny their genetic relationship". However it is usually stated as a "fact" that these "flawless" correspondences are not due to genetic inheritance but due to some other process (usually called "direct borrowing"). This is presented as "fact" even though there is no objective way to demonstrate its truth or falsity.

  I believe it to be the central problem for the field that the literature frequently fails to distinguish between facts, assumptions and speculations in this way.

  Angela Marcantonio
(angela.marcantonio at ntlworld.com)

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