disinformation on Uralic

Johanna Laakso johanna.laakso at univie.ac.at
Mon Sep 3 14:14:47 UTC 2001

Dear Uralists,

forwarded, Angela Marcantonio's next message. I must say I disagree with her about the relative importance of early language comparisons to present-day Uralistics: I don't feel that the errors or methodological weak points of early Uralists like O. Donner or Budenz as such are very central to our ideas or definitions of Uralic historical and genetic linguistics. However, those who feel like it are welcome to continue the discussion.




"Angela Marcantonio" <angela.marcantonio at ntlworld.com> wrote:

> Dear Johanna,
> Thank you for submitting my recent e-mail to Ura-list. This email is sent to
> you - if you think it appropriate please forward it to Ura-List.
> Regarding the "false" statements about Uralic, perhaps the most important of
> these statements concern the early historical origins and the foundation of
> the Uralic paradigm.
> For example, many authors quote Donner as the  person who established the U
> family tree using scientific means. For example, Georg. et al (1999:75), say
> that: "..it was the discovery of compelling evidence that Finno-Ugric and
> Samoyed form a unit which came to be called Uralic (Donner 1881)...," . A
> similar sentiment is expressed or implied elsewhere, for example, Janhunen
> (2001: 32):".. the relationship between Finno-Ugric and Samoyed was still
> waiting for a definitive proof in Donner's time".
> However, the original paper by Donner (1881) says no such a thing.
> 1. Donner explicitly rejects what is now regarded the founding principle
> behind the U unity, that is the regularity of sound change
> 2. Donner provides no reconstruction of P-Uralic, and indeed his model is
> contrary to the modern view that he is supposed to have "scientifically
> founded". He suggests that the data "appears to lead to the assumption" that
> F-U and Samoyed had a period of common development after they split off from
> the wider Altaic family. ". nachdem sie sich [F-U and Samoyed] bereits von
> den Turko-tatarischen und Mongolischen Volkerschaften geschieden hatten.."
> 3. Donner's evidence comprises mainly an examination of features that are
> now regarded as irrelevant for assessing genetic relationships, such as
> vowel harmony, possessive and nominalised verbal constructions. The only
> features that he examines which are nowadays regarded as relevant, are the
> case endings. He notes a few case endings which he recognises to be equally
> widespread in the other Altaic languages.
> 4. Donner does not claim that his evidence is "compelling". Quite the
> opposite. His conclusion is that Samoyed is, "on balance closer" to F-U than
> to other Altaic languages. (This conclusion is consistent with his presumed
> model that what are now regarded as separate Uralic and Altaic languages in
> fact formed a genetic unity).
> How is it that these "false" statements are so widely propagated, and how is
> it that they fail to be challenged, even by Uralists? Perhaps part of the
> answer lies in the general accessibility of the original material. For
> example, Donner's paper is very difficult to get hold of. It is at Florence
> University and entailed for my team a personal trip in order to get it.
> Likewise, some of Budenz' original papers are not available in Rome or
> Cambridge and for me it entailed a trip to Budapest.
> Do you have the technology, as part of your project, to make facsimiles of
> these original papers available on the web? For example Donner's paper is
> only a dozen pages long. If you were able to set up this service then I
> could send you some of the key ones (including key abstracts from Budenz'
> work). I believe that the copyright will have expired on these papers so
> there will be no impediment to publishing them in this way.
> >   Angela Marcantonio
> > (angela.marcantonio at ntlworld.com)

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