Articles on Uralic phylogenetics
florian.siegl at gmx.net
Tue Nov 5 08:12:03 UTC 2013
As the authors of this project apparently want to generate discussion as
they insisted on spreading their news on Ura-List, I take the
opportunity to comment shortly on the Diachronica paper. Let me say in
advance, that historical-comparative linguistics is not my main field of
interest and this apparently won't change in the future. However, as I
have undergone the typical historical-comparative training of the
discipline and spent a decade in a department infamously known for
"revolutionary and post-revolutionary approaches to Uralic linguistics"
until the retirement of its propagator, I have a hard time understanding
My first open question is concerned with the nature of "phylogeny"
propagated by these papers. Since when is language classification based
exclusively on vocabulary and sound changes? Historically and
theoretically, we are back in the 18th century again, perhaps with
insights in sound changes deriving from the 20th century now reproduced
by statistical and biological software... And then, why Swadesh?
Second, it is quite hilarious to read the following introductory
statement: "Most Uralic research remains non-quantitative...
(Diachronica p. 335). Some pages later however one reads that their data
set contains a 100-item data set, a 200-item data set and a 500-word
data set. Given that data for historical-comparative work is restricted,
why is this new approach with 500 items any better and less
"non-quantitative"? From the perspective of lexicography or corpus
linguistics, 500 tokens is indeed "non-quantitative".
Third, it is quite astonishing to see that output of researchers with a
clear "revolutionary connotation" (Künnap & Taagepera 2004; Tambovtsev
2004) are even considered in such a paper. Apparently, the international
reviewers have been unaware what happened in the discipline in the late
1990s and the first years of the new millennium and can't tell solid
scholarship from less solid. And by the way, so did the authors of this
joint paper and their "linguistic" advisers for whom quite some space is
Summing up the Diachronica paper, one sees a "scientific" reproduction
of a number of "scholarly assembled facts" equaling earlier scholarship
which was accused of having been based on a "non-quantitative sample".
After all, it is nice to see that "scholarly work" can indeed compete
with a biological software data set analysis and one may be tempted to
say that "scholarly work is indeed rather scientific". Of course, the
Diachronica paper is an instance of that kind of "science" generally
appreciated as "hard science" as the paper tests predictions based on a
sampled data set and shows different models based on different analysis.
But clearly, this paper does not show anything amazingly new; it
"scientifically" reproduces data which has been assembled scholarly and
comes to solutions which are not too diverging. So, all we got is "quod
erum demonstrandum" now supported by software desgined by humans?
Finally, let me come back to my opening statement -- in order to make
such research interesting for a community of "scholars" (that's how we
are called by "scientists"), another central component of
historical-comparative linguistics needs to be integrated -- historical
grammar. After all, genetic classification needs both lexicon and
grammar. But then, historical grammar is messy, there is more analogy,
leveling etc which blurs the nice and clear cut lexicon and sound change
picture. I wonder if this can be modeled and combined with the study one
eagerly wanted to share with the community. Such a paper might indeed
hold some surprises and would produce something new for the 21^st
century. As long as "phylogeny" is limited to vocabulary and sound
change, the picture is incomplete and partial, even if it can be tested
"scientifically". After all, the genetic unity of Uralic (and any other
language family) is indeed more than vocabulary and sound change...
On 4.11.2013 18:13, Johanna Laakso wrote:
> Dear All,
> Outi Vesakoski of the BEDLAN project (http://kielievoluutio.uta.fi/ )
> wanted to share these papers of their project with the URA-LIST community!
> Univ.Prof. Dr. Johanna Laakso
> Universität Wien, Institut für Europäische und Vergleichende Sprach-
> und Literaturwissenschaft (EVSL)
> Abteilung Finno-Ugristik
> Campus AAKH Spitalgasse 2-4 Hof 7
> A-1090 Wien
> johanna.laakso at univie.ac.at <mailto:johanna.laakso at univie.ac.at> .
> Project ELDIA: http://www.eldia-project.org/
> Välitetty viesti alkaa:
>> *Lähettäjä: *Outi Vesakoski <outves at utu.fi <mailto:outves at utu.fi>>
>> *Aihe: **uralilaista fylogenetiikkaa*
>> *Päivämäärä: *4. marraskuuta 2013 15.56.30 UTC+1.00
>> *Vastaanottaja: *Johanna Laakso <johanna.laakso at univie.ac.at
>> <mailto:johanna.laakso at univie.ac.at>>
>> Olisiko mielestäsi mahdollista ja asiallista laittaa oheiset
>> artikkelit ura-listalle jakoon? Se voisi olla hyvä tapa saada kiinni
>> varsin tärkeä osa juttujen lukijakuntaa! Kaikki eivät välttämättä
>> pääse ainakaan Journal of Evolutionary Biologyyn, jos vaikka
>> Diachronica olisikin kaikkien saatavilla.
>> En muista, että saanko itse kirjoittaa listalle ja laittaa liitteitä,
>> mutta joka tapauksessa haluan ekaksi kysyä sinulta. Samalla tulen
>> lähettäneeksi molemmat artikkelit suoraan sinullekin (tosin voi olla,
>> että lähetin Terhin työn jo aikaisemminkin.)
>> T. Outi Vesakoski
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