Alexandre FRANCOIS alex_francois at hotmail.com
Tue Apr 27 13:35:49 UTC 1999

Dear Chaumont,

Stop guns ! Sorry for being misunderstood, I NEVER intended to refer
to you as being psychotic or anything of that kind ; I only used the
word (indeed stronger than my intention was) to mean that linguistic
rules are not only established through fancy of the "crazy" [= better
word than psychotic, but anyway not reflecting my opinion at all]
scientists whom you seem to criticize,
i.e. rules do not just emerge from their idle imagination, but indeed
they try (as well as they can) to account for some real phenomena,
which are set up by the very speakers themselves. So sorry if I wasn't
clear, I never said anyone was psychotic, but instead was intending to
dampen down your sarcastic irony against "scientists", since I don't
despise them as you do (I wouldn't dare, for I don't consider myself
to be above "the best and brightest scientists" so as to laugh at them
in global statements). To quote you :
>> If there is one thing I hate/love about linguistics it must be the
>> in which with just one puff of insulting irregularity natural
>> can so completely blow away even the most carefully laid
>> theoretical frameworks of our best and brightest scientists
>> --computational or otherwise!
[in a way, one could find insulting, too, such easy sarcasms against
people (scholars) who dedicate themselves to research & science, which
is a hard work.]

OK, so let's forget about this kind of never-ending debate "for" or
"against" science, it would be a waste of time for us all, wouldn't it

Regarding the related words you underlined in Buru, my criticism was
nothing more than a reasonable discussion about how we could deal with
their puzzling abundance ; of course I was not criticizing yourself as
an individual, since I don't know you and I don't think it would be
relevant in this AN-list [and to reassure you, nobody told me about
you, I only know you through this list]. As I said, I do congratulate
you again for your amazing knowledge of Buru language, and for the
many suggestions you gave me (and the AN-list) about the *koro root.

And indeed I am sure that some of those words DO belong to the root
under discussion, be it with the meaning "to roll", or "to surround",
or "wrinkled", etc. But I was just asking : which word(s) do(es)
REALLY belong to it, among the many interesting suggestions that you
gave ? Can't we find any linguistic clue to help us decide, either
regular phonetic correspondences, or a somewhat reliable semantic
regularity (like for Bob's suggestions about 'city, 'wall', 'fence'
? I just meant I could hardly believe that all those Buru words, which
sound so different and are semantically so far away from one another,
can really belong to the same origin. And if they do (like English or
French words belonging to a same indo-european root like *sta- "stand"
or *dhe- "set"), as you seem to suggest, this (unfortunately) would be
unverifyable. Don't you agree with me ?

Because if we start going that way, we could find (though fuzzily) the
idea of "circle" [or "fence"] in any word of any language, be it the
name for "table" (because some tables are round), "snake" (because
snakes may display circles on their skin, or because snakes have round
eyes, or because their body is round if you cut it), "to shut"
(because you can close a round box), "afternoon" (maybe because the
sun or the moon, or my handwatch, are round) etc. etc. But I simply
don't find it realistic to say so, UNLESS such semantic correlations
are strongly suggested by the form of the very words, or by other
scientific proofs. [And I am not biting anyone's hand]

For instance, it can be proved that an English word like "factory" is
anciently related to "hypothesis", because we do have witnesses, and
well-established derivational patterns (precisely the ones you call
"theoretical", etc.), which allow us to see in "factory" a descendent
of Latin /facio/ which demonstrably comes from (Proto) Indo-european
root *dhe [more precisely *dhH1] "to set up", whereas "hypothesis"
eventually comes from Greek /ti-the:-mi/, itself connected to the same
i.-eur. root *dhH1 ("to set up"). But of course, if no other formal
clue of this relation existed (=other witnesses of the root in akin
languages + knowledge of the history of English
), who would believe
that /factory/ is related to /hypothesis/ ?? I wouldn't ; and I guess
nobody here would do.

So in the same way, I don't pretend that /karahisit/ "black snake" MAY
NOT be related at all to /godok/ "blunted", for it MAY ; but if this
is true (and I would indeed enjoy it to be true), it has to be proved
with linguistic evidence. My claim is as simple as that. Yet, I did
get the semantic relation ("wrinkled", etc.) you suggested between all
those Buru words, and I find it brilliant indeed ; but how could we be
sure of it ?

And speaking about English etymologies, I'm sorry to say that Eng.
/cover/ is NOT related to other words like /curl/, /coil/
, but
instead comes from (Old) French /couvrir/ < Latin /co-operi:-re/, with
the /co-/ prefix. [I don't know about the other words, I don't have my
Oxford dictionary here].

We must be thankful to the famous "Neo-Grammarians" who discovered,
one century ago, the principle of regular transformations in the
history of languages, for people at that time would only rely upon
external (phonetical / semantical) resemblances between words ; and
I'm afraid that is the way you do too [see for instance the English

So, Chaumont, although I am indeed interested in the many words you
proposed for the *koro root, I just don't know (maybe somebody does
among us) what tools [you may call them "theoretical frameworks"] may
help us sort all those words. And regarding the "insulting" stuff,
forget it, it was never among my intentions.

Cheers everybody,


PS: I could have sent this directly to Chaumont, but there are a few
things in this debate which could be interesting or discussed from a
scientific point of view too ; and I hope I made clear for everybody
what was meant in my last email [including about Chaumont himself,
whom I do respect AS a linguist, although he pretends not to be.]

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