[An-lang] Proto-Dialect chains

Paz B. Naylor pnaylor at umich.edu
Fri Jul 18 17:57:49 UTC 2003

Re: [An-lang] Proto-Dialect chainsThanks to you all -it 's a wonderful feeling that we once again have AN-LANG going again now.

All the best to ALL, Paz

  ----- Original Mes
  sage ----- 
  From: Andy Pawley 
  To: an-lang at anu.edu.au 
  Sent: Thursday, July 17, 2003 11:42 PM
  Subject: Re: [An-lang] Proto-Dialect chains

  In response to comments by Isidore Dyen, John Terrell and Piet Lincoln on the dialect chain issue:

  Yes, Lynch and I were discussing more fundametal comparative issues. John's query about a convenient nomenclature was not the basic concern.

  My jumping off point was a long-standing interest in using subgrouping and dialect geography to draw inferences about where earlier stages of a set of related languages were spoken and about the nature of regional variation within such earlier stages.

  We start with the well-known fact that regional variation in languages is (in varying degrees) a problem for defining subgroups and for reconstructing earlier stages. I had objected to certain instances in which linguists had applied the term 'subgroup', without qualification, to some cases where the distribution of innovations was pretty messy.

  Let us contrast two hypothetical situations where one might be tempted to say that within a language family X, languages A-D form a subgroup.  Let us also make the simplifying assumption that we know which features are innovations of A-D as opposed to retentions from proto X.

  (1) The ideal subgroup. Languages A-D share a large body of innovations apart from all other languages in family X.  All the innovations are present in all members of A-D. Furthermore, there are no innovations linking any subset of A-D. Finally, all four languages are geographically far apart.  Such a pattern strongly indicates that A-D stem from an earlier stage, proto A-D, in which there was relatively little regional variation, and that each of A-D became geographically separated at about the same time. In these ideal circumstances, if a cognate set is shared by any two or more members of A-D it can confidently be attributed to proto A-D.  

  (2). A messier situation. Languages P-S are linked only by many overlapping innovations, such that certain innovations are shared by P-Q, others by Q-R, others by R-S, and still others by P-R or Q-S. Furthermore, P-S are geographically contiguous. Here we must conclude that P-S diverged gradually from an old dialect chain, in which P was next to Q, Q was next to R and R was next to S, in much the same geographic relations as exists between the contemporary languages, and that there was a long period during which innovations spread along the dialect chain. At some stage there may have been a more homogeneous language ancestral to P-S but we cannot tell this from the available evidence.

  Do we call P-S a subgroup?  Put another way, can we speak of P-S as sharing a proto-language? More specifically, if we are trying to reconstruct proto PS, what status do we give to those elements that are shared only by a subset of P-S, say a cognate set found only in M and N? 

  Actual cases may resemble types (1) and (2) more or less closely. Malcolm Ross, has used the name 'innovation-defined subgroups' for sets of languages that come close to type (1). Sets that show a pattern resembling (2) he calls 'innovation-linked subgroups'.

  I have some some reservations about using 'subgroup' for sets of languages ,linked only by overlapping innovations. Certainly it is the case that some reconstructions associated with type (2) situations will represent different dialect regions and different times. I think we should make a point of describing/labelling such reconstructions in a way that shows their problematic status.

  Isidore Dyen comments:

     I see little point to trying to specify the type of membership of
    a protolanguage in its nomenclature. Ths is better handled in a list
    with indications of the interrelation of the members in a family tree
    that allows for multiple simultaneous branchings that indicate that we
    are unable to distinguish the order of the branchings because the
  necessary data are lacking and in many cases will never be accessible.

  There are certainly recalcitrant cases that fit the description in Dyen's last sentence. But I think the type (2) situation, of overlapping innovations that show a clear geographic pattern, is somewhat different. Here we have no reason to believe that there was an order of branching within P-S. Instead there was a gradual in situ disintegration of a dialect chain.

  Sometimes careful study of the data, combining the methods of dialect geography with the Comparative Method, enables us to work out the relative chronology and direction of the spread of particular innovations along a dialect chain. There are many such cases presented in Paul Geraghty 1983 book The History of the Fijian Languages, which is surely the most brilliant application of dialect geography to a part of the Austronesian family.

  Andy Pawley 

    The impression I have is that thre are two different things involved.
    The first is the the hypothesis of a prolanguage and the second is the
    membership in terms of languages and dialects in the subgroup emanating
    from that language. The protlanguage is in any case a dialect chain. No
    two speakers of the same language have identical idiolects (speech-
    types). A dialect is a collection of idiolects that share the same
    trait or collection of traits. A language is a collection of dialects
    (or idiolects)held together by a chain of peirs of mutually
    intelligible idiolects. A dialect-chain is a grouping of dialects that
    constitute a language. As a language your 'Ancestral..' is a
    protolanguage with a dialect membership that we can vaguely, if at all,
    see by way of reconstruction, not by imposing a shape to it, except as
    the procedures of reconstruction imply them. The kind of dialect chain
    that constituted the protolanguage is hard to infer from the data
    available without very detailed comparisons along the lines that you
    are engaged in and I hope you will continue to pursus. But as you can
    see, I see little point to trying to specify the ty[pe of membership of
    a protolanguage in its nomenclature. Ths is better handled in a list
    with indications of the interrelation of the members in a family tree
    that allows for multiple simultaneous branchings that indicate that we
    are unable to distinguish the order of the branchings because the
    necessary data are lacking and in many cases will never be accessible.
    I hope you will not take offense with my dealing with what I think of
    as the fubdamentals of comparative work, but i do believe that your
    problem as you presented it was best dealt with from a review of those
    fundamentals. Cordially and with best wishes for continued discussions.
    Content-type: multipart/alternative;

    Content-type: text/plain

    Andrew Pawley and I have been having a little private e-discussion, but felt
    it might be better to come on-list to get a wider spread of ideas.

    The query relates to the nomenclature used for protolanguages and families
    as opposed to proto-dialect chains and linkages. One might refer to the
    Polynesian subgroup, for example, and to Proto-Polynesian, as implying a
    (fairly) homogeneous and uniform single ancestral language. Forms labelled
    PPn *xyz would thus represent forms which, to the best of our knowledge,
    were part of that protolanguage.

    My concern is with dialect-chains. There was probably a Southern Oceanic
    linkage, an dialect-chain ancestral to the languages of Vanuatu and New
    Caledonia. To use the same nomenclature for this proto-dialect chain - i.e.,
    Proto-Southern Oceanic - tends to imply that it is of the same nature as a
    more homogeneous protolanguage, which it is not.

    Nevertheless, it seems to me that it would be useful to have some fairly
    tight and neat way of referring to such ancestors, and not by some
    long-winded expression like "Ancestral Southern Oceanic dialect-chain" or
    some such, especially since one can legitimately also make reconstructions
    for such a "language", with the proviso that they are less secure and were
    probably more subject to internal variation than those made for

    My suggestion to Andy was to use lower-case p: proto-Southern Oceanic and
    pSOc as opposed tpo Proto-Polynesian and PPn. I felt this would be a
    sufficient indication of difference, and yet at the same time brief,
    succinct, and similar enough to existing conventions.

    Does anyone have any reactions to such a convention, or more importantly any
    idea on what others might have used?


    John Lynch


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