[An-lang] Proto-Dialect chains

Waruno Mahdi mahdi at fhi-berlin.mpg.de
Mon Jul 21 17:09:37 UTC 2003

I think that one problem with terminology is that terms tend to
oversimplify that which they are meant to express, and I fully
agree with Isidore Dyen with regard to the non-uniqueness of
that which one likes to call 'language' and 'dialect'.

When one says 'language', even when one is concretely describing
it with a set of grammatical rules and a corpus of lexical units,
etc., one proceeds as if it were a uniform thing.
In reality, it is not only a chain of dialects being represented
in our imagination by something like a 'main strain' (biology),
but it is furthermore structured in comprising age-specific,
gender-specific, profession-specific, a.o. varieties.

With 'innovations' one however has to do with a perhaps even more
confusing quid-pro-quo. The problem aptly circumscribed by
Andrew Pawley is possibly because the term may be deceptive,
i.e. it calls something that which it isn't.

If languages A-D have an exclusive common feature apparently
assignable to some archeform *X (I'll not call it protoform yet),
then there are several possibilities.
One is, that A-D form a compact subgroup in the sense of being the
exclusive daughter languages of a single protolanguage to be called
P-AD, and *X was an exclusive feature of P_AD inherited by A-B-C-D.
In this case *X may be called a 'protoform' and the use of the term
'innovation' would indeed be justified.

Another possibility is that is indeed a protoform, but not of P_AD
but of P-AB and then borrowed into C and D. It is still an innovation,
but not for A-D, but A-B, and it is just by chance, that C and D,
which happened to borrow it, also happen to be grouped with A and B
as common descendants of P-AB. But there is nothing that forbids it
from being borrowed by C and E, but not by D. Obviously, this can be
further variated to reconstruct all the messy overlaps Andrew Pauley

Finally there is the possibility, that *X is not a protoform, and
not an innovation of the kind we are assuming above at all, not even
for part of the languages which feature it. I indicated such a probable
instance in the case of apparent reflexes of the as-if protoform
*Zel[e]ma 'person' (Malay j at lma 'manifestation, reincarnation <
< Sanskrit janma 'creature, being') in several languages and dialects
in West Indonesia in endnote 199 (plus/minus 1) of my 1994 Oceanic
Linguistics paper (part II, p. 483) - I'm quoting from a pre-final

So, strictly speaking, in instances with overlapping alignments
as described by Andey Pawley, at best only such with one certain
distribution pattern could theoretically be innovations of a
common precursor protolanguage. In all the differently distributed
patterns, these cannot be innovations in the actual sense which
we think we are implying when we use the term. The question, then,
is, which, if any, of the various observed distributions are we to
assign to an innovation?

I think, it would perhaps be more consistent if we stopped using
the term 'innovation' but talk of 'common features' instead.
It's less sexy, I agree, but at least we wouldn't be potentially
deceiving our own selves.

Aloha,  Waruno

Waruno Mahdi               tel:   +49 30 8413-5414
Faradayweg 4-6             fax:   +49 30 8413-5106
14195 Berlin               email: mahdi at fhi-berlin.mpg.de
Germany                    WWW:   http://w3.rz-berlin.mpg.de/~wm/

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