[An-lang] Proto-Dialect chains

John Lynch lynch_j at VANUATU.USP.AC.FJ
Mon Jul 21 23:59:40 UTC 2003

Given that Waruno is correct when he says "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'", I
still think we NEED terms as simple labels for admittedly complex concepts.

In this context, an earlier dialect chain which is the ancestor of a group
of languages related as a linkage is probably different from an earlier
homogeneous protolanguage only in the degree of internal variation. The
component speech-communities of a proto-dialect-chain will, of course, have
many commonalities - if they did not, we would be dealing with a
multi-lingual and not a multi-dialectal situation. And this implies then
that a proto-dialect-chain is "sort of" like a protolanguage, except that
there is/was more internal variation.

It seems to me too that (a) we can reconstruct these commonalities in just
the same way, and with the same degree of resemblance to an earlier reality,
as we reconstruct forms in a protolanguage, and (b) we can reconstruct at
least some of the variation as well. After all, we already have forms in
protolanguages reconstructed with internal variation: this is just a more
complex situation.

This said, we need a simple term to represent the complex concept of an
earlier dialect-chain and a simple way to name such chains, in the same way
as we use simple terms to cover other quite complex concepts. My original
suggestion was to use proto-dialect-chain for the general concept, and
small-p proto-ABC for an actual exponent of this, contrasting with capital-P
Proto-ABC to represent an actual protolanguage.

The greater difficulty, as Isidore and Andy remind us, is trying to
establish a relative chronology of diversification.

John Lynch

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