Unwarranted certainty

ECOLING at aol.com ECOLING at aol.com
Wed Aug 11 15:06:21 UTC 1999

In a message dated 8/11/99 3:17:42 AM, kurisuto at unagi.cis.upenn.edu writes:

>I guess it depends on what you mean by 'know'.  Conclusions drawn from the
>mechanical application of an investigative method are one thing; educated
>speculation is another.  When we reconstruct PIE laryngeals, we do so on
>the basis of a strict application of the Comparative Method; when we
>speculate about the phonetic values of those categories, we're doing just
>that: speculating.

There is another distinction being made here which I wish to challenge.
Even when there is no hypothesis included about the phonetic nature
of the recontructed phoneme based on sound correspondences,
IT IS SIMPLY NOT THE CASE that use the narrow-sense comparative
method yields conclusions which are certain beyond reasonable doubt,
while use of what I have called reconstructive method is educated speculation.

The plausibility of the hypothesized original sound values and of the
changes necessary under hypothesis to get from them to attested presumed
descendants can actually have a bearing on whether we believe the
of the phonemic categories (without regard to their sound value) had been
done correctly.

The "comparative method" is a tool like other tools,
applied blindly it can yield wrong results.
There are known cases of this.

Lloyd Anderson
Ecological Linguistics

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