Conservative dilemma

Thu Aug 26 02:47:27 UTC 1999

referring to Algonquian - Wiyot - Yurok (Algonquian-Ritwan):

>> The question arises then, why is it that the best historical
>> linguists of American Indian languages were quite thoroughly
>> convinced AT SOME POINT that these languages were related,
>> yet the standard kind of evidence was somehow lacking?
>> What was it that they found so thoroughly convincing?

Larry Trask's message today in which he quotes the above paragraph
completely fails to understand the point,
because he does not know the Amerindian field,
and does not relize that the hypothesis I mentioned is now considered
by nearly everyone to be solidly demonstrated scientific hypothesis.

This was not some iffy hypothesis believed by uncareful researchers,
it is a hypothesis believed by the most conservative researchers.
The comment Trask quotes from Campbell simply is not relevant
to this case.

The "best historical linguistics" I was referring to are the CONSERVATIVES
whom Larry Trask I think most admires.
It was THOSE CONSERVATIVES who were completely convinced
that the two "outlier" languages are related to Algonquian,
yet some of THOSE SAME CONSERVATIVES also believed that
their standard comparative method was not adequate to prove this

The POINT is that the most CONSERVATIVE linguists
were able to base their conclusions on something beyond the
standard comparative method.  THEREFORE,
this is a prime field in which to explore WHAT these
conservatives found so convincing,
precisely in order to slightly extend our tools,
our self-conscious understanding of how we reason.

(Not all conservatives consider this a dilemma,
some consider that the standard conservative method
CAN demonstrate the relationship.  But some consider
it cannot, and for a larger number, there was an earlier
period when they considered it had not done so,
yet they were convinced the relationship was real and
was genetic.  For THOSE conservatives,
and at THAT time period, the dilemma exists and
provides us a great opportunity.)

I think Trask (along with many others)
considers that the standard traditional comparative method
is practically a definition of valid evidentiary reasoning.
They do not consider it merely a tool, which can be
extended, or which might have weaknesses (such as
sometimes, when properly applied to certain data sets,
giving the wrong result, a case I mentioned earlier).
They simply are unable to treat its validity and range
of applicability as an EMPIRICAL question.
(Many of them would not say this as a theoretical claim,
but in practice they act just as if they believed it.)

Lloyd Anderson
Ecological Linguistics

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