Conservative dilemma

Tue Aug 31 04:48:01 UTC 1999

Larry Trask has ONCE AGAIN seemed to be replying
to a comment about an intermediate stage
between inkling, discovery, and proof,
but has CHANGED the subject to talk about the final stages
of proof, so the reply is in substantial part not relevant.

Here is the evidence:


>But the original passage I was replying to did not appear to be about
>Algic, but rather about the assorted super-families set up mainly by
>Sapir, though often extended (and occasionally originated) by others.
>Lloyd appeared to be asking why early Americanists were so enthusiastic
>about these groupings, and my posting was a response to this query.

No, I did not ask that,
I referred specifically to Algic.
I do not think I mentioned Sapir.
I certainly did not mention others such as Powell, Kroeber, Swadesh, etc.
I did not mention "early" Americanists.
I did not mention an early period of excess enthusiasms about large-scale
groupings.  That was the farthest thing from the topic of MY
communications, though it obviously is central to Larry Trask's
since he switched to it.

[LA referring specifically to Algic]

>> 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.


>Agreed, but it is highly relevant to a lot of other cases.


I was not discussing those other cases at all!
Larry Trask is welcome to discuss them if he wishes,
but please not while claiming to be replying to statements
which were NOT about them.

If Larry Trask wishes to go on and on about excess enthusiasms,
in cases which everyone agrees are of that type, there would of
course be little point in anyone commenting further.

I have commented in the past only when I thought grand
generalizations were being uttered which were not supporable
typologically as absolutes,
such as what appeared to be a preference for finding a single same
consistent canonical form for expressive-symbolism vocabulary
and for the rest of the vocabulary of Basque or any other language.


Having changed the subject once, Trask then does it again,
by changing from a discussion of what SOME conservatives
believed IN THE PAST to what is the case today.


>> 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
>> relationship.


>So far as I know, the case for Algic rests solidly on shared
>inflectional morphology, which is normally considered adequate for

Note carefully the PRESENT TENSE verb "rests".
That is in no way relevant to what the situation was in the past,
as I indeed pointed out there was a difference earlier from now.
I do not see how I could have been clearer.


>Comparative reconstruction is of limited applicability because
>there is so little shared vocabulary between Algonquian and the
>California languages.

My belief (without actually looking at Teeter, though it is
merely a few feet from me as I write) is that lexicon is also
involved in the current arguments for the relationship.
"Little" is after all not "none".

Perhaps we can use this as a test case for what
lexical cognate sets might look like when there are very few
of them remaining because relations are distant.
Only by studying such cases can we get a better handle on
what happens to vocabulary resemblances at great genetic depths.
Do "recurring sound correspondences" progressively disappear,
but despite that, we judge that "sound correspondences" still remain,
and take a more prominent position?
That is, do we base our judgments at these greater depths
not on the recurrence of the same sound correspondence
repeated many times, which would make cognacies provable
no matter how odd or crazy-looking a correspondence might be,
or do we rather base our judgments on the phonetic reasonableness
of the individual (often unique) correspondences and on the
structural reasonableness of the SET of (often unique) sound
correspondences as a whole?  (So that we can reconstruct
changes of whole systems into whole systems more plausibly?)


It appears that Larry Trask is much more balanced in the textbook
he has written than he is in the discussions on email.
Here, it seems like pulling teeth to get him to regard
proof as not definitionally related to the Comparative Method.
Yet he asserts that in his textbook he has done so.
I have no reason to doubt his word, and accept it.
I have not read his textbook, and am conversing with what
he actually says here on the IE list.

So why the difficulties on email?
Is there some felt need to defeat ANY notion that
there might be ANY value in for example Greenberg's work?
That is certainly what it appears to me to be.
If so, it appears to be something political,
because he has agreed in principle that
Multilateral Comparison can be useful as a heuristic to
generate hypotheses for further investigation by other means.
(He now tells me he has said something like that in his

Please see on that another message on Multilateral Comparison.

Lloyd Anderson

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