<Language> Re: Caucasus and Kaska

Claire Bowern C.Bowern at student.anu.edu.au
Tue Jan 26 03:40:00 UTC 1999

[ moderator re-formatted ]

At 9:38 PM -0500 25/1/99, H. Mark Hubey wrote:

>7. Kabardian has 1 vowel. (other caucasian languages are poor in vowels
>and have lots of consonant clusters. So do IE languages. So do AA
>languages. So does Khoisan.

Nama has 5 simple vowels, which is as many as a lot of languages. It also
has a set of nasalised vowels, a length distinction (aa, ii, oo, uu, ee)
and a ful set of diphthongs. There's little chance of borrowing because
there's little contact (I have it first hand that a lot of people avoid the
bushmen in Namibia because their languages are too difficult).

>8. Lieberman says that Neandertals could not speak. Then he changes his mind
>and says that they would not be able to speak like us but would speak like
>little children and could not make the "supervowel i".

How on earth can he tell that?????? I can't accept this without seeing his
evidence and what experts in his field think about it.

>If the Khoisan lived in Africa for 1-2
>million years why are they yellow instead of black?

They are lighter skinned than Bantu peoples but they are still black (I am
reminded of Steve Bicko's comments at his trial - the judge asked him why
he called himself black when his skin was brown; he replied "why do you
call yourself white when you're pink?"). I believe that the amount of
melanin in the skin is controlled by a few genes only but I don't want to
get into an argument on genetics because the only area of this subject I
could argue remotely coherently about is drosophila melanagasta (fruit fly)
and this is, indeed, a very long way from the topic at hand.

And from another thread:

>Economists work with irregular gaps all the time. Would you recommend,
>at least, that linguists pick up these methods, if you are opposed in
>principle to working with the methods of physical scientists? How about
>sociologists' and psychologists's mathematical methods? Do you have
>anything against them?

I'm glad you brought up economists because they embody a lot of my worries
about the blind use of mathematical models. The economists I talk to either
admit that their models do not model their data very accurately and worry
about it, and slam their colleagues for not taking this ionto account, or
are perfectly happy with the models they use, but are very surprised when
the model fails (which it inevitably does, when unemployment doesn't do
what it should, or inflation rises, or the stock market crashes, etc). This
is why I am sceptical.

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