<Language> Re: Caucasus and Kaska
Dr. John E. McLaughlin and Michelle R. Sutton
mclasutt at brigham.net
Tue Jan 26 06:04:15 UTC 1999
[ moderator re-formatted ]
Patrick C. Ryan wrote:
> And that, appreciatedly candid Claire, is what invalidates linguistics and
> those who presently practice it. Guesswork by Researcher A is not
> necessarily of the quality of guesswork by Researcher B. The only solution
> is to have a consensus on what the proper methodology is for calculating
> odds that will show that Researcher A's brilliant guesses are statistically
> probable, and expose B's as professorial humbug.
Pat, you've said this a couple of times now (on a couple of different lists),
but I must correct you. Historical linguists do not rely on statistics to
prove or disprove the validity of a given theory of relatedness. They rely on
PREDICTABILITY. That's what regular sound correspondences are all about. For
example, Jakob Grimm described the relationship between the consonants of
German and Proto-Indo-European. I can now take his theory and see if it works.
I take the word 'father' and Grimm's laws (I'll include Verner's here too) tell
me that the German word with also start with [f], will have a [d] in the
middle, and end with an [r]. And sure enough it does. I take the word
'father' and run the rules in the other direction and I can predict that the
Latin word will start with [p], have a [t] in the middle, and still end with
[r]. Right again. If I can do this with form after form after form, then the
sound correspondences are reliable and the genetic relationship postulated is
If, on the other hand, I postulate a linguistic relationship with a few sound
correspondences, but those sound correspondences offer no predictive power
beyond the few dozen forms I cite as evidence, then that linguistic
relationship cannot be considered proven. It will always be considered only a
hypothesis. A good example of this is Whorf and Trager's Aztec-Tanoan family.
Beyond their few dozen examples, no one has ever been able to use their sound
correspondences to find any more forms in either Uto-Aztecan or Tanoan that fit
the rules. It's a dead end. Therefore, the relationship is considered to be
suggestive, but no more. Not proven by any stretch of the imagination.
It's not statistics, it's correspondences and predictive power.
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