Cases in Indo-European

H. M. Hubey hubeyh at
Wed Jan 27 00:33:51 UTC 1999

[ moderator re-formatted ]

Larry Trask wrote:

> On Mon, 25 Jan 1999, H. Mark Hubey wrote:

> > Large scale changes cannot occur in large systems.

> I see.  So that's why the earth's atmosphere never throws up hurricanes
> or tornadoes.  And that's why El Nin~o has no discernible effect upon
> the world's climate.

This is good, so good in fact, that I couldn't wait. I will write the rest

This example illustrates what miscommunication is and also what I have
been saying for a few years now.

Large scale changes do occur in the atmosphere but they are "externally
The weather is driven by

(1) the sun when it heats up our world,

(2) the fluctuations in the heat because of the distance from the sun to
the earth over a period of a year

(3) the fluctuations in the spots heated because of the tilting of the earth

> That's why stars -- large systems, wouldn't you say? -- never turn into
> novas or supernovas.

Time is necessary. Throw up 1,000 pennnies until you get 1,000 heads. Its
probability of occurrence is about 10^(-300) or so. That is a decimal point
with about 300 zeros after it. Yes, large scale changes can occur, but for
making real-life calculations this is what is called "vanishingly small",
small enough indeed to be thought of as zero.

> And that's why Middle Chinese -- a large system by linguistic standards
> -- hardly changed at all, and why all Chinese-speakers today can
> understand one another without difficulty.

This now brings up the third point. Rates. Rate of borrowing in Turkish
(Osmanli) was high (from Farsi and ARabic) and it has acquired an /f/. So
did Uzbek. Kazak and Kirgiz probably had to wait until Russian rule to
acquire it.

> And, of course, that's why practically nothing has happened to English
> in the last 500 years, and why we find it so easy to read `Piers
> Ploughman'.

Practically nothing has happened to English over the last 500 years and
that is why Shakespeare is taught even to those who want to have nothing
to do with it :-)
Maybe they should teach some math to those who don't want to have anything
to do with it instead of Shakespeare.


And finally, let us recall some high school physics: it was thought that
heavier objects fell to the ground faster. Actually sometimes they do.
Drop a leaf of paper or a leaf and an iron ball from the Pisa Tower and
see what happens. The thing that made Galileo famous is that he dropped
two iron balls, one heavier than the other to disprove the statement.
Obviously, the logical conclusion after that was to start to suspect
something else, like "air resistance" and its relation to the density of
the object and its shape. That was a very good start. Historical linguists
have yet to make the equivalent mental adjustment. Mind you, I am not
claiming to start doing what
Newton did, only to take the initial GAlilean step. One small step for
Trask, one giant leap for the rest of linguists :-)

PS. I deleted my friend Georg's post by accident, but I do find myself in
agreement with his comments. One small fight over a year and now we sometimes
agree :-)

M. Hubey
Email:          hubeyh at    Backup:hubeyh at
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