IE versus *PIE

X99Lynx at X99Lynx at
Sun Apr 29 18:17:57 UTC 2001

In a message dated 4/26/2001 9:32:40 PM, larryt at writes:

<< IE could not be more different: there simply is no plausible alternative
to the recognition of a PIE ancestor.

Curiously, this unassailable conclusion was in fact rejected by several
linguists in the first half of the 20th century: Uhlenbeck, Trubetzkoy and
Tovar.  So far as I can tell, their "mixed language" alternative was never
taken seriously and is now deservedly dead.  But I have recently been
astonished to learn that a version of it has been revived, not for IE but for
Celtic. >>

Once again, this is not scientifically justified.  Mr. Stirling rightly makes
the point of falsifiability.  As long as IE languages show any serious
commonality, there is going to be a genetic relationship shown and a
hypothetical ancestor will be reconstructible.  This does not and cannot
logically disprove the presence of other "genetic strains" in those languages.

I think Prof Trask is guilty here of the very reification which he himself
has noted before on this list.  Something like the idea that a language is a
single organism in which the parts must all descend from a single ancestor.
In fact there is nothing that prevents a community of speakers from adopting
lexical and structural elements from more than one group of earlier speakers.
 The assumption that there must be some kind of core retained from one
linguistic community or the other is nothing but an assumption.  Nothing
makes it necessary.

And just to be clear about terminology, the "relatedness" of historic and
documented IE languages CAN be asserted with a high degree of certainty.
Statistically the possibility of what these languages have in common
happening by accident is highly improbable.  But this is definitely not same
as saying that all those individual commonalities had to derive from a common
source.  There is nothing I have seen that makes it clear that those
individual commonalities could not have come from more than one unrelated
source or even distantly related sources.

(As far as what's dead and what's not, and as far as the opinion of the
linguistic community, I'd be happy to privately share with Prof Trask the
opinion of some eminent linguists who most definitely do not believe that PIE
can be plausibly recovered at all.)

That's not to say PIE didn't exist.  It's just to say that its existence is
no where as necessary as Prof Trask makes it out to be.  As a scientific
matter at least.  One's personal beliefs are another matter.

Steve Long

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