IE versus *PIE

JoatSimeon at JoatSimeon at
Mon Apr 30 04:01:04 UTC 2001

In a message dated 4/29/01 9:34:27 PM Mountain Daylight Time, X99Lynx at

> 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.

-- true.

> logically disprove the presence of other "genetic strains" in those
> languages.

-- not true.

Claims that there are other "genetic strains" are not falsifiable. Therefore
they are worse than false; they're meaningless.

One can, on the other hand, point to a very strong probability of substantial
non-IE elements in the lexicon of Proto-Germanic.  This affects the _genetic_
relationship of Proto-Germanic to PIE not at all, once again.

> 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

-- which is true, but irrelevant.  English has a massive freight of lexical
items from Latin and the Romance languages; in total (though not in frequency
of use) almost as much as it derives from its Germanic parent.  And its
syntax bears very little resemblance to Proto-Germanic or to Old English.

This, however, affects the _genetic_ relationships involved not at all.
English is a Germanic language, and if we had no record of Old English, we
could reconstruct it (and the intervening stages) quite accurately from
cognate languages and the modern speech.

In fact, this is one of the reasons why reconstructive linguistics is
overwhelmingly persuasive; it has repeatedly _predicted_ results later
established experimentally.

Eg., when Linear B was shown to write an archaic form of Greek, the forms
were precisely those predicted by the reconstructive method.  The example of
the laryngeals predicted solely from IE languages in which they'd vanished,
and then found in the Anatolian IE languages, is another.

> 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.

-- nothing but the observable evidence, and the general assumption of uniform
causation.  If we're to believe that suddenly, when it can't be proven or
disproven, wholly different patterns of causation pop up like posies, then
all discussion becomes futile.

Radical epistemological scepticism is a wonderful way for undergraduates to
waste time.  It's rather tiresome in later life.

> 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.

-- it gets tiresome to say "for all practical purposes" all the time.  We go
with the hypothesis which most parsimoniously explains the observable facts,
which is falsifiable, and which has predictive power.

The theory that the IE languages descend from a common ancestral tongue in
the same manner in which, say, French and Spanish descend from Latin, fits
the above criteria better than any other hypothesis.  The fact that French
and Spanish contain lexical and structural influences from substratum
languages (and in the case of Spanish, have been quite strongly influenced by
Arabic) does absolutely nothing to change their genetic relationship to
Latin, or their status vs. a vs. each other.

Therefore it can be taken -- for all practical purposes, and failing new
evidence which falsifies it -- that the PIE hypothesis is "true".  Then we
can get on with studying how it functions.

It's as true as General Relativity; in fact, rather more so, because there
are fewer elements of the observable data set which it can't account for.

> 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.

-- that's roughly equivalent to saying there's no way to prove that the world
wasn't created yesterday, along with our memories.  That's why "proving a
negative" is a byword for rhetorical futility.

You seem to be operating under the assumption that if some proposition is not
completely and definitively proven, then it has no stronger ground than any
other hypothesis however outre and bizzare.  That's not the way things work.

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