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Global Etymologies - Bengston & Ruhlen

A summary of chapter 14 of "On the Origin of Languages"

Nathan Hayhoe

on 14 October 2012

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Transcript of Global Etymologies - Bengston & Ruhlen

A summary by Nathan Hayhoe Global Etymologies "...despite the generally antipathetic or agnostic stance of most linguists, the case for monogenesis of extant (and attested extinct) languages is quite strong." The Claim: "the search for global etymologies is at best a hopeless waste of time, at worst an embarrassment to linguistics as a discipline, unfortunately confusing and misleading to those who might look to linguistics for understanding in this area" (Campbell and Poser 2008:393). Campbell's Disclaimer: Background: "One must look at the big picture first, propose families, and then use the comparative method to build up to them."

Multilateral vs. Bilateral: Convergence? P.I.E Balto-
Slavic Albanian East
Germanic Germanic Celtic Italic Armenian Tocharian Anatolian Greek Indo-
Iranian West
Germanic Old
English Old High German Old Saxon Frisian Dutch English North-Asia Khoisian Congo-Saharian Nilo-Saharian Eurasia/Americas Niger-
Khordofinian S.E. Asia Pacific Pacific Austric Indo-Pacific Australian North Africa/Eurasia Uralic Afro-Asiatic Dravidian Proto-Sapiens Americas Non-
African Na-Dene Amerind African Eurasia/Americas Altaic Chukchi-Kamchatcan Eskimo-Aleut Italic Albanian Balto-Slavic Anatolian "A common criticism of work like ours is that, with around 5,000 languages to choose from, it cannot be too hard to find a word in some African language that is semantically and phonologically similar to, or even identical with, some word in an American Indian language."

- comparing families, not languages
- chances of convergence are very small (7 consonants, 3 vowels, 147 syllable types, 1/147, (1/147)^2, etc.
- their etymology for "female genetalia" shows 14 of 32
"such liberties are taken with semantic change that literally anything can be connected with anything else"

- constrained etymologies
- more conservative Semantics? "Another often-cited criticism of long-range comparison is the presence of errors in the data, errors that invalidate the overall hypothesis."

- one error does not invalidate
- perfect data is not needed Errors? "It is often alleged that one can find anything in linguistic data if one looks for it hard enough."

-Amerind words for females
(kuna/tuna) Looking too hard? Khoisan, Niger-Congo, Kordofanian,
Nilo-Saharan, Afro-Asiatic, Kartvelian, Indo-European, Uralic, Dravidian,
Turkic, Mongolian, Tungus, Korean, Japanese-Ryukyuan, Ainu, Gilyak,
Chukchi-Kamchatkan, Eskimo-Aleut, Caucasian, Basque, Burushaski, Yeniseian,
Sino-Tibetan, Na-Dene, Indo-Pacific, Australian, Nahali, Austroasiatic,
Miao-Yao, Daic (= Kadai), Austronesian, and Amerind.
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