12 October 2009

Two proto-Indo-European widows



Reconstructed proto-Indo-European (PIE) forms, especially the ones produced in the context of the laryngealist tradition, have something in common: they all look quite bizarre, with many consonants followed by little superindexed w's or h's and plenty of m's and n's with vocalic value, not to mention the most bizarre of all, a set of three (sometimes more) phonemes called laryngeals (h1, h2, h3) that no-one really knows how to pronounce. I remember reading an article by Xaverio Ballester in which he talked about IE horses. In his opinion, the reconstructed word for 'horse' was so difficult to pronounce that it would have been easier for a PIE speaker to imitate a horse's whinny! I have recently come across a book with a nice selection of PIE reconstructions. It is a book by the eminent American linguist Don Ringe, a firm believer in laryngeals (Ringe 2006). Let's see some examples from his book:

This word is supposed to mean 'name' in PIE. Here, we find a couple of laryngeals and a final n with a vocalic component, written as a little circle below the consonant (sorry, my word editor does not include this symbol). According to Ringe (2006: 9): "There seems to have been very few constraints on the distribution of (...) the laryngeals (...) *h2 was perhaps the second most common [obstruent] in a lexical count". Constraints on laryngeals? What for? They can appear everywhere and they can be nearly anything, from vowels to consonants and also semi-vowels and semi-consonants. They are like jokers in a card-game.

This string of letters is supposed to be the word for 'widow' in dual nom., voc. and acc. The meaning, therefore, would be 'two widows'. Let's imagine a speaker of PIE, in prehistory, pointing at two elderly ladies and calling them that... It's hard to imagine. One peculiarity of this word is that it has two laryngeals in a row! What are they? Two vowels? One vowel and a consonant? One consonant and a vowel? What about the combination 'dhw'? Does anybody really know how this was pronounced? Was there ever anyone who used this word?

Finally, the reconstructed word for 'tongue':

... A real tongue-twister!

In the past few months I have written a series of posts about PIE laryngeals, showing some more examples of how bizarre traditional PIE reconstructions can be. I have also expressed these ideas in some Internet forums and blogs, e.g. Language Log. PIE laryngeals are only one of the many aspects of traditional comparative linguistics that I criticise. Using Angela Marcantonio's terminology, laryngeals might just be 'artefacts of the linguistic method of analysis', i.e. produced by a type of methodology based on language trees, linguistic paleontology and other unacceptable or at least dubious ideas.

Angela Marcantonio is an expert in Uralic languages. In a series of interesting articles and books (e.g. Marcantonio 2002) she has reviewed some of the traditionally held views on the Uralic family, reaching the conclusion that a Uralic proto-language cannot be reconstructed scientifically. She has also carried out research on other language groups. In a recent article, "Evidence that most Indo-European lexical reconstructions are artefacts of the linguistic method of analysis" (in Marcantonio ed. 2009), she analyses some traditionally held assumptions about PIE, with striking results.

First, she focuses on some of the laws that have been proposed for PIE, and finds that in many cases they might be examples of circular reasoning. To test her hypothesis, she applies a quantitative test to a set of reconstrucetd PIE words (the verbal roots in Rix's dictionary, 1998). The results are as follows: 66% of the recontructed verbs are based on words found in only one or two of the IE branches; only 34 % are attested in three or more branches. On the other hand, it is supposed that the laws governing phonetic change in IE, e.g. Grimm's Law, should be a useful tool to determine these reconstructions. However, these laws are usually modified with a series of secondary laws or refinements, so that there is always some kind of intricately designed new parameter to explain any apparent deviation from the norm. Marcantonio has clearly shown that, when you have a PIE verbal root with forms attested in many IE branches, a high number of laws is needed to account for the whole set. In some cases, the number of rules equals the number of forms. This is how the corpus of PIE reconstructions has grown in the last 150 years: by a cumulative amount of laws, many of them designed 'ad hoc'. What is the use of a law, e.g. Grimm's Law, if it is immediately followed by new laws, e.g. Verner's, to make it tenable? Marcantonio sees the adjustable parameters of PIE laws as an indication of circularity.

She also analyses some particular aspects of traditional PIE reconstruction, e.g. the present-perfect alternation. Again, she considers them an example of fabrication of the method of analysis.

Finally, she focuses on the laryngeal set. In her quantitaive analysis, she notices that a high percentage of PIE verb roots and morphemes have been reconstructed with the aid of laryngeals. In her opinion, the use of laryngeals adds some extra flexibility to the system: they are phonetically unspecified and can appear virtually anywhere in a word; they are the perfect solution for any reconstruction, a real magical wand that makes any prediction possible. Marcantonio does not reject the laryngeal theory (she says that this issue is beyond the reach of her present research) but I have the feeling that she is quite convinced that the set of laryngeals is, basically, one more artefact in the hands of those who believe in proto-languages.

So, what is left of PIE if we subtract the poorly attested roots (those found in less than three IE branches) and if we eliminate artificial artefacts like vowel gradation and laryngeals, based on circular reasoning? Maybe PIE is reduced to just a relatively small set of cognate words and an even smaller set of grammatical elements, if any. Maybe it's about time IE scholars started to abandon the idea of perfect proto-languages with their complete sets of phonemes, declensions and conjugations and equipped with immaculate laws that would predict every step from one proto-language to another. Maybe it's time the whole idea of a proto-form with an asterisk were replaced with a different type of notation, one that reflected the complex nature of language rather than an aspiration to immaculate, circularly-proven forms.

Bibliography:
- MARCANTONIO, A. (2002). The Uralic Language Family: Facts, Myths and Statistics. Transcations of the Philological Society. Oxford/Boston, Blackwell.
- MARCANTONIO, A., ed. (2009). The Indo-European Language Family: Questions about its Status. Journal of Indo-European Studies Monograph Series, No 55. New York, Institute for the Study of Man.
- RINGE, D. (2006). From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic. Oxford, OUP.

28 comments:

TomiSpev said...

Although I do agree with your theory, the part I didn't like is where you find the PIE reconstructions bizarre and hard to pronounce. I cannot speak for speakers of other IE languages, but as a native poly-Slavic speaker I find it not difficult to pronounce the examples you provided. I of course pronounce the laryngeals as [h]. I do agree that these reconstructions most likely do not represent anything that ever existed in reality.

Jesús Sanchis said...

Hello TomiSpev, and thanks for your comment. I understand what you say, and maybe a speaker of languages that I don't know, e.g. Polish, would not find these examples so strange. Now, all the examples that I used contain at least one laryngeal. The problem is not that laryngeals are hard to pronounce. The problem is that I still haven't found any clear explanation of how these three famous laryngeals were pronounced. You say you pronounce them as [h]. Does it mean that you pronounce all of them (h1, h2, h3) the same way? The question is obvious: why should there be three different symbols for the same sound? And one more question: how do you pronounce the h2 and h1 one after the other in the word for "Two widows?

Now, the most important question is: what IS a laryngeal? Even the most radical laryngealist would admit that the term 'laryngeal' is a dated phonological term which has been kept because there is a tradition behind it. OK, these things happen. We call them 'laryngeals' because they have always been called 'laryngeals'. The funny thing is that this term is completely IRRELEVANT in contemporary phonetics. Take a look at any book on phonetics or at the IPA chart. You will find words to express places of articulation ('labial', 'bilabial', 'glottal', etc.) but you won't find 'laryngeal' in the list. What do we have here? The term is both OBSOLETE and rather MEANINGLESS. In my opinion, if h1, h2 and h3 were phonemes they would be described in proper phonetic terms. If one of these laryngeals were like an English [h] we would not call it 'laryngeal', we would call it differently, using modern terms.

TomiSpev said...

But isn't 'laryngeal' consonants a synonym for glottal consonants? And there are three of those: [ʔ], [h] and [ɦ].

Jesús Sanchis said...

As far as I know, there isn't general agreement on the phonetic realization of PIE laryngeals. On the other hand, some author suggest three laryngeals (the most common proposal) whereas others use four or more. I have sometimes seen an "H", in capital letters, but I don't really know what it is.

In my opinion, PIE laryngeals are mere artefacts created in the context of an erroneous approach.

Octavià Alexandre said...

I agree with you in that scholar tend to be over-specialized, concentrating in their own field while ignoring the rest of the world.

But PIE laryngeals aren't phantom concepts but real consonants, only that Indo-Europeanists aren't capable (or don't want) to know their exact value.

I've got the general impression you're tyring to sell a kind of cheap pseudo-linguistics. The message: let's forget those "complicated theories" and substitute them by the new "immobility theory" (that is, Alinei's PCT).

Jesús Sanchis said...

Thanks for your comments, Octavià, and welcome to this blog. I've taken a look at your blog about 'Vasco-Caucasian' and one of the positive things I've found there is that you talk about the 'Italoid' substratum in the Iberian Peninsula, an idea which is quite close to Alinei's 'Italid' hypothesis. The problem with your approach is that you rely heavily on reconstructed forms and proto-languages, and use a series of 'a priori' assumptions that maybe are not as justified as you might think. I'm much more sceptical about any attempt at reconstructing proto-languages.

On the other hand, I don't want to 'sell' any theories. What I like about Alinei's proposals is that he doubts some of the most sacred beliefs in IE studies. Maybe he is wrong in some aspects of his theories, but on the whole he has started an interesting line of thought that can re-examine some important aspects of historical linguistics.

Going back to laryngeals, I must repeat something that I already wrote somewhere: as far as I know, Mario Alinei has never written anything about PIE laryngeals. It is true that my criticism of PIE laryngeals is connected with some aspects of the Continuity Theory, but the basis for it can be found somewhere else, e.g. in the works of some other authors, especially Xaverio Ballester, who has criticised PIE Laryngeal Theory in a series of articles. He's obviously involved in the PCT, but his thoughts on IE phonology can be seen as an independent development.

You say that PIE laryngeals are real consonants. My question is: Do you really think that PIE, with its complete (and unprecedented) set of laryngeal phonemes was actually a language spoken by someone in prehistory? What makes you think that PIE reconstructions are valid?

You also say that Indo-Europeanists are not capable of knowing the exact value of PIE laryngeals. I'm convinced that the only thing they really care about is the fact that they're useful. Long before I read about Ballester's proposals I already had the feeling that PIE laryngeals were a mere artefact in the hands of theoreticians. My feeling, or intuition, has been reinforced by reading Ballester and other authors. The more I think of PIE laryngeals, and other features of reconstructed PIE phonological system, the more I think they're wrong.

Finally, I think you have a rather limited understanding of the Continuity Theory. For me it's OK if you just ignore it as pseudo-linguistics, but the fact is that you have expressed (here and in your blog) your opinion about it. Ignoring is one thing, and giving opinions is another. In your blog you wrote:

"I also disregard the so-called continuity theories like the Paleolithic Continuity Theory of IE origins (PCT) of the Italian linguist Mario Alinei, which roughly state that a given language "never moved an inch" (...) and therefore negate language replacement"

I'm afraid this is an over-simplification of the theory. You disregard Alinei's theories as 'pseudo-linguistics' but, at the same time, you accept something as bizarre as PIE laryngeals. Is it because they are useful for your own research?

Octavià Alexandre said...

Thanks for your comments, Octavià, and welcome to this blog. I've taken a look at your blog about 'Vasco-Caucasian' and one of the positive things I've found there is that you talk about the 'Italoid' substratum in the Iberian Peninsula, an idea which is quite close to Alinei's 'Italid' hypothesis.

I'm affraid Italoid (whose real discoverers were Coromines, which called it "Sorotàptic", and Villar, not Alinei) wasn't precisely alone in the Iberian Peninsula. There were also other languages there, IE and non-IE ones (I'm more interested in the later), not to speak of Phoenicians, who brought slaves to exploit metal ore mines in the Bronze Age.

Non-IE languages are a pain in the ass for PCT, you know.

On the other hand, I don't want to 'sell' any theories. What I like about Alinei's proposals is that he doubts some of the most sacred beliefs in IE studies. Maybe he is wrong in some aspects of his theories, but on the whole he has started an interesting line of thought that can re-examine some important aspects of historical linguistics.

You must differentiate between the theories about PIE homeland (Kurgan, Renfrew's, etc.) and the reconstruction of PIE itself.

I strongly recommend you read André Martinet's De las estepas a los océanos. El indoeuropeo y los "indoeuropeos" (Gredos), specially the section on PIE "laryngeals".

Although Alinei's ideas about language evolution (including his negation of language replacement)are unacceptable, the "positive" (using your own words) thing is the new importance given to substrates. My own work is mainly based on the study of substrate loanwords in Romance languages and Latin.

The reconstruction of proto-languages is mandatory for comparative linguistics. For example, if Starostin hadn't reconstructed Proto-North Caucasian (BTW, a far from perfect work) I couldn't possibly have found the relantionship between these languages and Basque.

You can see PIE (or any other proto-language) as an useful tool for deeping into the knowledge of our linguistic past.

Finally, I think you have a rather limited understanding of the Continuity Theory. For me it's OK if you just ignore it as pseudo-linguistics, but the fact is that you have expressed (here and in your blog) your opinion about it. Ignoring is one thing, and giving opinions is another.

I've read Alinei's works (including his anti-masterpiece about Etruscan) and I understand perfectly his theories. I never speak about something I don't know.

I also must recognize he's good at presenting his ideas and convincing other people (like yourself), but this doesn't give him the truth.

The fact is that historical linguistics isn't accessible to everybody (you must be smart enough and have a good knowledge of many languages). This why I call "pseudo-science" the attitude of "getting rid" of "complicated" things like proto-languages you seem to promote in your blog.

In the past years, I've had the opportunity of dealing with several pseudo-linguists (not that I'm calling you this!) on the Internet, and I've always seen a similar attitude.

In my opinion, the most important contribution of Alinei to historical linguistics is quite modest: his proposal of Latin rota 'wheel' as a Celtic loanword.

Jesús Sanchis said...

There are many points to talk about. I'll try to be brief.

- Joan Coromines's "Sorotàptic" theory has nothing to do with Alinei's 'Italid', especially as far as the chronology is concerned. On the other hand, this 'sorotàptic' theory is generally discarded in the scientific community.

- Theories about the PIE homeland and about PIE reconstructions are obviously separate things, but I'm convinced that in the traditional paradigm there is constant feedback from one to the other, so that it is sometimes difficult to differentiate them. Traditional intra-linguistic reconstruction goes hand in hand with linguistic paleontology, and they produce some kind of grounds for traditional chronology of PIE origins, including the notion of original homeland.

- You think Alinei's ideas about language evolution are unacceptable. What can I say? I like them. I don't see them as the perfect solution but as an alternative way to analyse things. Maybe you prefer to stick to the old established routine of devising protolanguages and working with them in the laboratory. I'm sure Alinei is wrong in many things, but he has shown that the traditional method is quite faulty in some respects.

- I haven't read Martinet's book but I'll try to do so soon, especially the chapter about laryngeals. Thanks for the suggestion.

- You say: "The reconstruction of proto-languages is mandatory for comparative linguistics". OK. Who has told you that the reconstructed proto-languages are valid, or that they show anything resembling reality? Are laryngeals a reflection of reality, or a mirage devised by structuralism? I understand that working with reconstructions is necessary for historical linguistics, but I'm not sure if the reconstructed models that we have today, including PIE with laryngeals, can really be used as something meaningful. I don't like the profound abstractness of comparing proto-forms with other proto-forms, which can yield all types of results depending on how we interpret the extremely flexible data.

- Thank you for not calling me a pseudo-linguist! It's true that studying historical linguistics is a complicated matter that involves a lot of previous knowledge. Anyone writing about it can be an expert in one given area (e.g. Alinei in dialectology) but not in others. I have come across all types of theories about all possible pre-Roman languages in Europe, proposed by people who are serious scientists. You have your own theory, and I'll try to read more about it, even though I might get ost in the details. In any case, however, Alinei's theories are not just one more proposal about substrata or prehistoric languages; they are a proposal for a paradigm shift in historical linguistics. I don't know if he's completely right; his ideas are not at all any 'truth' that I follow, but I find them interesting enough to make me think about prehistorical languages in a different way. And by thinking about linguistics in a new way, I have the feeling that I can think of humanity in a richer, closer-to-reality way.

Octavià Alexandre said...

- Joan Coromines's "Sorotàptic" theory has nothing to do with Alinei's 'Italid', especially as far as the chronology is concerned. On the other hand, this 'sorotàptic' theory is generally discarded in the scientific community.

The problem with that "scientific community" is they generally ignore substrate language, and Italoid is one of them. As I said, his discoverers were Coromines and Villar (see his Indoeuropeos y no indoeuropeos en la Península Ibérica, Universidad de Salamanca). According to their work, Italoid is somewhere between Baltic and Italic in the IE dialectal cloud.

As I said, proto-languages are nothing more than useful tools. And I'm affraid historical linguists can't live without them. Your above perorata is nothing more than pseudo-scientific crap.

Alinei's continuity relies on these two fundamental premises:
1) languages evolve very slowly and don't move from one place to another (or do it very rarely).
2) there's no such thing as "language replacement"

Anybody with a minimal knowledge of linguistics (not necessarily historical) can see this doesn't work. So it looks like Alinei and his followers, namely your contryfellow Ballester, have got you brainwashed.

Octavià Alexandre said...

Jesús, please don't take me too literally. I should recommend you read more before settling down with anybody's theories.

I have come across all types of theories about all possible pre-Roman languages in Europe, proposed by people who are serious scientists.
I suppose you include Theo Vennemann among them, don't you?

I'm affraid he's an Indo-Europeanist but not an expert in Basque nor in Afro-Asiatic languages, so his theories are completely ungrounded.

Renfrew is a completely different thing. Alhtough his theory can'be applied to IE, it does well for the Vasco-Caucasian Neolithic languages which preceded IE in many parts of Europe.

Jesús Sanchis said...

- Yes, I have read Villar's "Indoeuropeos y no indoeuropeos en la Península Ibérica". In fact, I wrote about Villar's Italoid substratum in a post in this blog, more than a year ago (13 Sep 2008):
http://languagecontinuity.blogspot.com/2008/09/romance-languages-before-romans.html

There are important differences between Villar's Italoid and Coromines's forgotten 'Sorotàptics'. Villar suggests this 'Italoid' substratum is older than Iberian; Coromines thought his 'Sorotàptics' had brought an IE language into the Iberian Peninsula with the expansion of the Urnfield culture over an Iberian-speaking population.

- I still think that your summary of the PCT is a bit inaccurate and simplistic.

- I have heard about Vennemann's theories, and I'll probably read more about them if I finally start my PhD project, but for the moment I'm quite sceptical about this kind of long-range linguistic affiliations in prehistory.

- Brainwashed? My dear friend: I think I'm a bit too old to be 'brainwashed' by any brilliant idea. I'm sceptical about everything, including Alinei's proposals. It is true, however, that when I started this blog I was more enthusiastic about Alinei's ideas than I am now, even though I still think highly of them. But the first posts in this blog are somewhat different from the most recent ones. I think that's fine: it shows some kind of evolution and enrichment. This blog is not a collection of scientific articles, it is a more casual account of my impressions and thoughts on linguistics. And ideas and assumptions tend to change, otherwise they become useless monoliths. You have just started a blog about linguistics and I guess something similar might happen to you. If your blog is still alive in a couple of years' time, you might write things which are different from the things you write now.

Octavià Alexandre said...

There are important differences between Villar's Italoid and Coromines's forgotten 'Sorotàptics'. Villar suggests this 'Italoid' substratum is older than Iberian; Coromines thought his 'Sorotàptics' had brought an IE language into the Iberian Peninsula with the expansion of the Urnfield culture over an Iberian-speaking population.

Apart from these differences (BTW, the name is Sorotàptic, without final -s), these two languages are one the same.

Yes, I agree with you in that Italoid isn't the same thing than Alinei's Italide, of which he doesn't
make any effort to characterize (this one of his main flaws).

In my theory, the substrate language which I call Tyrrhenian, a branch of Vasco-Caucasian, plays the same role than "Italide",as it emerged from the Neolithic Cardial Ceramics culture.

Independently of some individual achievements made by Alinei like the one I mentioned, PCT can't be a valid paradigm.

Jesús Sanchis said...

Sorry for writing "sorotàptics". It's difficult to know how to use this word, as it is nearly impossible to find references about it anywhere. I have carried out a diagnostic search on the Internet via Google, and it seems that you are one of the few people on the planet who still uses this concept, and apparently, knows how to spell it!

I have also read some of the posts in your blog, and I have some questions for you.

1- In some posts you use examples from Iberian vocabulary, e.g. words for "pig", "ox", etc. Where did you get those words? Do you have a Spanish-Iberian dictionary? As far as I know, there are no Iberian words whose meaning can be understood.

2- You also use Mitxelena's proto-Basque. I'm not an expert in Basque and don't even speak the language. The earliest documents that we know in the basque language are quite recent. On the other hand, Basque can be considered, from a contemporary perspectrive, a language isolate. Therefore, what methodology did Mitxelena use to create this proto-Basque which, apparently, can be used to explain linguistic phenomena taking place thousands of years ago? What is the value that you assign to this proto-language?

3- What is the value that you assign to PIE? What is the criterion to establish that a word is PIE or non-PIE? How do you know that one language borrowed from another or not viceversa?

4- I don't know much about Caucasian, De-ne languages, etc., but I suppose you don't doubt the validity of the proto-languages that have been proposed for these language 'families'. Do you have a deep knowledge of Caucasian languages, and about how the corresponding proto-languages were created?

5- As I said before, by comparing abstract entities like proto-languages, and by trying to assign a given chronology to these abstract notions, the result of your research might be an even more abstract entity which might be difficult to validate or refute, i.e. an entity with little scientific value. Are you aware of this possibility?

6- You talk about a Paleolithic substratum in Europe which would be non-IE and non-proto-Basque. Have you found traces of this substratum in areas which were repopulated after the last Glacial maximum? Have you read about Krahe's Alteuropäisch? Do you think there are IE elements in it?

Octavià Alexandre said...

Sorry for writing "sorotàptics". It's difficult to know how to use this word, as it is nearly impossible to find references about it anywhere. I have carried out a diagnostic search on the Internet via Google, and it seems that you are one of the few people on the planet who still uses this concept, and apparently, knows how to spell it!

Jesús, not everything is on the Internet! I see you aren't familiar with Coromines' work, specially his two etymological dictionaries, one for Spanish (coauthoreed with José Antonio Pascual) and another for Catalan.

1) The number of words which can be directly understood from the Iberian texts isn't certiany zero, although is very limited. But external comparison has given me the portential meaning and etymology of a number of words with much or less certainity.

2) The chronology of Mitxelena's Proto-Basque (he actually used the term "Pre-Basque") is more or less the Roman Period. He based his reconstruction on the behaviour of Latin and Romance loanwords in Basque.

I consider Mitxelena's Proto-Basque to be a good starting point on the study of prehistoric Basque, nothing more and nothing less.

3) I said earlier, I use PIE in long-range comparisons with other language families.

About, the criteria used to determine if a word belong or not to PIE, Indo-Europeanists tend to include almost everything, including "regional" word which are limited to a few branches. However, in some cases these reconstructions helped me to find to find etymologies (e.g. Basque zaldi 'horse' ~ regional IE *g(W)Ald- 'foal, young of an ass'.

But PIE proper, as any other languages, has also substrate/adstrate loanwords, although they're much more difficult to idetify, for this only can be done through external comparison.

Octavià Alexandre said...

4) I don't have such a deep knowledge, but I understand the basic about these languages. They're two main groups: NEC (Nakh-Daghestanian) and NWC (Abhaz-Adyghe), whose actual relationship status isn't agreed by all specialists.

Starostin's work has some drawbacks, but I think it's quite reliable in it whole, at least as a start point. But Dene-Caucasian/Sino-Caucasian is much less reliable, if not a bluff at all.

5) Historical linguistics works with limited data, and the deeper in tim, the riskier are your recontructions. However, without taking risks we can achieve nothing.

6) This area lies outside the main focus of my research, because Krahe's "Alt-europäische" is based on toponomastics.

The Paleolithic substrate I refer to in my blog consists of loanwords relating to fauna, flora and geographical features shared with Eurasian language families like Uralic, Altaic, Kartvelian or Dravidian.

In relation to this topic. I could refer you to the study of IE-satem loanwords in Saami made by the amateur linguist Arnaud Fournet: http://www.scribd.com/doc/15756338/Study-of-Satem-words-in-the-North-Saami-Substrate

Jesús Sanchis said...

Thanks for your answers.

I know you can't find everything on the Internet, but you can find information from major journals and researchers about any possible field of study, and if a word like 'sorotàptic' were in any way common, or at least known, in the scientific world you would get thousands of Google hits, even millions. But what you get is about twenty marginal references, which confirms somethings that needs no confirmation: the term 'sorotàptic' has disappeared (if it ever was taken seriously) from serious research.

I know very well the etymological dictionaries that you mention. I'm also familiar with Coromines's "Onomasticon Cataloniae" and have read his "Tópica Hespérica", a collection of articles published in 1971. As far as I know,he did not write a complete book on the subject of 'sorotàptic', and his ideas about it are scattered through the above mentioned books and other works.

Octavià Alexandre said...

A Google search gives 293 references for "sorotàptic" (with accent) and 93 for "sorotaptic" (without accent). There's even a Wikipedia article in Aragonese (!): http://an.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorotaptico

Not bad for a term "which has disappeared from serious research". You should know that:

1) substrate languages are out of the historical linguistics mainstream.

2) Coromines' work is written in Spanish and Catalan.

3) Except Basque, the study of Iberian languages isn't of much interest for the rest of the world (there're exceptions of course).

Apart from Coromines, the only other linguist which has studied this language is Villar, who called it Italoid (aka "Pirenaico-Ibero-Meridional"). This is the name I use in my work.

I think Alinei's "Italide", apart from being poorly characterized (or not characterized at all) is the more or less the same thing than my Tyrrhenian, which could correspond to the ancient Ligurian language http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ligurian_language_(ancient)

"A theory supported among others by French historian and philologist Marie Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville held that Ligurian was akin to Iberian and descended from a non-Indo-European substrate language once widespread in the western Mediterranean and roughly coterminous with the territory associated with the Cardium Pottery culture of the 6th and 5th millennium BC."

Glen Gordon said...

The "it's hard to pronounce" argument can be nipped in the bud very easily by exposing people to a Canadian aboriginal language like Klallam, a living and very real language. Hard to pronounce?! LMAO! Indo-European is relative child's play compared to Klallam's consonantal barrage against the tongue of the innocent. Lol.

Jesús Sanchis said...

I'm not using the "It's hard to pronounce" argument but rather the "Nobody really knows how to pronounce" argument.

Was there an /h/ sound in PIE? Well, why not? Maybe there were even more sounds like that. Was there a hyperactive group of laryngeals,capable of appearing ewverywhere and with various effects, such as colouring? I find it harder to believe.

Anyway, can PIE be reconstructed, i.e. can the language of a prehistoric 'people' be reconstructed by means of comparing its subsequent branches? Very probably not.

Does it make much sense (at least statistically) to propose a proto-language without the sound /a/, the most universal of vowels?

Jesús Sanchis said...

Before I forget: Glen, thanks for the link to Klallam. I'll take a closer look when I have some time. One big difference between Klallam and PIE is that the former is an actual language spoken by actual people, whereas the latter is an abstraction supposedly spoken by a prehistoric people.

I'm not against recontructing, but I'm against reconstructions that aim to provide 'perfect', 'complete' models.

TomiSpev said...

I think the conclusion would be: we can re-construct. We can make a hell good job of it. But at the end of the day we have absolutely no idea whether a single of those re-constructed words actually ever existed or if it did how was it pronounced and whether it meant what we think it did. The only sure scientific way would be to go back in time and see for ourselves. Until that, they are all just hypothesises and their usefulness ends with that.

What I'm also curious about is how can scientists assign some prehistoric culture to a language group?

Jesús Sanchis said...

Yes, TomiSpev. Language reconstruction has its limitations, but there are linguists who seem to believe in them at face value.

Assigning a protolanguage to a given prehistoric culture is a tempting idea and many theories have been proposed for a variety of language groups and geographical areas. I tend to be sceptical about these proposals, especially if they are based on intra-linguistic evidence, including linguistic paleontology.

Adrian said...

"Angela Marcantonio is an expert in Uralic languages. In a series of interesting articles and books (e.g. Marcantonio 2002) she has reviewed some of the traditionally held views on the Uralic family, reaching the conclusion that a Uralic proto-language cannot be reconstructed scientifically."

Quite the contrary--she has at best a thoroughly shoddy grasp of historical linguistics and simply does not know the field she criticizes.

The significance of her book on Uralic is rather that it shows that training in historical linguistics even for professional linguists outside the field is so poor that such an ill-founded book can get published by a scholarly press.

Jesús Sanchis said...

Hello Adrian, and thanks for your comments. I'll read the links when I have some time. Please remember that the post was not about Uralic languages, and that those sentences were just additional information.

If an author writes a scholarly book about a given topic (in this case Uralic languages) and this book is published by a prestigious press, it is logical to think that the author is an 'expert' in that area, and I still suppose she is. Anyway, as I said, I'll try to read your links and get some more information about the issue.

Thomas said...

Laryngeal is an archaic and broad term used before the development (and wide usage) of the IPA chart. It is not entirely meaningless. It refers basically to everything pronounced behind the velum. Yes, we don't know if laryngeals are glottal, pharyngeal, uvular, maybe even some sort of velar, or a combination of the above. I think *h1 as glottal stop, or maybe [h] is well accepted. From a strictly abstract-phonological point of view, the *a-colouring of *h2 would indicate a pharyngeal (+low), and *o-colouring of *h3, a uvular (+back). Of course, *h3 could also just be labialised.

As for the words themselves, if you colour the laryngeals (pharyngeal or uvular), how in the world are they bizarre and unpronounceable? It seems quite normal within EURASIAN standards. Transcribe Arabic (fusHah or dialectal) and the relationship of back consonants to syllables is of similar complexity/simplicity. Northwest Caucasian is still far more difficult. Why assume PIE should be like Polynesian?

Dr. Narayanan Bhattathiri said...

I read your topic with interest. I am not professional linguist and hence my knowledge of technical linguistic terms are minimal. Anyway, one problem with searching for a PIE root and reconstructing it is that there is no prior search for the root of that word in the language from which it is taken. For example take the word for widow in Sanskrit. It is vidhava which has some similarity with the PIE word given by you. But in Sanskrit the word for widower is vidhura, which implies that the Sanskrit words for widow and widower are linked to vidh (which means to worship , honour, to present reverentially , offer , dedicate, gracious or kind , befriend etc,) or vidha/vidhA (which means measure, division, etc) or vidhu (which means lonely). Vidhu is probable choice since it conveys the state of widowhood/widowerhood succinctly. So the PIE root to be searched for should be that of vidhu. Don't you think it is the proper way?

Dr. V N Bhattathiri

Arun said...

Quote: "Marcantonio has clearly shown that, when you have a PIE verbal root with forms attested in many IE branches, a high number of laws is needed to account for the whole set. In some cases, the number of rules equals the number of laws."

I suppose you mean "In some cases, the number of forms equals the number of laws"?

Jesús Sanchis said...

You're right, Arun. I have changed the sentence in the main text. Thanks!