MOTHER TONGUE
Newsletter of the Association for the Study of Language In Prehistory

Issue 26 · Spring 1996


Furious Talk on the Internet

We do not intend ever to try summarizing events on the ever-expanding electronic avenues of communication. Much of it is a waste of time. Some of the problems were reviewed by Joe Pia years before 'e-mail' & 'Web sites' became buzz words and the terrible social pressure to 'get with it' became apparent. More than half of our members did reject, and still reject, the opportunity to chat electronically with half the world.

But we do have a place on World Wide Web where people can read the newsletter and we have an e-mail address for those who wish to write to us: aslip@tiac.net. All this courtesy of two nice young women who did pity the father's backwardness.

Yet some members have been alarmed by recent Internet skirmishs among linguists. Quite bitter exchanges, eventually become hateful in one case, have caused some sectors to shut down and cries of protest from other linguists to be 'heard'.

Some long rangers were engaged: Allan Bomhard was heavily attacked by Alexis M-R, while LV Hayes had a long polite exchange with Sasha Vovin over the validity of Paul Benedict's Austro-Thai and other matters.

What has been striking on the Internet for some time now is the passive acceptance of the sacred Comparative Method by all. It is used like a club by conservatives to beat long rangers into line and used like a shield by long rangers to show that they really are orthodox and not wild radicals. C.M.? It goes unquestioned, nicht wahr? So either there are a lot of timorous long rangers who fear saying unorthodox things or they really believe themselves that all questions relate to reconstruction and therefore the sacred C.M., rather than taxonomy, and cannot be conceived in any manner other than via Indo-European orthodoxy. In other words by people who haven't done any significant taxonomy in many many moons. Why don't they, hmm?

We have been nattering on about these issues for almost a decade now but apparently few long rangers, so-called, have heard what the core long rangers have said. So I will repeat just one key point. Indo-baloney will never ever get us back to Mother Tongue, so there is no point in worshipping it. If you never want to transcend 10,000 years, then stick with Indo-baloney. If you want to get back to Mother Tongue, then you ought to follow the taxonomy first scholars. Period.

Wait! one may say. What about Nostratic? It is probably at least 20 kya and yet was made by Indo-baloney devotees, e.g., Muscovites + Bomhard. Surely it is looking very strong? Yes, it was and yes, it does. Even though it had been discovered several times by taxonomic types, the major work was done by believers in Indo-baloney like Dolgopolsky, I-S, and Bomhard. No doubt some of them applied the Comparative Method successfully in searching for additional cognates. However, it is unlikely that the original sets of etymologies were obtained by reconstruction-driven approaches; rather much simpler comparisons of words and grammemes found in a number of languages gave birth to the etymologies to which the C.M. could then be applied. One must not entirely believe the Nostraticists in their protestations of orthodoxy. Those are their shields!

Moreover in some etymologies C.M. reconstruction methods lead to distortions in the etymologies: (1) based on faulty or premature protoforms and (2) excessive reliance on happenstance historical work, e.g., the grossly excessive use of Semitic forms in Afrasian to the neglect of most of Afrasian. Even though (1) is a greater problem in Dene-Caucasic than Nostratic, still many starred forms in etymologies are quite questionable (to be polite).

It is also necessary to point out again that the so-called rigorous sound laws are no better than the etymologies upon which they are based. As they say, "garbage in, garbage out".

There is also the usual linguist's cry for greater and greater precision, rigor, etc. These cries seem to be part of the anality resident in the culture of linguistics, derived from 19th century Prussian militarism. Right? At least no one questions these values but no one seems to say why they are more important than anything else. (We could say more here!)


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(c) 1996 Association for the Study of Language In Prehistory