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CHAT: _Language relations across Bering Strait_ (was Re: Diachronic conlanging)

From:Eric Christopherson <rakko@...>
Date:Wednesday, November 29, 2006, 5:33
On Nov 22, 2006, at 10:18 AM, Jörg Rhiemeier wrote:

> Hallo! > > On Wed, 22 Nov 2006 08:40:24 +0000, R A Brown wrote: > >> Eric Christopherson wrote: >> [snip] >>> >>> Yes, that is correct. I think that what I asked was >>> (accidentally) only >>> part of what I intended to ask. I was actually wondering if >>> anyone had >>> attempted to construct a protolang for two languages which are not >>> known to be related, e.g. PIE and Proto-Semitic. I think that'd be >>> really tough, but the result could be very cool. >> >> Nostratic does that and much, much more :) >> >> See >> > > Ah, Nostratic! It's an interesting idea, but most of the evidence > is not > very convincing. It tells a lot that the pro-Nostratic community > is split > into several factions who use different sound correspondences and > reconstruct different sets of Proto-Nostratic roots (the > reconstructions > given on the Wikipedia page are just one opinion). At most one of > these > reconstructions can be right; clearly, a method that yields so many > false > positives must be unreliable.
I knew of Nostratic, but didn't realize the theory was usable enough to actually reconstruct roots for. That Wikipedia page was pretty interesting.
> > Yet, I think that there is something to it. At least, it seems like > Indo-European, Uralo-Siberian (Uralic-Yukaghir, Chukotko-Kamchatkan > and > Eskimo-Aleut) and Altaic are related to each other, perhaps also > Kartvelian, Etruscan and Sumerian. I have much more doubt about > Afro-Asiatic and Dravidian being related to these languages.
Ah... you must have read _Language relations across Bering Strait_ (by Michael Fortescue). I'm just finishing it (have a couple of pages left). What did you think of it? Anyone else read it? Here's my mini-review of it, for whoever's interested (this turned out longer and more off-topic than I had originally intended, which is why I've put CHAT: in the subject): I personally found it frustratingly tantalizing -- there seem to be lots of cursory, scattered, tentative mentions of various parallels (similarities in typology and syntax and a few reconstructed forms), but not enough detailed discussion of those parallels, or how they relate to the big linguistic picture, to satisfy me. I feel like if I actually knew any of the languages discussed (especially its history), I would get a lot more out of it. Likewise, there were a lot of mentions of different sorts of linguistic phenomena which were never explained, probably because linguists would already understand them; e.g. clefting and its relation to focus (e.g. in Yukagir); participles used as indicative verbs; and singulative nouns (I think I came to understand these, but the details are a little murky); there was also a lot of mention later on of spread zones, bottlenecks, and residual zones, which I now realize were briefly defined in Ch. 1, although I had forgotten that by the time they were actually used. Plus the footnotes, although interesting, were too frequent, making the reading "jumpy." On the plus side, although I'm not completely convinced, I think the main thesis (that the Uralic, Yukagir, Chukotko-Kamchatkan, and Eskimo-Aleut families are distantly related in some meaningful way) is plausible. It helps that Fortescue couches it in fairly conservative terms, allowing that the families might form a "mesh" rather than a (macro-)family, meaning that they are not necessarily all descended from a common language, but rather that their ancestor languages may have come to resemble each other through a convergence area/Sprachbund in distant prehistory. His reconstructed forms seem fairly reasonable to me, although the many-to-many nature of some of the sound correspondences might cast doubt. In any event, the book has given my conlanging imagination even more of a taste for distant diachronic relations, and piqued my curiosity for each of the language families covered.
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