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Re: THEORY: A possible Proto-World phonology

From:dirk elzinga <dirk.elzinga@...>
Date:Friday, June 30, 2000, 0:24
On Thu, 29 Jun 2000, Lars Henrik Mathiesen wrote:

> > From: dirk elzinga <dirk.elzinga@...> > > > > Many accounts of North-West Caucasian (Abkhaz, Ubykh, > > Circassian, Kabardian, etc) posit a minimal vowel system (1 or 2 > > or 3) which balloons into 12-16 surface vowel qualities > > depending on the environment. What Lehmann proposes is something > > similar, IIRC. The contrast isn't among vowels of different > > qualities, but rather between a Vowel and Not a Vowel. Where > > there is a Vowel, its quality is determined solely according to > > context, just as you've said. Typological reconstructionists > > have used this feature (among others) to posit a link between > > PIE and Proto-NW-Caucasian. > > How does Lehmann argue that his model is better than one that says > > The language probably had 3 to 10 different vowel phonemes, > like languages usualy do --- but the data do not allow us to > tell them apart, so we just write **@ for all of them. > > ? I often get the feeling that the underlying motivation for such > theories is a distaste for admitting unknown quantities into a theory: > "if we can't tell them apart, there was only one." Occam's razor does > not apply here --- when we have no data, any theory will fit the fact, > and being the simplest is not a great virtue when experience shows > that it does not usually fit cases where data do exist.
Certainly if regularities in the reconstructed system allow a researcher to winnow the number of contrastive proto-phones, they are doing nothing more than researchers working on a living language. I assume that Lehmann followed such a procedure, though I cannot, of course, be sure.
> Curiously, it seems to work the other way with consonants. "If we > can't tell why the consonants in two different words developed in > different ways, they were probably different in the protolanguage."
I don't know the literature well enough to say.
> Well, perhaps they developed differently because the **@'s next to > them were in fact different vowels.
> [snip] > > AFAIR, the modern NW-Caucasian languages are all of the same 'vowel- > poor' type, but 7000 years is a long time --- for all we know the > protolanguage might have had a phonology like Hawai'ian 5-7000 years > ago, when the link to PIE would have existed. (The change would not > even have to be before the split into branches --- people don't seem > to believe in 'inherited tendencies' anymore, but we're got areal > features to replace them).
Yes. My primary source for the proposed PIE-NWC relationship is Gamqrelidze and Ivanov, who show NWC inventories and processes in their discussion of PIE phonology. I don't remember now if they claim genetic relationship or merely areal influence. In any case, it's a matter of comparing 6000 year old PIE and modern NWC.
> >From what I've seen, syntactic type seems to be less constant than > phonological type --- and even that changes. Common German, perhaps > 2500 BP, had about 4 vowels and three series of consonants in all > positions. Modern Danish has 13 vowels, and two series of consonants > that only differ when alone in initial position.
Weren't two of the PGerm vowels e1 and e2 (differing only in their reflexes in modern languages)? Of course, I'm at home now, and my Prokosch (acquired for $0.50 at a library book sale :-) is in my office. So I can't look it up.
> Besides, there are only so many types. All in all, the evidentiary > force of typological similarity is not huge.
No. But if the choice is between guessing and using tyopological information, it seems to make sense to use typology. At least as long as nothing better presents itself. Dirk -- Dirk Elzinga