Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Re: time-depth of language families

From:Thomas R. Wier <artabanos@...>
Date:Sunday, August 5, 2001, 2:05
daniel andreasson wrote:

> Um, excuse this natlangy question, but the Arda-Lang thingy > and a discussion on another list got me thinking on the > time-frame of language families. Do we know -- or at least > have a good clue -- as to when the different families split > up?
A lot of this is little more than guesswork. Even very well researched language families involve a lot of presuppositions and hypotheses in their statements about differentiation. The non-Italianate dialects of Sardinia, for example, are guessed to have broken off from Latin anywhere between the first century BC and about the 4th Century AD, a span of about four hundred years.
> When did Bantu split off? When did PIE and Uralic take > different paths? Etc, etc.
With protolanguages like PIE, the effect of all the guesswork and manipulation of variables is even more severe. Reasonable, scholarly guesses as to when PIE broke up have ranged anywhere from 2000 BC to about 7000 BC, and even though most estimates cluster closer to more recent figure, there are still thousands of years of in-between time. Such problems make many linguists, like my professor Mark Southern at the University of Texas, feel that there is no real way to establish a date short of direct, physical samples of writing in the subject language. Anything else would be sheer hand-waving. That of course all assumes that there is a protolanguage to date. You suggest that Uralic and PIE are related, and I am not at all certain that most experts on the matter (of which I am not one) would agree with that assessment. My personal research on the Urheimat of the Indo-Europeans led me to think that there are closer links to some Caucasian languages, and at that only as areal features and not as relations. So, to get back to the subject matter at hand, if we were to create a language family as we have planned, I would say that the level of controversy over many language families is great enough that we could essentially assert whatever chronology we wish, and outside assessment would say that that is reasonable. (All depending, of course, on the internal coherency of that chronology.) =================================== Thomas Wier | AIM: trwier "Aspidi men Saiôn tis agalletai, hên para thamnôi entos amômêton kallipon ouk ethelôn; autos d' exephugon thanatou telos: aspis ekeinê erretô; exautês ktêsomai ou kakiô" - Arkhilokhos