Repost from the old site. This post will look into whether or not genes and language line up well. The question may seem academic, but it is important for linguists in the battle for whether or not there is anything to the large macro-families that the “lumpers” are creating. It’s yet another skirmish in the lumpers versus splitters battle in Historical Linguistics. Historical in the branch that deals with language families, language relationships and reconstruction of old languages that are no longer spoken. The debate has heated up in recent years due to the prominence of lumper theories publicized by the late Joseph Greenberg and his followers and disciples, notably Merrit Ruhlen at Stanford University. Ruhlen and Greenberg use a technique called mass comparison which has come under a lot of wild and irrational abuse, but seems to be a valid scientific method in the hands of an expert. Greenberg used to come up with the four major language families of Africa a long time ago and his classification there has remained pretty solid ever since. He since published a book called Language in the Americas, which broke down all Amerindian languages into three large families – Amerind, Na-Dene and Eskimo-Aleut. I have read that book many times and I concur with its analysis. Unfortunately, a detailed examination of the evidence goes beyond the scope of this post. Na-Dene and Eskimo-Aleut are not very controversial, though the position of Haida within Na-Dene is regarded as unproven. I don’t have any position on Haida. If it’s related, it has to be as some outlier, such that the family should be called Haida-Na-Dene. In the same way, some wish to put the ancient Indo-European Anatolian language Hittite into a separate branch of Indo-European as Indo-Hittite. I don’t have a position on that either. Bengston promotes a family called Dene-Caucasian that involves the North Caucasian languages of the Caucasus, Basque, Edward Vajda conclusively proved that the Ket language is related to the Na-Dene languages.
This is the first connection of a New World language family with an Old World language family.
These are the most vilified of the lumpers, but there are others who are following more orthodox methods of reconstruction in order to prove the existence of language families, such as the late Sergey Starostin, his son George Starostin, John Bengston, the late Vladislav Markovich Illich-Svitych (a prodigy, dead at the young age of only 32), Aharon Dolgopolsky and Vitaly Victorovich Shevoroshkin. The Starostins, Illich-Svitych, Dolgopolsky and Shevoroshkin all worked on Nostratic, a vast family consisting, variously, of Indo-European, Uralic, Altaic, Kartvelian, Nivkh, Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Afro-Asiatic, Dravidian and Eskimo-Aleut. I would accept IE, Uralic, Altaic, Nivki, Chukotko-Kamchatkan and Eskimo-Aleut for sure in Nostratic. I haven’t seen a lot of evidence for Afro-Asiatic and Dravidian, but I haven’t looked that hard at Nostratic. The Altaic family is itself controversial, but I regard it as fact, having studied it a bit. This large Altaic above also includes Japanese, Korean and Ainu. I agree that those three languages can be included in Altaic, though at great distance. I would toss Yukaghir in with Uralic. I would also toss Afro-Asiatic in with IE, as I read a good book on that subject. Nostratic has a whole lot more going for it than some of these other long-range proposals, and since these guys are using classic reconstruction, it gets a lot more respect from splitters. Starostin’s webpage is a great resource for looking into long-range stuff, especially Nostratic and Altaic. Bengston, Shevoroshkin and the Starostins all worked on Dene-Caucasian. This hypothesis seems a lot more controversial.
- Campbell, Lyle & Mithun, Marianne (Eds.) 1979. The Languages of Native America: An Historical and Comparative Assessment. Austin: University of Texas Press. Campbell, Lyle. 1988. “Review of Language in the Americas, by Joseph Greenberg.” Language 64:591-615. Campbell, Lyle. 1997. American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. Greenberg, Joseph. 1987. Language in the Americas. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Greenberg, Joseph. 1989. “Classification of American Indian languages: a reply to Campbell.” Language 65:1, 107-114.
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