Warning: Long, runs to 57 pages. This article is intended at the moment more for the general audience than for specialists, but specialists may also find it of interest. At the moment, it is not properly formatted or edited to be of use for publication in an academic journal, but perhaps it could be published in such a format some day.
For background into what Historical Linguistics is, see this Wikipedia article. Basically it involves determining which languages are related to each other via various means and once that is determined, reconstructing a proto-language that the related languages descended from, along with, hopefully, regular sound correspondences which supposedly proves the relationship once and for all. The argument in Historical Linguistics now is between conservatives or splitters or progressives or lumpers.
Splitters say that the comparative method – described above as reconstructing a proto-language with regular sound correspondences – is necessary in order to prove that two or more languages are related. However, they also say, probably correctly, that this method is not useful beyond ~6,000 years. Any relationships beyond that time frame would not be provable by the comparative method and hence could never be proven. This effectively shuts down all research into long-range older language families.
Some lumpers say that this method is not necessary and instead relationships can be determined by simply looking at the two or more languages, a process called comparison or mass comparison. I point out below that comparison need not be cursory but could mean deep study of languages over 10, 15, or 20 years.
They tend to focus on core vocabulary, numerals, family terms, pronouns, and deictics, in addition to small morphological particles – all things that are rarely borrowed. Once they find a number of these items that resemble one another greater than chance, they say that the two languages are related because chance and borrowing are ruled out.
They say that this is the way to prove language relatedness, not the comparative method. The comparative method instead is used to learn interesting things about language families that have already been discovered via comparison, such as reconstructing proto-languages and finding regular sound correspondences.
Splitters say that comparison or mass comparison is not a valid way of proving that languages are related and that only the comparative method can be used to prove this. However, as noted, they set a 6,000- year time limit on the method needed to prove this, and this walls off a lot of potential knowledge and about ancient and long-range language relationships as unprovable and hence undiscoverable. In a way, they are shutting the door to new scientific discovery beyond a certain time frame by claiming that the method needed to make these discoveries doesn’t work beyond X thousand years.
Other lumpers disagree that the comparative method has a time limit on it and are attempting to use the comparative method to reconstruct ancient long-range language families and find regular sound correspondences between them. Unfortunately, most of their efforts are in vain as splitters are using increasingly strict criteria for proof of language relationship and hence are shooting down most if not all of these efforts being done “in the proper way.”
So they are saying that proof must be done in a certain way, but when people try to play by the rules and use that way to find proof, they keep moving the goalposts and using increasingly strict, petty, and quibbling methods to in general say that the relationship is not proven.
So the say, “You must use this tool for your proof!” And then people play fair and use the tool, and almost always say, “Sorry, you didn’t prove it!” It all feels like a game that is rigged to fail is most if not all cases.
Hence, the current trend of extreme conservatism in Historical Linguistics has set up rules seem to be designed to prevent the discovery of most if not all new language families, in particular long-range families older than 6-8,000 years.
I am quite certain that long-range language families such as Altaic (with either three families or five), Indo-Uralic, Uralic-Yukaghir, Hokan, Penutian, Mosan, Almosan, Japanese-Korean, Gulf, Yuki-Gulf, Elamite-Dravidian, Quechumaran, Austroasiatic-Hmong Mien, Coahuiltecan, North Caucasian, or Na-Dene will never be proven in my lifetime, and that’s not to mention the more extreme proposals such as Eurasiatic, Nostratic, Dene-Caucasian, Austric, and Amerind, although the evidence for the first and last of these is quite powerful.
There are simply too many emotions tied up in any of these proposals. Further, many linguists have spent a good part of their careers arguing against these proposals. It is doubtful that any amount of evidence will cause them to change their minds. Scientists, like any other humans, don’t like to be shown that they’re wrong.
Lyle Campbell, Maryanne Mithun, Mauricio Mixco, Sarah Grey Thomason, Joanna Nichols, William Poser, Peter Daniels, Dell Hymes, Larry Trask, Gerrit Dimmendaal, Donald Ringe, Juha Janhunen, William Bright, and Paul Sidwell are among the leaders of this new conservatism.
At first I was very angry at what these people were doing, especially the most egregious cases such as Campbell. Then I realized that people lie and misrepresent things all day long every single day in my life and that this behavior is fairly normal behavior in humans, especially in a mushy area like this one where hard truths are hard to come by and most stated facts are more properly matters of opinion or could be construed that way.
I realized that they are simply defending a scientific paradigm and that unfortunately, this is the rather underhanded and emotion-ridden environment that defending paradigms tends to produce.
Though to be completely honest, I should not be singling these people out because the current conservatism is simply consensus and acts as the current paradigm on the language relatedness question in Historical Linguistics. The people listed above are at the top of the profession and are often considered the best historical linguists. They write books on historical linguistics. A number are considered to be ultimate authorities on questions of language relatedness. They are simply the leading edge of the current conservative consensus and paradigm in the field.
Although granted, of all of them, Campbell seems to be the most extreme conservative. He is also one of the top historical linguists in the world. Mixco, Mithun, and Poser are about on the same level as Campbell.
Campbell, Mithun, Thomason, and Mixco are Americanists whose conservatism was set off by the publication of Joseph Greenberg’s Language in the Americas (LIA) in 1987.
All of the linguists above are noted for the excellent scholarship.
The conservatives who are denying most if not all new families are are called splitters.They tend to be very angry if not out and out abusive, engaging in bullying, mockery, ridicule, ostracization, and all of the usual techniques used in science against the proposers of a new paradigm.
The people who propose long-range families are called lumpers. Lumpers are heavily disparaged in the field nowadays such that almost no one wants to be known as a lumper or associated with such. However, many other historical linguists seem to be taking a more moderate fence-sitter stance where they are open to questions of new language families, including long-range families.
Among the long-range families that the moderates are open to considering nowadays are Indo-Uralic, Dene-Yenisien, and Austro-Tai. Some of the smaller long-range families in the Americas even have supporters among the most hardline of splitters. I’m even dubious about well-argued proposals such as Dene-Yenisien.
Thomason takes extreme umbrage to the notion that splitters have a bias that will not allow few if any new families to be discovered after Greenberg compared them with Malcolm Guthrie’s objections to Greenberg’s new classification of Bantu. However, after thinking this over for some time now, I now believe that Greenberg is correct. The splitters have their minds made up. They are going to allow few if any new families to be discovered. A few of them have caved a bit.
I also work in mental health, and it’s pretty obvious to me when something is not right about a scientific debate. I’ve been getting that vibe about the splitters versus lumpers debate from the very start. When a debate in science has degenerated into bias, ideology and ideologues, propaganda, politics, and in particular extreme emotion, it gives off a certain intuitive feel about it. This debate has felt this way from Day One. To put it simply, the debate simply doesn’t smell right. I have a feeling that science left the room along time ago here.
One thing I noticed was that people who have worked on one particular language or family for much of their careers are especially angry and aggressive about the notion that their family could possibly be related to anything else. Indeed famous linguists were remarking on this tendency as early as 1901. Among the reasons given was that they had their hands full already without new work to take on and a disinclination to see their language family related to anything else as this would deny its specialness.
Trask is forceful that Basque could not possibly have any outside relatives.
I saw a debate on the Net some years ago with Trask and a Spanish assistant holding court over a debate over the external relations of Basque. Those who argued for external relations were pushing a relationship with the Caucasian languages, which is possible though not proven in my opinion. Trask and his assistant were very angry and aggressive in holding down the fort. Apparently everything was a Spanish borrowing. The debate didn’t smell right at all.
With a background in psychology, I wonder what is going on here. One possibility is as Greenberg suggests and as was suggested back in 1901 – simple narcissism. When one specializes in a language family for a long time, it probably become blurred with the self such that the self and the family become married to each other, and it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Yourself and the family you’ve spent your career working on become one and same thing. If your family is not related to anything else, it’s special.
We all think we are special. This is the essence of human narcissism. To say that their favorite language has relatives is to deny its specialness almost as if to say that our egos were not real but were instead extensions of other people’s egos. Actually if you read Sartre or study modern particle physics, that’s not a bad theory, but most people bristle at the notion.
I met Korean and Japanese people when I was doing my Masters. Both beamed when they told me that their language had no known relatives. Of course that made it special in their eyes and played right into their ethnocentrism.
Another problem may be the trajectory of one’s career. If one has been arguing forcefully for 30 years that there are no known relations to your family, your reputation is going to take a huge hit if you have to agree that you were wrong all those years.
There is also a politics question.
Another reason is Politics. We are dealing here with a Paradigm. For a good description of a Scientific Paradigm, see Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn holds that science is by its nature very conservative, some sciences being more conservative than others. A Paradigm is set up when the field reaches a satisfactory consensus that a particular theory is correct. After a while, serious barriers go up to any challenges to overthrow the proven theory.
The challenges are first ignored, then ridiculed (often severely), then attacked (often ferociously) and then, if the challenge is successful, it is accepted (often slowly and grudgingly). Kuhn pointed out that defenders of the old theory are usually so reluctant to see the paradigm overthrown that we often must wait literally until their deaths to finally overthrow the paradigm. They defend it to their deathbeds. I suggest we are dealing with something more than pure empiricism here.
It is quite risky to challenge a paradigm in science. People’s careers have suffered from it. A supporter of Keynesian economics, then challenging the current paradigm in economics, could not get hired at any university in the US during the 1930’s.
In the splitters versus lumpers debate, we have been in the Anger phase for some time now. We seem to be settling out of it, as many are taking a fence-sitting position and arguing for attempts to resolve the debate to make it less heated.
The Paradigm here involves extreme skepticism about any new language families to the point that any new families are simply going to be rejected on all sorts of grounds. Paradigms involve politics at the academic level. When a Paradigm is set up in science, almost all scientists write and do research within the paradigm. Anything outside of the paradigm is derided as pseudoscience or worse.
The problem is that when a Paradigm in in effect, all scholars are supposed to publish within the Paradigm. Publishing outside the paradigm is regarded as evidence that one is a kook, a crank, is practicing pseudoscience, or that one is crazy or a fool. It is instructive in this debate to note that most of the prominent lumpers are independent scholars operating outside of the politics of academia.
I have had them tell me that the only reason they can take the lumper position that they do is because they are independent and don’t have a university job, so there are no repercussions if they are wrong. They told me that if they had a professorship, they would not be able to do this work. They have also told me that they know for a fact that certain splitters might jeopardize their jobs, careers, and especially their funding if they took a lumper position. This was given as one of the reasons for their dogmatic splitterism.
In addition, science works according to fads, or more properly, standard beliefs. The trends for these beliefs are set by the biggest names in the field. The biggest names in Linguistics are all splitters now. They are the trendsetters, especially in whatever specialty of Historical Linguistics you are working in. Everyone else in the field is dutifully following in their footsteps. As an up and coming young scholar, you are supposed to follow the proper trends and hypotheses of your field to uphold the consensus of scholars in your area of specialty. As you can see there is a lot more than simple empiricism going on here.
With my background, I look for psychological motivations anywhere I can find them. And science is no stranger to bias and emotional psychological motivations driving, or usually distorting it. We are human and humans have emotions. Emotion is the enemy of logic. Logic is the basis of empiricism. Hence, emotions are the enemy of science.
Scientists are supposed to remain objective, but alas, they are humans themselves and subject to all of the emotional psychological motivations that the rest of them are. Scientists are supposed to police themselves for bias, but that’s probably hard to do, especially if the bias is rooted in psychological processes or in particular if it is unconscious, as many such processes are.
Campbell’s case is an extreme one, but I believe it is simply motivated by internal psychological process inside of the man himself.
Campbell is driven by psychological complexes. His entire turn towards extreme conservatism in this debate was set off by the huge feud he had with Greenberg, and everything since has flowed from that. He took a very angry position that LIA was completely false and did his best to trash its reputation far and wide. This disparagement is still the order of the day, and Greenberg’s name is as good as mud in the field.
Then Campbell generalized his extreme splitterist reaction to LIA out to all of the language families in the world because if he allowed any new families elsewhere in the world, he might have to allow them in the Americas, and he could not countenance that. Note also that Campbell has gone out of his way to specifically attack Greenberg’s four-family split in his proposal for language families in Africa.
This proposal, done with Greenberg’s derided method of mass comparison, has had a successful result in Africa and has been proven with the test of time. Campbell cannot allow this because if he admits that Greenberg was right in Africa, he might have to accept that he might be right in the Americas too, and that’s beyond the pale. So in his recent works he has specifically set out to state that Afroasiatic, Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Kordofanian, and Khoisan – the four families of Greenberg’s classification – have not been proven to exist yet. The truth is exactly the opposite, but the psychological process here is bald and naked for all to see.
Here he specifically trashes these language families because they were discovered by Joseph Greenberg, Campbell’s bete noir. Campbell’s agenda is to show the Greenberg is a preposterous kook and crank, although he was one of the greatest linguists of the 20th century. Greenberg’s African work is regarded as true, and this poses a problem if Campbell is to characterize Greenberg as a charlatan.
If Greenberg was right about one thing, could he not be right about another? In order to lay the foundation for the theory that Greenberg’s method doesn’t work and that it cannot discover any language relationships, Campbell will have to deny the method ever had any successes. So he sets about to deny that Greenberg’s four African families are proven.
Splitters have come up with a repertoire of reasons to shoot down proposed language relations and most are pretty poor.
They rely on overuse of the borrowing, chance, sound symbolism, nursery word, and onomatopoeia explanations for non-relatedness. There is also an overuse of the comparative method with excessively strict standards being set up for etymologies and sound correspondences. In a number of cases, linguists are going back to the etymologies of their proto-languages and reducing them by up to half.
In the last 20 years, Uralicists have gone back over the original Proto-Uralic etymologies and gotten rid of fully half of them (from 2,000 down to 1,000) on a variety of very poor reasons, mostly irregular sound correspondences. It appears to me that while there were some obvious bad etymologies in there, most of the ones that were thrown out were perfectly good.
Irregular sound correspondences is a bad reason to throw out an etymology. Keep in mind that 50% of Indo-European etymologies have irregular correspondences. By the logic of Uralicists we should throw out half of IE etymologies then. If Campbell finds any irregular sound correspondences in any new proposal, he automatically rejects it on those grounds alone. What the Uralicists have done is vandalism.
This is not just conservatism. It is out and out Reaction. Worse, it is nearly a Conservative Revolution, which I won’t define further. It is akin to a city council declaring that all of the old, beautiful buildings in the city are going to be torn down because they were not constructed properly. Will they be rebuilt? Well, of course not. Most of the top Uralicists are involved in this silly and destructive project.
In a recent paper, George Starostin warned that the splitters were not just conservatives determined to stop all progress. He pointed out that there was actually a trend towards rejection and going backwards in time to dismantle families that have already set up on the grounds that they were not done perfectly enough. As we can see, his warning was prescient.
There are statements being made by moderates that both sides, the splitters and the lumpers, are being equally unreasonable. As one linguist said, the debate is between lazy lumpers (Just believe us, don’t demand that we prove it!) and angry splitters (Not only is this new family false, but all new families proposed from now on will also be shot down!). He suggested that they are both wrong and that the solution lies in a point in the middle. I don’t have a problem with this moderate centrist belief
The splitter notion itself rests on an obvious falsehood, that there are hundreds of language families in the world that have no possible relationship with each other.
According to Campbell, there are 160 language families and isolates in the Americas. The question is where did all of these entities come from. Keep in mind, in Linguistics, the standard view is that these 160 entities are not related to each other in any way, shape, or form. Thinking back, this means that language would have had to have developed in humans 160 times among the Amerindians alone.
The truth is that there was no polygenesis of language.
Sit back and think for a moment. How could language possibly have been independently developed more than one time? Obviously it arose in one group. How could it have arose in other groups too? It couldn’t and it didn’t. Did some of the original speakers go deaf, become mutes, forget all their language, and then have children, raising them without language, in which case the children devised language for themselves?
Children need comprehensible input to develop language. No language to hear in the environment, no language for the children to acquire on their own. With coclear implants, formerly deaf people are now able to hear for the first time. A woman got hers at age 32. Since she missed the Critical Period for language development, the window of which closes at age 8, she has not, even at this late date, been able to acquire language satisfactorily. She missed the boat. No input, no language.
Obviously language arose only once among humans. It had to. And hence, all human languages are related to each other de facto whether we can “prove” it by out fancy methods or not. In other words, all human languages are related. Those 160 language families and isolates in the Americas? All related. Now we may not be able to prove which languages they are related to specifically and most closely, but we know they are all related to each other.
In the physical sciences, including Evolutionary Psychology, many things are simply assumed because the alternate theories could not have happened. But we have no evidence of much of anything in Evolutionary Psychology or Evolutionary Anthropology. We know our ancestors lived in X place at Y times, but we have no idea what they were doing there. We can’t go back in time to prove that this or that happened.
Using the logic of linguists, since we cannot make time machines to go back in time and make theories about Evolutionary Anthropology and Evolutionary Psychology of these peoples, we can make no statements about this matter, as the only way to prove it would be to see it. In physics, there are particles that we have never seen. We have simply posited their existence because according to our theories, they have to exist. According to linguists, we could not posit the discovery of these particles unless we see it.
Contrary to popular rumor, everything in science does not have to be “proven” by this or that rigorous method. Many things are simply posited, as no real evidence for their existence exists, either because we were not there or because we can’t see them, or in the case of pure physics, we can’t even test out our theories. They exist simply because they have to according to our existing theories, and all competing theories fall down flat.
Well, the Americanists beg to disagree. Greenberg’s theory was so extreme and radical that the entire field erupted in outrage. None of their alternate theories, not even one of them, make the slightest bit of sense.
Despite the fact that these languages are obviously related to each other, in order to “officially prove it” we have to use a method called the comparative method whereby proto-languages and families are reconstructed and regular sound correspondences are shown between the languages being studied.
This is the only way that we can prove one language is related to another. That’s simply absurd for a few reasons.
First of all, I concur with Joanna Nichols that the comparative method does not really work on language families older than 6-8,000 years. Beyond that time, so many sound changes have taken place, semantics have been distorted, and terms fallen out of use that there’s not much of anything left to reconstruct. Furthermore, time has washed away any evidence of sound correspondences.
Although Nichols is a splitter, I have to commend her. First, she’s right above.
Second, realizing this, she says that the comparative method will always fail beyond this time frame. I believe she thinks then that we need to use new methods if we are to prove that long-range families exist. The method she suggests is “individual-identifying evidence,” which seems to be another way of saying odd morpheme paradigms that were probably not borrowed and are hardly existent outside of that family.
This harkens back to Edward Sapir’s “submerged features,” where he says we can prove the existence of language families by these small morphemic resemblances alone.
The rest of the field remain sticks in the mud. They say that we must use the comparative method to discover that languages are related because no other method exists. The problem is that as noted, as splitters themselves note, if the comparative method fails beyond 6,000 years back, all attempts to prove language families that old or older are bound to fail.
The splitters seem positively gleeful that according to their paradigm, few if any new language families will be discovered. This delight in nihilism seems odd and disturbing. What sort of science is gleeful that no new knowledge will be found? Even in the even that this is true, it’s depressing. Why get excited about something so negative?
Many language families in the world were discovered by Greenberg’s “mass comparison” or simply comparing one language to another, which should be called “comparison.” And in fact, many of the smaller language families in the world are still being posited by the means of comparison or mass comparison. Comparison need not be the broad, sweeping, forest for the trees, holistic method Greenberg employs. I argue that it means lining up languages and looking for common features. We could be lining up one language against another and that would also be “comparison.”
It need not be a shallow examination. One could examine a possible language for five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years.
After studying a pair or group of languages for some time, if one finds a group of core vocabulary items that resemble one another and are above the rate found by chance (7%), and after which borrowing has been ruled out (core vocabulary is rarely borrowed), then you have proof positive of a language family.
I fail to understand why examining a language or group of languages for a long period of time to find resemblances and try to rule out chance or borrowings is a ridiculous method. What’s so ridiculous about that? Sure, it’s nice to reconstruct and get nice sound correspondences going, but it’s not always necessary, especially in long-range comparisons when such methods are doomed to failure.
One more thing: if splitters say that the comparative method fails beyond 6,000 years, why do they keep putting long-range families to the test using the comparative method? After all, the result will always come up negative, right? What’s the point of doing a study you know will come up negative? Just to get your punches in?
There are a number of folks who have bought into the splitters’ arguments and are trying to discover long-range families by the comparative method of reconstructing the proto-language and finding regular sound correspondences between them. A number of them claim to have been successful. There have been attempts to reconstruct proto-languages and find regular sound correspondences with Altaic, Nostratic, Dene-Caucasian, Dene-Yenisien, Austro-Tai, Totonozoquean, and Uralo-Yukaghir.
Altaic, Nostratic, and Dene-Caucasian all have proto-languages reconstructed with good sound correspondences running through them. Altaic and Nostratic have etymological dictionaries containing many words, 2,300 proto-forms in the case of Altaic in a 1,000 page volume. Further, a considerable Nostratic proto-language was reconstructed by Dogopolsky and Illich-Svitych.
All of these efforts claim that they have proven their hypotheses. However, the splitters such as Campbell have rejected all of them. So you see, even when people follow the mandated method and play it by the book the way they are supposed to, the splitters will nearly always say that the efforts come up short. It’s a rigged game.
How about another question? If the comparative method fails is doomed beyond 6,000 years, why don’t we use another method to discover these relationships? The splitter rejoinder is that there is no other method. It’s the comparative method or nothing. But how do they know this? Can they prove that other methods can never be used to successfully discover a language relationship?
The following quotes are from a textbook or general text on Historical Linguistics by Lyle Campbell and Mario Mixco, A Glossary of Historical Linguistics. The purpose of this paper will be misrepresented as critics who will say that I am a lumper who is saying criticizing splitters for their opposition to known language families.
There is some of that here, but more than lumper propaganda, what I am trying to do here more than anything else is to show how Campbell and Mixco have been untruthful about linguistic specialist consensus regarding these families. In most cases, they are openly misrepresenting the state of consensus in the field.
As will be shown, Campbell and Mixco repeatedly seriously distort the state of consensus regarding many language families, particularly long-range ones. They usually favor a more negative and conservative view, saying that a family has little support when it has significant support and saying it is controversial when the consensus in the field is that the family is real. Campbell and Mixco engage in serious distortions of fact all through this text:
Campbell and Mixco:
Afroasiatic: Enjoys wide support among linguists, but it is not uncontroversial, especially with regard to which of the groups assumed to be genetically related to one another are to be considered true members of the phylum.
There is disagreement concerning Cushitic, and Omotic (formerly called Sidama or West Cushitic) is disputed; the great linguistic diversity within Omotic makes it a questionable entity for some. Chadic is held to be uncertain by others. Typological and areal problems contribute to these doubts. For example, some treat Cushitic and Omotic together as a linguistic area (Sprachbund) of seven families within Afroasiatic.
Campbell and Mixco are wrong. Afroasiatic is not controversial at all. There is widespread consensus that the family exists and that all of the subfamilies are correct.
The “we can’t reconstruct the numerals” argument is much in evidence here too. See the Altaic debate below for more on this. One argument against Altaic is “We can’t reconstruct the numerals.” However, Afroasiatic is a recognized family and not only has reconstruction itself proved difficult, but the numerals in particular are a gigantic mess. It seems that one does not need to have a fully reconstructed numeral set after all to have a proven language family.
There is consensus that Cushitic is a valid entity. Granted, there has been some question about Omotic, but in the last 10-15 years, consensus has settled on an agreement that Omotic is part of Afroasiatic.
The great diversity of Omotic is no surprise. Omotic is probably 13,000 years old! It’s amazing that there’s anything left at all after all that time.
Where do we get the idea that a language family cannot possibly be highly diverse? Chadic is also uncontroversial by consensus. I am not aware of any serious proposals to see Cushitic and Omotic as an Altaic-like Sprachbund of mass borrowings. Campbell and Mixco’s comments above are simply not correct. The only people questioning the validity of Afroasiatic or any of its components are Campbell and Mixco, and they are not an experts on the family.
Campbell and Mixco:
Berber is usually believed to be one of the branches of Afroasiatic.
This is far too pessimistic. Berber is recognized by consensus as being one of the branches of Afroasiatic.
Campbell and Mixco:
Niger-Kordofanian (now often just called Niger-Congo): A hypothesis of distant genetic relationship proposed by Joseph H. Greenberg in his classification of African languages. Estimated counts of Niger-Kordofanian languages vary from around 900 to 1,500 languages. Greenberg grouped ‘West Sudanic’ and Bantu into a single large family, which he called Niger-Congo, after the two major rivers, the Niger and the Congo ‘in whose basins these languages predominate’ (Greenberg 1963: 7).
This included the subfamilies already recognized earlier: (1) West Atlantic (to which Greenberg joined Fulani, in a Serer-Wolof-Fulani [Fulfulde] group), (2) Mande (Mandingo) (thirty-five to forty languages), (3) Gur (or Voltaic), (4) Kwa (with Togo Remnant) and (5) Benue-Congo (Benue-Cross), with the addition of (6) Adamawa-Eastern, which had not previously been classified with these languages and whose classification remains controversial.
For Greenberg, Bantu was but a subgroup of Benue-Congo, not a separate subfamily on its own. In 1963 he joined Niger-Congo and the ‘Kordofanian’ languages into a larger postulated phylum, which he called Niger-Kordofanian.
Niger-Kordofanian has numerous supporters but is not well established; the classification of several of the language groups Greenberg assigned to Niger-Kordofanian is rejected or revised, though most scholars accept some form of Niger-Congo as a valid grouping.
As Nurse (1997: 368) points out, it is on the basis of general similarities and the noun-class system that most scholars have accepted Niger-Congo, but ‘the fact remains that no one has yet attempted a rigorous demonstration of the genetic unity of Niger-Congo by means of the Comparative Method.’
There is consensus among scholars that Niger-Kordofanian is a real thing.
Campbell and Mixco:
Nilo-Saharan: One of Greenberg’s four large phyla in his classification of African languages. In dismantling the inaccurate and racially biased ‘Hamitic,’ of which Nilo-Hamitic was held to be part, Greenberg demonstrated the inadequacy of those former classifications and argued for the connection between Nilotic and Eastern Sudanic.
He noted that ‘the Nilotic languages seem to be predominantly isolating, tend to monosyllabism, and employ tonal distinctions’ (Greenberg 1963: 92). To the extent that this classification is based on commonplace shared typology and perhaps areally diffused traits, it does not have a firm foundation. Nilo-Saharan is disputed, and many are not convinced of the proposed genetic relationships. It is generally seen as Greenberg’s wastebasket phylum, into which he placed all the otherwise unaffiliated languages of Africa.
First of all, Nilo-Saharan is not classified based on its language typology which were perhaps areally diffused. There is also a great deal of the more typical evidence in favor of this language family. Second, it is not true that it lacks a firm foundation and that many are not convinced of its reality. The consensus among experts is that this family exists and the overwhelming majority of the subfamilies and isolates Greenberg put it in are correct.
Saying that it is a wastebasket phylum does not make sense because the Nilo-Saharan languages are only found in a certain part of Africa. If it was truly such a phylum, there would be languages from all over Africa placed in this family.
According to Roger Bench, a moderate, there is now consensus in the last 10-15 years that Nilo-Saharan is a real thing.
Consensus has formed that 75% of the languages and families Greenberg put in Nilo-Saharan form a valid family. Controversy remains about the other 25% including Songhay, the Gumhuz family, and a few isolates. Some say these are part of Nilo-Saharan but others say they are not. Nilo-Saharan probably has a great time depth of ~13,000 years at least, such that little probably remains to reconstruct. Reconstruction of Nilo-Saharan has proved difficult.
Yes, Campbell and Mixco say that Nilo-Saharan is not real, but they are not specialists.
Campbell and Mixco:
Khoisan: A proposed distant genetic relationship associated with Greenberg’s (1963) classification of African languages, which holds some thirty non-Bantu click languages of southern and eastern Africa to be genetically related to one another. Greenberg originally called his Khoisan grouping ‘the Click Languages’ but later changed this to a name based on a created compound of the Hottentots’ name for themselves, Khoi, and their name for the Bushmen, San.
Khoisan is the least accepted of Greenberg’s four African phyla. Several scholars agree in using the term ‘Khoisan’ not to reflect a genetic relationship among the languages but, rather, as a cover term for all the non-Bantu and non-Cushitic click languages.
Although it is probably true that Khoisan is the least accepted of Greenberg’s families, that’s not saying much, as it only means that 80% of experts accept its reality instead of 100%. I do not know who these several scholars are who feel that Khoisan is a typological area for click languages, but they do not seem to be specialists. Overall, Campbell and Mixco seriously distort consensus on Khoisan in this passage.
According to George Starostin, in the last 5-10 years, there is now consensus that Khoisan exists. There are five major Khoisan scholars, and four of them agree that Khoisan is real, with all of them including Sandawe and most including Hadza. There is one, Traill, who says it’s not real, but he is also a notorious Africanist splitter.
Campbell and Mixco:
Eurasiatic: Greenberg’s hypothesis of a distant genetic relationship that would group Indo-European, Uralic–Yukaghir, Altaic, Korean–Japanese–Ainu, Nivkh, Chukotian and Eskimo–Aleut as members of a very large ‘linguistic stock’. While there is considerable overlap in the putative members of Eurasiatic and Nostratic there are also significant differences. Eurasiatic has been sharply criticized and is largely rejected by specialists.
I have no doubt that Eurasiatic has been sharply criticized, but apart from a negative review in Language by Peter Daniels, the controversy seems quite muted compared to the furor over Amerind. I am also not sure that it is largely rejected by specialists. It probably is, but most of them have not even bothered to comment on it. I believe that this family is one of the best long-range proposals out there.
Based on the data from the pronouns alone, it’s obviously a real entity, though I would include Indo-European, Uralic-Yukaghir, Altaic including Japanese and Korean, Chukotian, and Eskimo-Aleut, leaving out Nivki for the time being and certainly leaving out Ainu. Nivki does seem to be a Eurasiatic language but it’s not a separate node. Instead it may be a part of the Chukotian family. Or even better yet, it seems to be part of a family connected to the New World via the Almosan family in the Americas.
I feel that Eurasiatic is a much more solid entity than Nostratic. Not that I am against Nostratic, but it’s more that Eurasiatic is a simple hypothesis to prove and with Nostratic, I’m much less sure of that. On the other hand, to the extent that Nostratic overlaps with Eurasiatic, it is surely correct.
Campbell and Mixco:
Indo-Anatolian: The hypothesis, associated with Edgar Sturtevant, that Hittite (or better said, the Anatolian languages, of which Hittite is the best known member) was the earliest Indo-European language to split off from the others. That is, this hypothesis would have Anatolian and Indo-European as sisters, two branches of a Proto-Indo-Hittite.
The more accepted view is that Anatolian is just one subgroup of Indo-European, albeit perhaps the first to have branched off, hence not ‘Indo-Hittite’ but just ‘Indo-European’ with Anatolian as one of its branches. In fact the two views differ very little in substance, since, in either case, Anatolian ends up being a subfamily distinct from the other branches and in the view of many the first to branch off the family.
The view that Anatolian is just another subgroup of IE is not the more accepted view. In fact, it has been rejected by specialists. Indo-Europeanists have told me that Indo-Anatolian is now the consensus among Indo-Europeanists, so Campbell and Mixco’s statement that Indo-Anatolian is a minority view is false.
Campbell and Mixco:
Nostratic (< Latin nostra ‘our’): A proposed distant genetic relationship that, as formulated in the 1960s by Illich-Svitych, would group Indo-European, Uralic, Altaic, Kartvelian, Dravidian and Hamito-Semitic (later Afroasiatic), though other versions of the hypothesis would include various other languages. Nostratic has a number of supporters, mostly associated with the Moscow school of Nostratic, though a majority of historical linguists do not accept the claims.
There are many problems with the evidence presented on behalf of the Nostratic hypothesis. In several instances the proposed reconstructions do not comply with typological expectations; numerous proposed cognates are lax in semantic associations, involve onomatopoeia, are forms too short to deny chance, include nursery forms and do not follow the sound correspondences formulated by supporters of Nostratic.
A large number of the putative cognate sets are considered problematic or doubtful even by its adherents. More than one-third of the sets are represented in only two of the putative Nostratic branches, though by its founder’s criteria, acceptable cases need to appear in at least three of the Nostratic language families. Numerous sets appear to involve borrowing. (See Campbell 1998, 1999.) It is for reasons of this sort that most historical linguists reject Nostratic.
It is probably correct that consensus among specialists is to reject Nostratic, but serious papers taking apart of the proposal seem to be lacking. Nevertheless, most dismiss it and it is beginning to enter into the emotionally charged terrain of Altaic and Amerind, particularly the former, and belief in it is becoming a thing of ridicule as it is for Altaic. Nevertheless, there have been a few excellent linguists doing work on this very long-range family for decades now.
Campbell and Mixco:
Indo-Uralic: The hypothesis that the Indo-European and Uralic language families are genetically related to one another. While there is some suggestive evidence for the hypothesis, it has not yet been possible to confirm the proposed relationship.
This summary seems too negative. Indo-Uralic is probably one of the most promising long-range proposals out there. I regard the relationship between the two as obvious, but to me it is only a smaller part of the larger Eurasiatic family. Frederick Kortland has done a lot of good work on this idea. Even some hardline splitters are open to this hypothesis.
Campbell and Mixco:
Altaic: While ‘Altaic’ is repeated in encyclopedias and handbooks most specialists in these languages no longer believe that the three traditional supposed Altaic groups, Turkic, Mongolian and Tungusic, are related. In spite of this, Altaic does have a few dedicated followers.
The most serious problems for the Altaic proposal are the extensive lexical borrowing across inner Asia and among the ‘Altaic’ languages, lack of significant numbers of convincing cognates, extensive areal diffusion and typologically commonplace traits presented as evidence of relationship.
The shared ‘Altaic’ traits typically cited include vowel harmony, relatively simple phoneme inventories, agglutination, their exclusively suffixing nature, (S)OV ([Subject]-Object-Verb) word order and the fact that their non-main clauses are mostly non-finite (participial) constructions.
These shared features are not only commonplace typological traits that occur with frequency in unrelated languages of the world and therefore could easily have developed independently, but they are also areal traits shared by a number of languages in surrounding regions the structural properties of which were not well-known when the hypothesis was first framed.
This one is still up in the air, but Campbell and Mixco are lying when they say that idea has been abandoned. Most US linguists regard it as a laughingstock, and if you say you believe in it you will experience intense bullying and taunting from them. Oddly enough, outside the US, in Europe in particular, Altaic is regarded as obviously true. However, notorious anti-Altaicist Alexander Vovin has camped out in Paris and is now spreading his nihilistic doctrine to Europeans there.
The problem is that almost all of the US linguists who will laugh in your face and call you an idiot if you believe in Altaic are not specialists in the language. However, I did a study of Altaic specialists, and 73% of them believe in some form of Altaic.
So the anti-Altaicists are pushing a massive lie – that critical consensus has completely abandoned Altaic and regards as a laughingstock, but their project is more Politics and Propaganda than Science. In particular, it’s a fad. So Altaic is in the preposterous position where almost all of the people who know nothing about it will laugh in your face and call you an idiot if you believe in it and the overwhelming majority of specialists will say it’s real.
Altaic must be the only nonexistent family that has an incredibly elaborate 1,000 page etymological dictionary, full reconstructions of the proto-languages, etymologies of over 2,000 Altaic terms, and elaborate sound correspondences running through it. The anti-Altaicists use the silly “we can’t reconstruct the numerals so it’s not real” line here.
Altaic is obviously true based on 1-2 person pronoun paradigms at an absolute minimum. The anti-Altaic argument of course, is preposterous. As noted, they dismiss a vast 1,000 page Etymological Dictionary with 2,300 reconstructed etymologies as a hallucinated work.
There are vast parallels in all three families at all levels, in particular in the Mongolic-Tungusic family, which gets a 100% with computer programs. The go-to argument here has always been that these changes are all due to borrowings, but for this to have occurred, borrowing would have had to occur between large far removed language families on such a vast scale the likes of which has never been seen anywhere on Earth.
The argument that entire 1-2 pronoun paradigms have been borrowed is particularly preposterous because 1-2 pronouns are almost never borrowed anyway, and there has never been a single case of on Earth of the borrowing of a 1-2 person pronoun paradigm, much less the borrowing of one at the proto-language level. So the anti-Altaicists are arguing that something that has never happened anywhere on Earth not only happened, but happened more than once among different proto-languages. So the anti-Altaic argument is that something that could not possibly have happened actually occurred.
This is the conclusion of every paper the splitters write. Something that has never occurred on Earth and probably could not possibly happen not only occurred, but occurred many times around the globe for thousands of years.
Many regard including Japonic and Koreanic in Altaic as dubious, although having looked over the data, I am certain that they are part of Altaic. But they seem to be further away from the traditional tripartite system than the traditional three families are to each other. If we follow the theory that Japanese and Korean have been split from Proto-Altaic for 8,000 years, this starts to make a lot more sense.
The ridiculous massive borrowings argument specifically fails for geographical reasons. Proto-Turkic was never next door to Proto-Mongolic and Proto-Tungusic. The Proto-Altaic homeland is in the Khingan Mountains in Western Manchuria and Eastern Mongolia. Tungusic split off from Altaic 5,300 years ago, leaving Proto-Turkic-Mongolic in Khingans. 3,400 years ago, Proto-Turkic broke from Proto-Turkic-Mongolic and headed west to Northern Kazakhstan and the southern part of the Western Siberian Plain, leaving Mongolic alone in the Khingans.
Proto-Transeurasian – Khingans 9,000 YBP
Proto-Korean – Liaojiang on the north shore of the Bohai Sea 8,000 YBP.
Proto-Japanese – Northern coast of the Shandong Peninsula on the southern shore of the Bohai Sea 8,000 YBP
Proto-Tungusic – Amur Peninsula 5,300 BP. Breaks apart 2,000 YBP.
Proto-Turkic – Northern Kazakhstan 3,400 BP.
Proto-Mongolic – Khingans 3,400 BP.
Can someone explain to me how Mongolic and Tungusic borrow from Turkic 3,000 miles away in a different place at a different time in this scenario? Can someone explain to me how any of these proto-languages borrowed from each other at all, especially as they were in different places at different times?
Not only that but supposedly both Proto-Mongolic and Proto-Tungusic each borrowed from Proto-Turkic separately. These borrowings included massive amounts of core vocabulary in addition to an entire 1st and 2nd person pronoun paradigm.
Keep in mind that the borrowing of this paradigm, something that has never happened anywhere, supposedly occurred not just once but twice, between Proto-Tungusic 5,300 YBP on the Amur from Proto-Turkic in North Kazakhstan 3,000 miles away 2,000 later, and at the same time, between Proto-Mongolic in the Khingans and Proto-Turkic in Northern Kazakhstan 3,000 miles away. How exactly did this occur?
And can someone explain to me how Proto-Korean and Proto-Japanese borrow from either of the others under this scenario?
Campbell and Mixco:
Turkic: A family of about thirty languages, spoken across central Asia from China to Lithuania. The family has two branches: Chuvash (of the Volga region) and the non-Chuvash Turkic branch of relatively closely related languages. Some of the Turkic languages are Azeri, Kyrgyz, Tatar, Crimean Tatar, Uighur, Uzbek, Yakut, Tuvan, and Tofa. Turkic is often assigned to the ‘Altaic’ hypothesis, though specialists have largely abandoned Altaic.
As noted above, it is simply incorrect that specialists have largely abandoned Altaic. This is simply carefully crafted propaganda on the part of Campbell and Mixco. In fact, my own study showed that 73% of experts in these families felt that Altaic existed at least in some form, if only in a relationship with two out of the three-five languages.
Campbell and Mixco:
Some scholars classify Korean in a single family with Japanese; however, this is a controversial hypothesis. Korean is often said to belong with the Altaic hypothesis, often also with Japanese, though this is not widely supported.
Japonic-Koreanic has considerable support among specialists in these languages, although it is not universally accepted. Campbell and Mixco are excessively negative about the level of support for an expanded Altaic. In fact, an expanded Altaic which includes Japanese and Korean in some part of it has significant though probably not majority support. Perhaps 30-40% of specialists support it.
Proto-Japanic and Proto-Koreanic were both spoken in Northeastern China 8,000 YBP. Proto-Japonic was spoke on the north of the Shandong Peninsula and Proto-Koreanic was spoken across the Bohai Sea in Tianjin and especially across the Bohai Straights on the Liaodong Peninsula. They may have stayed here next to each other for 3,000 years until the Proto-Koreanics moved to the Korean Peninsula 5,000 YBP, displacing the Ainuid types there. Proto-Japonics probably stayed in Shandong until 2,3000 YBP when they left to populate Japan and the Ryukus, displacing the Ainu who were already there.
Campbell and Mixco:
Yeniseian, Yenisseian: Small language family of southern Siberia of which Ket (Khet) is the only surviving member. Yeniseian has no known broader relatives, though some have been hypothesized (see the Dené-Caucasian hypothesis).
Campbell and Mixco state and serious untruth here, including some weasel words. By discussing Dene-Caucasian in the same breath as relatives of Yenisien, they are able to deflect away from the more widely accepted proposal of a link between Yenisien in the Old World and Na-Dene in the New World. This is Edward Vajda’s Dene-Yenisien proposal.
The problem is that this long-range proposal has the support of many people, including splitter Johanna Nichols. Of the 17 experts who weighed in on Dene-Yenisien, 15 of them had a positive view of the hypothesis. Campbell and Mixco are the only two who are negative, but neither are experts on either family. All specialists in either or both families support the proposal. When 15 out of 17 is not enough, one wonders at what point the field reaches a consensus. Must we hold out for Campbell and Mixco’s approval for everything?
Campbell and Mixco:
Nivkh (also called Gilyak): A language isolate spoken in the northern part of Sakhalin Island and along the Amur River of Manchuria, in China. There have been various unsuccessful attempts to link Nivkh genetically with various other language groupings, including Eurasiatic and Nostratic.
Granted, there is no consensus on the affiliation of Nivkhi. However, a recent paper by Sergei Nikolaev proved to me that Nivkhi is related to Algonquian-Wakashan, a family of languages in the Americas. One of these languages is Wakashan, and there has been talk of links between Wakashan and the Old World for some time.
Michael Fortescue places Nivkhi in Chukotko-Kamchatkan. Greenberg places it is Eurasiatic as a separate node. But as Chukotko-Kamchatkan is part of Eurasiatic, they are both saying the same thing in a way. My theory is that Nivkhi is Eurasiatic, possibly related to Chukoto-Kamchatkan, and like Yeniseian, is also connected to languages in North America as some of the Nivkhi probably migrated to North America and became the American Indians. In this way, we can reconcile both hypotheses.
There are three specialist views on Nivkhi. One says it is Eurasiatic, the other that it is Chukotian, and the third that it is part of the Algonquian-Wakashan or Almosan family in the New World. Consensus is that Nivkhi is related to one of two other entities – other languages in Northeastern Asia or a New World Amerindian family. So expert consensus seems to have moved away from the view of Nivkhi as an isolate.
Campbell and Mixco:
Paleosiberian languages (also sometimes called Paleoasiatic, Hyperborean languages): A geographical (not genetic) designation for several otherwise unaffiliated languages (isolates) and small language families of Siberia.
Perhaps the main thing that unites these languages is that they are not Turkic, Russian or Tungusic, the better known languages of Siberia. Languages often listed as Paleosiberian are: Chukchi, Koryak, Kamchadal (Itelmen), Yukaghir, Yeniseian (Ket) and Nivkh (Gilyak). These have no known genetic relationship to one other.
Taken as a broad statement, of course this is true. However, Chukchi, Koryak, and Kamchadal or Itelmen are part of a family called Chukutko-Kamchatkan. This family has even been reconstructed. Campbell and Mixco’s statement that these languages have no known genetic relationship with each other is false.
Campbell and Mixco:
Austroasiatic: A proposed genetic relationship between Mon-Khmer and Munda, accepted as valid by many scholars but not by all.
The fact is that Austroasiatic is not a “proposed genetic relationship.” Instead it is now accepted by consensus. That there may be a few outliers who don’t believe in it is not important. I’m not aware of any linguists who doubt Austroasiatic other than Campbell and Mixco, and neither is a specialist. Austroasiatic-Hmong-Mien is the best long-range proposal for Austroasiatic, but it has probably not yet been proven. Austroasiatic is also part of the expanded version of the Austric hypothesis.
Campbell and Mixco:
Miao-Yao (also called Hmong-Mien): A language family spoken by the Miao and Yao peoples of southern China and Southeast Asia. Some proposals would classify Miao-Yao with Sino-Tibetan, others with Tai or Austronesian; none of these has much support.
This seems to be more weasel wording on the part of the authors. By listing Tai or Austronesian and Sino-Tibetan as possible relatives of Miao-Yao and then correctly dismissing it, they leave out a much better proposal linking Hmong-Mien to Austroasiatic.
This shows some promise, but the relationship is hard to see amidst all of the Chinese borrowing. As noted, the relationship between Hmong-Mien and Sino-Tibetan is one of borrowing. The relationship with Tai or Austronesian is part of Paul Benedict’s original Austric proposal. He later turned against this proposal and supported a more watered down Austric with Austronesian and Tai-Kadai, which seems to be nearing consensus support now.
Campbell and Mixco:
Austric: A mostly discounted hypothesis of distant genetic relationship proposed by Paul Benedict that would group together the Austronesian, Tai-Kadai and Miao-Yao.
More weasel wording. It is correct that Benedict’s original Austric (which also included Austroasiatic) was abandoned even by Benedict himself, a more watered down Austric that he later supported consisting of Austronesian and Tai-Kadai called Austro-Tai has much more support. They get around discussing the watered down Austro-Tai with good support by limiting Austric to Benedict’s own theory which even he rejected later in life. In this sense, they misrepresent the debate, probably deliberately.
In fact, evidence is building towards acceptance of Austro-Tai after papers by Weera Ostapirat and Laurence Sagart seem to have proved the case using the comparative method. Roger Blench also supports the concept. In addition, to Benedict, it is also supported by Lawrence Reid, Hui Li, and Lawrence Reid. It is opposed by Graham Thurgood, who is a specialist (he was my main academic advisor on my Master’s Degree in Linguistics). It is also opposed by Campbell and Mixco, but they are not specialists. Looking at expert opinion, we have seven arguing for the theory and one arguing against it. Specialist consensus then is that Austro-Tai is a real language family.
Even the larger version of Austric, including all of Benedict’s families plus Ainu and the South Indian isolate Nihali, has some supporters and some suggestive evidence that it may be correct.
Campbell and Mixco:
Tai-Kadai: A large language family, generally but not
universally accepted, of languages located in Southeast Asia and southern China. The family includes Tai, Kam-Sui, Kadai and various other languages. The genetic relatedness of several proposed Tai-Kadai languages is not yet settled.
Tai-Kadai is not “mostly but not universally accepted.” It is accepted by consensus as an existent language family. Perhaps whether some languages belong there is in doubt but the proposal itself is not controversial. Campbell and Mixco’s statement that Tai-Kadai remains controversial is a serious distortion of fact.
Campbell and Mixco:
Na-Dene: A disputed proposal of distant genetic relationship, put forward by Sapir, that would group Haida, Tlingit and Eyak-Athabaskan. There is considerable disagreement about whether Haida is related to the others. The relationship between Tlingit and Eyak-Athabaskan seems more likely, and some scholars misleadingly use the name ‘Na-Dené’ to mean a grouping of these two without Haida.
Levine and Michael Krauss, two top Na-Dene experts, are on record as opposing the addition of Haida to Na-Dene for 40 years. A recent conference about Edward Vajda’s Dene-Yenisien concluded that there was no evidence to include Haida in Na-Dene. However, a recent paper by Alexander Manaster-Ramer made the case that Haida is part of Na-Dene. This paper was enough to convince me. Further, the scholar with the most expertise on Haida has said that Haida is part of Na-Dene. So Campbell and Mixco are correct here that the subject is up in the air with both supporters and opponents.
The statement that a relationship between Tlingit and Eyak-Athabaskan seems “more than likely” is an understatement. I believe it is now linguistic consensus that Tlingit is part of Na-Dene, so Campbell and Mixco’s statement is not quite true.
Campbell and Mixco:
Tonkawa: An extinct language isolate of Texas. Proposals to link Tonkawa with the languages of the Coahuiltecan or Hokan-Coahuiltecan hypotheses have not generally been accepted.
I’m sure it is the case that Coahuiltecan and Hokan-Coahuiltecan affiliations of Tonkawa have been rejected. A Coahuiltecan connection was even denied by Manaster-Ramer, who recently proved that the family existed. That said, there are interesting parallels between Tonkawa and Coahuiltecan that I cannot explain. However, a recent paper by Manaster-Ramer made the much better case that Tonkawa was in fact Na-Dene.
Campbell and Mixco:
Amerind: The Amerind hypothesis is rejected by nearly all practicing American Indianists and by most historical linguists. Specialists maintain that valid methods do not at present permit classification of Native American languages into fewer than about 180 independent language families and isolates. Amerind has been highly criticized on various grounds.There is an excessive number of errors in Greenberg’s data.
Where Greenberg stops – after assembling superficial similarities and declaring them due to common ancestry – is where other linguists begin. Since such similarities can be due to chance similarity, borrowing, onomatopoeia, sound symbolism, nursery words (the mama, papa, nana, dada, caca sort), misanalysis, and much more, for a plausible proposal of remote linguistic relationship one must attempt to eliminate all other possible explanations, leaving a shared common ancestor as the most likely.
Greenberg made no attempt to eliminate these other explanations, and the similarities he amassed appear to be due mostly to accident and a combination of these other factors.
In various instances, Greenberg compared arbitrary segments of words, equated words with very different meanings (for example, ‘excrement/night/grass’), misidentified many languages, failed to analyze the morphology of some words and falsely analyzed that of others, neglected regular sound correspondences, failed to eliminate loanwords and misinterpreted well-established findings.
The Amerind ‘etymologies’ proposed are often limited to a very few languages of the many involved. Finnish, Japanese, Basque and other randomly chosen languages fit Greenberg’s Amerind data as well as or better than do any of the American Indian languages in his ‘etymologies’; Greenberg’s method has proven incapable of distinguishing implausible relationships from Amerind generally. In short, it is with good reason Amerind has been rejected.
The movement into the Americas came in three waves.
The first wave brought the Amerinds. It is here where the 160 language families reside. According to the reigning theory in Linguistics, this group of Amerindians came in one wave that spoke not only 160 different languages but spoke languages that came from 160 different language families, none of which were related to each other. These being language families which, by the way, we can find scarcely a trace of in the Old World.
The second wave was the Na-Dene people who came along the west coast and then went inland.
The last wave were the Inuits.
Greenberg simply lumped all of the 600 languages of the Americas into a single family. The argument was good, though I’m not sure he proved that every single one of those languages were all part of Amerind. But a lot of them were. The n- m- 1st and 2nd person pronouns are found in 450 of those languages. The ablauted t’ana, t’una, t’ina word, meaning respectively human child of either sex, all females including family terms, and all males including family terms are extremely common in Amerind.
So t’ana just means child. T’una means girl, woman, and includes various names for all sorts of female relatives – grandmother, cousin, aunt, niece, etc. T’ina means boy, man, and includes the family terms grandfather, brother-in-law, uncle, cousin, and nephew. This ablauted paradigm is found across a vast number of these Amerind languages, and it is nonexistent in the rest of the world.
Quite probably most to all of those languages having that term are part of a single family. What are the other arguments? That 300 languages independently innovated these terms, in this precise ablauted paradigm, on their own? What is the likelihood of that?
That these items occurring across such vast swathes of languages is due to chance? But this paradigm does not exist anywhere else, so how could it be due to chance? That these core vocabulary items were borrowed massively all across the Americas, when family terms like that are rarely borrowed? That’s not possible. None of the alternate theories make the slightest bit of sense.
Hence, the Amerind languages that have the n- m- pronoun paradigm and the t’ana, t’una, t’ina ablauted names for the sexes and the terms of family relations by sex are quite probably part of a huge language family. I’m well aware that a few of the languages having those terms could be due to chance. I’m pretty sure that about zero of those pronouns and few, if any, of those family terms were borrowed.
However, not all Amerind languages have either the pronoun paradigm or the ablauted sex term. In those cases, I’m unsure if those languages are all part of the same language. But if you can put those languages in families and reconstruct to the proto-languages and end up with the pronoun paradigm or the ablauted family term reconstructed in the proto-language of that family, I’m sure that family would be part of Amerind. That’s about all you have to do to prove relationship in Amerind.
Campbell and Mixco:
Penutian: A very large proposed distant genetic relationship in western North America, suggested originally by Dixon and Kroeber for the Californian language families Wintuan, Maiduan, Yokutsan, and Miwok-Costanoan. The name is based on words for ‘two’, something like pen in Wintuan, Maiduan, and Yokutsan, and uti in Miwok-Costanoan, joined to form Penutian.
Sapir, impressed with the hypothesis, attempted to add an Oregon Penutian (Takelma, Coos, Siuslaw, and ‘Yakonan’), Chinook, Tsimshian, a Plateau Penutian (Sahaptian, ‘Molala-Cayuse,’ and Klamath-Modoc) and a Mexican Penutian (Mixe-Zoquean and Huave).
The Penutian grouping has been influential, and later proposals have attempted to unite various languages from Alaska to Bolivia with it. Nevertheless, it had a shaky foundation based on extremely limited evidence, and, in spite of extensive later research, it did not prove possible to demonstrate any version of the Penutian hypothesis and several prominent Penutian specialists abandoned it. Today it remains controversial and unconfirmed, with some supporters but with many who doubt it.
The statement that today it “remains controversial and unconfirmed, with some supporters but with many who doubt it,” has no basis in fact. It is surely controversial and it is probably unconfirmed by linguistic consensus. Yes, it has a number of supporters, and there are quite a few who doubt it. However, among those who doubt it, none of them are specialists in these languages. Hence, we are dealing with an Altaic situation here, where the specialists believe in it but the non-specialists insist it’s nonsense.
In fact, the consensus among the specialists on these languages is that Penutian exists. A Penutian family comprising Maiduan, Utian (Miwok-Costanoan), Wintuan, Yokutsan, Coosan, Siuslaw, Takelma, and Kalapuyan and Alsean (Yakonan), Chinookan, Tsimshianic, Klamath-Modoc (Lutuami), Cayuse and Molala (Waiilatpuan), Sahaptian has been proven to my satisfaction. I am uncertain of the Penutian status of Mixe-Zoque and Huave (Mexican Penutian), although I believe that Huave and Mixe-Zoque are related to each other, albeit at a very deep time depth of 9,000 years.
Anti-Penutianists have not published a paper in a long time. The last one I remembered was published by William Shipley, and he’s been gone for a while. I am not aware of one expert on these languages who says Penutian does not exist.
Campbell and Mixco:
Cayuse-Molala: A genetic classification no longer believed that linked Cayuse (of Oregon and Washington) and Molala (of Oregon) in a single assumed family. The evidence for this was later shown to be wrong and the hypothesis was abandoned.
According to Campbell and Mixco, Cayuse is an isolate. I assume they see Molala as an isolate too. There probably is no Cayuse-Molala family, but Molala is part of Plateau Penutian, and Cayuse may be part of the same group. Plateau Penutian is part of the Penutian hypothesis, which appears to be true. By not mentioning these facts, Campbell and Mixco’s statement is quite misleading.
Campbell and Mixco:
Mosan: A now abandoned proposal of distant genetic relationship that would group Salishan, Wakashan and Chimakuan together.
Another part of this proposal was that Mosan was part of a larger family with Algonquian called Almosan. An excellent series of papers was published recently by Sergei Nikolaev that validated Almosan and proved to me that it was related to Nivkhi in the Old World.
Michael Fortescue argued a few years before that Mosan was a valid entity and that was related to the Old World language Nivkhi. Recently, Murray Gell-Mann, Ilia Peiros, and Georgiy Starostin also supported Almosan and grouped it with Chukotko-Kamchatkan and Nivkhi. David Beck recently argued that Mosan is a language area or Sprachbund instead of a genetic family.
So far we have four specialists arguing that Mosan exists, and one saying it does not. The consensus among specialists seems to be that Mosan is a valid language family. At any rate, Campbell and Mixco’s statement that this proposal is “now abandoned” is false.
For Almosan, we have four specialists saying it exists and two apparently saying it does not. Expert consensus on Almosan is optimistic.
Hokan: A controversial hypothesis of distant genetic relationship proposed by Dixon and Kroeber among certain languages of California; the original list included Shastan, Chimariko, Pomoan, Karok, and Yana, to which they soon added Esselen, Yuman, and later Chumashan, Salinan, Seri, and Tequistlatecan. Later scholars, especially Edward Sapir, proposed various additions to Hokan. Many ‘Hokan’ specialists doubt the validity of the hypothesis.
It is not true that many Hokan specialists “doubt the validity of the hypothesis.” I can’t remember the last time I saw an anti-Hokan paper. Yes, Campbell, Mixco, and Mithun say Hokan does not exist, but they are not specialists. The consensus among specialists such as Mikhail Zhikov, Terence Kaufman, and Marcelo Jokelsy is that Hokan exists. I have only found one specialist who disagrees with the Hokan hypothesis, and she merely doubts the existence of Ch’imáriko.
I believe that a Hokan family consisting of Karuk, Shasta-Palaihnihan, Ch’imáriko, Yana, Salinan, Pomoan, Yuman, Seri, and Tequistlatecan exists, although I would leave out Chumashan, Washo, and Jicaquean or Tolan. Chumashan is an isolate, and while Washo and Tolan may be Hokan at a very deep time depth, the few possible cognates are not enough to provide evidence of this. I am agnostic on Esselen, which is only known from a 350 word list collected by friars at a California mission.
I have not seen any evidence that Coahuiltecan is Hokan. There is some evidence, though not probative enough for me, that Lencan and Misumalpan may be Hokan. Nevertheless, Lencan and Misumalpan form a language family that has even been accepted by Campbell himself. This is the only long-range family proposal he has supported since the publication of LIA.
Although Campbell’s opinion on many hypotheses may be waved away as he is not an expert on that family or language, Lencan and Misumalpan are right up his alley as he is an expert in languages in Central America. He has focused mostly on Mayan, but he also knows the other languages of the region well.
Campbell and Mixco:
Cochimí–Yuman: A family of languages from Arizona, California and Baja California, with two branches, extinct Cochimí (of Baja California) and the Yuman subfamily (members of which are Kiliwa, Diegueño, Cocopa, Mojave, Maricopa, Paipai, and Walapai–Havasupai–Yavapai, among others). Cochimí–Yuman is often associated with the controversial Hokan hypothesis, though evidence is insufficient to embrace the proposed relationship.
The consensus among experts in the Cochimí–Yuman family, including Mikhail Zhikov and Terence Kaufman, is that it is part of the Hokan family. Campbell disbelieves in the association but he is not an expert. However, Mixco opposes the Hokan affinity of Cochimi-Yuman, and granted, he is actually a specialist on these languages. So among specialists, we have two who support the Hokan association and one who opposes it. The specialist consensus then would be that they are this association is a promising hypothesis, but it is not yet proven. This is different from Campbell and Mixco’s wording, which is more negative.
Campbell and Mixco:
Coahuiltecan: A hypothesis of distant genetic relationship that proposed to group some languages of south Texas and northern Mexico: Coahuilteco, Comecrudo and Cotoname, and sometimes also Tonkawa, Karankawa, Atakapa and Maratino (with Aranama and Solano assumed to be varieties of Coahuilteco).
Sapir proposed a broader classification of Hokan–Coahuiltecan, joining the Coahuiltecan proposal with the broader Hokan hypothesis, and placed this in his even larger Hokan–Siouan super-stock. None of these proposals has proven sufficiently robust to be accepted generally.
I am not aware of any specialists who have recently argued against the existence of Coahuiltecan. Yes, Campbell and Mixco do not accept it, but they are not specialists. A recent paper by Alexander Manaster-Ramer proved the existence of Coahuiltecan to my satisfaction. I believe that a Coahuiltecan family consisting of Comecrudo, Cotoname, Aranama, Solano, Mamulique, Garza, and Coahuilteco absolutely exists. Karankawa is probably a part of this family. I am not aware that any specialist is arguing against the existence of this family at the moment.
I do not think there is good evidence for other postulated languages such as Atakapa and Tonkowa. First of all, Tonkawa is probably Na-Dene as per another paper by Manaster-Ramer. Atakapa is part of the Gulf family. However, I am not yet convinced that Coahuiltecan is as member of the Hokan language family.
Campbell and Mixco:
Gulf: Hypothesis of a distant genetic relationship proposed by Mary R. Haas that would group Muskogean, Natchez, Tunica, Atakapa and Chitimacha, no longer supported by most linguists.
The notion that Gulf is no longer supported by most linguists is simply incorrect. There have only been four linguists who studied this family.
The first was Mary Haas, who also proposed a relationship with Yuki as Yuki-Gulf. Haas was always dubious about Chitimacha’s addition to Gulf.
Greenberg resurrected Yuki-Gulf in LIA.
Pam Munro is an expert on these languages. A while back she published a paper on Yuki-Gulf. I read that paper. The resemblances are so stunning between Muskogean, Natchez, Tunica, Atakapa and Chitimacha that I was shocked that anyone doubted the relationship. Furthermore, the relationship with Yuki and Wappo, a full 2,500 miles away in Northern California, was shocking.
The fourth was Geoffrey Kimball, who concluded that Gulf was probably a family but that this could not be proven.
There evidence for Gulf in Munro’s paper was good, and there even appeared to be sound correspondences running through the relationship. What was shocking about it was that Yuki and Wappo could not possibly have borrowed from Gulf because Gulf is in Louisiana 2,500 miles away. So how did all these resemblances come in? Chance is ruled out. Borrowing could not have happened. Therefore a relationship at least between Yuki and the Gulf languages is obvious.
Munro’s paper took the position that Greenberg’s Yuki-Gulf hypothesis was correct. However, there are some problems. First, Atakapa as part of Gulf has been controversial, in part because it has also been tied in with Coahuiltecan. Indeed there are resemblances between the two, and they were not spoken next to each other so borrowing can be ruled out.
Perhaps a way of solving the matter is to posit not only Yuki-Gulf but a larger family that includes Coahuiltecan as Greenberg does in LIA. I have no idea how justified this is, but there are certainly surprising resemblances between Atakapa and the Coahuiltecan languages.
Furthermore, whether or not Chitimacha is part of Gulf has been up in the air from the beginning when Haas published her paper. Recent papers have made the case that Chitimacha is related to Mesoamerican language families of Mexico such as Mixe-Zoque and Totonacan. These papers used the comparative method. Campbell has rejected this hypothesis.
That Tunica at the very least shows a close relationship with Muskogean is not even controversial. The idea has a long pedigree and is presently supported by all experts in this family.
Geoffrey Kimball examined the data recently and concluded that from the evidence, it appears that Gulf exists, but we will never be able to prove it, as he puts it. However, he stated that Tunica is almost certainly related to Muskogean. At this point, I would think that Tunica-Muskogean at the very least should be considered consensus among specialists.
Kimball’s paper had a number of problems, mostly that he was operating with a negative stance towards the existence of the family. Further, there were issues with his notions of sound symbolism and borrowing in the paper where his explanations made no sense at all.
Let’s evaluate Campbell and Mixco’s statement that Gulf is no longer supported by most linguists.
We have four specialists on record about whether or not a Gulf family exists.
Mary Haas: Positive, minus Chitimacha
Joseph Greenberg: Positive
Pamela Munro: Positive
Geoffrey Kimball: Probably exists but it’s not possible to prove it.
Brown et al: Chitimacha is a part of the Totonozoquean family, not the Gulf family. The other members of Gulf are not members of this family.
Three out of the four specialists on the Gulf family say that the Gulf family is a reality. The other feels it exists but cannot be proven. And there is uncertainty about whether Chitimacha is probably not part of Gulf. The consensus among experts is that Gulf is a real language family.
Campbell and Mixco’s statement that Gulf is no longer supported by most linguists is simply false.
Furthermore, I would like to point out that a good case can be made for the existence of a Totonozoquean family consisting of the Mixe-Zoque and Totonacan languages. Whether this is consensus among experts is somewhat up in the air.
Campbell and Mixco:
Macro-Gê: A proposed distant genetic relationship composed of several language families and isolates, many now extinct, along the Atlantic coast (primarily of Brazil). These include Chiquitano, Bororoan, Botocudoan, Rikbaktsa, the Gê family proper, Jeikó, Kamakanan, Maxakalían, Purian, Fulnío, Ofayé and Guató. Many are sympathetic to the hypothesis and several of these languages will very probably be demonstrated to be related to one another eventually, though others will probably need to be separated out.
This is much too pessimistic. Macro-Gê is not a proposed long range family -it is a large language family in South America accepted by consensus. It is not true that many are sympathetic to it; instead, the consensus is that it is correct. Nor is it correct to say that it will probably be demonstrated eventually. In fact, it is already an accepted reality.
Campbell and Mixco:
Quechumaran: Proposed distant genetic relationship that would join Quechuan and Aymaran. While considerable evidence has been gathered in support of the hypothesis, it is extremely difficult in this case to distinguish what may be inherited (and therefore evidence of a genetic relationship) from what may be diffused (and therefore not reliable evidence of a genetic connection).
It is true that there is no consensus on the existence of Quechumaran. The consensus seems to be as above that it is not yet proven. Those opposed to the idea throw out the usual borrowing scenario, but they have had to push the large number of borrowings in core vocabulary all the way back to Proto-Aymara and Proto-Quechua. In my opinion, “massive borrowing of core vocabulary at the proto-language level” is simply another word for genetics.
Gerald Clauson, the famous Turkologist opponent of Altaic, had to keep pushing his massive borrowings of core vocabulary further and further back until he eventually had the scenario taking place at the Proto-Turkic, Proto-Tungusic, and Proto-Mongolic levels. See above for my analysis on why these three proto-languages could not possibly have borrowed from each other as they were in different places in different times.
A similar problem exists with opponents of the Uralo-Yukaghir theory, in which they are also forced to deal with a large amount of core vocabulary dating back a long time. Hakkinen tried to solve this problem by pushing the borrowing all the way back to not just Proto-Uralic but Pre-Proto-Uralic. Pre-Proto-Uralic at 8,000 years to me means nothing less than Uralo-Yukaghir. What else could it mean? He has heavy borrowing of core vocabulary between Pre-Proto-Uralic and Proto-Yukaghir. That’s another way of saying genetics.
Campbell and Mixco:
Macro-Guaicuruan (also spelled Macro-Waykuruan, Macro-Waikuruan): A proposed distant genetic relationship that would join the Guaicuruan and Matacoan families of the Gran Chaco in South America in a larger-scale genetic classification. Grammatical similarities, for example in the pronominal systems, have suggested the relationship to some scholars, but the extremely limited lexical evidence raises doubts for others. Some would also add Charruan and Mascoyan to these in an even larger ‘Macro-Waikuruan cluster.’
It is not true that this is a proposed long-range family suggested by some by doubted by others. In fact, Macro-Guaicuruan is accepted by consensus and is as uncontroversial as Macro-Gê, Pama-Nyungan, and other such families. There is however debate about which families are members outside of the Guaicuruan and Mataguayo language families that make up the essence of the family. There have been suggestions to add Lule-Vilela and the Zamucoan, Charruan, and Mascoyan families to this family. I do not feel that these additions are yet warranted.
Campbell and Mixco:
Pama-Nyungan: A very large, widely spread language family of Australia, some 175 languages. The name comes from Kenneth Hale, based on the words pama ‘man’ in the far northeast and nyunga ‘man’ in the southwest. Languages assigned to Pama-Nyungan extend over four-fifths of Australia, most of the continent except northern areas.
Pama-Nyungan is accepted by most Australianists as a legitimate language family, but not uncritically and not universally. It is rejected by Dixon; it is held by others to be plausible but inconclusive based on current evidence. Some Pama-Nyungan languages are Lardil, Kayardilt, Yukulta, Yidiny, Dyirbal, Pitta-Pitta, Arrente, Warlpiri, Western Desert language(s), and there are many more.
Actually, consensus now is that this family of Australian languages does indeed exist. True, Dixon challenged the existence of Pama-Nyungan recently, but his opposition was so outrageous and it prompted a quick surge of papers from Australianists defending the existence of Pama-Nyungan. The notion that other Australianists feel that Pama-Nyungan is possible but presently inconclusive is not correct. I am not aware of a single Australianist other than Dixon who feels this way. Instead, Pama-Nyungan is about as uncontroversial as Macro-Gê, Afroasiatic, or Austroasiatic.
Campbell and Mixco:
‘Papuan’ languages: A term of convenience used to refer to the languages of the western Pacific, most in New Guinea (Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Irian Jaya), that are neither Austronesian nor Australian. Papuan definitely does not refer to a genetic relationship among these languages for no such relationship can at present be shown.
That is, the term is defined negatively and does not imply a linguistic relationship. While most are spoken on the island of New Guinea, some are found in the Bismark Archipelago, Bougainville Island and the Solomon Islands to the east, and in Halmahera, Timor and the Alor Archipelago to the west.
There are some 800 Papuan languages divided in the a large number of mostly small language families and isolates not demonstrably related to one another.
For what it’s worth, this statement by Campbell and Mixco is correct.
Campbell and Mixco:
One large genetic grouping that has been posited for a number of Papuan languages is the Trans-New Guinea phylum, which is promising but not yet confirmed.
Trans-New Guinea is not “promising but not yet confirmed.” Instead it is an uncontroversial language family accepted by the consensus of all specialists.
Bahasa Indonesian 1.5
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Min Nan 5.5
Dondan Wu 5.5
Montana Salish 6.0
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Australian Languages – 6.0
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