Re: Linguistic Anthropology

Sat, 9 Sep 1995 13:33:11 -0400

Part of the way these questions get muddled is that one can make claims
that look plausible on the face of it but are not supported by
appropriate evidence. (For example, some of the more outlandish 19th-century
claims of genetic relationships among languages were "supported" by
isolated (and chance) similarities among word stems, rather than by
systematic correspondences.) So it is essential, I think, to be able to
evaluate the claims--not necessarily from a deep knowledge of the
language families in question (which would leave us accepting the claims
of specialists essentially on faith) but from a basic knowledge of the
methods of historical linguists and the criteria for "proof" of a genetic
relationship. In that spirit, let me recommend a readable introduction
to historical linguistics,

Jeffers, Robert J. and Ilse Lehiste (1979) Principles and methods for
historical linguistics, Cambridge: MIT Press.

It is brief and sparing in its use of examples.

A more advanced introduction, engaging semiotic and culture-historical
implications of linguistic change would be Raimo Anttila's
An introduction to historical and comparative linguistics,
recently updated.

Bruce Mannheim
University of Michigan

On Tue, 5 Sep 1995, Allan Dunn wrote:

> Could someone give me a good place to begin reading on the study
> of anthropology as it relates to linguistic relationships between groups
> and linguistic changes within a group? I've been reading a lot of
> bizarre (or maybe not so bizarre- I don't know enough about it, I'm assuming)
> stuff on the newsgroup about the relationship between diverse and very
> distant language groups that until now I had thought was an open book.
> One person brought up the theory that Da-Ne was related to
> Basque, while another put Basque, Japanese, and Turkish in the
> Finno-Ugric Family. Has there been some break-through in language
> categorization that I am not aware of? I thought these old theories had
> been debunked years ago, along with the ones claiming that Native American
> languages were dialects of Hebrew.
> I would love to research this myself, but I don't speak any of
> these languages and don't have the time to do the research myself.
> Who has researched this, and how reliable are they?
> AD