LINGUIST List 14.1914

Sat Jul 12 2003

Disc: New:Are new language classifications necessary?

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Yuri Tambovtsev, Are new language classifications necessary?

Message 1: Are new language classifications necessary?

Date: Sat, 12 Jul 2003 17:06:19 +0600
From: Yuri Tambovtsev <>
Subject: Are new language classifications necessary?

New classifications of languages.

The main problem in constructing language theory is the problem of
classification of this20 or that sort. Actually, the problem of
classification may be called the aim of linguistics in general. A
linguist must classify sounds, phonemes, words, sentences, meanings,
etc., etc. Nevertheless, the most important problem in linguistics may
be classification of 6000 world languages and dialects into subgroups,
groups, families, super-families, filia, etc. However, the `main
language families were constructed long ago and some of them need
reconstructing. I'm sure it is one of the hardest jobs in linguistics
to reconsider accepted classifications for many reasons. I heard that
such an attempt of this hard and dangerous job has been made by
Dr. Angela Marcantonio of Rome university, who tried to reconsider the
Uralic language family in her recent book (The Uralic Language
Family. Facts, Myths and Statistics.- Oxford UK and Boston USA:
Blackwell Publishers, 02, 335 pages). I wish I could read it, but it
is not available in Novosibirsk, Russia. The Uralic language family is
said to consist of the Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic languages. I can
guess that the Uralic language family may be not a real family, but a
conglomerate of Finnic, Ugric and Samoyedic languages. My
phonostatistical data on this language group makes me believe that one
should be very cautious when talking about the Uralic languages as one
family. Consequenntly, the values of the coefficient of variation of 8
consonantal groups (labial, front, palatal, velar, sonorant,
occlusive, fricative and voiced) SHOW THAT ITS BODY IS RATHER
DISPERCE, i.e. not compact. The fact is, that this group is less
compact than other language families. Let us compare the coefficients
of variance of several language families: Uralic - 28.31% Mongolic -
10.78% Samoyed - 18.29% Turkic - 18.77% Finno-Ugric - 24.14% Altaic -
25.97 Therefore, one can see that the Uralic group of languages is not
as compact as Finno-Ugric or Samoyedic, which are its part. It is 2
times less compact than Mongolic language family. One can find the
details of the compactness of other language groups in my recent book
(Yuri A. Tambovtsev. The Typology of Functioning of Phonemes in the
Sound Chain of Indo-European, Paleo-Asiatic, Ural-Altaic, and Other
World Languages: the compactness of Groups, Families and the other
Language Taxons. - Novosibirsk: SN Institute, 03. - 143 pages). 

I wonder if I may ask my colleagues in the field of linguistics to
share their opinion on the book of Dr. Angela Marcantonio? Should we
reconsider the commonly accepted language families? If so, on the
basis of what data and what methods? Looking forward to hearing from
you soon to 

Yours sincerely,

Yuri Tambovtsev,
Novosibirsk, Russia
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