LINGUIST List 14.2016

Sat Jul 26 2003

Disc: Re 'Celtic Found to Have Ancient Roots'

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Bertinetto, Re 'Celtic Found to Have Ancient Roots'

Message 1: Re 'Celtic Found to Have Ancient Roots'

Date: Sat, 26 Jul 2003 15:22:56 +0200
From: Bertinetto <>
Subject: Re 'Celtic Found to Have Ancient Roots'

I read with interest the counterarguments sent to the list by Peter
Forster (Linguist 14.2012), relating to Larry Trask's disruptive
comment (Linguist 14.1876) on Forster & Toth (2003).
My impression is that they miss the point. The objections raised by
Larry Trask referred to the fact that the linguistic data used for the
computation were ostensibly wrong. And even if not all objections were
correct, there is quite enough to raise serious doubts as to the
validity of the computations performed by Forster & Toth.
Now, there is only one possible answer to this sort of criticism:
namely, to defend the idea that philogenetic network analysis is so
robust, that it provides the correct result even with the wrong data.
If that is the case, then we really have a new and impressive tool for
If however, as I suppose, that is not the case, then I would suggest
that biologists willing to do research in the philogenesis of language
work side by side with expert linguists. I am sure, by the way, that
linguists who aimed at using biological data would look for an
analogous kind of support. But, quite unfortunately, there is a
widespread opinion among non-linguists, according to which language is
something you do not have to spend much time about, for we can all
speak it, after all. Personally I have often been confronted with the
recurring question: what is linguistics? I am sure virtually nobody
would ask: what is biology?
Unfortunately, this unscientific (may I say arrogant?) approach to a
specific domain of science has an undesirable drawback: for I am
absolutely certain that there is potentially much that we linguists
could learn from philogenetic network analysis. It is a pity that
Forster & Toth do not realize that they missed the chance for a
fruitful methodological encounter.
But to end on a positive note: why don't they try again, maybe asking
Larry Trask to suggest the relevant linguistic data? There is nothing
to lose, and a lot to gain. For instance, we linguists could take
their results seriously.

Pier Marco Bertinetto
Scuola Normale Superiore
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