LINGUIST List 3.82

Mon 27 Jan 1992

Disc: Proto-World

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  1. Richard Sproat, 3.70 Proto-World
  2. Eric Schiller, Re: 3.70 Proto-World

Message 1: 3.70 Proto-World

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 92 13:17:55 ES3.70 Proto-World
From: Richard Sproat <>
Subject: 3.70 Proto-World

In response to Jacques Guy's point about the Cavalli-Sforza Scientific
American article, I think the answer is yes: it would be definitely
worthwhile resurrecting those debunkings of that article, or rewriting
them. My first reaction when viewing the `matched' trees was precisely
the same: one is a tree, the other is a forest of trees which sort of
(with emphasis on `sort of') matches the higher branches of the
genetic tree. I felt that this was a classic example of how to lie
with graphics. The average Scientific American reader is probably not
so critical. I think that this needs to be pointed out somehow.
What the best avenue for pointing this out is, however, unclear.

Richard Sproat
Linguistics Research Department
AT&T Bell Laboratories
600 Mountain Avenue, Room 2d-451
Murray Hill, NJ 07974
tel (908) 582-5296
fax (908) 582-7308
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Message 2: Re: 3.70 Proto-World

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 92 14:09:56 CSRe: 3.70 Proto-World
From: Eric Schiller <>
Subject: Re: 3.70 Proto-World

I, too, was outraged by the Scientific American article. Inthe July
issue Austro-Tai is simply taken for granted, when it is merely a
theory that spread due to lack of opposition. At the 6th International
Conference on Austronesian Linguistics a session was devoted to the
external affiliation of Austronesian, and there we heard proposals
ranging from a link with Chinese, to Austro-Tai, to Nostratic etc.
The old Austric Hypothesis (the best contender, in my opinion) has
been recently reinvestigated by Diffloth and Reid, among others,
and I contributed a BLS paper back in 1987.

It is shameful that Austro-Tai is taken as default truth by so
many authorities, and even finds its way into introductory texts.
Solid etymological evidence ('wood', 'bone') has been presented for
Austric, which combines Austronesian and Austroasiatic, while the
Austro-Tai hypothesis rejects such a link. Toss in the fact that
both families seem to have been VSO, and show a great deal of
shared affixes, and one would think that Austric should have at
least equal status. This is not to say that the Father Schmidt's
Austric hypothesis has been proven, but rather that it should not
be ignored, especially in speculation about great time depths and
in combination with archeological evidence.

Eric Schiller
University of Chicago
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