LINGUIST List 5.926

Sun 28 Aug 1994

Disc: Altaic

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  1. , Re: 5.921 Altaic
  2. "J. Marshall Unger", Altaic, Unger 1990

Message 1: Re: 5.921 Altaic

Date: Sat, 27 Aug 94 12:32:42 ESRe: 5.921 Altaic
Subject: Re: 5.921 Altaic

Dear colleagues,

I have just recently subscribed to a LINGUIST again after my move, and have
found out that there is a discussion on Altaic going on. Thanks to Alexis
Manaster Ramer, who informed me about the discussion and to Bart Mathias and
Leon Serafim who forwarded to me previous parts of the discussion. I would
like to dwell on the following moments that caught my attention.

1) I agree with Alexis Manaster Ramer and disagree with Reinhard Hahn regarding
the methodology which is in use by anti-Altaicists. This methodology, in my
opinion has nothing to do the traditional comparative method as used in IE
linguistics and any other branch of comparative linguistics. None of the
anti-Altaicists has ever tried to criticize the system of correspondences
proposed by Altaicists. All arguments against Altaic are actually AGAINST THE
the comparative method. At its best, anti-Altaic hypotheses employ a bizarre
concept of loanwords, where all possible parallels between languages in ques-
tion are claimed to be loanwords, whether or not it makes sense linguistically
and/or historically and culturally. More often, however, readers of Clauson,
Doerfer, Rona-Tas, and Shcherbak are intelectually rewarded by statements like:
"when I was reading Mongolian, I could not find anything Turkish in it" (Clau-
son) or "Man nehme zwei W"orterb"ucher und vergleiche drauf los" (Which is
Doerfer's idea of how Altaicists work), which has failed to demonstrate any-
thing but the level of literacy in comparative linguistics and emotional
nature of attacks on Altaic. Moreover, both Doerfer and, more recently,, Juha
Janhunen deny any possibility of comparing more than two languages at one
time. The methodological grounds of this claim are unclear to me. But it is
obvious that they have nothing to do with the comparative method as used by
IEpeanists and other comparativists.

2) I wholeheartedly support Reinhard Hahn with his proposal to use Turkic
instead of Turkish. However, I personally prefer to use Manchu-Tungus instead
"Tungusic", though the latter seems to be used more frequently nowadays. There
is an internal justification for "Manchu-Tungus": Manchu stands quite separa-
tely within this Altaic groups. For details of Manchu_Tungus classification
please see my "Towards a New Classification of Tungusic Languages", Eurasian
Studies Yearbook 65, 1993, pp. 99-113. I do not see special justification for
changing "Mongolian" to "mongolic", either: we can use term Khalkha (Xalxa)
when speaking about the language and not the whole group.

3) I see no grounds in
Reinhard Hahn's statement that Turkic, Mongolian, and Manchu-Tungus are rela-
ted closer to each other than any of them to Korean and Japanese. Poppe is
not an authority here, since his command of Korean and especially Japanese
was far from being perfect. Any of the Altaicists, who has a direct acces to
Proto_japanese and Proto-Korean data, will definitely disagree with Reinhard
Hahn. All recent research done here suggests that Japanese and Korean are
on the same level of relationship to Mongolian, Turkic and Manchu-Tungus, as
those have between themselves. Also, it seems that Manchu-Tungus, Japanese
and Korean may be an interdmediate node as opposed to Mongolian, and, especial-
ly Turkic. The most recent state-of -art data can be found in Starostin's
book on Altaic, cited before by Alexis Manaster Ramer and (a brief outline) in
my article "Long-Distance Relationships, Reconstruction Methodology, and the
Origins of Japanese", Diachronica XI-1, 1994, 95-114.

4) It is true that presence or absence of a common numerals setdoes not
prove or disprove genetic relationship between the two or more languages.
The example from Uralic is, I believe, classic: Fenno-Ugric and Samoyedic
numerals are not related. However, Altaic, is more lucky than Uralic: there
is a set of PROTO_ALTAIC NUMERALS, which is preserved best of all in Manchu-
Tungus and Japanese. It was first noticed by Murayama Shichiroo in 1962, and
since then further improved and/or supplemented by Roy. A. Miller, Sergei
Starostin and myself. Thre are two main reasons why it was not noticed earlier
first, Japanese was considered at its best the step-child of Altaic,; and,
second, the phonetic correspondences between the majority of these numerals
are not trivial, so they do not look alike! The last circumstance definitely
made Juha Janhunen claim that this system of numerals is an "evidence of how
utterly inconvincing Altaic hypotheses is" WITHOUT examining the system of
correspondences on which it stands. Certainly, Altaic numerals do not look
alike, so down with Altaistic! That, I believe is THE METHODOLOGICAL PRINCIPLE
of anti-Altaicists. (PLease see the three-way discussion between R. A. Miller,
Juha Janhunen, and myself in the forthcoming issue of the "Journal de la
Societe Finno-Ougrienne, due this fall). The system of Altaic numerals is
provided in my article cited in 3) on p. 106, please use the chart with
correspondences on p. 100).

5) There are quite a few body parts in Altaic. Again, if one does not take
into consideration Japanese and Korean, there will be considerably less
reconstructions of Altaic body parts. One of the reasons is, I believe,
universal. How many of the IE body parts are we going to reconstruct on the
basis of Celtic, Slavic and Albanian alone? The second is that though both
Japanese and Korean (especially the latter) have many phonetic innovations,
they are quite conservative lexically, considerably more than, let's say
Turkic, which in my opinion shows maximum of lexical innovations within the
Altaic. If there is interest, I can post a list of Altaic body terms, which
could be reconstructed with support of Japanese and Korean data.

6) A number of Turkic-Tungusic separate cognates (without Mongolian counter-
parts)is provided in Starostin's book. I believe that separate Turkic-Korean
and/or Turkic-Japanese parallels, without any counterparts in Mongolian and
Manchu-Tungus will be even more important for the proof of Altaic.

7) To sum up, I firmly support the Altaic hypothesis and I believe that it
consists of the five languages groups: Turkic, Mongolian, Manchu-Tungus,
Korean and Japanese. At the same time, I am very opposed to the idea of
making Altaic a junk box of North-East Asia, by including into it Ainu,
Gilyak, Chukchee-Kamchadal or Eskimo-Aleut. None of this languages, especial-
ly Ainu, cannot be classified as Altaic.

8) Answering Lloyd Anderson's question regarding possible connections of
Ainu with the North, I can say the following. As Alexis Manaster Ramer menti-
oned already, I thought at one point that Ainu may be related to Gilyak, but
I believe that there is no ground for such a claim, and all Ainu-Gilyak paral-
lels are better explained through contact. I do not think that Ainu may be
related to Chukcee-Kamchadal either -- a comparison of my Proto-Ainu recon-
struction with Irina Murav'ieva's Proto-Chukchee-Koryak reconstruction yiel-
ded results which is on the level of chance resemblance: that is I do not
find any regular correspondences. The same I can say about alleged Ainu-
Amerindian connections: this possibility came to my mind several years ago,
and I played with Na-Dene and Salishan, but I found no material which would
permit any kind of regular correspondences. Refining further my reconstruction,
I bumped into initial clusters, and that together with cultural data and prono
minal stystem turned my attention to the South-East Asia. This time the results
were quite different. I am far from stating conclusively at this stage that
Ainu is related to Austroasiatic or even to Austric, but I think it is a
good possibility. When I was writing my "A REconstruction of Proto-Ainu" (E.
J. Brill 1993), my main goal was to reconstruct Proto-Ainu. My book contains
about 700 reconstructed vocabulary items, and I think using this list it is
very easy to demonstrate that Altaic connection is quite fallacious. Murayama
Shichiroo recently published two books and several articles, where he pursues
the Ainu-Austronesian hypothesis. I find many of his etymologies unappropriate
but there are also some which deserve attention. Anyway, what Murayama and
myself has done with Ainu, is just a tip of an iceberg, but I think it may
be useful to continue investigation of southern roots for Ainu.

9) Oono Susumu's Dravidian-Japanese theory, in my opinion, does not deserve
even to be discussed on Linguist. Unfortunately, the majority of our Japanese
colleagues ( the only exceptions known to me are Murayama Shichiroo,
Hattori Shiroo, and Itabashi Yoshizoo) working on Comparative Japanese, hardly
understand what Comparative Method is about. Roy A. Miller has quite a few
publications on this subject, so I will mention it briefly. No attempt to
provide REGULAR phonetic correspondences is ever made, what we get is "etymo-
logies" produced with adding a syllable there, deleting syllable here, the
method which completely agrees with the method of folk etymology. Ono Susumu
is not an acception. Being one of the best Japan's experts on Classical Japa-
nese and early texts, he, when it comes to comparativer linguistics, bestowes
upon his readers a humongous amount of look-alikes etc. For another example
of typical Japanese comparative linguist, Kawamoto Takao, who along with
Paul Benedict tries to make Japanese have a genetic link with Austronesian
please see my article "Is Japanese related to Austronesian?", forthcoming in
the December 1994 issue of the "Oceanic linguistics".

10) I was extremely happy to find out that there are so many people interes-
ted in Altaic -- I did think that Altaic was considerably less popular.

Sincerely yours,

Alexander Vovin
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Message 2: Altaic, Unger 1990

Date: Sat, 27 Aug 1994 10:33:25 Altaic, Unger 1990
From: "J. Marshall Unger" <>
Subject: Altaic, Unger 1990

 Copies of notes on this subject have been forwarded
to me. Some clarifications seem to be in order.
 I tried to get Street, Pritsak, and Doerfer to
participate in the panel. They all declined.
 It's too bad Clark didn't prepare his paper for
publication, but that's the way it is.
 Neither I nor anyone on the panel denied that
proto-Altaic _might_ be historically real. The question was
whether it was wiser, given our current knowledge of the
languages involved, to work with the pA hypothesis or to
confine ourselves to what I called Macro-Tungusic. Remember
that the panel was part of a group of panels dealing with
methodological problems of the comparative method.
 In his memoirs, Poppe qualifies his support for
Miller's Japanese-Altaic claims.
 Patrie's claims about Ainu are highly dubious because of
numerous mistakes in Japanese. See my review in Papers in
Linguistics (but watch out for the typos).
 It is regrettable that Nichols read too much into
Unger 1990, but such things happen.

 J. Marshall Unger (
 University of Maryland
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