LINGUIST List 5.936

Wed 31 Aug 1994

Sum: Time ceiling on the comparative method, Case grammar

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  1. , Summary: Supposed Time Ceiling on the Comparative Method
  2. Ted Pedersen, Summary:Case Grammar

Message 1: Summary: Supposed Time Ceiling on the Comparative Method

Date: Tue, 30 Aug 94 12:24:33 EDSummary: Supposed Time Ceiling on the Comparative Method
From: <>
Subject: Summary: Supposed Time Ceiling on the Comparative Method

Some time ago I posted a query about the basis of claims sometimes
made in the literature regarding a supposed time ceiling on the
comparative method. This is what I have found in part thanks to
replies received, in part on my own. Acknowledgement: Thanks are
due to Matthew Dryer ( and Larry
Trask (

Kroeber (1960: 21) says without any references or argument:

 But there comes a point in the past--perhaps 10,000 years ago,
 perhaps less--at which the [sc. comparative] method no longer
 yields reliable results.

Kaufman (1990: 23) refers to an "accessible time depth" (a section
heading in his chapter) and holds that "A temporal ceiling of 7000
to 8000 years is inherent in the methods of comparative linguistic
reconstruction. We can recover genetic relationships that are that
old, but probably no earlier than that. The methods possibly will
be expanded, but for the moment we have to operate within that
limit in drawing inferences". He also gives no references or

Lewin (1990: 43) cites Johanna Nichols as claiming that 7000 years
BP is the absolute upper limit for comparative reconstruction.
In her book, Nichols (1992) gives 8000 as the limit in one place
(p. 6) but 10,000 in another (p. 184). In neither of these places
does she give any argument or reference. In a third place, she
gives no number, but does cite two references (one of which I have
yet to check, the other being unpublished):

 The notion of a cut-off point beyond [read: up to] which the
 standard comparative method applies, and up to (but not
 beyond) which we have regular systematic sound correspondences
 and a substantial etymological base, is articulated in similar
 terms in a number of works (e.g., Austerlitz 1980; Jacobsen
 1989....), but available language surveys rarely identify this
 cutoff point.... The three recent monographic surveys of the
 world's languages, Voegelin and Voegelin 1977, Grimes 1988,
 and Ruhlen 1987, and especially the last, are lumping works
 which do not distinguish the point at which the standard
 comparative method becomes invalid....

Kleiner (1994: 10) apparently cites Ken Hale as maintaining that
10,000 BP is the upper limit, though the citation is not fully

 The only place where something substantive that might be
relevant is stated that I have found is the following:

 Following up on Chr tien (1962), Bender (1966, 1968) (and pace
Dobson et al. 1972), Bender (1973:7) asserts that glottochronology
gives less than 10% cognates after 7,630 years, which means the
margin of error is larger than the percentages being deal with.


Austerlitz, Robert. 1980. "Language density in North America and
Eurasia". Ural-altaische Jahrb cher 52: 1-10.

Bender, M. Lionel. 1966 "Notes on lexical correlations in some
Ethiopian languages". Journal of Ethiopian Studies 4(1): 5-16.

Bender, M. Lionel. 1968 "Remarks on glottochronology of Northern
Ethiopian Semitic languages". Journal of Ethiopian Studies 6(1): 1-

Bender, M. Lionel. 1973. "Linguistic indeterminacy: Why you cannot
reconstruct 'Proto-Human'". Language Sciences ??: 7-12.

Chr tien, C. Douglas. 1962. "The mathematical model of
glottochronology". Language 38: 11-37.

Dobson, Annette J., Joseph B. Kruskal, David Sankoff, and Leonard
J. Savage. 1972. "The mathematics of glottochronology revisited".
Anthropological Linguistics 14: 205-212.

Jacobsen, William H. 1989. "The Pacific orientation of western
North American languages". Paper presented at the Circum-Pacific
Prehistory Conference, Seattle.

Kaufman, Terrence. 1990. "Language history in South America: What
we know and to how to know more". Amazonian Linguistics, Studies in
Lowland South American Languages (ed. Doris L. Payne), 13-73.
Austin: University of Texas Press.

Kleiner, Kurt. 1994. "Echoes of Africa in our speech?". New
Scientist, 23 April 1994, 10.

Kroeber, A. L. 1960. "Statistics, Indo-European, and taxonomy".
Language 36: 1-21.

Lewin, Roger. 1990. "Ancestral voices at war". New Scientist 16
June 1990, 42-47.

Nichols, Johanna. 1992. Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time.
Chicao--London: University of Chicago Press.
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Message 2: Summary:Case Grammar

Date: Mon, 29 Aug 1994 19:03:01 Summary:Case Grammar
From: Ted Pedersen <>
Subject: Summary:Case Grammar

I got many interesting responses to my query about the state of Case
Grammar. Here is a collection of the references that people were kind
enough to send to me.

Thanks to all,


The chapter "Transitivity, Case, and Grammatical Relations" in Ronald
Langacker's _Concept, Image, and Symbol: The Cognitive Basis of Grammar_,
1991, Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

The chapter "Thematic Roles, Verbal Semantics, and Causal Structure" in
William Croft's _Syntactic Categories and Grammatical Relations: The
Cognitive Organization of Information_, 1991, Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.

in Proc. Coling'94 on pp.1008-1012 you'll find a set of 28 cases
in a paper by Copeck et al.

Cook, Walter A., S.J., 1979. Case grammar development of the matrix
model(1970-1978). Washington, Georgetown University Press.

_________. 1985. Case Grammar applied to the teaching of English, in:
Jankowsky, Kurt R.(ed), Scientific and Humanistic Dimensions of Language.
Philadelphia, Benjamins, 23-28.

_________. 1989. Case Grammar Theory. Washington, Georgetown University Press.

Somers, Harold L. (1987). Valency and case in computational linguistics.
 Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.

 You might want to have a look at the first few chapters of Ray
Jackendoff's _Semantic Structures_ (MIT PRess: 1992?).

robert longacre has a relatively recent book on cases and semantic
roles, etc. I forget the exact title. It compares the different
classifications that have been proposed.

Beard Robert E
"On the Separation of Derivation from Morphology: Toward a Lexeme/Morpheme
Based Morphology." Quaderni di semantica 9.3-59 (also still available from
 IULC is the Indiana University Linguistics Club, 310 Lindley Hall,
Bloomington, Indiana 47401. --RBeard

The state of the art, such as it is, is "Role and Reference Grammar"
("RRG"), developed by Foley & Van Valen c. 1980. Foley has since
abandoned the enterprise, but Van Valen continues and has attracted
followers. Get hold of Robert D. Van Valin, Jr. (ed.), _Advances in Role
and Reference Grammar_ (Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1993),
which includes a 160+ page "synopsis" written by Van Valin himself.

Nicholas Ostler
Case Linking: a Theory of Case and Verb Diathesis, applied to
Classical Sanskrit PhD 1979, MIT
which can be obtained in the MIT Working Papers in Linguistics Series

Chierchia G. and McConnel-Ginet S. Meaning and Grammar. An introduction to
semantics.MIT Press, 1990.pp.377-388.

* Ted Pedersen *
* Department of Computer Science and Engineering, *
* Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX 75275 (214) 768-2126 *
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