LINGUIST List 6.90

Sun 22 Jan 1995

Disc: Comparative Method

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  1. , Re: 6.83 Comparative Method
  2. , Comparative: N-ary vs. Binary Comparison

Message 1: Re: 6.83 Comparative Method

Date: Fri, 20 Jan 1995 20:43:10 Re: 6.83 Comparative Method
From: <KNAPPENVKPMZD.kph.Uni-Mainz.DE>
Subject: Re: 6.83 Comparative Method

Should we introduce a sharper terminology? I think, a typical Greenbergian
`family' is quite different from the indoeuropean `family' or the germanic
`family' in time depth and the possibility of constructing a
proto-language.
 Biologists have developped for a long time a whole set of notions, from
species and genus to families, classes and orders. It seems, that such
kind of differentiated terminology would do something good to historical
linguistics, too.

 --J"org Knappen.
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Message 2: Comparative: N-ary vs. Binary Comparison

Date: Fri, 20 Jan 95 22:11:56 ESComparative: N-ary vs. Binary Comparison
From: <amrares.cs.wayne.edu>
Subject: Comparative: N-ary vs. Binary Comparison

I was really surprised to read Jacques Guy's declaration
that n-ary comparison is just repeated binary comparison,
and not to read any objections from anybody else.

There are many important differences, which mostly
indicate that n-ary comparison is a much superior
strategy for doing comparative linguistics.

The bigger the n, the bigger the chance that we will
recover more of the proto-language (e.g., more of
the vocabulary).

The bigger the n, the less the chance that we will be
misled by a spurious set of correspondences.

In some situations, a smallish value for n may not
offer these advantages (so that in certain special
cirucmstances ternary comparison, say, may be worse
than binary), but in general n-ary is better.

Nor surprising then that in work on such families
as Indo-European, Uto-Aztecan, Afro-Asiatic, and so on,
no one to my knowledge has ever proceeded on binary
basis, comparing for example every pair of IE
languages.

Alexis MR
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