LINGUIST List 9.529

Sat Apr 4 1998

Disc: State of Comparative Linguistics

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Robert R. Ratcliffe, Re:9.487, Disc: State of Comparative Linguistics

Message 1: Re:9.487, Disc: State of Comparative Linguistics

Date: Wed, 01 Apr 1998 15:11:58 +0000
From: Robert R. Ratcliffe <>
Subject: Re:9.487, Disc: State of Comparative Linguistics

The LINGUIST List wrote:

> Date: Sun, 29 Mar 1998 20:19:36 -0500 (EST)
> From:
> Subject: Re: 9.485, Disc: State of Comparative Linguistics
> I do not object to everything in Robert R. Ratcliffe's posting. It
> certainly is true that there is no formal or even merely rigorous
> exposition of the foundations of comparative linguistics--but of
> course the same is true of all branches of linguistics and most
> sciences (maybe all).

Methodological rigor in historical linguistics is not required in
imitation of other sciences or for any a priori reason. Greater rigor
is simply the direction toward which any mature field of inquiry
naturally tends, for reasons which the debate on long-distance
classification in recent decades and the current list discussion make
abundantly clear. How can reasonable people draw radically different
conclusions from the same body of evidence? One possiblity-- each may
be basing his conclusions on assumptions which are not clear to, or
not accepted by, the other. Solution-- make the assumptions explicit
and try to turn them in testable hypotheses which can be demonstrated
as valid or invalid to everyone's satisfaction.

In this way the acrimonious debates of one generation of scholarhip
may open up exciting new research fields for the next. Otherwise the
'debate' degenerates into a shouting match of ad hominen argument,
accusation, and insinuation.

By the way, I tend to find that this medium sometimes tempts me to
indulge in rhetorical excesses which in other circumstances (published
work, conference presentations, ordinary conversation, etc.) I would
be at pains to avoid. (Has anyone else ever had this problem?) I
apologize if any of my recent comments have offended anyone, Professor
Teeter in particular.


Robert R. Ratcliffe
Senior Lecturer, Arabic and Linguistics,
Dept. of Linguistics and Information Science
Tokyo University of Foreign Studies
Nishigahara 4-51-21, Kita-ku
Tokyo 114 Japan
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