LINGUIST List 9.808

Sat May 30 1998

Disc: Limits on Knowledge in Linguistics

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. manaster, Re: 9.757, Disc: Limits on Knowledge in Linguistics

Message 1: Re: 9.757, Disc: Limits on Knowledge in Linguistics

Date: Sat, 23 May 1998 13:13:48 -0400 (EDT)
From: manaster <>
Subject: Re: 9.757, Disc: Limits on Knowledge in Linguistics

I completely accept F. K. Lehmann's points. The issue does seem to go
even deeper than I thought, or indeed there are as he says two
different issues. I should perhaps add one thing: although some
people have called me a 'Nostraticist' and such, in reality I am very
troubled by the question of whether the facts cited by Illich-Svitych
and Dolgopolsky in support of Nostratic or those cited by Greenberg in
support of Amerind are perhaps explicable as involving something other
than common origin. The only thing that I am quite positive about is
that the hysterical attacks on them by say Doerfer or Serebrennikov or
Ringe or any number of others do not contribute to the soltuion of the
problem any more than do the dogmatic assertions that Nostratic or
Amerind or Sapiens (alias Global) are valid language families whose
status we need no longer worry about.

There surely must be SOME group of linguists,
no matter how small, who can see past BOTH kinds
of dogmatism and who are interested in doing some
substantive work on language classification
instead of pontificating about it all being impossible
or else about it all being done already.

For this is the neat irony: the two sides which have dominated the
debate (say, Ringe, Nichols, and Doerfer on the one side and say
Ruhlen, Bengtson, and Starostin on the other) seem to be saying pretty
much the same thing, namely, that THEY pretty much already today what
the complete classification of the world's languages is and that no
substantial future research is required. Of course, they differ as to
why: the former seem to think that we have hit some magic limits on
what can be done (leaving much that can never be known), while the
latter seem to think that we have run of out problems (leaving nothing
to be done because it is all sewn up). Of course, I am exaggerating
slightly, but only slightly.

I dont know how many people see the fallacy of both approaches and the
validity of the approahc I cahmpion, which assumes that most of the
work is UNdone but doABLE.

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