LINGUIST List 20.2346

Tue Jun 30 2009

Review: Historical Linguistics: Bomhard (2008)

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        1.    Simonetta Pelusi, Reconstructing Proto-Nostratic

Message 1: Reconstructing Proto-Nostratic
Date: 30-Jun-2009
From: Simonetta Pelusi <>
Subject: Reconstructing Proto-Nostratic
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AUTHOR: Bomhard, Allan R.TITLE: Reconstructing Proto-NostraticSUBTITLE: Comparative Phonology, Morphology, and VocabularySERIES: Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series, 6PUBLISHER: BrillYEAR: 2008

Simonetta Pelusi, Formerly Professor of Slavic Linguistics and Philology,Cassino and Trieste Universities

INTRODUCTIONIn the second half of the 20th century, the Soviet scholar V.M. Illiè-Svityè(prematurely dead in 1966) presented a set of studies devoted to demonstrate agenetic relationship among some indigenous linguistic families of northern andcentral Eurasia, Near East and Northern Africa; the postulated macro-family wascalled Nostratic, a term created in 1903 by the Danish linguist Holger Pedersen(from the Latin word ''nostras'', meaning 'our fellow-countryman', plural:''nostrates''). Evidence in favor of Nostratic is based on regular correspondencesamong proto-languages spread through the aforementioned areas, etymologicalforms referring to a basic lexicon, and reconstructed grammatical morphemes. The''Nostratic hypothesis'' is still controversial; considered highly speculative, isrejected by many specialists, and Nostraticists often disagree with each other;nevertheless, it is also a stimulus for further research into distantrelationships among languages.

With this ponderous work (two volumes, xxi, 875 + 976 pages), Allan R. Bomhardpresents a detailed study of all the aspects of Proto-Indoeuropean, incomparison with other proto-languages of Northern Eurasia, Middle East, andIndian subcontinent, with the aim of demonstrating that Proto-Indoeuropean isnot a genetically isolated language, but must be considered as a part of theNostratic larger linguistic macrofamily. In the meantime a Nostratic Dictionaryhas been published by Dolgopolsky (2008, online version), but perhaps inBomhard's work for the first time the Nostratic question, as well its ''statusartis'', is globally examined and presented in all its features: phonology,morphology, syntax, putative homeland, ending with a semantic index and acomparative vocabulary, which could be considered the summa of pluridecennialstudies of Allan Bomhard, as he remembers in his Preface.

SUMMARYThe book, in two volumes, is divided into three main parts: Part 1:Introduction, comparative phonology, homelands, etc.; Part 2: Comparativemorphology; Part 3: Comparative vocabulary.

The first part (pp. 1-271), divided into 15 sections, begins with anintroduction of methodological character (1. Introduction, history of research,and methodology), to which follow: 2. A survey of Nostratic languages; 3. Abrief history of the reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European phonologicalsystem; 4. The reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European phonological system; 5.An outline of the development of the PIE stop system in the Indo-Europeandaughter languages; 6. A sketch of Proto-Kartvelian phonology; 7. A sketch ofProto-Afrasian phonology; 8. A sketch of Proto-Uralic phonology; 9. A sketch ofProto-Dravidian phonology; 10. A sketch of Proto-Altaic phonology; 11.Eskimo-Aleut, Chukchi-Kamchatkan, and Gilyak; 12. A sketch of Proto-Nostraticphonology; 13. The Nostratic homeland and the dispersal of the Nostraticlanguages; 14. The origin of Etruscan; 15. Sumerian and Nostratic.

The second part (pp. 273-529), includes four sections: 16. Nostratic morphologyI: the evidence; 17. Nostratic morphology II: reconstructions; 18.Proto-Indo-European morphology I: traditional reconstruction; 19.Proto-Indo-European morphology II: prehistoric development. The sectionReferences (pp. 531-756) constitutes a comprehensive bibliographic repertory upto 2007-2008 of the studies in the field.

The first volume ends with the Index verborum. English-Nostratic index to volume2 (pp. 757-875), an essential tool for research, which allows readers to findProto-Nostratic roots beginning from a concept in English, a ''semantic'' indexwhich increases a previous, partial and tentative one by M. Kaiser, based onIlliè-Svityè reconstructions (Kaiser 1990).

The third part is the entire second volume: Comparative vocabulary of theNostratic languages (pp. 1-925), containing 857 lemmata, followed by anAppendix: Language contact (pp. 926-976).

EVALUATIONAt the beginning, the Author explains the methodological principles used indistant linguistic comparison (pp. 8-22), which is based on comparative method.Bomhard's approach to language comparison in order to try to establish geneticrelationship among the various Nostratic languages and to reconstructProto-Nostratic roots, is derived both from the method adopted by J.H.Greenberg, who works with ''mass comparison'', and from traditional methods ofinternal reconstruction and comparison.

According to Bomhard, the language families which can be included in theNostratic macro-family are: Indo-European, Uralic-Yukaghir, Altaic,Chukchi-Kamchatkan, Gilyak, Eskimo-Aleutin, Etruscan language (all included inthe putative ''Eurasiatic''), Kartvelian, Afrasian, and Elamo-Dravidian. TheAuthor does not consider Sumerian as a daughter Nostratic language, but only asan idiom distantly connected with Nostratic, rejecting his own previous opinionsabout a special relationship of Sumerian to Elamo-Dravidian (p. 264); in chapter15. he briefly analyzes some morphological and phonological features ofSumerian, trying to show that this language is surely ''distantly related toNostratic'', on the basis, for instance, of possessive suffixes and pronominalprefixes, which seem to show parallels in some Nostratic proto-languages(Proto-Uralic, Proto-Tungus), and common Nostratic too (personal pronouns).Therefore, as in previous works (see: Bomhard & Kerns 1994), Sumerian parallelsare presented at the end of relevant items, outside the rigorously structuredpattern of lemmata. In comparison to the Illiè-Svityè Nostratic macrofamily,which did not include Chukchi-Kamchatkan, Eskimo-Aleutin (later added byDolgopolsky), Yukaghir, Gilyak (both included by Greenberg in the Eurasiaticlanguage family, which Bomhard includes in Nostratic; Greenberg 2000-2002),Bomhard's Nostratic macrofamily shows an evolution, with the inclusion of thepoorly attested Etruscan, whose origin is described in chapter 14., as alanguage related to Nostratic, forming, with Lemnian and Raetic, the Tyrrhenianlanguage family, whose mother language, Proto-Tyrrhenian, at present, unlikeIndo-European, has yet to be properly reconstructed: and this is the reason forwhich Etruscan appears as an independent language, inside the related items ofthe comparative vocabulary, in comparison to linguistic families related toNostratic. Sumerian and Etruscan are still now being considered ''isolatedlanguages'', without any known genetic connection (Gell-Mann, Peros & Starostin2009), therefore their inclusion in a comparative Nostratic vocabulary couldsupport researchers looking for new hypothesis about their origin, with thegreat amount of linguistic and bibliograpical data contanined in lemmata; it isperhaps the first time that languages for which no proto-language has up to nowbeen reconstructed are used as term of comparison for Proto-Nostraticreconstructions. Also for the first time, a great amount of material has beenincluded in the comparative vocabulary from Eskimo-Aleut and Chukchi-Kamchatkan;and we must remember that, as Bomhard underlines, a Proto-Eskimo-Aleut motherlanguage has not yet been reconstructed till now, while, according to Fortescue,Jakobson & Kaplan (1994), a Proto-Eskimo phonological system can be posited (p.209).

The book has a great potential for being a necessary complement to major bookson Indo-European, comparative phonology, comparative morphology, long-rangelinguistic comparison. It is not only of interest to advanced students andscholars of the different linguistic families and related daughter languagesconcerned with Nostratic, who are interested in a critical exposition of thehistory of the development of Indo-European and comparative linguistic studies,but it also is an indispensable reference tool, providing a useful repertoire ofthe main previous studies in the aforementioned linguistic families (especiallyIndo-European), reference materials, bibliography (which could have been alittle slimmer if the Author had not translated into English every item in anylanguage different from English).

Of particular importance are the relatively concise ''sketches'' of the linguisticfamilies (pp. 141-216) which, in the Author's view, along with Indo-Europeanform the Nostratic macro-family. In the form of detailed summaries, the Authorpresents an updated critical ''overview'' of the phonological systems (withunavoidable and desirable expansion in the field of morphology) ofProto-Kartvelian, Proto-Afrasian, Proto-Uralic, Proto-Dravidian, Proto-Altaic,and Eskimo-Aleut, Chukchi-Kamchatkan, Gilyak; at the end of every chapter,appears a summary table of phonological correspondences between proto-languageand daughter languages, recapitulating the chapter's content. A comparativetable of sound correspondences posited among Proto-Nostratic and relatedproto-languages is given on pp. 217-220.

The author's dedication to Indo-European has an overwhelming preeminence,compared to the space devoted to the other proto-languages; Allan Bomhard is anIndoeuropeanist, and one can only hope specialists in other linguistic familieswill further his work in the reconstruction of phonological and morphologicalproto-languages systems, trying to investigate further possibilities that theyare genetically related, or may belong to the Nostratic macro-family.

To the hypothetic reconstruction of the phonological system of Proto-Nostratic,Bomhard devotes a great part of the book (pp. 45-220). Here, we can onlysummarize that in this, as in his previous works, Bomhard radically revises thesystem of Nostratic phonemic correspondences in the light of the GlottalicTheory of Proto-Indo-European consonants proposed by Th.V. Gamkrelidze and V.V.Ivanov (pp. 54-60); he also discusses (pp. 61-69) the Proto-Indo-Europeanlaryngeals, about which opinions differ among specialists, especially about theexact number and phonetic make-up of the laryngeals (see: Winter 1965), tryingto determine their probable phonetic value, with the aid of Afroasiaticevidence: similar phonemes are known in Accadian and Arabic, and many of thedevelopments posited by Bomhard for these Proto-Indo-European phonemes ''aresimilar to developments found in Coptic'' (p. 69). In such a slippery field,comparison with other Nostratic proto-languages and daughter languages can helpto handle a question that could not be successfully faced either on the basis ofIndo-European data alone, or positing a multitude of controversial phonemes (asfor instance in Dolgopolsky 2008), instead of the three or four laryngealsposited by the large majority of linguists for Proto-Indo-European.

About the original Nostratic homeland, the Author – in this going along withColin Renfrew - seems to agree with the earlier conclusions of Illiè-Svityè andDolgopolsky in postulating a Nostratic ''Urheimat'' within the Mesolithic (orEpi-paleolithic) Middle East, the stage which directly preceded the Neolithicand was transitional to it. For Bomhard, the unified Nostratic parent languagemay be dated to between 15000 to 12000 BCE, a period which corresponds to theend of the last Ice Age; and can be located in the ''Fertile Crescent'' (a regionincorporating the Levant and Mesopotamia, corresponding to present-day Iraq,Syria, Lebanon, Palestine - in its broader meaning, the geographical termreferring to an area that includes contemporary Israel and the Palestinianterritories - Kuwait, Jordan, south-eastern Turkey, and south-western Iran),just south of the Caucasus. Beginning around 12000 BCE, Nostratic began tospread; by 10000 BCE distinct dialect groups appeared. The first to distinguishamong Nostratic macro-family was Afrasian; roughly around 9000 BCE, Eurasiaticspread from the Fertile Crescent to the northeast; at about 8000 BCE anotherdialect group, Elamo-Dravidian, began to develop.

The Nostratic hypothesis suffers from a scarcity of evidence from amorphological point of view, the most part of studies being devoted tophonology, and this part of Bomhard's work tries to supply to this deficiency inthe first two sections, the former pointing to the presentation of morphologicalmarks shared by various Nostratic family languages (pp. 273-386), the latter(pp. 387-415) attempting a systematic reconstruction of a putativeProto-Nostratic morphology on the basis of that evidence. The last two sectionsof this part are devoted to Indo-European morphology; from an exhaustivepresentation of the traditional views, up to the pre-historic development, onthe basis of the chronologization – four main periods: Pre-Proto-Indo-European;Phonemic Stress Stage of Proto-Indo-European; Phonemic Pitch Stage ofProto-Indo-European; Disintegrating Proto-Indo-European, described on pp.101-108 – proposed by the Author for the phonological system; as a result, a newapproach to what the Indo-European morphological system could have been like atthe beginning stage of its maturation process.

The analysis has relied ''almost exclusively on Indo-European data with onlypassing reference to what is found in cognate Nostratic languages'' (p. 519). TheAuthor recognizes that ''the picture that emerges is rather stark and ratherunrealistic.'' However, comparison of Indo-European morphology with otherNostratic languages morphology tries to show that ''a whole series of relationalmarkers can be reconstructed for Proto-Nostratic, and at least some of thesemust have been inherited by Proto-Indo-European'' (ivi). But the question suffersfrom a lack of reconstructions from non Indo-European Nostratic proto-languages,which at present are not ever of the same level of reconstruction ofIndo-European, surely the most studied proto-language of the last 250 years.

The first part (pp. 273-386), presents morphological evidence for Nostratic,including Eurasiatic data with Illiè-Svityè's, Dolgopolsky's, and properlyBomhard's latest intuitions about other branches of Nostratic. According toBomhard, Nostratic morphology made a breakthrough with the publication of thefirst volume of J.H. Greenberg's ''Indo-European and its closest relatives''(Greenberg 2000-2002), which included a great amount of morphemiccorrespondences among Eurasiatic languages. Where Greenberg did not reconstructthe Eurasiatic vowels (for instance, for the pronoun stems) Bomhard attempts tocompensate on the basis of the evidence of both Eurasiatic and other Nostraticlanguages. The great part of the reconstructions that appear in this full-bodiedchapter, and which form the most part of it, are nearly the same which arelemmatized in the Comparative vocabulary, sometimes with integrations; repetitajuvant, but maybe, if the Author had unified all these more than hundred-pagesof descriptions in the Vocabulary, commenting them in this chapter devoted tothe evidence, the book could have been more readable.

The following chapter, focused on the systematic Nostratic morphologyreconstruction, is much shorter than the former (pp. 387-415); the Author, onthe basis of evidence for Nostratic morphology, proposes that Proto-Nostraticwas an active language, recognizing that ''the assumption that we make about themorphological and syntactical structure of a given proto-language profoundlyaffects the reconstruction that we propose.... Therefore, it follows that thereconstruction I posit will conform with an active structure'' (p. 387).Reconstructions are not to be driven by theory alone, but supported by data, andmust be consistent from a typological perspective; many Authors have presentedconvincing arguments about an early phase of Proto-Indo-European as an activelanguage, as Proto-Afrasian (p. 388), enhancing the possibilities of attemptinga reconstruction of Proto-Nostratic as an active language itself. In thefollowing two chapters, devoted to Proto-Indo-European morphology (Traditonalreconstruction, pp. 417-483, and Prehistoric development, pp.485-529), theAuthor tries to summarize morphological evidence pointing to underline thatProto-Indo-European is to be classified as a member of the Eurasiatic branch ofNostratic, a branch which could develop distinctive characteristics due tosocio-cultural interactions with Caucasian, especially with Northwest languages(p. 529).

The Comparative Vocabulary contains 857 entries, divided into 42 sections, eachrepresented by the word-initial Proto-Nostratic phoneme; every section beginswith a table of correspondence between the Proto-Nostratic word-initial phonemeand its reflex in the daughter branches. Every Proto-Nostratic root is givenwith a translation, followed by corresponding form for the proto-language, ifreconstructed, and by the forms in the various daughter languages; not all knowncognates are cited, in order to give only a representative sampling illustratingthe semantics involved. The Author, for the reconstructed forms for eachproto-language, uses a uniform method of transcription; Proto-Indo-Europeanroots are given in accordance with the reinterpretation of theProto-Indo-European phonological system by Gamkrelidze-Ivanov. I hope that inthe near future a third volume, containing all the forms of proto- and attestedlanguages cited in the previous two, with reference to the correspondingProto-Nostratic root, will appear, giving scholars the possibility to operate afast and prompt cross-data retrieval, and a differently oriented informationscanning of the invaluable lexical heritage contained in this Comparativevocabulary. The Author tries here ''to eliminate the arbitrary nature of much ofthe previous work, as well as some current work'' (p. 5); Dolgopolsky's NostraticDictionary (Dolgopolsky 2008), with its 3033 entries, has been one of thesources of Bomhard's Vocabulary, even if most part of Dolgopolsky's etymologieshave been rejected, due to Bomhard's approach, which is ''positivistic, that is,data-oriented, rather than impressionistic''.

This book represents an invaluable resource for Indoeuropeanists, comparatists,and specialists in all the linguistic families and languages that, in Bomhard'sand, most generally, in Nostraticists' vision, compose the linguistic mosaic ofEuro-and Afrasia. Its intended audience is probably specialists, but in my view,some parts of the first volume could also be appreciated by readers with nospecific linguistic background. Bomhard's work is essential for the developmentof this field of studies, and gives an immense contribution to development andimplementation of the reconstruction of a putative prehistoric proto-languagewhich gave origin to several today's language families.

REFERENCESDolgopolsky, Aharon. 2008. _Nostratic Dictionary_. Cambridge: McDonald Institutefor Archaeological Research, online version:

Bomhard, Allan R. and John C. Kerns. 1994. _The Nostratic Macrofamily: A Studyin Distant Linguistic Relationship_. Berlin, New York, NY, and Amsterdam: Moutonde Gruyter.

Fortescue, Michael, Steven Jacobson, & Lawrence Kaplan. 1994. _ComparativeEskimo dictionary with Aleut cognates_. Fairbanks: Alaska Native LanguageCenter, University of Alaska.

Gell-Mann, Murray, Ilia Peiros, and George Starostin. 2009. Distant LanguageRelationship: The Current Perspective. _Journal of Language Relationship_, 1, p.13-30.

Greenberg, Joseph H. 2000-2002. _Indo-European and Its Closest Relatives: TheEurasiatic Language Family_. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Kaiser, Mark. 1990. Semantic Index to Nostratic Reconstructions. In VitalyShevoroshkin ed., _Proto-languages and proto-cultures: Materials from the FirstInternational Interdisciplinary Symposium on Language and Prehistory, Ann Arbor,8-12 November, 1988_. Bochum: Brockmeyer, p. 176-197.

Winter, Werner (ed.). 1965. _Evidence for Laryngeals_. The Hague: Mouton.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERSimonetta Pelusi, formerly Professor of Slavic Linguistics and Philology,Cassino and Trieste Universities, has published extensively on synchronic anddiachronic phonology, particularly in the areas of Slavic languages. Herresearch interests focus on Common Slavic phonology, on the tradition ofmedieval Russian liturgical text, and on old printed book history.