Dravidians and Sergent

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Sat Jul 3 10:22:53 UTC 1999

Some time ago, Michael Witzel wrote:

>>Sergent's theory of a Dravidian move from the E. Sudan (whence the alleged
African relationships with the Wolof etc., now in Senegal!)  to Central
Asia (whence the similarity with Finno-Ugric etc.)   to India is rather
contorted, and as H.H. Hock has already pointed out, not proved as far as
W. African languages are concerned. (Since L. Senghor, a cottage industry
of Indologists and others in Dakar).

When I quoted Sergent's views on the Dravidian movement into India with its assumed concomitant linguistic development, I did not criticize Sergent since I am neither a Dravidologist nor a specialist in Uralian languages.  However, to be on the safe side, I would like to make clear that I am sceptical of his theories for general reasons. I think linguistic reconstructions like the ones involving African languages are extremely speculative, but then I don't think highly of Nostraticism either. When we start comparing reconstructions of proto-languages with other reconstructions of proto-languages, the error potentiality becomes enormous, and the effort would seem to be a waste of time. Admittedly, some languages contain extremely conservative elements - Lithuanian "sunus" = son presumably sounds today exactly the way it sounded 6,500 years ago. Yet such cases are the exception rather than the rule, and we cannot expect a similar stability over such a long period of time in general. And comparing languages that presumably split up 8-10,000 years ago simply makes no sense, particularly when the greater part of that period is undocumented. If there are similarities, they are most likely due to chance. Those of you who take an interest in spurious similarities should read the following paper:

Dyen, Isidore. 1971. Background 'Noise' or 'Evidence' in Comparative Linguistics: The Case of the Austronesian-Indo-European Hypothesis. In Indo-European and Indo-Europeans. Papers Presented at the Third Indo-European Conference at the University of Pennsylvania, edited by H. M. H. George Cardona, Alfred Senn. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

As for Sergent, the most fascinating aspect of his work is his radical attempt to create a synthesis of *all* the available knowledge. Inevitably, when ambitions are so high, something must go wrong occasionally. 

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

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