Dravidians and Sergent

George Thompson thompson at JLC.NET
Tue Jul 6 19:03:18 UTC 1999

In general I agree with the remarks of Michael Witzel re Nostratic, and a
comparative method in linguistics that is as applicable to language groups
as it is to individual languages. We shouldn't let the bad methodology of
some close our minds to the possibility that good methodology might lead to
good results.

But I also agree with Lars Martin Fosse that with Nostratic we are dealing
with something very difficult indeed:

>> When we start comparing reconstructions of proto-languages with other
>>reconstructions of >proto-languages, the error potentiality becomes

It seems to me that there are good reasons why one might express less
confidence in reconstructions of Nostratic than in reconstructions of PIE.
Likewise, I at least feel less confidence in PIE reconstructions than I do
in Proto-Indo-Iranian reconstructions. On the other hand, I feel rather
confident that assertions about Old Iranian on the one hand and Old Indic
on the other can be verified, and tested against a given corpus.

One thing that troubles me about the little Nostratic research that I have
seen is that it seems to rely on the comparison of word-lists. Ruhlen for
example seems to me to be an avid compiler of lists. I worry that there is
no evidence of philology [the study of texts] in his work.  In this he
doesn't seem very different in his methodology from the scholars whose
simple surface comparisons MW rightly criticizes. How much can we rely on
work that is built on the plundering of large numbers of dictionaries in
search of forms that have a [usually vaguely] approximate phonic and
semantic fit?

Many of us on this list are oriented to textual studies. Thus our
misgivings re Nostratic may be attributed to the natural conservatism of
philologists.  I find it rather ironic that MW,  accused recently of being
'closed minded' on this [the Indology] list, is here defending the new
field of Nostratic studies. Surely, he is displaying a more open mind in
this regard than I, for example, am able to.

I for one would like to hear what others think about the interesting issues
raised by MW and LMFosse.

George Thompson

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list