Comparative linguistics

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Sat Mar 18 03:57:30 UTC 2000

P K Manansala  (below)
again raises topics on this list that are well known and have been
discussed *forever*.

Historical linguists rely on the rules of regular sound change from one
stage of a language to the next, which allows to posit and prove regular
correspondences of sounds between related languages (the Neogrammarians of
130 years ago: "Lautgesetze")

However, they also knew that these rules can *occasionally* be contravened
by local developments in the MEANING of the word concerned, by import of
dialect forms into the standard language, etc. Such items stick out like a
sore thumb, and they are readily discovered and discussed by linguists.
Often, even explained.

PKM again takes a restricted case in order to show the invalidity of the
whole system. Non licet. Most IE/IIr/IA exceptions can be explained
already. Further (sub)sub-rules still are there to be discovered. Which
people do all of the time. Indo-Europeanists would be out of
work by now, otherwise.

Each leap in this particular science, such as the discovery of laryngeals
(actual proof in written!!! Hittit; pace S.S. Misra), has further
streamlined and simplified the basic description of the Proto-language, or
to speak like a Mathematician: each further step has made the formulations
more succinct and "more beautiful".

Much less is "hidden" here than PKM assumes. Why doesn't he study
'traditional' comp.
ling. in action?

Instead of telling us his 130 years OLD 'new discoveries':

PK Manansala:
>> I submit that we have to exercise extraordinary caution in trying to be
>>definitive about sound changes; as Jules Bloch found out in evaluating
>>the> Mara_t.hi_ language evolution, semantics over-ride phonetics.

>sound changes can occur within a language which are contrary to the
>sound changes from the proto-language. These can occur with sets of
>words or even a single word and in many cases the reasons for these
>changes would be hidden to historical linguists.


Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit & Indian Studies, Harvard University
2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138

ph. 617-496 2990 (also messages)
home page:

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