May 17, 2013

'Eurasian' language macro-family or just another bluff?

Andrew (at his blog) leads me to this interesting criticism by Sally Thomason of the much fabled study about a supposed new language macro-family including the most unlikely Eurasian languages such as Dravidian, Indoeuropean and "Eskimo" (sic). 

The original paper by Mark Pagel et al. proposes that a reduced core of 23 words are "ultraconserved", allowing them to formulate their hypothesis only on them (totally substandard even for the more generous mass-comparison approach). 

When Thomason looks at the raw data she finds that of the 23 words, only 2 have consensual proto-words in Altaic, for example, all the rest having several alternatives, of which Pagel and co. cherry-picked this or that one with the sole criterion of the convenience for their speculation. 

Never mind that Altaic, as defined in that database of Starostian inspiration, includes Japonic and Koreanic, something nowadays essentially discarded. 

Also the attribute of ultraconservation, foundation for the Pagel hypothesis, is challenged by Thomason, who finds that only 6 or 7 words of the 23 are conserved from Proto-Indoeuropean into English, a very low rate considering that English vocabulary is overwhelmingly of Indoeuropean origins (be them Germanic, Old French or some other variant).

In other words and in French: rien de rien; nothing at all worth the media hype that the Pagel paper has achieved... in the short run.

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