RE Nostratic theory
- Thanks for your further remarks Jim.
What you say about Nostratic theory, which certainly
makes sense to me and which I agree with, reminds me
of the situation faced by the so called String theorists
or even Einstein's long search for a unified field theory,
though many other examples could be adduced. Whether
we can flesh out an intuition always remains to be seen.
Where our knowledge ends there our phantasy begins,
where we cannot argue we speculate & conjecture.
The way hinted at by de Saussure is promising, similarly
some early results of the String theorists are promising.
People in both cases find it worth their while to pursue
these things even while some people wish to stress that
it is nearly Roman augury as a method. Mr Arnaud Fournet
for instance seems to be interested in developing further
de Saussure's point de depart - see his "La reconstruction
de l’indo-européen et la réalité du sémitique : convergences
et perspectives" (2007 ?) which available online at :
I come to my original question just from having noticed many
times apparent, stress apparent, connexions across IE and
Hamito-Semitic, connexions in form and meaning, where both
categories are, to be sure, labile & admitting of imprecisions.
What to make of these impressions of interrelatedness ? What
to make of impressions ? What to make of intuitions ? We are
not obliged to ignore such things, we can take an interest in them
Einstein never did find a final theory & most of his colleagues
didn't think he would. String theory may not unified particle
physics either but even more than Einstein's later work String
theory spawns all sorts and sundry results of interest too. I
am not in favour of being too prejudiced against the string
theorists that they resort to a kind of nebuloskepsis - only a
creative effort will bring about what they intuit - and I have
a similar feeling about the Nostraticists. Like the String
theorists they too would like to stumble or even reason their
way to a cogency against which none could avail themselves,
a persuasive demonstration, like what Faraday sought, for
example, through innumerable experiments, innumerable
hypotheses. How to conceptualize "electricity" ? There was
a time when nobody knew, didn't know anyway in any sense
we would recognize as critical. Is it some sort of fluid ?
some emanation of the aether ? All sorts of incorrect
presuppositions had to be ferretted out before the right
approach was found. When we lack a clear direction we
wander, meander, maunder &c and seek a direction - we
shant find it if we don't look for it, don't want to look
for it. Nostratic strikes me as too young to be properly
subjected to very stringent criticism - we don't critique
the infant learning to walk, or the child learning to spell,
that would destroy and wither the development critiqued.
Something small, weak, pretty defenseless should be
supported and nourished -- so I'm not against Nostratic
say any more than I am against the immense effort require
to figure out how to transit from crawling to walking. The
theory is an embryon, we shall have to see what it will
develop into -- my own feeling is that it is a promising
and pregnant field, the project itself interesting and
worthwhile. Mr Arnaud Fournet's aforementioned essay,
for instance, strengthens this evaluation in me.
I agree however completely with your concluding thought:
"It would be very interesting if Nostratic could be shown
to exist, but so far, the evidence does not convince."
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Friday, August 22, 2008 12:06 AM
Subject: Re: [ANE-2] RE RE further RE additions to tlenai, talal &c
My real concern about the whole Nostratic theory is that it grabs a root
here and a root there, often a root consisting of a CVC stem, and
relates them because of semantic categories. Too often, the initial
consonant is retained, or related (t-d, for instance) and the final
consonant usually a liquid or a nasal.
This is on a par with the fact that I have noticed some similarity to
the person-aspect markers in Cree and those in Hebrew, and declaring
that the Cree people speak a language 'related' to Hebrew.
My own feeling is that there might well be a Superfamily of Languages,
such as Nostratic, but that the presence or absence of such a family is
beyond the range of our speculations.
One of the interesting things about Indo-European, by the way, is that
for years people could see interesting reflexes in vowels among some
Indo-European languages, reflexes that did not seem to coincide in all
cases. In 1879, de Saussure proposed the first notion of laryngeals,
consonants that have disappeared in all Indo-European languages, but
leaving evidence behind.
The first "real" evidence for the existence of these laryngeals came in
the interpretation of Hittite, which showed a class of sounds which
could indeed be called laryngeals.
The thing to be required of the Nostratic theory is some kind of
explanation of why a certain sound appears several different ways,
sometimes in the same language. It need not always show the same
reflex, but there must be a reason why one reflex appears instead of
Sorry to go on so long at this.
It would be very interesting if Nostratic could be shown to exist, but
so far, the evidence does not convince.