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[cybalist] Re: Computational Historical Linguistics

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  • Glen Gordon
    ... Your views sound perfectly normal. The wave model is a good view of how a dialects within an area can influence each other with special developments. It s
    Message 1 of 5 , Apr 1, 2000
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      >I think that what I am saying is not so different from the currently
      >accepted views in the field of historical linguistics. [...] Forcing
      > >linguistic evolution to fit a "branching tree" model
      >is truly a Procrustean exercise. It seems to me just an example how
      >sophisticated mathematics can be abused, to give an aura of >"exactness"
      >which obfuscates rather than enlightens.

      Your views sound perfectly normal. The wave model is a good view of how a
      dialects within an area can influence each other with special developments.
      It's true too that the tree model is not exactly the best way to think of
      language change since languages obviously don't suddenly "split" apart at
      some precise time like 5:34 PM EST :)

      However, I think tree diagrams are still a good way to get a handle on
      linguistic relationships at a glance. A wave model diagram needs a longer
      examination to understand the relationships. But while we're on this
      subject, I'd kill for a good representation of a wave model represented on a
      geographical map showing hypothetical IE dialect borders. I can't seem to
      find any at my impoverished library.

      >P.S. I would also be interested on peoples' ideas on the
      >Germano-Balto-Slavic "m" in the dat.ins. pl. cases, vs. the "bh" in >the
      >rest of IE.

      Well, like you say, the wave model explains this well as a local innovation.
      Perhaps influenced by the gen.pl.?

      - gLeN

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    • Gregory L. Eyink
      ... understood (so far as I understand it) is that Don Ringe et al s work is producing ROOTLESS trees. When they proclaim Old English s location on this tree,
      Message 2 of 5 , Apr 3, 2000
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        --- In cybalist@egroups.com, "Mark Odegard" <markodegard@h...> wrote:
        > The topic has been talked to death elsewhere. What has to be
        understood (so far as I understand it) is that Don Ringe et al's work
        is producing ROOTLESS trees. When they proclaim Old English's location
        on this tree, they are being somewhat tongue-in-cheek: they are
        reporting what their computer runs turn out.



        Dear Mark,

        Thank you for your comment. I am unaware of these other discussions.
        Are they online? Do you have URL's?

        I understand that their algorithm produces rootless trees. What I am
        really questioning is the value and meaning of such a model, HOWEVER
        it is produced. If an evolutionary biologist has a theory of bird
        origins which postulates that the maniraptorian clade divided into
        aves, dromaeosaurs, troodontids, therizinosaurs,and oviraptors, then
        he may or may not be correct, but I know exactly what he means.
        According to the papers at the Upenn website they propose that the
        tree model should apply to linguistic families which are
        geographically spreading, so that separating members should no longer
        interact. Fine. However, when the UPenn tree shows that
        Germano-Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian divided from a common ancestor,
        what does this really mean? If I take their model literally, then one
        must assume that either (i) Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic
        independently underwent a satemic shift or (ii) the satem shift
        occurred in the common proto-language and Germanic underwent a
        retrograde centum shift! (Very unlikely phonologically.) It is not
        just an issue with the placement of Germanic either. For example,
        Armenian also has satemic features. The proper conclusion really seems
        to be that the tree model is just not a valid representation of
        linguistic facts for the IE family. I still don't see the value
        of using fancy mathematics to "correctly" produce a bad model!
        This linguistic theory produces contradictions whose explanation
        requires going outside the tree model itself, e.g. invoking areal
        change, or wave theory.

        >
        > Essentially, all they are saying is that OE (which is NOT a satem
        language) is nonetheless best placed inside the group which did
        undergo satemization. The literature I've read says there are
        incompletely explained peculiarities in Germanic which largely
        disappear if you posit a strong genetic (but pre-satemic) relationship
        with the B-S and I-I branches.
        >


        The UPenn group certainly emphasizes the anomalous position of
        Germanic in construction of the optimal tree. For example, they have
        found that if they removed Germanic from the tree construction, then
        they obtained a "perfect phylogeny", i.e. a tree for which all
        linguistic characters employed were compatible. But does this mean
        that this "perfect" tree should be regarded as having established
        validity of the tree concept, and representing an historic fact?
        There are many aspects of the "perfect" tree that are still very
        controversial. For example, it supports the existence of a
        Greco-Armenian proto-language. Yet very credible arguments have been
        presented against such an hypothesis, e.g. by James Clackson in his
        1994 Oxford monograph, "The Linguistic Relationship Between Armenian
        and Greek." There is a lot hidden in the UPenn results in terms
        of the linguistic characters employed and the values assigned to
        compatibilities.


        > Much of what they are doing seems to be 'tinkering'. They are
        attempting to find those linguistic features which can accurately
        predict known relationships, and then apply the same methodology to
        unknown relationships. One can only wish them success.

        I wish any honest scientist well. I certainly did not intend my
        remarks to be "nasty", just an honest criticism. However, my negative
        remarks are a reaction against what I see as the UPenn's group
        tendency to "oversell" their method, or to "intimidate" with
        sophisticated mathematics. An example: In their IRCS report they claim
        that one of the important results of their methodology is "the ability
        to detect and handle loanwords that are not distinguishable from
        cognates by traditional methods." This sounds really wonderful, right?
        Isn't it great that they can feed well-known linguistic data into
        their miraculous mathematical machine and get such striking
        conclusions as the output? However, an examination of their work shows
        otherwise. The above claim is based upon their difficulty in fitting
        Germanic into the tree. They found that using linguistic characters
        based upon phonology and morphology gave the tree in with Germanic
        was
        grouped with Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic. However, if they used
        characters based upon vocabulary, then Germanic was best grouped with
        Italo-Celtic. To explain the discrepancy, they THEORIZED a non-tree
        effect: that Germanic at an early stage had borrowed much of the
        distinctive common Western vocabulary (e.g. Goth. `fisks', Lat.
        `piscis', OIr. `iasc') from Italo-Celtic. This is not an automatic
        output of their mathematical apparatus, but an independent speculation
        on their part. It is also not the only possible explanation
        (e.g. the items in question could be independent borrowings
        from a western-European pre-IE substrate.) What the example really
        shows, again, is that the tree model breaks down. If the underlying
        linguistic theory of separate development were correct, then it
        wouldn't matter which set of linguistic characters were employed
        (phonological-morphological vs. vocabulary) and the same tree would
        result. The fact that it doesn't just means that the tree model is
        insufficient.

        I can see some value in using the UPenn algorithms as a way of testing
        the limits of validity of the tree model. I see a lot of their
        conclusions as being not so different from what traditional linguistic
        methods have produced using the same data, but perhaps better
        quantified. For example, it could be useful to have "compatibility
        scores" for different possible trees, or to see that different trees
        result from different linguistic characters. This would all be
        valuable if used correctly. However, this is not the UPenn attitude.
        They take it as a CRITICISM of lexicostatistics that the
        "best-informed mathematical linguist who attempted such work makes
        notably modest and reserved claims for the method." Instead, they make
        very arrogant and overblown claims for theirs. They claim to "resolve
        longstanding open problems" such as the Indo-Hittite and Italo-Celtic
        hypotheses. They boast that their method "has been able to construct
        a robust evolutionary tree of the IE languages" whereas "traditional
        methods failed." This is just not honest.
      • Gregory L. Eyink
        ... innovation. ... Dear Glen, Thanks for the suggestion. What I have always found perplexing is the change /bh/ to /m/, which is not a regular phonological
        Message 3 of 5 , Apr 3, 2000
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          --- In cybalist@egroups.com, "Glen Gordon" <glengordon01@h...> wrote:
          >

          > >P.S. I would also be interested on peoples' ideas on the
          > >Germano-Balto-Slavic "m" in the dat.ins. pl. cases, vs. the "bh" in
          >the
          > >rest of IE.
          >
          > Well, like you say, the wave model explains this well as a local
          innovation.
          > Perhaps influenced by the gen.pl.?
          >
          > - gLeN
          >

          Dear Glen,

          Thanks for the suggestion. What I have always found perplexing
          is the change /bh/ to /m/, which is not a regular phonological
          transformation from IE in any of these languages (although we
          see /b/ mutating to /m/ elsewhere in IE under certain situations,
          such as Gk. 'brotos' or the OIr. 'mna^h', genitive of 'ben'.)
          Thus, it doesn't seem to be strictly a phonological change,
          but perhaps analogical, etc. Your suggestion of an influence
          from the genitive plural is exactly the type of idea I was
          looking for. Is there any reason, based upon semantics, that
          the genitive should influence the dative or instrumental?
          The genitive seems more closely aligned with the ablative
          semantically (and was often combined with it in the daughter
          languages). Of course, the /bh/ occurs also in ablative plurals.

          Greg
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