Re: [tied] Proto-Steppe Numerals

From: Piotr Gasiorowski
Message: 3392
Date: 2000-08-26

----- Original Message -----
From: "Glen Gordon" <glengordon01@...>
To: <>
Sent: Friday, August 25, 2000 11:42 PM
Subject: Re: [tied] Proto-Steppe Numerals

> >Piotr: But if you compare,
say, the numerals of PIE and Proto-Quechua, you'll
> > >find even
more spectacularly similar words for '5' and '6'; and if you
> > >take Proto-Austronesian and PIE, you'll find the correspondence >between
> >the words for '2' and '3' in both families quite literally too >good to be
> >true.
> Glen: This is such a
deceptive arguement. The geographical proximity between 
> Uralic
and Mongolic can hardly be compared to the other pairs you mention -
this only serves to make their relationship seem more likely. This combined
> with common grammatical particles, vocabulary and grammar shared
> Uralic and Mongolic that show regular sound correspondances,
besides just
> "three" and "four", makes the link even more persuasive.
Many sources even
> admit to the probability that Altaic and Uralic are
related (unlike your IE
> and Quechua/Austronesian pseudohypothesis that
only serves to confuse the
> issue here)
> Thus, when we
have a pair of numerals that correlate perfectly between two
> language
groups already suspected of being related, we have to sit up and
> take
However, Glen, geographical proximity also increases the possibility of borrowing. Also, the match is rather less than perfect and holds between Mongolic and Finno-Ugric rather than Altaic and Uralic.

> >Piotr: By "reaching down",
i.e. using forms not from proto-languages but from
> > >their
arbitrarily chosen daughters you depart from the normal
> >procedure of
the comparative method and greatly increase the >probability
> >of
a chance match, as in Greenberg's mass comparison (especially when you
> >work with very short roots such as *ra or *na).
> The theory
has evolved. Only "six" can now be said to be a "short" root.
> Secondly,
I don't arbitrarily choose daughters and "reach down" - you're
> creating
myths. The attestations that I select are ones that show up in more
than one language family (hence its hardly arbitrary). They also show
regular sound changes which I'm beginning to understand more and more.
I'd apreciate a more detailed account of the sound changes in question plus some good comparative material to substantiate them. Without that, how can I see that they are regular? I'd have to take your word for it. If you have it all on paper, publish it on you website by all means, and make sure it's something more solid than the equations proposed by Bomhard, let alone Dolgopolsky. As for reaching down, I gave concrete examples. If you select the one daughter that seems to have a potential cognate of a word attested elsewhere (and ignore all the sister branches), you ARE reaching down. A reliable etymology should link more than just a couple of nodes in a large family tree. Non-robust agreement may well be accidental.

> >Piotr: Your admission that
there is NO ATTESTATION AT ALL for the >reconstructed
> >numeral
'8' is staggering. [...] As a matter of fact, >you abandon the
> >comparative method entirely in this case and simply >project your
> >form onto Proto-Steppe by "inverted >reconstruction".
[...] as far as I can
> >see, the corresponding >Sumerian,
Dravidian and Afroasiatic numerals (if
> >reconstructable at
> >all) can hardly be cognates. From what evidence and by what esoteric
> > >method did you distil your Nostratic reconstruction then? The
answer >is
> >the same as before: you project a still more ancient
(Dene->Caucasian) form
> >onto Nostratic -- ALL THE TIME WITHOUT A
> Glen: Du calme, monsieur. I knew that
this numeral would ire you. First the
> logical assumption is that there
must have been some word for "eight" in
> ProtoSteppe if so many of the
others appear to be reconstructable. Thus I
> provided the likeliest
reconstruction that I could come up with at the time.
> Given
that you haven't even asked for the "shadow of evidence" but rather
simply went straight for an emotional conclusion makes it appear that you
> are more interested in biased sentiment rather than rational thought.
Glen, I had asked for the "shadow of evidence" before and you said very clearly there was no attestation within Steppe (well, I fished some out for you). In reconstructing Steppe forms, only internal evidence counts, and bottom-up projections from remoter (and even more conjectural) proto-languages are irrelevant. As for the ad hominem part, ego te absolvo if you do the same. Regarding the Dravidian, Egyptian and Semitic reflexes of *munri, I'd like to see more concrete information, something I can evaluate. "Might be" is not enough AFAI'm concerned.
> Glen: Finally, in Nostratic itself, outside of Steppe, *munri might be attested in
> Semitic, Egyptian and
Dravidian. And yes, you're right, Nivkh /minr/ is an
> attestation of
Steppe *munra. I lost track of the Nivkh numerals in my head.
You're welcome.

> >Piotr: If you relax it ad hoc
(as you do for the numerals '3' and '4' in your
> > >response), you
sabotage your own project. In the case at hand you make
> > >things
far worse by relaxing semantic constraints at the same time, as
> > >when you allow the '5' word for to mean '4' or '6' (even with so much
> > >latitude you can't get an unambiguos reconstruction for '5'
and have >to
> >be content with two different forms in free
> Glen: The theory has adapted. The term for five is
now securely *kit:u which
> regularly changes to Altaic *t  through
vowel harmony rules and softening
> of the voiceless stop *k. The Uralic
phonetic deviation is caused by an
> early association between the pairs
"one"/"two" and "five"/"six".
> IndoTyrrhenian *kWetWe (expected **ketWe)
would naturally have been affected
> by the surrounding labiovelar
enriched numerals *kWel "three" (Etr. ci) and
> *penkWe "five", as well
as "four"'s own final labial *tW. Why, it would be a
> miracle if it ever
came out **ketWe under these circumstances!
You don't quite address my objection. I'm not saying that irregular development is unthinkable, but that its assumption destroys a case based on weak evidence anyway.

> >Piotr: Your protoword for '5'
) develops the meaning '4' in >one
> >branch (Indo-Tyrrhenian) and
'6' in another (Uralic). Oritur
> >quaestio, dominus Glen: is there a
Steppe branch in which it means >just
> >what it's supposed to
mean? Your answer is "Altaic" -- but in >actual fact
> >you only
mention Old Japanese. Let's look at the words >for '5' elsewhere
> >in Altaic: Mongolic *tabun, Tunguzic *tuNga, Korean >tast, Old Turkic
> >No good.
> What are you talking about Piotr??
The words are indeed attested in Middle
> Mongolian ta-bun (cf. qur-ban,
do"r-ban, etc!!). It is also present in
> Tungusic! Korean has /ta-sot/
for *i"ti" just as it has /yo-sot/ for *ru,
> both with the -sot
termination! Of course, Turkic has nothing to do with
More detail please. How exactly do you derive these Altaic forms? Is *t the only tangible trace of *kit:u/*kWut:u? This degree of phonetic reduction may be convenient for establishing tentative connections but the evidential value of the material so reduced shrinks dramatically.

> >Piotr:
face="Courier New" size=2> I understand your private methodology well enough to see that it's
> > >self-defeating. By saying that it's better to
reconstruct ANYTHING
> > >rather than nothing at all you ignore the
distinction between a >serious
> >proposal and unfounded
> Piotr, aside from being highly bias in favor of
the mainstream status quo of
> complete ignorance and agnostism regarding
prehistoric stages of
> reconstruction which only works against advancing
knowledge, you also
> misunderstand that this theory isn't the end of
things but a tentative
> proposal, as I keep saying. It will adapt as it
already has and because of
> this, your statements are only founded for
the current stage of this theory
> which has already changed somewhat...
so keep arguing :)
You bet I will. I also understand that your theory is a tentative proposal (what theory isn't?), but I gave you my reasons for believing that a tentative proposal should also meet certain reasonable standards. If it doesn't, people will reject it out of hand even if you threaten to insult them.
> Piotr:
> >This is a
misunderstanding of scientific methodology. The null >hypothesis
> >must always be as conservative as possible in order to
> >exclude
unwarranted inferences. Thus, you can't start by ASSUMING that >the
> >Steppe families are related and what remains to discovered is just >HOW
> >they are related.
> The Steppe hypothesis is not
much of an assumption. I validly judge
> relatedness based on the
commonalities of grammatical systems. The Steppe
> languages all exhibit
certain specific characteristics that distinguish them
> from other
languages of the Old/New World.
Well, I promise to review the commonalities you list on your website. It'll take a little time as I'm busy at the moment, but I won't forget. Perhaps it's a good place for reminding you of a few threads you didn't take up in the past:
Glen: ... The evidence so far IS weak. This is because the ones that are competent enough to provide solid evidence have thrown the Nostratic Hypothesis out the window because it is too taboo and "weak" for their liking, rather than actually honestly examining the connections and putting aside irrelevant failures in the past by lunatic amateurs. We all know how political linguistics can be. <snip> ... </snip> Still, I maintain that the lack of success regarding the Nostratic Hypothesis stems mainly from apathy and politics more than anything. I hate to see this go on.
Piotr: Attributing unspecified political motives to your opponents is a very political thing to do -- a mere rhetorical trick, and a very unfair one at that, just like insinuating that anyone who disagrees with you must be dumb, lazy or apathetic. Many serious linguists do consider it worth their time and effort to take a look at the Nostratic hypothesis. The connections you mention have been examined time and time again by competent specialists. Several serious international meetings have been organised solely in order to discuss the evidence for and against Nostratic -- such as the 1998 "Symposium on the Nostratic Macrofamily" at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge University, where the finely balanced list of participants included *both* Nostratic veterans (A.R. Bomhard, V. Shevoroshkin, A. Dolgopolsky) plus other long-range comparatists (S.A. Starostin, C. Ehret), *and* dyed-in-the-wool splitters (L. Campbell, A. Kaye). R.L. Trask's conclusion more or less sums up my own feelings about the discussion:
"Consequently, I am not persuaded. In my view, the linguistic evidence in front of us does not add up to a substantial case for the reality of a Proto-Nostratic parent language which gave rise to a vast family of languages. Naturally, I am not flatly rejecting the Nostratic proposal. When further evidence becomes available for Professor Dolgopolsky's proposal, I will try to evaluate it as fairly as i can. For now, though, I must remain a sceptic."

Glen:... Nonetheless, the grammatical relationship IS there if we care to look and put two and two together. I've already made some connections such as the common use of interrogative stems *mi- and *kWi- (cf Uralic *mi- "who?", *ku- "what?"), which in themselves, along with demonstrative stems, show an early animate/inanimate gender contrast as we find in IE, the subjective/objective conjugation, etc. I've already outlined a common Steppe grammar to begin understanding where I'm coming from.
Piotr: Unfortunately, in Uralic the K-set refers to humans (Hungarian ki, Finnish kuka 'who?') and the M-set to "things" (Hungarian mi, Finnish mikä 'what?'). I wonder how you explain this mismatch between Uralic and Proto-Steppe.
> Piotr:
> >Such a proposition could never be falsified, for it cannot be proved >that
> >two languages are unrelated: the evidence of their genetic >relationship
> >may have been obliterated by historical change. The >initial null
> >hypothesis must assume their NON-relatedness --only then >can we hope to
> >make some progress by trying to falsify it.
> Glen:...but how do we falsify NON-relatedness, Piotr? That seems frankly like a
> fruitless game in itself.
How? By showing beyond reasonable doubt that observable systematic resemblances are genetic rather than areal or accidental. It can be done. If the game were fruitless, there would be no IE reconstruction; and if you yourself believed it to be fruitless, why the heck should you be wasting your time playing it?
A null hypothesis is always the boring down-to-earth alternative to exciting speculation. If a scientist assumes that the current null hypothesis is true, he does so -- or at least should do so -- not as a dogmatic conservative who'd gladly lay his life for the status quo, but for the sake of the argument, as the devil's advocate. Even you should be exercising scepticism with one half of your mind while the other half is doing stratospheric flights of fancy. The question "How can I be sure I'm not imagining things?" can't be asked too often.

Go on, Glen, by all means. Whatever you make of my views, I like challengers and hate stagnation.