Re: About methodology...

From: John Croft
Message: 3477
Date: 2000-08-30

Piotr writing about the IE experience stated
> We can see the IE family as a something tree-like only because,
first, its late Neolithic expansion favoured split-and-divergence
processes (and it was only more recently that convergence began to
eat away at the differences); secondly, there has been some "weeding
out" in the process and a number of tiny branches have disappeared
leaving about a dozen "crown clades"; but even so the tree is far
from orderly. What sort of entity is Italo-Celtic or Balto-Slavic,
for example? Most of the "nodes" in the tree are artifacts of out
analytic methods. Don't pretend you don't realise how fuzzy the
reconstructable PIE node itself is.
> Since the time-depths in are modest in the case of IE and other
well-visible families, the comparative method yield fairly good
results and gives us a fair approximation of the diachronic
developments. It's much worse for Nostratic and other large-scale
projects involving IE. Ringe finds that only in the case of IE and
Finno-Ugric (he didn't use Samoyedic data) do the observed
correspondences MARGINALLY rise above the background noise level. For
Nostratic (and, incidentally, Finno-Ugric versus the three "core"
subfamilies of Altaic) his simulations show that the
observed "regularities" are indistinguishable from chance. His
methodology has been furiously attacked by Nostraticists, but what
else would you expect them to do?

I know that the School of Pacific Linguistics at the Ausralian
National University has more or less given up in trying to create
a "tree" structure of Aboriginal Languages in the Pama Nyungan
family. Nyungar, the language of the South West (where I live) has
linguistic connections of equal measure (another Wiru situation of
about a 60-40 split) between the Yamatji language groups to the north
(40) and the Wangkai language groups to the east (60). However, due
to the fact that Nyungar has extant cultural memories that can be
traced to the late glacial sea level changes (at least 8,000 BCE),
with memories of extinct megafauna (15,000 BCE) and local geological
changes (up to 60,000 BCE), and have been living in the same spots
since 39,500 BCE (with an unbroken culture), one wonders if a tree
level would work at all.

Back to the tangled branches.