Re: [tied] Speculation and the Googoo Hypothesis

From: Piotr Gasiorowski
Message: 5206
Date: 2000-12-29


Like all other universal preferences, the tendential
association of sound with function can easily be overriden.
It does have statistical validity, though counterexamples
like those in your posting are easy to find. The phonetic
encoding of meaning is in principle arbitrary. Even highly
marked segments may occasionally occur in grammatical
morphemes, but that won't happen very often. One could say
that unmarked segments have a selective edge on other
consonants in this environment.

Big and small things are often contrasted using back versus
front vowels (and/or coronal versus labial or dorsal
consonants), the volume of the oral cavity symbolising size,
as in itsy-bitsy or teeny-weeny versus boom or googol. This
correlation is, I suppose, intuitively obvious, though any
number of counterexamples resulting from historical accident
could be quoted.

To give a more iconic example, the word for a cuckoo is very
often something like /kuku/, though it isn't completely
predictable and in fact could very well be something else,
cf. Germanic *gaukaz. Now *gauk- is indeed an arbitrary
name, so if any other group shows a "cuckoo" word relatable
to *gauk- (*gHoug-?), it will very likely be a cognate. But
the onomatopoeic *kuku- is extralinguistically motivated and
so had better be ignored or at least used with utmost
caution in demonstrating relatedness. The same holds for
*mama- and other nursery noises.

Nobody says that any 1sg pronoun _must_ contain a nasal, but
they _do_ contain nasals often enough for linguists to
wonder why that should be the case. I gave the example of
proto-Bantu *mi-, and there are plenty of New World examples
(discussed at length in Campbell 1997 [American Indian
Languages: the Historical Linguistics of Native America.
Oxford: OUP]). There's nothing "bow-wow" or "goo-goo" about
this phenomenon.

This is not to say that pronouns are useless when language
relationships are discussed. But they should be used with
more caution than shown by Bomhard or Dolgopolsky (they both
explicitly insist that pronoun resemblances of the "mi/ti"
kind are particularly strong indicators of genetic
relatedness). Whatever one thinks of the validity of
Nostratic, I'm sure you agree that Ruhlen's or Ryan's
Proto-World pronominal systems hardly deserve to be
discussed at all.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Glen Gordon" <glengordon01@...>
To: <>
Sent: Thursday, December 28, 2000 9:47 PM
Subject: [tied] Speculation and the Googoo Hypothesis

> Hakan:
> >Let's start with an example. If we made a list of
demonstrative >pronouns
> >from a large number of languages from all continents,
>perhaps they would
> >look vaguely similar, not because they are all >related
to Patrick Ryan's
> >distant Proto-World language, but because >they are all
"pointing sounds",
> >sounds that are typical of humans who >want to point
something out. [...]
> >And if we follow this line of thought, could any idea or
meaning be
> > >connected to just about any sound? Or are certain ideas
and meanings
> > >predisposed to be associated with certain sounds
because of the way >all
> >humans think and feel?
> With the demonstrative example, there isn't just one or
two sounds that can
> make demonstratives:
> Cantonese gogo, digo
> Mandarin zheige, neige
> Etruscan eca, eta
> IndoEurop. *e, *se, *to, *yo-
> Chechen d`a-
> The last example is something I love so much because it
shatters the
> backgrounding principle as do many NorthEast Caucasian
langauges. Teehee.
> Even when taking backgrounding into account though, the
possibilities for a
> demonstrative form are still quite abundant. I don't find
the backgrounding
> arguement terribly discouraging in regards to long-range
> >Could the pronouns "I" and "you" be represented by just
any sounds
> You're treading on the now-dead "googoo" theory, if I'm
not mistaken... or
> is it the "bowwow" theory... maybe it was the "gaga"
theory... oh well, you
> get the idea. Not very well respected anymore (if it ever
was). This list of
> first person pronouns should sway you away from this
terrible hypothesis
> once and for all. Here's what I remember off the top of my
> Chechen /so/
> Latin /ego/
> French /je/
> Spanish /yo/
> Finnish /min/
> Turkish /ben/
> Japanese /watashi, watakushi, atashi,
> Mandarin /wo/
> Cantonese /ngo, o/
> Ojibway /nin/
> Tagalog /ako/
> Khinalug /z /
> Avar /dun/
> Swahili /u-/
> ... As you can see, just about ANY initial phoneme exists
for 1ps stems. The
> belief that /m-/ is THE sound for the 1ps pronoun is a
> dillusion, thought up by pseudolinguists who knew very
little about world
> languages and only spoke IndoEuropean languages where *me
is common.
> Phonemes that might be associated with the 2ps are just as
numerous and so I
> won't bore you with another long and varied list.
> This is another reason why backgrounding hardly serves to
undermine the
> validity of Nostratic linguistics or the worth-while
effort of long-range
> linguistics. Unfortunately, the validity of Nostratic
linguistics is often
> undermined just fine by the Nostraticists themselves (Oh
my! Did I say
> that?! Naughty boy, I am) :)
> A "Happy New Year" is comin' back atcha, Hak! And to all a
good night.
> - gLeN