Re: [tied] Re: Metathesis - The armchair linguist's favourite tool

From: Piotr Gasiorowski
Message: 7965
Date: 2001-07-19

"Laryngeal metathesis" has a technical meaning in IE studies. It has been proposed that roots of the type *CeH- with *-i- and *-u- "extensions" formed nil grades like *CiH-/*CuH- (beside expected *CHi-/*CHu-). This device was invented mainly in order to account for alternations like *po:-/*pi:-/*poi- 'drink' or *dHe:-/*dHi:-/*dHei-/*dHoi- 'suck(le)' (allegedly *peh3(-i)-/*pih3-, *dHeh1(-i)-/*dHih1-). My own (published) analysis of such alternations does not make use of laryngeal metathesis (or variation between unextended and extended roots) and explains them as regular phonological developments of pre-laryngeal diphthongs. Metathesis involving laryngeals probably happened sporadically just like metathesis involving other types of segments, but some linguists tend to employ it as a universal problem-solving technique -- which is all too easy, as laryngeals are attested sparsely and often indirectly, and can't protest if you shuffle them to and fro. My opinion is that reconstructions should not manipulate laryngeals more freely than other segments.
As for "mass (or multilateral) comparison" (as opposed to the standard comparative method), it basically consists in collecting vocabulary lists for many languages and running eyeballing comparisons in the hope of detecting similarities that might be due to common descent rather than chance or other factors (the practitioners of the method usually argue that the observed cannot be attributed be due to chance if they are "sufficiently" numerous). Crucially, regular sound correspondences are not required, nor is it necessary to account for the derivation and history of each "matching" form. This means that the basic requirements of the comparative method are relaxed and there are no formal controls on what counts as a "resemblance". These aspects of the method are what its critics most often emphasise.
----- Original Message -----
From: tgpedersen@...
Sent: Thursday, July 19, 2001 11:43 AM
Subject: [tied] Re: Metathesis - The armchair linguist's favourite tool

That's all very interesting. What I would like to know, does anyone
know how likely metathesis involving laryngeals is to occur (based on
fact, please)?
And does anyone have a working definition of "mass comparison" (as
opposed to?)?