>Glen I have difficulty with the Altaic family, as it seems to be
>a lot "loser" in form than do the other big groups [...]
>It also has similarities to Pama Nyungan in Australia, where
>links are seen as long established "trading connections" which
>have the effect of making the construction of a single phylogeny

True. I would be lying if I said that Altaic reconstruction
doesn't have issues that need to be further worked on. Justifying
the existence of Altaic though isn't logically problematic despite
differing opinions on what should be included and how/if it should
be reconstructed.

Whether we consider Tungus to be related to Japanese, or Korean
related to Mongolian, is one thing - a matter of individual
disagreements on what constitutes a genetic relationship. However,
there is surely a common core of words within Turkic, Mongolian,
ManchuTungus, Japanese and Korean that can be called "Proto-Altaic"
and this language most certainly was spoken somewhere in Central
Asia in some form or another.

We may continue to feel that Japanese, for example, is more
Austronesian than it is Altaic, if this titulates our fancy, but
this point is entirely trivial to the matter of Proto-Altaic. It
must be admitted that despite anything, Japanese still contains an
Altaic element (no matter how small) that can be validly compared
to other less contraversial branches of the family and we may still
reconstruct such an entity. Further, this entity appears to be
Nostratic and is an important factor in its own reconstruction.

>Bomhard devoted a whole section to the problem of Altaic, and if
>one includes Korean and Japanese within this family (as you seem to) this
>magnifies the problems significantly.

My personal hunch so far is that Korean split away from Altaic the
earliest and retains more archaicisms. Japanese, as we all know,
is a highly innovative language and was probably affected by a
native element. Overall though, I think the problems in Altaic
are exaggerated. What is _really_ gnawing at the roots of the field
is the lack of creative solutions combined with people who shouldn't
be reconstructing the language. Starostin and his reconstruction
of Altaic "three" word comes to mind as a great example of
linguistic alchemy.

Secondly, as for Altaic's relationship to Nostratic, I think that
the sound correspondances used so far are wrong. If the 2nd person
pronoun in other languages starts with *t- and we see that it
is *s- in Altaic, why does one insist on a *t=*t connection?
Why don't we acknowledge the sound correspondances from more
obvious connections such as this before accepting the ones from
more suspicious words like *kur'i? By doing this, I feel that
I've arrived at a better solution: Nostratic *t, *k and *p
have softened in PreAltaic (*s, *x, *f), while the ejectives
have become unvoiced stops and the voiced stops have remained
unchanged. So far, the Altaic cognates used in Bomhard's etymologies
are weak at best.

>Regarding the presence of a similar word for sheep in these
>languages, then I too would suspect that they are travelling loan words.

I don't think of any language as truely isolated, hidden away
in the mountains somewhere. Like most languages, and especially
for a language smack dab in the _center_ of Asia, Altaic must
have had other neighbours that influenced it. These neighbours
would have traded with the Altaic speaking peoples. Any
terminology denoting innovative things would more likely come
from the south. The fact that "sheep" looks similar in
both Dravidian and Altaic, without other real cognates in other
northern languages like Uralic or IndoEuropean (*ker- doesn't
count in my books), makes it look like a loanword more than
anything else.

- love gLeN

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