Altaica.

Monumenta altaica is a cornucopia of everything Altaic-related; the site language is Russian, but if you look down the books and articles page you’ll see plenty of titles in other languages, e.g.,G. Doerfer, Türkische und Mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen (3 vols.); V. Drimba, Syntaxe Comane; S. E. Martin, Dagur Mongolian: Grammar, Text, and Lexicon; and Nicholas Poppe, Introduction to Altaic Linguistics. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. SFReader says:

    Whitman’s article on Korean and Japanese origins there looks extremely interesting

    “This scenario is couched within the general hypothesis of a diffusion of agriculture from the area around the Shandong peninsula to the north and east. According to the scenario, Japonic arrives in the Korean peninsula around 1500 BCE and is brought to the Japanese archipelago by the Yayoi expansion around 950 BCE. On this view, the language family associated with both Mumun and Yayoi culture is Japonic, although the association of a culture in the archaeological sense with a single language family is almost certainly an oversimplification.
    Koreanic arrives in the south-central part of the Korean peninsula around 300 BCE with the advent of the Korean style bronze dagger culture. Its speakers coexist with the descendants of Mumun cultivators, and thus with Japonic, well into the common era. ”

    So the Japanese are actually original Koreans and Koreans are invaders from Manchuria?

  2. Just don’t say that in Japan!

  3. elessorn says:

    I don’t know, you can always find crazies if you look, but speculation about prehistoric Korean-Japanese links is pretty boilerplate in Japan, at least.

  4. On the topic of Japonic and Koreanic – in general linguistic writing I still see a lot of references to Altaic that characterize Micro-Altaic as the most plausible version, but my (dilettantish) impression is that nowadays most Altaicists see J and K as integral parts of the hypothesis, with Micro being deprecated.

  5. “So the Japanese are actually original Koreans and Koreans are invaders from Manchuria?”

    That would be at least as hard for Koreans to swallow as for Japanese, or maybe harder as elessorn says.

    I saw some lexical comparisons between the Goguryeo language and Old Japanese that looked reasonable, at least to this non-specialist, and I expect the consensus will settle on a Japonic presence on the peninsula. That still leaves a lot of troublesome questions. Why is the greatest diversity in Japonic in Okinawa and the surrounding islands. Can it really all be due to leveling in the home islands?

    This puts me in mind of wider affiliations for these groups. Manchuria is not the only possible urheimat for Korean. the area immediately north of Shandong was not always Chinese speaking and some group of eastern Yi were in conflict with the Chinese state all the way back in Shang times. They or someone who inherited that name claimed to be descended form Yi, the archer, who also happens to be connected to the Koreans as well as being claimed as the ancestors of the Hmong. If that sounds like too big a geographic spread, it’s not. The Chu state had a Hmongic substrate, at least in language (Hubei dialects show Hmongic lexical material) it was snugged up against the Chinese states, and it was old, supposedly being started by a descendant of the Yellow Emperor.

    I get the impression that Hmongic is not a bustling hive of activity, and still less proto-Hmongic, but someday someone may look at Korean-Hmongic comparisons and find something.

  6. A bit late to this party, but: honestly, it’s no longer really fair to make jokes about Japanese linguists bristling at the idea of a Korean connection. In fact the broad outlines of Whitman’s paper (the Japonic languages are the surviving end of a family that once spread across both the Japanese archipelago and the Korean peninsula, but was replaced in the latter by the ancestor to what would become Korean) are very widely accepted among actual linguists as far as I can tell.

    So why does everyone keep insisting that Japanese (or Japonic-as-a-family) is an isolate? Because as far as historical linguistics goes, unless you have correspondences, it doesn’t matter how much archaeological evidence you have, how much reasoning you do from first principles, or how many analogous situations you can invoke. You can’t just say “look, it’s obviously related to a now extinct Korean language, that’s the only plausible scenario and there are a bunch of sort of Japanese-y looking archaic placenames in Korea too” and handwave away the actual demonstration of regular correspondences between those placenames and Japanese words.

    And it’s not that people haven’t tried to demonstrate up these correspondences. They have! But so far, no-one’s hypothesis has been robust or convincing enough to shift the balance of opinion. Maybe that’s just because of the paucity of data — but so what? If you don’t have enough data to prove something, is the answer really to lower the bar on what constitutes a proof? That way lies a lot of bad science.

    I understand that it’s very frustrating for the lumpers. It does seem really, really obvious where Japanese came from. It would suck if there just isn’t enough evidence left to prove the linguistic connection and we remain at this impasse forever. But on the other hand, the splitters also have a point. A lot of people have invested a lot of time into proving some kind of relationship on linguistic grounds, and they haven’t succeeded. Drawing the conclusion that it’s still too early to declare the linguistic aspects of the matter settled is perfectly reasonable under the circumstances.

  7. If you can’t make jokes about Japanese bristling at the idea of a Korean connection, the terrorists have won. That said, I take your point and thank you for an extremely interesting comment!

  8. So why does everyone keep insisting that Japanese (or Japonic-as-a-family) is an isolate?

    Because historical linguistics is a 19C science at heart, and lives by 19C attitudes about how to do science. Which is a Bad Thing.

    If you don’t have enough data to prove something, is the answer really to lower the bar on what constitutes a proof? That way lies a lot of bad science.

    As David M and Marie-Lucie have pointed out here many times, ‘proof’ is not a concept that Real Scientists use. Proof/no-proof is an overly rigid distinction useful for jury verdicts, mathematics, and creationism. Actual science keeps the strength of a scientific belief proportional to the strength of the evidence, saying “Membership of Japonic in Altaic is weakly supported”.

  9. Point taken, it’s not a binary on/off thing. I don’t think that affects the overall issue, though: No matter how much extralinguistic support there is for a hypothesis about the relationship between two languages, it’s not unreasonable for linguists to insist that the hypothesis also include some convincing linguistic arguments before they accept it (“agree that it is strongly supported”) as a meaningful hypothesis about that relationship.

  10. J. W. Brewer says:

    But below a certain level of probability/evidentiary-strength, why isn’t the Real Science Answer “we don’t know, and perhaps may never know,” because there is virtually always more than one non-crazy yeah-it-maybe-could-have-happened-that-way hypothesis which is “weakly supported” by some evidence rather than no evidence. For some situations you still need to take action in the face of such uncertainty (i.e. maybe the medical community doesn’t yet understand a particular disease well enough to have overwhelming confidence as to what therapeutic approach will best treat it, but it still may be better to try something, however weakly supported, rather than nothing — although maybe not if all the somethings of speculative possible benefit also come with non-speculative side effects that could make the patient worse off than doing nothing would). But there are no obviously negative real-world consequences to confessing continuing ignorance and uncertainty as to the connections and antecedents of Japonic. There is thus no obvious reason to prefer “the most plausible, albeit quite weakly supported, hypothesis on the current state of the evidence” to “we just don’t know.”

  11. The answer is that such an excess of conservatism discourages people from even working on the problem. “We don’t know and we can’t know, so work on English instead.”

  12. There are good arguments on both sides, but I’m with J. W. Brewer on this. I’d rather discourage speculation than encourage crackpots.

  13. J. W. Brewer says:

    I am of course happy to be agreed with by hat, but there’s yet another danger which is that if reputable scholars steer away from particular lines of inquiry, crackpots often fill the vacuum. But maybe you can’t keep crackpots away anyway, if it’s an interesting-sounding question and/or one where a particular hypothesis can neither be confirmed with adequate evidence nor conclusively (because of the same lack of evidence) debunked. (It is also rather a mixed-at-best blessing that one eager audience for the potential findings of historical linguistics is made up of advocates of various sorts of nationalism and ethnochauvinism who improbably think that the current social/political status of Group A versus Group B would somehow be transformed if such-and-such claim about who spoke what language where 1500 years were taken to be true.)

  14. Unger says that one of his students, Alex Ratté, will soon be publishing on the linguistic issues specifically. I think as long as there are scholars as strongly opinioned as he is on the lumper side, there’s no real danger of the area simply being abandoned as unknowable and left to cranks and nationalists.

  15. David Marjanović says:

    Apparently a few words from Silla and Baekje were at some point written down in Chinese characters chosen for their sound values, and their reconstructed pronunciations look very much like Japonic.

  16. Feynman on the unknown:

    I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here, and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit and if I can’t figure it out, then I go on to something else, but I don’t have to know an answer, I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is so far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me.

    (h/t Stan Carey)

    And Roger Zelazny (in Lord of Light) similarly:

    “Then the one called Raltariki is really a demon?” asked Tak.

    “Yes—and no,” said Yama, “If by ‘demon’ you mean a malefic, supernatural creature, possessed of great powers, life span and the ability to temporarily assume virtually any shape—then the answer is no. This is the generally accepted definition, but it is untrue in one respect.”

    “Oh? And what may that be?”

    “It is not a supernatural creature.”

    “But it is all those other things?”

    “Yes.”

    “Then I fail to see what difference it makes whether it be supernatural or not—so long as it is malefic, possesses great powers and life span and has the ability to change its shape at will.”

    “Ah, but it makes a great deal of difference, you see. It is the difference between the unknown and the unknowable, between science and fantasy—it is a matter of essence. The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable. The man who bows in that final direction is either a saint or a fool. I have no use for either.”

  17. marie-lucie says:

    JC: historical linguistics is a 19C science at heart, and lives by 19C attitudes about how to do science.

    I have not thought very much about attitudes to science in general, but I don’t think that that is the problem with current historical linguistics. The top figures in 19C linguistics put together general principles of language comparison and classification, and evolved a powerful method based on lexical-phonological correspondences in order to reconstruct as much as possible of the presumed ancestor of a group of languages already considered to be related. Little by little, as reconstruction (especially of PIE) became the central goal of most European linguistics, the fundamental comparative principles have been whittled down so that for many current linguists the comparative method has been reduced to a method of finding correspondences between lexical items in order to determine relatedness, taking little account of morphology which was a key factor in the identification of the Indo-European superfamily and its members (and of a number of other families). When languages are very closely related (such as those within in the Romance, Celtic, Germanic and other families), they share a large amount of vocabulary but also some general morphological characteristics (eg the “strong verbs” in Germanic) which make relatedness obvious, or at least the most likely conclusion. Proto-language reconstruction then can focus on the lexical similarities and the correspondences which link the lexical items.

    When modern linguists, often with little training in historical methods, try to determine through lexical comparison and even attempted “reconstruction” whether two or more languages are related, there are a number of pitfalls for the unwary and inexperienced which could have been avoided by initial comparison of morphology. As a result, only very obvious relationships between languages can be safely accepted, and many languages end up being classified as “isolates”. This is the case with the “mainstream” classification of many languages of the Americas (as I can personally testify – I am not qualified to evaluate the controversy about Japanese and Korean).

    So the fault is not with “19C science”, which included many scholars unafraid of asking “what if?” and putting their hypotheses to the test, but with a lack of understanding of their principles and of the methods they perfected, which have not lost their usefulness.

    Feynman:

    I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here, and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit and if I can’t figure it out, then I go on to something else, but I don’t have to know an answer, I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is so far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me.

    I can completely relate to this point of view.

  18. I second m-l with regard to both historical linguistics and Feynman.

  19. Feynman’s sentiments are very eloquent.

    Yama’s are really an excellent explication of his character from the book, I realize. (There’s a lot of subtext in the last two sentences, when spoken by the man who killed the Buddha.)

  20. Well, you know what they say about meeting the Buddha on the road.

  21. Hat: True!

    m-l: Yes, I was being rather flip about it.

    Another relevant quote that just popped up at Futility Closet: “The origin of science is in the desire to know causes; and the origin of all false science and imposture is in the desire to accept false causes rather than none; or, which is the same thing, in the unwillingness to acknowledge our own ignorance.” — William Hazlitt

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