KUMAMOTO FESTSCHRIFT.

Victor Mair ended a recent Language Log post by mentioning that “upon his retirement after teaching in the Department of Linguistics at Tokyo University for nearly a quarter of a century, Hiroshi Kumamoto (Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, 1982) was recently gifted with a magnificent Festschrift by his colleagues. This substantial Festschrift has papers on Indo-Aryan, Indo-Iranian, Pwo Karen, Kurux, Latin, Georgian, Arabic, Tocharian, Hittite, Japanese, English, Mongolian, Talaud, Sanskrit, Sogdian, and other interesting subjects.” He’s not kidding about interesting subjects; a few of the titles are “Latin Metals” (Kodama, Shigeaki), “Relative Time Reference in a Conditional Construction in Georgian” (Kojima, Yasuhiro), “Epistemic Modality and Conditional Sentence : On the Presentative Particle of an Arabic Dialect of Tunis (Tunisia)” (Kumakiri, Taku), “Terms of Ornithomancy in Hittite” (Sakuma, Yasuhiko), and “When Did Sogdians Begin to Write Vertically?” (Yoshida, Yutaka). I mean, how can you resist “Terms of Ornithomancy in Hittite”? I know I can’t.

Comments

  1. rootlesscosmo says:

    If anybody is interested in composing a piece in memory of Charlie Parker they could do worse for a title.

  2. “Terms of Ornithomancy in Hittite”
    After years of disappointment in academia, my hunch is that this paper is significantly less exciting than it sounds.

  3. When was the last time anything exciting happened in linguistics ? Jes’ askin’.

  4. All depends what you’re excited by, doesn’t it? When was the last time anything exciting happened in philosophy?

  5. Grumbly: The publication of strong evidence for the Dene-Yeniseian family in 2008-10, I’d say. That was the first and so far the only case where a definite genetic relationship has been established between Old World and New World languages (not counting some Eskimoan languages that are spoken on both sides of the Bering Strait). Indeed, Ket and Navajo are the two most widely separated languages (before modern times) known to be related where the distance was traveled almost entirely on foot, involving neither sails (as in the spread of Austronesian east to Easter Island and west to Madagascar, a far greater distance) nor wheels (as in modern times).

  6. I don’t follow philosophy all that closely, but I’d say that Daniel Dennett’s rejection of qualia (and consequently, of philosophical zombies) was a shock, and the publication of Consciousness Explained and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea something of an earthquake, at least in certain parts of the field.

  7. Hat, I wasn’t covertly setting the stage for an excitement competition in which philosophy, or anything else, might win against linguistics. I was merely wondering whether there had been any complacency shocks since, say, Chomsky.
    John, I’m not surprised to hear that Dennett caused a stir among Anglophone philosophers who quibble over qualia. I suppose that to be auf dem laufenden I should finish Consciousness Explained, after twice laying it aside.
    Despite all the good ideas in it, there were two things that irritated me mightily: überhaupt the dusty topics of zombie philosophers (such as qualia and consciousness), and the fact that Dennett always veers off on a tangent when he is that close to conclusions Luhmann reached 40 years ago.

  8. Here’s a nice passage I found in an open letter from Eric Hamp to Jared Diamond (two names much respected hereabouts) praising him for his brief article in Nature about the Dene-Yeniseian hypothesis:

    [T]ake a look at Lithuanian, where almost every syllable pronounced by a pre-Indo-European before the Hittites, about 7000 years ago, is still heard today. An Albanian in the same time has managed to slur almost every syllable but one of each word and to scrunch to surprising shapes or absolute zero half or more of the consonants. When we know enough about the interim, we can with practice guess even at every step of the interim. You may ask why is an Albanian, or his grandpa, so sloppy? Well, ask (over a friendly ale) a Dane where half his consonants slipped away to. He’ll probably ask, in reply, do you want me to sound like a fussy stuffy Swede?

  9. David Marjanović says:

    The publication of strong evidence for the Dene-Yeniseian family in 2008-10, I’d say. That was the first and so far the only case where a definite genetic relationship has been established between Old World and New World languages

    Yes, that is quite impressive; but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Starostin sr./Shevoroshkin/the Moscow School had been saying the same thing for one or two decades longer, based on much of the same evidence, but expanded by other language families (as very briefly alluded to by Diamond) and using a different reconstruction of Proto-Yeniseian (Starostin’s as opposed to Vajda’s; there are three now). Bengtson’s short but impressive comparative morphology of Dené-Caucasian, using Starostin’s PY reconstruction (IIRC), also came out in 2008.

    almost entirely on foot

    If it was early enough, it may have been entirely on foot.

    I’d say that Daniel Dennett’s rejection of qualia (and consequently, of philosophical zombies) was a shock

    …and I must say, as a biologist, I like it very much.

    his brief article in Nature about the Dene-Yeniseian hypothesis

    Greenberg has little to do with Nostratic, contrary to that article. He postulated a superfamily he called Eurasiatic, which differed from Nostratic in including Ainu (which is… very different) and excluding Afro-Asiatic (which may well, admittedly, be the sister-group to the rest of Nostratic). I’m surprised Hamp repeated that error just a sentence before calling Greenberg “my old friend”.

    An Albanian in the same time has managed to slur almost every syllable but one of each word and to scrunch to surprising shapes or absolute zero half or more of the consonants.

    …while retaining distinctions which Lithuanian has lost: the three-way distinction of original velar plosives before front vowels is still there, even though some of the results are [θ] and [ð] and other “surprising shapes”, and maybe *H2 and *H3 are preserved in front of /e/ or /o/* as /h/ like (some think) in Armenian, or perhaps there’s actually a fourth laryngeal lurking there.
    Woe thus betide any Indo-Europeanist who thinks the less well researched, less obviously conservative, smaller branches can be safely ignored.
    * I forgot which one, because (Standard/Southern) Albanian has flip-flopped the two somehow. But it’s all on Wikipedia.

  10. David Marjanović says:

    Woe thus betide any Indo-Europeanist who thinks the less well researched, less obviously conservative, smaller branches can be safely ignored.

    …Indeed, the three-way distinction between /kʲ k kʷ/ and their voiced and aspirated counterparts is only preserved, and that only before front vowels, in Albanian and Luwian (an Anatolian language). Small wonder that it used to be fashionable to try to discuss it away, because it’s a bit unusual, and postulate a two-way distinction instead (even though I’ve never seen a detailed proposal of how that would work).

  11. Woe betide any scientist who thinks data can be ignored.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    Exactly.

  13. I don’t follow philosophy all that closely, but I’d say that Daniel Dennett’s rejection of qualia (and consequently, of philosophical zombies) was a shock, and the publication of Consciousness Explained and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea something of an earthquake, at least in certain parts of the field.
    I read Consciousness Explained a few months ago, but I never got the chance to discuss with anybody, so I hope nobody minds if I share my thoughts here.
    I hadn’t read any philosophy before, whether this put me at a advantage or disadvantage in reading the book I don’t really know. I study physics, I’m pretty down with the goal of trying to explain consciousness without having to invoke any mysticism, and I was really excited when I started the book because I thought Dennett was actually going to explain it. I tried hard to read carefully and with an open mind, but what I thought after finishing it was: “If that’s the best we can do to explain consciousness, well no wonder so many people insist on mysticism.”
    He seems successful in providing a coherent framework to think about the mind in a way consistent with data from cognitive science and neuroscience, which is interesting and maybe even important, but I wasn’t convinced that this project is the same as the project of explaining consciousness (though maybe it is a prerequisite).
    I have no problem with his rejection of zombies, the idea seems kind of silly if we start at the beginning with the idea of rejecting mysticism. (If someone else works more or less the same as me, then of course our subjective experience will be more or less the same also, unless I am specially endowed with a mystical spirit, but I’m not, so it doesn’t make sense to think of anyone else being more or less of a zombie than me.) The rejection of qualia, I’m not so sure about, because I’m not really sure about the definition of qualia. Something we call the “subjective experience of red” still exists and needs to be explained (or perhaps it doesn’t exist, in which case we need to explain why all the time people are talking about this thing that doesn’t exist). Dennett argues that “the subjective experience of red” is simply the sum effect of the brain processes related to red-ness perception. This sounds reasonable (how could it be otherwise?), but it is no way an explanation of anything! You can’t explain something by not explaining it! Dennett seems to anticipate this argument, but his response didn’t really convince me (I don’t have the book in front of me, I don’t quite remember his argument here).
    Where am I going wrong? Am I just being stubborn and clinging on to mysticism while claiming to reject it? Do I really have to deny my subjective experience? Help!

  14. I hope nobody minds if I share my thoughts here.
    Of course not, this is Liberty Hall! As for “trying to explain consciousness without having to invoke any mysticism,” it’s a laudable goal but in my view almost certainly centuries, if not millennia, premature. We are (assuming humanity manages to keep from doing itself in, a rash assumption) still in the Middle Ages from the point of view of our better-informed descendants, who will laugh at much of what we believe (not to mention our primitive medicine and horrifying penal institutions) just as we laugh at our own ancestors. It seems to me ludicrous to think that we can, on present knowledge, presume to try to explain something as unimaginably complex as consciousness. Nothing wrong with trying, of course, but I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere for a long time.

  15. Tom Recht says:

    Indeed, the three-way distinction between /kʲ k kʷ/ and their voiced and aspirated counterparts is only preserved, and that only before front vowels, in Albanian and Luwian (an Anatolian language).
    I’ve only heard this claimed of Luwian. How widely accepted is this claim about Albanian?
    Small wonder that it used to be fashionable to try to discuss it away, because it’s a bit unusual, and postulate a two-way distinction instead (even though I’ve never seen a detailed proposal of how that would work).
    It’s still fashionable in some quarters; Alexander Lubotsky devoted part of his PIE class at the Leiden summer school to doing just that, when I was there a couple of years ago. The procedure was basically to show that in most phonological positions one could only reconstruct a two-way contrast; I don’t remember how far he was able to take this, though, and I don’t have my notes at hand.
    By the way, if there really were three velar series they were more likely [k q kw/qw], which would explain both the relative rarity of the “plain” (really uvular) series and the odd fact that in centum languages the “palatal” (really plain velar) series seems to get depalatalized.

  16. Will:
    Qualia are supposed to be the subjective aspect of experience: the thing that gives red objects their sensation of redness and wine its enjoyableness (at least to Dennett, who likes wine). Dennett holds, however, that what he enjoys about drinking wine is determining its chemical composition in a certain way, and that qualia are no more necessary to experience than phlogiston is to combustion. Of course he wouldn’t take the same pleasure in determining wine’s composition by chemical tests: why should he?
    It is in that sense, then, that he rejects qualia: he says they are a theoretical entity introduced to explain what needs no explaining, for it can be accounted for in another way that we already understand.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    and I was really excited when I started the book because I thought Dennett was actually going to explain it. I tried hard to read carefully and with an open mind, but what I thought after finishing it was: “If that’s the best we can do to explain consciousness, well no wonder so many people insist on mysticism.”

    Simple: the neuroscientists haven’t got that far yet, and Dennett doesn’t try to run in front of their juggernaut, idly speculating beyond the evidence.

    Dennett argues that “the subjective experience of red” is simply the sum effect of the brain processes related to red-ness perception. This sounds reasonable (how could it be otherwise?), but it is no way an explanation of anything! You can’t explain something by not explaining it!

    I’ve only read the essay Quining Qualia, and that was some time ago… but an important point I remember is that the mentioned brain processes differ not only between individuals, but also change over time in the same individual. To talk about “the subjective experience of red” is therefore an oversimplification – it’s not a single experience. In a sense, it can’t be explained because it doesn’t exist; the question itself was wrong.

    in my view almost certainly centuries, if not millennia, premature

    But consider: if one in a billion people is an Einstein, there are now seven of them.

    I’ve only heard this claimed of Luwian. How widely accepted is this claim about Albanian?

    Evidence here, discussion and sources there.

    By the way, if there really were three velar series they were more likely [k q kw/qw], which would explain both the relative rarity of the “plain” (really uvular) series

    But in that case, why would the /k/ series palatalize all across the board, even in front of /w/, in so many branches, and wouldn’t we expect the /q/ series to turn into fricatives a few times?
    The rarity of the plain velars is very easy to explain as soon as you consider how unlikely it is that the PIE sound system sprang up out of nowhere. “Everything is the way it is because it got that way” (J. B. S. Haldane, embryologist, early 20th century). The Nostraticists have been saying for decades that the same thing happened in the history of PIE as happened in the history of Proto-West-Caucasian: frontness and roundedness of vowels were blamed on the preceding consonants, leaving the vowels free to be reinterpreted as members of the already existing ablaut series* – as part of the inflexion rather than the root. So, assuming a system of /a e i o u/ and perhaps /y/, /e/ and /i/ produced palatalized velars, /o/ and /u/ produced labialized velars, so that plain velars only survived in front of /a/ – based on that alone, we should expect the palatalized and the labialized velars each to be twice as common as the plain ones. The /y/ which is reconstructed with (even) less certainty than the other Proto-Nostratic vowels may be responsible for the bizarre cluster /kʲw/ which must be reconstructed in several PIE roots.
    * Ablaut is uncontroversial for PIE, Proto-Afro-Asiatic, and Proto-Kartvelian, so it may be a shared innovation of Nostratic or a part of it. Interestingly, it’s also present in West Caucasian.

    and the odd fact that in centum languages the “palatal” (really plain velar) series seems to get depalatalized.

    Given the rarity of the plain velars, it’s not surprising they usually merged with one of the other series; the functional load of the distinction was low. In West Caucasian, the plain velars are so rare that they merged into the palatalized ones, not the other way around, in Ubykh!
    As a geographically unrelated and phylogenetically distant example of a sound system with /kʲ k kʷ/, I suggest modern Hausa.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    The procedure was basically to show that in most phonological positions one could only reconstruct a two-way contrast

    Hausa again:
    “The three-way contrast between palatalized velars /c ɟ cʼ/, plain velars /k g kʼ/, and labialized velars /kʷ ɡʷ kʷʼ/ is found only before long or short /a/, e.g. /cʼaːɽa/ (‘grass’), /kʼaːɽaː/ (‘to increase’), /kʷʼaːɽaː/ (‘shea-nuts’). Before front vowels, only palatalized and labialized velars occur, e.g. /ciːʃiː/ (‘jealousy’) vs. /kʷiːɓiː/ (‘side of body’). Before rounded vowels, only labialized velars occur, e.g. /kʷoːɽaː/ (‘ringworm’).[7]”
    (Not sure why they explicitly call them “palatalized velars” but transcribe them as actual palatals almost everywhere in the article.)
    The same article says the westernmost dialect has satemized, merging /kʲ/ and /gʲ/ into the existing /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/.

  19. “Everything is the way it is because it got that way”
    That is a great line to nudge people out of taking things for granted. Attitudes like: ‘That’s irrelevant, it’s just history’, or ‘That’s just how things are, why would it be otherwise?’

  20. qualia are no more necessary to experience than phlogiston is to combustion
    So then we can reject qualia without rejecting the idea of (subjective) experience? That was my question about qualia. If we can do so, then rejecting qualia seems like not a very big deal and a sensible thing to do, given the objections that DM brought up. (JC and DM, you both seem to reject qualia without rejecting “experience”, correct me if I misunderstand.)
    But my problem is… Let’s say that Dennett claims that his subjective enjoyment of drinking wine is nothing more than “determining its chemical composition in a certain way”. This claim to me is an assertion not an explanation. Like I could say that the act of a human walking is nothing more the human muscles exerting forces (against the ground and against each other) in a particular combination. But by itself that is just an assertion. I could try to justify that assertion by modelling the human body and specifying exactly what muscles exert what forces and combine this with what we know about human anatomy and Newtonian mechanics and gravity and the properties (e.g. friction) of the surfaces in contact (foot, ground) and then that would be something like an explanation. The explanation would support my assertion and at the same time (given the existence of human walking) reinforce our belief in the underlying theories (gravity, mechanics, etc.) (this was a hastily thought-out example, but I hope the point is clear)
    It is in that sense, then, that he rejects qualia: he says they are a theoretical entity introduced to explain what needs no explaining, for it can be accounted for in another way that we already understand.
    Well, maybe some of understand, but I don’t yet.

  21. Simple: the neuroscientists haven’t got that far yet, and Dennett doesn’t try to run in front of their juggernaut, idly speculating beyond the evidence.
    Of course Dennett doesn’t claim to have a 100% complete theory of consciousness, but he does make some rather grand claims and he explicitly argues that what I think demands explanation requires no such explanation at all.
    Maybe I demand too much from Dennett, but if so, it is only because he claims so much.

  22. But consider: if one in a billion people is an Einstein, there are now seven of them.
    I’m guessing you mean that if statistics show that one in a billion people is an Einstein, then there are now seven of them. But even that is not a valid argument – you can’t derive an is from a probably, especially not in statistics. The argument is also invalid for another related reason, the one evident in: “statistics show that 3 people in a thousand are color-blind, so 0.3 people in a hundred are color-blind”. An expression such as “0.3 people” has a special meaning in statistics, a meaning which does not involve a claim that there is such a thing as 0.3 people.

  23. Also, you seem implicitly to be modelling “an Einstein is born” as part of a process like radioactive decay. As if over a period of time a certain number of Einsteins are expected to be born although one doesn’t know the exact birthdays in advance. Perhaps “spontaneous combustion” would be a less voraussetzungsreiches model.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    Let’s say that Dennett claims that his subjective enjoyment of drinking wine is nothing more than “determining its chemical composition in a certain way”.

    He doesn’t. His examples are in fact about taste; he talks a lot about the associations we have to flavors because of our experiences and whatnot – and that these associations are therefore different between different people and change over time in the same person. It’s online somewhere; google for “quining qualia”.

    Also, you seem implicitly to be modelling “an Einstein is born” as part of a process like radioactive decay. As if over a period of time a certain number of Einsteins are expected to be born although one doesn’t know the exact birthdays in advance.

    Heh. Yes. :-)
    Though if we examine this assumption, it may turn out the Einstein density of the world is increasing rather than constant. Not long ago, almost all scientists were Western; now the Chinese are taking their fair share (go to the website of a science journal and look at the authors’ names), and India is coming. Perhaps, in the early 20th century, there wasn’t one natural born Einstein but three, except that two of them never got an education.

  25. Perhaps, in the early 20th century, there wasn’t one natural born Einstein but three, except that two of them never got an education.
    Dark Einsteins, able to clarify that dark matter business before it could take everybody by surprise.

  26. it may turn out the Einstein density of the world is increasing rather than constant.
    Which would imply that in a century or two there will be far more of them, and much that is now hidden will be revealed.

  27. For that to be true, the following conditions must also be satisfied at the very least: 1) the world population does not grow faster than the rate at which Einsteins are born, 2) the amount of hidden stuff does not drastically diminish before the Einsteins are born to deal with it, 3) the quality of “being an Einstein” does not depreciate as more and more of them turn up.
    Ad 1: no evidence was presented to justify the original suggestion that “Einsteins being born” is a linear function of population size. If it were a linear function, the Einstein density would be constant by definition. If it were not a linear function of population size, nor related to it in any way, the Einstein density could increase or decrease. I suspect that a few Chinese or Indian hotshots are not going to outpace the reproduction rate of their compatriots.
    The original suggestion is so vague that it could be used to make an equally specious claim: since there has been 1 Einstein born in the last 150 years, we can expect one to be born every subsequent 150 years. Neither the sample space, the sampling method nor the interpretive model was clearly defined.
    Ad 2: Much that is now hidden may be revealed in the future, but not necessarily by Einsteins-to-come. If 20 super-intelligent politicians burst on the scene to explain things away, there might not be much left for later Einsteins to do.
    Ad 3: The limiting case would be one where everyone born is an Einstein. Nobody would expect explanations from anyone else, because everybody would already know it all. The hidden stuff could no longer be revealed, because it would have become obvious.

  28. For that to be true, the following conditions must also be satisfied at the very least: 1) the world population does not grow faster than the rate at which Einsteins are born, 2) the amount of hidden stuff does not drastically diminish before the Einsteins are born to deal with it, 3) the quality of “being an Einstein” does not depreciate as more and more of them turn up.
    Ad 1: no evidence was presented to justify the original suggestion that “Einsteins being born” is a linear function of population size. If it were a linear function, the Einstein density would be constant by definition. If it were not a linear function of population size, nor related to it in any way, the Einstein density could increase or decrease. I suspect that a few Chinese or Indian hotshots are not going to outpace the reproduction rate of their compatriots.
    The original suggestion is so vague that it could be used to make an equally specious claim: since there has been 1 Einstein born in the last 150 years, we can expect one to be born every subsequent 150 years. Neither the sample space, the sampling method nor the interpretive model was clearly defined.
    Ad 2: Much that is now hidden may be revealed in the future, but not necessarily by Einsteins-to-come. If 20 super-intelligent politicians burst on the scene to explain things away, there might not be much left for later Einsteins to do.
    Ad 3: The limiting case would be one where everyone born is an Einstein. Nobody would expect explanations from anyone else, because everybody would already know it all. The hidden stuff could no longer be revealed, because it would have become obvious.

  29. Tom Recht says:

    David:
    But in that case, why would the /k/ series palatalize all across the board, even in front of /w/, in so many branches
    Well, it’s either that or the /kj/ series depalatalizing across the board in so many branches. The former seems much more plausible to me.
    and wouldn’t we expect the /q/ series to turn into fricatives a few times?
    Why should we? Are uvulars more prone to spirantizing than velars?
    The Nostraticists have been saying for decades that the same thing happened in the history of PIE as happened in the history of Proto-West-Caucasian: frontness and roundedness of vowels were blamed on the preceding consonants, leaving the vowels free to be reinterpreted as members of the already existing ablaut series* – as part of the inflexion rather than the root. So, assuming a system of /a e i o u/ and perhaps /y/, /e/ and /i/ produced palatalized velars, /o/ and /u/ produced labialized velars, so that plain velars only survived in front of /a/ – based on that alone, we should expect the palatalized and the labialized velars each to be twice as common as the plain ones.
    Even if we could be confident that pre-PIE had a five- or six-vowel system, which I don’t think we can (given the rarity of /a/, I tend to think it’s a new phoneme, resulting from some combination of borrowing and the phonemicization of [a] /H2e/), this strikes me as farfetched. For one thing, why would only the velars be subject to this reinterpretation? Wouldn’t you expect labialized and palatalized variants for all the series, a la Celtic? If not, why aren’t there lots of non-ablauting roots which have retained their old vowels because they weren’t next to a velar? And if /a/ was the only vowel to escape this reinterpretation, it should be very frequent, rather than very infrequent.

  30. In the conlang whose phonology I sketched a dozen or more years ago, there were three series (plain, palatalized, labialized) that covered all the consonants except the liquids, semivowels, and nasals — with the exception of labialized labials, which did not exist. (There were no palatals, so the problem of palatalized palatals didn’t come up.) If I remember rightly, each place of articulation had a voiceless aspirated stop, a voiced unaspirated stop that alternated with a voiced fricative in Spanish style, and a voiceless fricative.
    However, in the northern dialects the labialized consonants were replaced by consonant clusters with /v/ in the second position.

  31. Trond Engen says:

    This is far from being a well worked-out hypothesis, but my current personal idea of the early or pre-PIE vowel system is something like a, o, e, i, u. The long stressed versions became opening diphthongs Ea:, Eo:, Ee:, Ei:, Eu:. Later syllabicity moved to the first element and they became E:R, E:RW, E:’, E:y, E:w. I’m not sure if this needs to have been complete in all branches.
    (Before I started writing this I had an idea that it had some interesting implications for velars, but it seems not. Oh well.)

  32. Trond Engen says:

    Oh, and apologies for the notation. I haven’t bothered to find out how to type special characters on my iPad.

  33. Trond Engen says:

    I think I used to imagine dealing with approximants before the vowel in a way that also explained the palatal velars. But if I did, I don’t recall how.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    David: the bizarre cluster /kʲw/ which must be reconstructed in several PIE roots
    I don’t know enough about PIE, let alone Nostratic, but this cluster could be explained as a reduced (zero-grade) form of a pre-PIE root **kʲEw. Is this what you mean?

  35. Just thought you’d appreciate that I was doing a quick search for Sakuma’s article on Hittite bird-oracles without any more information than that it was in Festschrift Kumamoto, and you have provided me with the title. Sometimes you really just *need* “Terms of Ornithomancy in Hittite”! Thanks!

  36. You’re most welcome, and I’m glad you took a moment to report on it!

  37. marie-lucie says:

    Hannah, can you tell whether the terms for ornithomancy are of IE origin, or do they appear to be borrowings from other languages?

  38. David Marjanović says:

    Wow, I’ll have to return to this thread soon… I hope Tom Recht still exists somewhere!

    I wrote:

    “Everything is the way it is because it got that way” (J. B. S. Haldane, embryologist, early 20th century)

    By “early 20th century” I meant 1917, and by “J. B. S. Haldane” I meant D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson. :-] It’s somewhere in his book On Growth and Form, which is a heroic attempt to explain development biology 40 years before anyone had a clue what a gene was.

  39. David Marjanović says:
    But in that case, why would the /k/ series palatalize all across the board, even in front of /w/, in so many branches

    Well, it’s either that or the /kj/ series depalatalizing across the board in so many branches. The former seems much more plausible to me.

    The only such case I can think of is /g/ becoming [dʒ] across the board in Arabic, where the vowels are a part of grammar to such an extent that paradigmatic leveling may have kicked in.

    and wouldn’t we expect the /q/ series to turn into fricatives a few times?

    Why should we? Are uvulars more prone to spirantizing than velars?

    Absolutely, yes. Most languages that you’d expect to have a [ɢ] from the general shape of their sound inventories have a [ʁ] instead; and (less relevant to IE except under some glottalist models) most languages that you’d expect to have a [qʰ] either have [qχ] and/or [χ] instead or have the two (or three) in free variation; the orthographies of many Caucasian languages make use of this by rendering “/q/” as кх. (…The only language in the galaxy that distinguishes /qʰ/ from /qχ/ is Klingon.)

    Similarly, [ɣ] is a more common sound worldwide that [ð], and [g] is much more often missing from an inventory that otherwise has voiced plosives than [d] is.

    Plain [q] very often moves off in a different direction: it becomes [ʔ]. That hasn’t happened to *k in any IE branch ever.

    The Nostraticists have been saying for decades that the same thing happened in the history of PIE as happened in the history of Proto-West-Caucasian: frontness and roundedness of vowels were blamed on the preceding consonants, leaving the vowels free to be reinterpreted as members of the already existing ablaut series* – as part of the inflexion rather than the root. So, assuming a system of /a e i o u/ and perhaps /y/, /e/ and /i/ produced palatalized velars, /o/ and /u/ produced labialized velars, so that plain velars only survived in front of /a/ – based on that alone, we should expect the palatalized and the labialized velars each to be twice as common as the plain ones.

    Even if we could be confident that pre-PIE had a five- or six-vowel system, which I don’t think we can (given the rarity of /a/, I tend to think it’s a new phoneme, resulting from some combination of borrowing and the phonemicization of [a] /H2e/), this strikes me as farfetched. For one thing, why would only the velars be subject to this reinterpretation? Wouldn’t you expect labialized and palatalized variants for all the series, a la Celtic?

    At first, yes. But such systems are generally unstable, especially if the number of consonant phonemes is already high. The Gaelics and Russian are pulling it off, but all West Caucasian languages have merged many of the labialized and palatalized variants with the plain ones. Even Ubykh retained palatalization only for velars and (fascinatingly) uvulars, and labialization only for alveolars, velars and uvulars (and the postalveolar fricatives); and the plain velars, as mentioned above, were so rare that they merged into the palatalized ones rather than the other way around before new plain ones were introduced in loanwords.

    I’ve already mentioned Hausa.

    And if /a/ was the only vowel to escape this reinterpretation, it should be very frequent, rather than very infrequent.

    Yes, unless something else happened next. Many IEists seem to think that *o was somehow inherently long, opening the possibility that **/a/ and **/aː/ became *e and *o, much like how Middle Persian a and ā have become [æ] and [ɒ(ː)] in Iran. I also recommend this presentation.

    I don’t know enough about PIE, let alone Nostratic, but this cluster could be explained as a reduced (zero-grade) form of a pre-PIE root **kʲEw. Is this what you mean?

    No. The two roots I can think of are the o-grade *kʲwōn “dog” and the e-grade *h1ekʲwos “horse”. The Moscow School explains the former as being from Proto-Nostratic **k’üjna (no idea if there’s any evidence for this **ü from another branch; I haven’t read the books) and the latter as a loan from a Caucasian-like word that had a [tʃw] cluster in it.

    (Morphologically, *kʲwōn or perhaps more likely *kʲwō is **kʲwon-s, followed by Szemerényi’s law. I don’t actually know if PIE *ō has any other source.)

  40. David Marjanović says:

    Forgot to mention… as the presentation I linked to says, candidates for PIE *a are unusually “common” next to plain velars. That makes sense if they were uvulars and lowered *e to *a, but unambiguous *e also occurs next to plain velars. It also makes sense, at least diffuse sense, along Nostraticist lines.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    …Of course PIE *ō has another source: Stang’s quite similar law. I should just have followed the link. *sigh*

    I’m still not aware of any unanalyzable *ō, though.

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