The sword of reason is being wielded with a mighty wielding over at Language Log. First Bill Poser whacks Steven Pinker for including an alleged family tree entitled “The Ancestry of Modern English” in his book Words and Rules; in the tree:
Indo-European is shown as a daughter of Eurasiatic and a sister of Uralic and Altaic. No other subgroups of Eurasiatic are shown. Eurasiatic in turn is shown as a subgroup of Nostratic, with Dravidian and Afro-Asiatic as the other subgroups. Nostratic in turn is shown as a sister of Sino-Tibetan and New Guinea, with the parent labelled with a question mark.
Not only is this completely loony, there’s no reason for it to even be there:
The chapter is devoted to showing that rules are not restricted to English but are found in a variety of other languages. The approach that Pinker takes is to start with languages closely related to English and show how remoter and remoter languages also have rules. All that really matters is that his examples not be closely related. He could have made the same point just as well without any discussion of remote genetic relationships.
Next, Mark Liberman quotes Rivka at Respectful of Otters giving Camille Paglia hell for not thinking clearly about the difference between the students she remembers from her college days and those she teaches now, and adds sagely “I try to be suspicious of generational generalizations based on nothing but my own personal observation, because of the sampling bias that Rivka describes, as well as the mythologizing effects of selective memory.” Finally, Geoffrey K. Pullum lets loose on the know-nothingism that forces John Kerry to try to conceal the fact that he’s fluent in French. Go get ’em, Loggers!