[Elsnet-list] Language Classification by Numbers

Yuri Tambovtsev yutamb at mail.cis.ru
Mon Sep 25 12:42:04 CEST 2006


Dear all, I wonder if you are interested in the
subject : How natural and real are the language families
in the new book on world languages by April and Robert McMahon "Language Classification by Numbers"?
 I hope all the books are available for you. It is not so in my case, unfortunately. I found some short information about the book by April and Robert McMahon "Language 
Classification by Numbers". - Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2005. I failed to get this book to read. This is 
why, I can't say if I disagree or if I totally agree 
with the authors' analysis. Does this book use any new
numerical data, like the compactness?
I wish the authors would express some new ideas, 
certainly regarding the most well-known taxa like 
Uralic (Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic), Indo-European, and 
Altaic (Turkic, Mongolic and Tungus-Manchurian), 
especially. About other language families I do not know
that much however, having studied only of them. In 
my personal opinion F-U and I-E are indeed some sort of 
Sprachbund.  I also wonder if you totally agree with 
the following statement of mine: " though the 
fundamentals of the definitions of these language families
are rather weak and obsolete, they have never been 
reconsidered. In physics, mathematics, chemistry, 
biology and other natural sciences the fundamentals of 
classifications are analysed and reconsidered by every 
generation of the scholars". I wrote my papers on 
the classification of world languages from the point 
of view of quantitative phonology and typology.
I wonder how the current theories of language taxa
tested in this book. I wonder if this book formulates 
new ideas and demonstrate new language taxa? I wonder 
if new convincing results are produced?  
I wonder if there are many new publications 
which prove on phonological or phonetical level that 
classically defined language families and other language 
taxons are natural and real? I mean Indo-European, 
Finno-Ugric, Samoyedic, Tungus-Manchirian, Mongolic, Turkic, 
Paleo-Asiatic, Sino-Tibetan, Austronesian, Afroasiatic and 
other classically defined language families. It looks like 
some of them are not very compact from the phono-typological 
point of view. It seems to me that all the world linguists 
are quite happy with the defined language families, though 
the fundamentals of these definitions are rather weak and 
obsolete. The linguists do not want to trouble the 
"sleeping dogs". Why is it so that in physics, 
mathemathics, chemistry, biology and other natural 
sciences the fundamentals of classifications 
are analysed and reconsidered by every generation of
the scholars. Why it is Not so in linguistics? Or may
be I am not aware of such critical works, since US and 
European linguistic journals are not available for me.
I have calculated the compactness of several language
families from the typological point of view 
and discovered that there is a great difference between 
them. The most compact is the Mongolic language family Its 
dispersion is only 10.78%, while the dispertion of the 
Tungus-Manchurian (18.60%) or Turkic (18.77%) language 
families is greater. The dispersion of Finno-Ugric (24.14%) 
or Indo-European (28.00%) language families is much greater. 
It may mean that Finno-Ugric or Indo-European families are 
not natural and real families, but some sort of 
conglomerations or Sprachbunds. Not to speak of the 
dispersion of the Altaic (25.97%) or Uralic (28.31%) 
language unities which should never be called language 
families if we consider a language family some more compact 
language taxon. In this case, only Mongolic language family 
seems to be natural and real. Should we consider the other 
language families language unities or Sprachbunds? Or what? 
May be some sparce language unions or language communities? 
Or what? Is it not the high time to define language taxons: 
1) branch; 
2) subgroup;
3) grpoup;
4) family;
5) unity;
6) union;
7) filia;
8) community.
Any other taxons?
I wish you could send me your ideas about language families 
and the other language taxons to my correct e-mail address 
yutamb at mail.ru Is it possible to publish my article 
about it in some journal? I wonder if you could tell me
more details expressed in this new book "Language 
Classification by Numbers" (2005)? How is the defusion
of the world languages measured in the exact numbers?
Looking forward to hearing from 
you soon to yutamb at mail.ru Your sincerely Yuri 
Tambovtsev 
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