Eurasiatic and Nostratic: No Real Updates

I like to check up on these topics in historical linguistics every few months, just to see if anything new and sexy has come in. Eurasiatic and Nostratic are linguistic macrofamilies, not accepted by most historical linguists, which purport to be ancestral to the recognised language families today, such as Uralic, Kartvelian, Altaic, and of course, because it’s me, Indo-European (or I wouldn’t much care). Some historical linguists believe they can detect echoes of those much earlier (15,000* – 10,000 BP) languages in the reconstructed languages (6500 – 3500 BP) that are more generally accepted, and that some of this is detectable even to average eyes and ears today.

I am very much rooting for this to be true, and even hold out hope that the Proto-World hypothesis that connects all languages back to a single family even earlier than that. As this is being studied at the Santa Fe Institute (founded by Los Alamos guys who wanted to go very general about studying complex systems), I keep thinking that one of these times I’m going to see that they made some intriguing breakthroughs.  I’ll keep trying. Nothing the last few times.

Genetic research has backed up the claims of the more adventurous theorists with surprising strength, but that may tell us something else. 

We may be at the limit of what we can tell from language, and all further improvements may come only from the hard sciences. Joseph Greenberg looks spot-on in describing the Amerind families and their origin (as he was with the African families, which linguists now grudgingly accept), as the DNA matches his predictions very well. But he had to stretch and make overclaims (or if you prefer, inspired guesses) to get there and there may be no more that can be wrung from languages in isolation.  That may be why nothing much new is showing up.  People who want to know the answers to those questions, may no longer overlap so much with people who want to work in linguistics. They may be going into other fields.

Another strong caution for me is that one of my favorite linguists, Larry Trask, did not believe in the macrofamilies, or at least, did not believe they had been strongly demonstrated. Trask is one of the linguists who stood sternly against Noam Chomsky on the matter of generative grammar for decades. I wrote about it last year – no, over two years ago. I may secretly like Trask mostly for that rather than more academic considerations. I would certainly rather not have been arguing across a table with the late professor Trask.  He is pretty rough, even with nice people writing in to ask questions about linguistics. He was an American who ended up teaching in England.  I don’t know if that explains anything.

*If you noticed, yes, most of these macrofamilies, if one traces them back to when they supposedly began, do indeed hit the same wall, at the same time that the glaciers retreated and homo sapiens sapiens spread out across the landscape in the Northern Hemisphere.  This would be both good news and bad for people like me, hoping that the relationships are true.  It would mean they were exploding out at exactly the right time, suggesting that our back-tracing methods have some value.  But it would also mean we are unlikely to be able to take it much farther.

23 thoughts on “Eurasiatic and Nostratic: No Real Updates”

  1. The Papua New Guinea highlands have a clan in each valley and they speak different languages. I was reading about the area recently and the police used pidgin or what was called “Police Motu” to communicate. Communication was important as they were all cannibals.

  2. Whenever I come across something like “BCE” in a piece of writing, I stop reading. Generally, adoption of ahistorical Politically Correct terminology is not a good sign.

  3. Whenever I come across something like “BCE” in a piece of writing, I stop reading. Generally, adoption of ahistorical Politically Correct terminology is not a good sign.

    My Lord, I was going to write exactly the same thing. I didn’t realize you were so intelligent Gavin.

  4. I refuse to be offended by BCE, and I may be the most evangelical person present. People who object to it never reference the religious aspect, but its mere newness, as something they don’t want changed because it is part of the culture they are used to.

    I should have used BP anyway and will edit it.

  5. ok, I’ll bite–what’s BP? I’ve never seen that before? Is it “before present” or something? What’s the AD replacement?
    If you take a perfectly valid system, and replace the BC/AD names, but leave everything else intact, including all sorts of pagan references, then all you’re trying to do is be free of Christian cooties, and are worthy of nothing but contempt. Either make up your own system from scratch, or suck it up and deal with it.

  6. AVI: “People who object to it [the execrable “BCE”] never reference the religious aspect …”

    The issue is not the religious aspect — the issue is that this stupidity is a perfect example of those who would manipulate us trying to throw all of history into Orwell’s “Memory Hole”. We have to understand the past in order to be able to make the most of the future. The foolish “BCE” crowd are trying to ignore thousands of years of history. Next thing you know, the usual suspects are putting up statues to “Abraham Lincoln, Democrat”.

    Why promote stupidity?

  7. The only “reason” for “BCE” that I’ve ever heard is explicitly religious, i.e., it’s offensive/exclusionary to non-Christians….

  8. ““BC” and “AD” are explicitly religious”
    Yep. So? The days of the week, and most months, are explicitly religious too. You know what we call people who object to them? Morons.
    “Non-Christians might prefer alternative terms.”
    I’ve never met such a person, or seen any evidence they exist. Those who legitimately want to use a different calendar just do, and leave ours alone. Those who object to BC/AD, but not the fact that the zero point in the “BCE/CE” system still refers to the birth of Christ are inconsistent and unserious idiots.
    The point of the original post has been completely lost, due to this silliness.

  9. “The point of the original post has been completely lost, due to this silliness.”

    The original post remains unread, due to the silliness of kowtowing to the Gods of Political Correctness. “BCE” is not about religion — any more than calling Abraham Lincoln a Democrat is about religion. It is about otherwise intelligent people inexplicably seeking the approval of evil manipulators who want to control them, right down to their language and thoughts. Why would any human being willing go along with that?

    Maybe the original post was genius, but bitter experience has shown that Political Correctness is a cancer. Most articles that kiss the feet of Political Correctness in one area turn out to have other serious flaws too. Hence not worth reading.

  10. “Non-Christians” – in fact a small # of kook SJW’s – don’t get to change the English Language willie-nillie under the cover that they’re “Just trying to nice”.

  11. Since we’re all just inventing new words/abbreviations, in order not to offend members of the RCOCEAN Family, (some of whom are immigrants), I will now be using the following:

    Prior to 1965, years will be labeled: BRC = Before RCOCEAN
    Everything past 1965 will be labeled: ARC = After RCOCEAN

    Thank you.

  12. The beating heart of political correctness is
    1. Get offended by something small.
    2. Pretend you know the motives of the person who did it.
    3. Neither consider nor seek context in a subject you know little about.
    4. Insult the other person

    I guess you guys have now lost your ability to criticise liberals about that.

    I could give a reasoned defense of my choice, but it’s clear that will have no effect.

  13. Give it a rest, AVI.

    You: “Oh, I’m just going to make this one teensy tiny little change, it’s really no big thing, you see…”
    Us: “Actually, we don’t agree that you get to make that change.”
    You: “What is wrong with you, why are you so easily offended and obsessed with this?”
    Get outta here with that nonsense.

    If this is just “something small” then why bother to switch it in the first place? Obviously it’s important to you, so maybe think about why it’s important to other people as well.

    No one’s going around insisting that everyone use the standard Gregorian (are we allowed to call it that anymore?) calendar, and the notion that those who push back when wreckers try to alter it are the bad guys is worthy of nothing but ridicule.

  14. AVI is right on the merits and also in predicting that you would ignore the substance of any reasonable reply from him. My own small contributions to this discussion, and a hint from another commenter, seem to have been too subtle for you to pick up on.

    I myself avoid using the terms “BC” and “AD” because I do not accept their religious premises. I also avoid telling other people what terms they should use. I am not a leftist, SJW, kook, idiot or moron. So, you are wrong, you are mischaracterizing the position taken by people who believe as I do, and by dismissing our arguments and insulting us you are trying to do what you accuse us of doing.

  15. Jonathan wrote: “I myself avoid using the terms “BC” and “AD” because I do not accept their religious premises.”

    What religious premises? It is simply a conventional dating system that has been in use over almost the entire period of Western civilization. If someone does not want to use it — then don’t use it. But instead to replace it with some stupid Politically Correct term like “Common Era” is deliberately offensive — not because of any religious element, but because it is demeaning to the giants on whose shoulders our civilization stands. Geniuses like Sir Isaac Newton may have used AD, but today’s snotty-nosed little “CE”-using liberals know so much better.

    As for the use of “Before Present” — It makes perfect sense when used by geologists trying to sort out events millions of years in the past. When used for events that are only a few thousand years in the past, it sounds precious — as if a someone with little knowledge is trying desperately to impress his audience.

    Guys! Be careful — Political Correctness will rot your brains!

  16. There are no “merits” to this. I concede 100% it’s purely an aesthetic issue. If the Christian cooties of BC/AD are so horrible to you (but the choice of the zero point is not? I still don’t get that), then by all means go ahead and use the BCE/CE stuff, and deal with the fact that a non-trivial number of people will ignore whatever you have to say, and ridicule you from the cheap seats.

  17. “If this is just “something small” then why bother to switch it in the first place? Obviously it’s important to you, so maybe think about why it’s important to other people as well.”

    Exactly. LOL. Of course later, when they’ve rammed the change through, then anyone who tries to do it differently will be labeled a “Bad person” involved in “bad think”. Once they’ve gotten everyone to go along with “BCE”, then anyone who writes “BC” will be labeled an “insensitive hater”. I mean, why would you disagree with the liberal/left consensus on ANYTHING unless you were a Nazi?

  18. First its, “Hey, why do you oppose Gay marriage, why can’t you be tolerant? Just live and let live, dude!”

    Then its, “Bake us a Gay Marriage Cake, Christian A-hole or we’ll sue. Sorry if you lose your business. Not.”

    Or “Oh, you don’t approve of Gay Marriage? Well, maybe your Boss should know that you’re a hater, who hates Gays. And probably blacks and jews. Sorry, if you lose your job. Not.”

  19. > BCE

    I’m not even a Christian, and “BCE” and “CE” offend *me*.

    It’s established terminology that has been around a long time, and in common use lately by the whole world, not just the Christian parts of it. Changing the name and keeping the same origin point is just politically-correct whitewash.

    If there was a push for the Julian Day Calendar I’d support it; (*) it’s a plain day count from its origin point (ALERT!: 4713 B.C.!) forward; it ignores the lunar cycles, sidereal year, leap units, and all the other encumbrances of common calendars. There’s no need to tie the calendar to the stars or seasons; the Mayans managed it.

    Otherwise, leave the freakin’ calendar alone.

    Circles have 360 degrees, days have 24 hours, minutes have 60 seconds, and sub-minute intervals are measured in decimals. We put up with all that for the same reason we put up with Anno Domini; because they’re established and it’s not worth the trouble to change them.

    Saying “A.D.” isn’t going to give you Jesus cooties, and saying “C.E.” isn’t going to make you trendy and Woke. (and just to make things more interesting, modern theologians place Jesus’ birth somewhere around 5 B.C.)

    (*)even though the Day Count contains the seeds for multiple Y2K-ish events if the numbers are trimmed down to useable size. But hey, there’ll probably still be COBOL systems running out there somewhere…

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