Category Archives: Altaic

Fake Controversies, Fake Settled Questions, and Ideological Authoritarianism in Modern Linguistics, with an Emphasis on Mutual Intelligibility and the Dialect/Language Question

There is a lie going around that the dialect/language question is controversial in Linguistics. It really isn’t. Most linguists have a pretty good idea of where to draw the line. If you don’t believe me, study the internals of the Summer Institute of Linguistics change request forms for languages. The field is a lot more uniform on this question than the cranks think.

Hardly anyone thinks Valencian is a separate language. There were 5-10 experts writing in on Valencian and they were all in agreement.

Romagnolo and Emilian were split with zero controversy. All it took was a few authoritative statements by the experts in these varieties to settle the question.

In other words, the language dialect question is what is known as a fake controversy.

Really the only controversy about this question comes from nationalists and language activists.

Sadly, many linguists are nationalists, and their work has been poisoned by their ideology for a long time now. Some of the worst ones of all are in Europe.

Linguistics in the Balkans and Poland has been badly damaged by nationalist linguists for a long time, with no sign of things getting better.

Similar nonsense is going on in of all places ultra-PC Denmark and Sweden. Bornholmian and Southeast Jutnish should have been split from Danish long ago. In fact, Jutnish was split, but Danish nationalist linguists pathetically had it removed.

The many langues d’oil have never been listed and probably never will be. No doubt this is due to the state of Linguistics in ultra-nationalistic France. There are easily 10-15+ langues d’oil that could be split off.

Greek linguist nationalists have raised their ugly heads over splits in Macro-Greek.

Bulgarian Linguistics is all nationalist and has been lost in retardation forever now. No, Macedonian is not a Bulgarian dialect.

There have been some ugly and ridiculous fights in the Baltics especially with Estonian and Latvian, neither of which is a single language. I doubt that Estonian and Latvian linguists are comporting themselves well here given the fanatical nationalism that overwhelms both lands.

There are easily 350-400 language inside of Sinitic or Chinese according to the estimate of the ultimate Sinologist Jerry Norman. The real figure is clearly closer to 1,000-2,000 separate languages. Chinese nationalism is mandatory for anyone doing Sinitic linguistics. No one wants to bring down the wrath of the Chinese government by pulling the curtain on their big lie that Chinese is one language. I am amazed that SIL even split Chinese into 14 languages without getting deluged with death threats.

Arabic is clearly more than one language, and SIL now has it split into 35 languages.  This is one odd case where they may have erred by splitting too much. That’s probably too many, but no one can even do any work in this area, since Arabists and especially Arabic speakers keep insisting, often violently, that Arabic is a single language. Never mind that they routinely can’t understand each other. We have Syrians and Yemenis at my local store, and no, the Syrian Arabic speakers cannot understand hard Yemeni Arabic, sorry. Some of the Yemeni Arabic speakers have even whispered conspiratorially in my ear when the others were not around that speakers of different Yemeni Arabic varieties often cannot even understand each other, and that’s not even split by SIL. I have a feeling that the Arabic situation is more like Chinese than not.

A Swedish nationalist wiped out several well documented separate languages inside of Macro-Swedish simply by making a few dishonest change request forms. SIL pathetically fell for it.

Occitan language activists wiped out the very well-supported split of Occitan into six separate languages based on ideology. They are trying to resurrect Occitan, and they think this will only work if there is one Occitan language with many dialects under it. Splitting it up into six or more languages dooms the tongue. So this was a political argument masquerading as a linguistic one. SIL fell for it again. Pathetic.

No one has talked much about these matters in the field, but a man named Harold Hammerstrom has written some excellent notes about them. He also takes the language/dialect question very seriously and has proposed more scientific ways of doing the splitting.

SIL was recently granted the ability to give out new ISO codes for languages, and since then, SIL has become quite conservative, lumping varieties everywhere in sight. This is because lumping is always the easy way out, as conservatives love lumping in everything from Classification to Historical Linguistics, and the field has been taken over by radical conservatives for some time now. Splitters are kooks, clowns, and laughing stocks. One gets the impression that SIL is terrified to split off new tongues for fear of bad PR.

As noted above, the language/dialect question is not as controversial in the field as Net linguist cranks would have you believe. SIL simply decides whatever they decide, and all the linguists just shrug their shoulders and go back to Optimality Theory, threatening to kill each other over Indo-European reconstructions, scribbling barely readable SJW sociolinguistic blather, or whatever it is they are crunching their brains about.

SIL grants an ISO code or refuses to grant one, and that’s that. No ISO code, no language. The main problem is that they refuse to split many valid languages mostly out of PC fear of causing a furor. Most of the opposition to splitting off new languages comes from linguistic hacks and cranks who exist for the most part on the Internet.

Most real linguists don’t seem to care very much. I know this because I talk to real linguists all the time. When it comes to the dialect/language split, most of them find it mildly intriguing, but hardly anyone is set off. You tell them that some dialect has now been split off as a separate language or two languages have now been merged into one, and they just perk up their ears and say, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Sometimes they shrug their shoulders and say, “They (SIL) are saying this is a separate language now,” as if they really don’t care one way or another.

Linguists definitely get hot under the collar about some things, but not about the dialect/language question, which is regarded more as a quizzical oddity. Most linguists furthermore care nothing at all about the mutual intelligibility debate, which at any rate was resolved long ago by SIL way back in the 1950’s. See the influential book by Cassad written way back then for the final word on the science of mutual intelligibility. Some enterprising linguists are finally starting to take mutual intelligibility seriously, but even they are being much too wishy-washy and unsciency about it. A lot of very silly statements are made like “there is no good, hard scientific way to measure mutual intelligibility, so all figures are guesswork.”

There’s no need for these theoretical shields or hyper-hedging because no one cares. No one in the field other than a few nutcases and kooks on the Internet even gives two damns about this question in the first place. The mutual intelligibility question is actually much less controversial in the field that the linguist kook loudmouths on the Net would have you believe.

We have more important things to fight about, like Everett’s resurrecting of the hated Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis; Chomsky’s Universal Grammar (defended pathetically by the Old Guard and under attack by the Everett crowd who everyone hates); not to mention Altaic; and Joseph Greenberg’s poor, regularly pummeled ghost, along with mass comparison in general.

The field is full of many a silly and pretty lie. One for instance is that Linguistics rejected the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis long ago, and now it is regarded as a laughing stock. Actually that’s not true. Really a bunch of bullies got together and announced very arrogantly that Sapir-Whorf was crap, and then it become written in stone the way a lot of nonsense our field believes does.

If you go back over the papers that “proved” this matter, it turns out that they never proved one thing. They just said that they proved Sapir-Whorf was nonsense, and everyone fell for it or just got in line like they were supposed to.

Not to mention that Linguistics is like an 8th Grade playground.

Let’s put it this way. If you advocate for Sapir-Whorf in academia, I pray for your soul. You also damn well better have tenure.

I don’t know how anyone advocates for Altaic these days. I would never advocate for Altaic or any remotely controversial historical linguistics hypothesis without tenure.

The field is out for blood, and they burn heretics at the stake all the time. We’ve probably incinerated more wrong thinkers than the Inquisition by now.


Filed under Afroasiatic, Altaic, Arabic, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Chinese language, Comparitive, Danish, Denmark, Dialectology, Europe, France, Germanic, Greece, Greek, Hellenic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Indo-Irano-Armeno-Hellenic, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Classification, Language Families, Linguistics, Nationalism, Occitan, Poland, Political Science, Regional, Romance, Semitic, Sinitic, Sino-Tibetan, Sociolinguistics, Sweden

Possible Origin of the Black Plague


The standard view is that twelve ships from Florence docked at Messina in 1347, bringing the Plague to Europe. It would later kill 1/3 of all Europeans and an incredible 20% of all humans. It would be as if 1.6 billion people died in only seven years or as if 66 million Americans died over a seven year period. Can you imagine? In my city alone, 12,000 people would be dead. Of every five people you knew at the start of the period, one would be dead after seven years. Can you imagine? That would not have left one person unscathed.

A new view though is that the Plague, which had already been active in Asia for a while, came to Europe via a biological warfare attack by Genghis Khan’s raiders on the city of Caffa in the Crimea. The Caffans were probably Turkic speakers at this time, but it is hard to say what Turkic lect they may have spoken. Perhaps a dead language called Cuman.

Khan’s raiders besieged the city and a number of people died of the Black Plague in the conflict. Khan’s men suspected a thing or two about biological warfare, so they loaded up the bodies that had died of the plague and catapulted them over the walls of the city into the population. Can you  imagine the horror of looking out your window and see a dead, bubonic plague ridden corpse fly by in the air at rapid speed to splatter nearby. Good Lord. In due time, this biological warfare killed a lot of the people in  the city.

Khan knew nothing of the  germ theory of disease, but experience with the plague showed that those who came in contact with victims tended to sicken and die. No one knew what was causing it. One European physician posited that plague victims radiated some sort of death vapors or essence out of their very eyes. Without medical science, people had to fall back on spiritual theories.

But people caught on quickly that being around plague victims could quickly make you a victim yourself. Physicians refused to treat plague patients and patients were often abandoned wherever they sickened. Family members even fled from their own sickened members, leaving them to die in the home while countless people fled to the countryside. But even there they were not safe. Even farm animals, cows, pigs, goats and sheep, caught the plague. So many sheep died that there was an acute wool shortage all over Europe for years afterwards. There was no solace or respite anywhere. The epidemic ended almost as fast as it began in 1354, but Europe was ruined. Entire cities had been abandoned as thousands of residents fled to the false safety of the countryside.

Many people escaped from Khan”s raid on Caffa, and survivors fled all over the Mediterranean. This people soon sickened and died. It was possibly from some of this group, fled to Florence, that the ill-fated death ships docked in Messina on that warm October night. The disease was in Southern France the next year and Germany soon after that. Not long afterwards, it hit Paris. And despite the primitive conditions of the day, it was not long in  Paris before London was also hit. People did have ships in those days you know.

Despite the enticing new theory, the medical journal concludes that the entrance of the Plague to Europe was multifactorial and the infection of the Caffa population did not play an important role in the European pandemic.


Filed under Altaic, Animals, Asia, Britain, Death, Domestic, Europe, European, France, Germany, Health, History, Illness, Italy, Language Families, Linguistics, Middle Ages, Public Health, Regional, Turkic, War

How I Determined Intelligibility For Turkic Lects

Steve: This is amazing. Well done. But how can you possibly know the degree of mutual intelligibility between two languages you don’t speak or know if something is a language or dialect when you don’t speak it? That seems strange. How is it worked out?

Linguists don’t speak all these languages we study. We just study languages, we don’t necessarily speak them. This is confused with the archaic use of the word linguist to mean polyglot. Honestly, many linguists do in fact speak more than one language, and quite a few of them have a pretty good knowledge of at least some of the languages that they study. But my mentor speaks only Turkish and English though he studies all Turkic languages. I don’t believe he has ever learned to speak any Turkic lect other than Turkish.

In reference to my paper here.

We are not looking for raw numbers. We just want to know if they can understand each other or not.

A lot of it is from talking to native speakers and also there was a lot of reading papers by other linguists. I also talked to other linguists a lot. Linguists typically simply state if two lects are intelligible or not. Also there is a basic idea among linguists of what the boundary is between a language and a dialect, and I used this knowledge a lot.

Can they understand each other? Yes or no. That’s pretty much about it. Also at some degree of structural difference, we can see the difference between a language and a dialect. It’s a judgement call, but linguists are pretty good at this.

There is a subsection of very loud linguists, mostly on the Internet, who like to screech a lot about this question cannot be answered by answered because of this or that red herring or some odd conundrums that work their way in. The thing is if you ask around enough, you will be able to get around all of the conundrums and you should be able to eventually reconcile all of the divergent responses to get some sort of a holistic or “big picture.” You finally “figure it out.” The answer to the question comes to you in a sort of a “seeing the answer as part of a larger picture” sort of thing.

The worst red herring is this notion that speakers from Group A will lie and say they do not understand speakers of Group B simply because they hate them so much. If this was such a concern, you would have think I would have run into it at some point. A much worse problem were ethnic nationalists who lie and say that they can understand neighboring tongues when they can’t.

The toxin called Pan-Turkism or Turkish ultranationalism comes into play here. It is almost normal for Turks to believe that there is only one Turkic languages, and it is called Turkish. All of the rest of the languages simply do not exist and are dialects of Turkish. I had to deal with regular attacks by extremely aggressive Ataturkists who insisted that any Turk could easily understand any other Turkic language. Actually my adviser told me that my piece would not be popular with the Pan-Turkics at all. I don’t really care as I consider them to be pond scum.

Granted, some of it was quite controversial and I got variable reports on intelligibility for some lects like Siberian Tatar vs. Tatar, the Altai languages, Kazakh vs. Kirghiz, Crimean Tatar vs. Turkish.

Where native speakers differ on such questions, often vociferously, you simply ask enough of them, talk to some experts and try to get a feel for that what best answer to the question is.

Some cases like Gagauz vs. Turkish probably need raw intelligibility testing. That’s the only one that is up in the air right now, but it is up in the air because the lects are so close. Intelligibility between Gagauz and Turkish is somewhere between  70-100%. In other words, they have marginal intelligibility at worst. My Gagauz expert who knows this language better than anyone though feels that Turkish intelligibility of Gagauz is less than 90%, which is where I drew the line at language and dialect.

It is also starting to look like Nogay is a simply a dialect of Kazakh instead of a separate language, but that might be a hard sell.

Some of these are seen as separate languages simply because they are spoken by different ethnies who do not want to be seen as part of the same group. Also they have different literary norms. Karapalkak is just a Kazakh dialect, but the speakers want to say they speak a separate language. Same with Bashkir, which is simply a dialect of Tatar. The case of Kazakh and Kirghiz is more controversial, but even here, we seem to be dealing with one language, yet the two dialects are spoken by different ethnies that have actually differentiated into two separate states, each with their own literary norm. Kazakhs wish to say they speak a language c called Kazakh and Kirghiz wish to say they speak a language called Kirghiz although they are probably really just one language.

We see a similar thing with Czech and Slovak. My recent research has proven that Czech and Slovak are actually a single language. But the dialects are spoken by different ethnic groups who claim different cultures and histories and they have actually divided into two different states, and each has its own literary norm.

It is here, where dialects become languages not via science by via politics, culture, history and sociology, that Weinrich’s famous dictum that “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy” comes into play.

Scientifically, these are all simply dialects of a single tongue but we call them languages for sociological, cultural and political reasons.


Filed under Altaic, Balto-Slavic, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Bashkir, Comparitive, Crimean Tatar, Czech, Dialectology, Gagauz, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Kazakh, Kipchak, Kyrgyz, Language Classification, Linguistics, Nationalism, Political Science, Slavic, Slovak, Sociolinguistics, Tatar, Turkic, Turkish, Ultranationalism

A Few Words on Language Endangerment

Carlos Lam: Congrats! However, isn’t language death a rather standard occurrence among societies?

It is, but we linguists don’t really like it. It is quite a debate going on, but the bottom line seems to be that ethnic groups and speaker groups have the right to ownership of their languages. We worry that a lot of speaker groups are being pressured into blowing up their languages prematurely. We like to study these languages and we are not real happy about seeing them vanish into the horizon. On the other hand, is cultural death a natural thing too? Both cultural death and language death are occurring at rates far beyond the normal background rates. English and some of the other major languages are like weapons of mass destruction in taking out languages. You really want a world with one language and one culture? I don’t.

The best position seems to be that speakers have the right to decide the fate of their languages. If speakers wish to continue speaking their languages, then governments and linguists should help them to preserve and continue to develop their languages. Quite a few groups do not seem to care that their languages are going are extinct or they are even driving or drove their languages extinct, and they have the full right to do so. In these cases, we will simply do salvage linguistics. There are many salvage linguistics projects going on in the world today.

You won’t get very far with linguists arguing that language death is a good thing. Most people don’t think so.

Occurring at the same time as language death is a lot of language revitalization. Even fully dead languages are being resurrected from the grave. Also in addition to language death, we are creating new languages all the time. In this piece, I created a total of net 13 new languages. And new languages are occurring on their own.

To give you an example. A group of Crimean Tatars moved from Crimea to Turkey about 200 years ago in the course of the Crimean War. They have been speaking Crimean Tatar in Turkey ever since, for 200 years now. But in that time, Crimean Tatar in Turkey and Crimean Tatar in Ukraine has diverged so much that Turkish Crimean Tatar is now, in my opinion, a fully separate tongue from the Ukrainian language. This is because in Turkey, a lot of Turkish has gone into Turkish Crimean Tatar which is not well understand in the Ukraine. And in the Ukraine, a lot of Russian has gone in which is not well understood in Turkey. Hence, Crimean Tatar speakers in Turkey and Ukraine can no longer understand each other well.

To give you another example, there are many Kazakh speakers in China. However, Kazakh speakers in China can no longer understand Standard Kazakh broadcasts from Kazakhstan because so many Russian loans have gone into Standard Kazakh that it is no longer intelligible with Chinese Kazakh speakers. I learned this too late for my paper, otherwise I would have split Chinese Kazakh off as a separate language.

There are many cases like this.

Further, many languages are being discovered. Sonqori, Western Khalaj, Todzhin, Duha, Dukha and Siberian Tatar are just a few of the new languages that I created. Khorosani Turkic was split into three different languages. Dayi was subsumed into one of the Khorosani Turkic languages. Altai was split from one into five separate languages, but the truth is that it is six languages, not five. Salar was split into Western Salara and Eastern Salar. Ili Turki was eliminated becuase it does not even exist. It is simply a form of Uighur. Kabardian and Balkar, Tatar and Bashkir, Kazakh and Kirghiz were some languages that were eliminated and subsumed into single tongues such as Tatar-Bashkir, Kazakh-Kirghiz, and Kabardian-Balkar. And on and on.

Languages and of course dialects are dying all the time, but new languages are being created by humans and by linguists as we continue our splitting projects. Many lects referred to as dialects are more properly seen as separate languages. Chinese is at least 450 separate languages, only 14 of which are recognized. German may be up to 130 separate languages, only 20 of which are recognized.

There are quite a few more languages to be created out there, but there is a lot of resistance to splitters like me from more conservative linguists and especially from linguistic nationalists. For while Chinese may well be over 1,000 languages, the Chinese government is anti-scientifically insistent that there is but one Chinese language and maybe 2,000 “dialects,” most of which are probably separate languages. The German government is quite resistant to the idea that there is more than one form of German, though I believe Bavarian and Swiss German have official status in Austria and Switzerland.

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Filed under Asia, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Bashkir, Bavarian, China, Chinese language, Comparitive, Crimean Tatar, Dialectology, Europe, European, German, Germanic, Government, History, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Language Classification, Language Families, Linguistics, Regional, Sinitic, Sino-Tibetan, Sociolinguistics, Tatar, Turkey, Turkic, Ukraine

I Am Now a Published Author


You can download my first published work above. I was published for the first time this spring in a book called:

Before the Last Voices Are Gone: Endangered Turkic Languages, Volume 1: Theoretical and General Approaches

This is the first volume of a four volume set called:

The Handbook of Endangered Turkic Languages

The first volume alone runs to 512 pages. Articles are in English, Russian and Turkish, variably. It was published out of the International Turkish-Kazakh University in Istanbul, Turkey and the International Turkic Academy in Astana, Kazakhstan. These are two campuses that are part of one joint Turkey-Kazakhstan shared university.

I contributed one chapter that runs from pages 311-384 titled:

Mutual Intelligibility among the Turkic Languages

It’s 83 pages long and has ~100 references. It may have taken me 500 hours to write that chapter. Tell that to my enemies who claim I do not work, ok? When all is said and done, I figure I may make 75 cents an hour on this work. But this is how academic publishing works. There’s just no money in it. It’s all a labor of love. In addition, most work is done by professors who have to publish as part of their professorship (publish or perish), so in effect, their professor salary is covering their publishing.

That document had to go through two rather grueling peer reviews. I had to make many changes in it to get it to publication. The second peer review had to get past the top Turkologists in the world today, and I am amazed that I made it through review to be honest.

Most people publishing in academic books or journals are academics, professors working at universities. There are only a few of us independent scholars out there (I am an independent scholar because I am not at a university). Also most folks have PhD’s, and I only have a Masters, but there are some folks with Masters publishing academically.

In general, this is a rather selective game where everyone is hyperspecializing as is the trend nowadays. Although my mentor at the project calls me a Renaissance Man, I wonder if the autodidact/polymath is an endangered species if not extinct. Everyone has to specialize nowadays.

For instance, common knowledge in this particular field would be that the only folks who could publish in Turkology would be linguists with a PhD in Linguistics, preferably with a emphasis in Turkology. Beyond that, they may prefer say 5-10 years publishing in the field of Turkology in addition to a professorship in Turkic linguistics. You can see where this is headed. I am not knocking it. I am just pointing out that microspecialization is the game now.

What follows is that since I lack the PhD or professorship or any background at all in Turkology, I should not be allowed to be published in this field, or if by some error I am somehow mispublished, all of my work should be promptly ignored as done by a nonspecialist who could not possibly know what he is talking about. Needless to say, I don’t agree with that, and I carry on tilting at windmills like a good deluded Renaissance Man who never got the memo and wouldn’t read it if he did.

The odd thing is that I knew nothing about Turkology until I plunged into this mess. I had written a short piece of mutual intelligibility in Turkic, as MI is one of my pet subjects and put it up on Academia on my scholarly papers site, and a professor in Turkey happened to read it. He wrote to me telling me he agreed with me, he wanted me to expand it into a document, and they would publish it for me. So off I went, down the Turkic rabbit hole. If you study the very high IQ types (140+), they tend to go on “crazes” like this. They also lose interest after a bit, drop the craze and move on to some new craze. Dilettantism for the win.

I also have an anxiety disorder called OCD which is well controlled. A good side of it though is that you tend to do dive down rabbit holes a lot, and the OCD makes you burrow maniacally into the rabbit hole with the notion that one is going to become the world’s leading expert on whatever rabbit hole you are digging in now. So for one or two years, I went absolutely berserk into Turkic, whereas before I scarcely knew a thing about it. The end result can be read above.

The sad result is that either due to the savant stuff or the mental quirk, I also tend to lose interest in my rabbit holes after a bit. I follow them about halfway to China, make several revolutions around the molten core, and after a year or so, come up for air gasping with incipient Black Lung, and next thing you know, I am bored, and it’s onto a new craze. It’s a bit silly, but we all have our crosses to lug, and as eccentricities go, there are many worse things that dabbling, er hobbyism, er dilettantism, er polymathy, er autodidactism, er Renaissance Manism.

Most of you will probably not find this very interesting, as it is pretty specialized stuff that is mostly of interest to people in the specialty, linguists and those interested in the subject. It’s not exactly for the general reader. But if you have any interest in these languages, you might enjoy it.

I expanded Turkic from 41 to 53 languages, eliminated some languages, turned some into dialects, turned some dialects into full languages, combined languages into a single tongue, created some new languages out of scratch and did quite a bit of work on the history of the languages.

I also reworked the classification a bit because I thought it could be done better. Even though this work does not pay much, the pay is in fame if it is at all. My work will either be accepted by the field or rejected outright or somewhere in between. I have already earned the praises of some of the world’s top Turkologists, much to my surprise. If I get fame, well, I get quoted in papers, maybe invited to conferences, and maybe even referenced in Wikipedia. There are groupies in all status fields, and what the heck, there may even be linguist groupies. If not, there are always starry eyed coeds dreaming of professor types to mentor them. I am already working that angle as it is. Writer Game, Scholar Game, there’s Game for everything.

Or my work does not go over and maybe the field decides I do not know what I am talking about.

Crap shoot, like most of life’s endeavors. Roll em, and wish upon a star…snake eyes!

PS. The title of the series, Before the Last Voices Are Gone, was created by me. I think it has a nice little song.


Filed under Altaic, Anxiety Disorders, Comparitive, Europe, Intelligence, Language Classification, Language Families, Linguistics, Mental Illness, OCD, Psychology, Psychopathology, Regional, Scholarship, Turkey, Turkic, Vanity

External Relations of Japanese and Apache

Jason Voorhees: YEE – There is some similarity between the language of an Apache and that of the Japanese for example.

Yee: That seems far fetched. My ancestors moved from Central China, but I can’t understand any of their dialect now. Language is easy to lose

Actually this is not correct. Apache does have external relations in the new Yenisien-Na Dene family (already under fierce attack by splitters), and in a larger sense to Chinese but not Japanese. But there is no similarity whatsoever between Japanese and Apache, other than that probably all human languages are related at some distant level. There is no clear or obvious relationship between Japanese (really Japonic) and any other language. Japanese is not one language. It is a group of languages called Japonic. Most of the Japonic languages are spoken the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa), where there are 5-6 separate languages spoken. These languages still have many speakers, but they are in very bad shape as the Japanese have been waging war on them for some time now. Most of the speakers are middle aged or older and transmission to the young is at a low level.

However, it is clear to me that Japanese does have external relations. The most obvious external relation would be with Korean. Even some of the hardest-core anti-Altaicists agree that there is a good chance that Korean and Japanese are related. Looking at the larger picture, Japanese and Korean are both related to Turkic, Tungusic and Mongolic in a superfamily called Altaic. Mainstream linguistics has refused to accept Altaic although the evidence for its existence is striking.

The evidence for the existence of Altaic is just as good as the evidence for Austroasiatic,l and that is a universally accepted family. Worse, people who believe in Altaic are attacked and ridiculed mercilessly to the point where if you believe in it,  you might actually have a hard time getting a professorship.

Of course, Altaicists are accused of being anti-scientific because “science” has not yet shown that there is any relationship. Adults who think like this are children. Science doesn’t know everything and science is flat out wrong about countless things. That is because many theories are simply true that are presently rejected by science due to so-called lack of evidence.

Having to go ask Mommy Science whether everything you encounter in the world is true or not is like what a child does. A child is always running up to Mommy asking is it is true that so and so etc etc. Mommy says yes or no and the kid is satisfied. The are adults who are still tied to their mothers apron strings who never learned to differentiate themselves as mature individuals. Hence they have to run the Mommy Science and ask whether something is true or not instead of sitting down and looking at the evidence and deciding for yourself.

Not all things that are true have been accepted by science. If you are going to learn anything in life, it should be that right there. Time to cut the apron strings, babies.


Filed under Altaic, Asia, Austro-Asiatic, Dene-Yenisien, Japan, Japanese, Japonic, Korean language, Language Families, Linguistics, Na-Dene, NE Asia, Regional, Science, Sociolinguistics, Tungusic, Turkic

Is There a Language That is (Nearly) Impossible to Learn to Speak Without Growing up with It?

Answer from Quora

I recently talked to a man who is learning Min Nan, which is a Sinitic language often called a dialect of Chinese. He told me that Min Nan speakers say that the tones are so hard that no one who doesn’t grow up speaking Min Nan ever seems to get it very well.

Cantonese is a similar language that is very difficult. It is much harder than Mandarin, and many native Mandarin speakers say they tried to learn Cantonese and gave up on it because it was too hard. Cantonese has nine tones.

Basque is said to be very hard to learn unless you grow up with it. There is a joke that the Devil spent seven years trying to learn Basque, and he only learned how to say Hello and Goodbye.

Navajo would also be hard. Even Navajo children struggle quite a bit learning Navajo and don’t seem to get it well until maybe age 12. When Navajo children arrive at school, they often do not speak Navajo well yet.

Korean is a surprise, but apparently it is very hard to learn well. A native Korean speaker told me that Korean is so hard that no Korean speaker ever speaks it with 100% accuracy, and everyone makes errors.

Czech is also hard. Even most Czech speakers never get Czech all the way. They have TV contests in Czechoslovakia where they try to stump native speakers with hard forms in the language. If you can last 30 minutes without making even one error, you win. I think only two men have been able to do it, but one was a non-native speaker!

Piraha, spoken in the Brazilian Amazon, is also very hard. Over the course of a few centuries, several Portuguese speaking priests had tried to learn Piraha, but they had all given up because it was too hard. And these same priests had been able to master a number of other Indian languages, but Piraha was just too much. Daniel Everett learned the language and wrote important papers on it. He is only of the only non-native speakers who was able to learn the language.

Tsez, spoken in the Caucasus, is also murderously hard. Every verb can have over 100,000’s of possible forms. I understand that even native speakers make regular errors when speaking Tsez.

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More on the Remains of Ancient Australoid “Indo-Pacific” Languages in India

Jm8: Might there have also been more than one language family among the proto-Australoid peoples of India I wonder (including Austroasiatic) (like there are in Australia and Papua today), since India is big and had been inhabited for a very long time (being among the longest inhabited areas outside Africa)?

It would be interesting to investigate the distribution of Austroasiatic influence over the various Dravidian languages to see where in India it is stronger.

This article suggests that Austroasiatic is not indigenous to India (but rather to south east Asia).

I had though that the Veddoid/early Australoid languages of India might be lost forever and only (maybe) partly reconstructible (in as few aspects) from their influences on other languages that replaced them. But if they were Austroasiatic (and represented by those languages surviving in Andra Pradesh), then that is not the case.

“The Vedda/Australoid people are speakers of the Munda branch of Austroasiatic. There is an Austroasiatic layer in both Dravidian and Indic. It is the oldest layer.”

That’s interesting. I thought Austroasiatic was associated with Southern Proto (Paleo?)-Mongoloids (like some of the Northeast Indian tribes — and Vietnamese is Austroasiatic). But maybe it predates the split between Australoid and Proto-Mongoloid peoples (some Paleomongoloid descendants of course still somewhat resemble Australoids, or did not that long ago in prehistory), which would be interesting. It’s it a very old and deep language family? I know there are some tribes in East Central India (Andra Pradesh I think) that speak Austroasiatic, and they look phenotypically a bit like something transitional between South Mongoloid and Australoid.

“I am not aware of theories showing Dravidian close to Australian languages.”

It might be discredited now (I’ll try to look into it, and the Austroasiatic influence on Dravidian, which is interesting). The theory (I think) was only that there might be a substratal influence of something like one of the Australian families on Dravidian (but still that Dravidian came mostly from somewhere the Middle East — or consistent with that idea anyway).

It might make sense that there is a substratal influence from “Indo-Pacific” languages such as those from the Andaman Islands and West Papua in Dravidian, but I have never heard of it. That would be an older layer underneath even the Munda layer in Dravidian.

There was no split between Australoids and Proto-Mongoloids. The former simply transitioned into the latter. Austroasiatic is associated with the Paleomongoloids and Neomongoloids of SE Asia. Austroasiatic is indeed old and deep, and the evidence for Austroasiatic is about as good as the evidence for Afroasiatic and Altaic. This doesn’t make sense because Afroasiatic and Austroasiatic are generally recognized families, but Altaic is not, although there evidence for the two former is no better than the evidence for the latter.

They were not lost forever as Kusunda, Nihali and the Vedda language substrate seem to be the remains of the tongues of the original Australoid speakers. The original tongues were not Austroasiatic – those languages came later. However, at the moment, most of the highly Australoid people in India speak a Munda language like Santhal. Apparently the Munda languages were once widespread over the whole continent, but most of them were replaced by Dravidian and Indic intrusions. In the more settled people, Dravidian and Indic replaced Munda languages, but in the tribals, the earlier Munda tongues lingered perhaps due to their inaccessibility living in the forest and the fact that the scheduled tribes are mostly outside the caste system.

Yes and the split between the Munda languages and the rest of the Austroasiatic is very deep. Austroasiatic can almost be split into Munda and non-Munda as two basic parts of the family. And there is not a lot left connecting the Munda languages to the rest of the family.

Kusunda, Nihali and the substrate of the Vedda language of Sri Lanka are thought to be the remains of the languages of the original Australoid speakers. These languages may be related to the Andaman Islands languages and Papuan languages. I know there is a connection between Kusunda and Andaman Islands languages and West Papuan tongues. There is some theorized relationship with such “Indo=Pacific” tongues and Nihali and the Vedda substrate also.

Yes, the Mundas came into India relatively lately and surely replaced nearly all of those original Andaman/Papuan languages of the Australoid people.

At the moment, Kusunda and Nihali are isolates, and even the Andaman tongues are split into two different families, so right now there are already separate language families among these Australoid people.

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Repost: Historical Linguistics Mired in Stick in the Mud Conservatism

I have some folks in the field of Linguistics who are apparently my out and out enemies. Why they want to play like this is not known. I don’t want to fight with them. I’m not sure I want to be friends with them either since they are such total pricks and anonymous cowards, but jerks are better than enemies. They started it.

Here they profess to take this paper apart, but they do no such thing which is as usual for these pitiful jokers. Even the title is false. I’m not a STEMLord you boneheads. I’m  terrible at physical sciences. I got my degree in the same hokey social science that they did.

I am simply a social sciences dissident like Steven Pinker. Many of our fields are mired in all sorts of unproven or out and out false politically correct nonsense which passes as dogma simply because it is a political proper belief. This is because they believe what they want to believe. On the other hand, they get social science nihilistic on other things and insist that this or that is not proven, endlessly moving goalposts so it can never be proven. Or they state that many things are unprovable and unmeasurable. I can’t even begin to list the number of things in this field that are apparently unmeasurable. It’s hard to imagine that there is any question in science that is unprovable or unmeasurable. It just sounds like more goalposts-moving.

Historical Linguistics is one of the more brutal subfields in Linguistics, probably because you can hardly prove much of anything.

It involves looking at languages and arranging them into families and then arranging them in the families in a proper fashion. So an essential aspect of Historical Linguistics is the discovery of new language families and the elaboration of existing ones. The former is pretty much over in this field because this silly discipline has decided that there will be no more large or old language families discovered. Nonsensically, this has resulted in an utterly idiotic proliferation of insipid “isolates” which are languages that cannot be proven to be related to others. But actually, long-rangers have already stacked most all of the world’s languages into decent families and in their view there are no isolates left.

In addition, there are all sorts of idiotic small families with a couple to separate members, and said family is not related to anything else. I guess nothing’s related to anything then! The bizarre fact is that this preposterous fake science takes great pride in this silly nihilism. Obviously every language is related to every other language ultimately because surely language arose only once in mankind’s history.

Nevertheless, Linguistics insists that this obvious fact is not proven, so I guess it’s not even a fact. Instead the dead solid truth is that somehow there scores of isolates and silly small language families that have no relations. Surely that is a false conclusion. The only way it could be true is if language arose scores of times all the way down to a few thousand years ago.

There were scores of bands of humans who had no language whatsoever except grunts and sign language, and they all independently developed language scores of times in the last ~50,000 years. It was an incredible case of parallel development, the most amazing the world has ever seen. Because this is the only  way that Linguistics’ crazy conclusion could be true. So Linguistics is now stating essentially is that this is what happened – language being independently developed all over the world down to the last several thousand years. Dumb, huh?

Historical Linguistics also involves the reconstruction of dead languages or earlier aspects of existing languages. The dead languages have left no record and are often 7-10,000 years old. The earlier phases of existing tongues also have often left no record.

So it is unprovable guesswork guessing at what ancient languages looked like, with no real way to prove if anyone is right or wrong because the languages no longer exist.

On top of that, the field has become mired in stick in the mud conservatism such that I doubt if any new ancient language families are going to proven in my lifetime. The conservatives keep moving the goalposts, and no evidence is ever good enough. Linguistics is ecstatic about this because endlessly moving the goalposts so you can never prove anything anymore means that Linguistics is now really groovy and scientific and this cures their physics envy.

Really it’s just another fake science in the social sciences, although a lot of the more basic work is indeed factually and empirically based. So the field encompasses a lot of excellent empirical based work. In addition, there are a number of preposterous leftwing shibboleths that everyone in the field has agreed are settled truth. Linguistics has adopted these silly ideas because they are leftwing and PC, and the field is at the heart of SJW Central Command. Mixed in with these silly politically based agreed upon facts (for which there is typically no evidence whatsoever) there is this prideful stubbornness and ultra-conservative attitude in Historical Linguistics because the way to be all sciency is to deny forever more any new language families. Because that cures our physics envy and makes us feel all sciency.

Actually many of the long-rangers have gathered excellent evidence for their work, all of which is rejected. For instance, Altaic now has a 1,000 page etymological dictionary of all things and there are many reconstructed forms and a great deal of commonality in basic morphology, core vocabulary, pronouns and language structure. We also have quite a few actual paradigms which are impossible to derive in unrelated languages. The long-rangers churn out many papers and here is where the real science is. They are doing dramatic work and proving  a lot of new things.

On the other hand, the fake science folks on the other end chant over and over in Gregorian fashion, “You didn’t prove it. You didn’t prove it. You didn’t prove it.” No matter what evidence is assembled and presented, the response is always this autistic nihilism of “You didn’t prove it.” The arguments of many of the deniers have been destroyed already. The deniers now take the preposterous position that there has been mass borrowing of personal pronouns in Asia and the Americas in particular. Such mass borrowing of personal pronouns would have had to have taken place on a scale almost never seen on Earth. In fact, personal pronouns are borrowed only very rarely. In Altaic we have pronoun paradigms cascading down through person and number, all lined up like the Marines in perfect formation.

This is waved away with “You didn’t prove it.” In fact, the standard line in Linguistics as voiced with complete seriousness by one of the top linguists in the field is that the stunning pronoun paradigms in Altaic were all borrowings. That statement is insipid on its face. It doesn’t even qualify as theory because it’s not even possible. They might as well say, “Bats flew out my butt” as there  was mass borrowing of entire pronoun paradigms.

In addition, Altaic has a huge amount of core vocabulary in common including forms that match in say Turkish and say Evenki. Apparently the Evenki and the Ottomans borrowed from each other. How? Bats flew out my butt.

Typically and for many decades now, all of these cognates in core vocabulary are said to be borrowings. There are specialists who spent most of their careers ferreting out these “borrowings” most of which are actual cognates. These men frittered away a lot of their careers on a theory that is obviously false. For the only way Altaic could not be true is if this vast amount of borrowing actually took place. The level of borrowing of core vocabulary postulated for Altaic is on a scale that is far beyond the language borrowing we have seen anywhere else on Earth. In other words, it didn’t happen. Bats flew out my butt. Once again it fails even the hypothesis stage because hypotheses are supposed to be plausible and anti-Altaic fails that those grounds alone.

Being a Historical Linguistics conservative is the hip and cool thing to be in Linguistics, and the peer pressure in the field is worse than an eighth grade playground. If you take a liberal position that says that some ancient language family like Altaic exists, the peer pressure on you as a fraud, idiot, kook, crank and loser is unbelievable. I am amazed that there are any liberals left promoting daring new ideas on ancient language families.

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Simplification of Language with Increasing Civilization: A Result of Contact or Civilization Itself

Nice little comment here on an old post, Primitive People Have Primitive Languages and Other Nonsense? 

I would like to dedicate this post to my moronic field of study itself, Linguistics, which believes in many a silly thing as consensus that have never been proved and are either untrue or probably untrue.

One of the idiocies of my field is this belief that in some way or another, most human languages are pretty much the same. They believe that no language is inherently better or worse than any other language, which itself is quite a dubious proposition right there.

They also believe, incredibly, that no language is more complex or simple than any other language. Idiocy!

Another core belief is that each language is perfectly adapted for its speakers. This leads to their rejecting claims that some languages are unsuitable for the modern world due to lack of modern vocabulary. This common belief of many minority languages is obviously true. Drop a Papuan in Manhattan, and see what good his Torricelli tongue does him. He won’t have words for most of the things around him. He won’t even have verbs for most of the actions he sees around him. His language is nearly useless in this environment.

My field also despises notions that some languages are better suited to poetry, literature or say philosophy than others or that some languages are more or less concise or exact than others or that certain concepts or ways of thinking are better expressed in one language as opposed to another. However, this is a common belief among polyglots, and I would not be surprised if it was true.

The question we are dealing with below is based on the notion that many primitive languages are exceeding complex and the common sense observation that as languages acquire more speakers and civilization increases, one tends to see a simplification of language.

My field out and out rejects both statements.

They will tell you that primitive languages are no more complex than more civilized tongues and that there is no truth to the statement that languages simplify with greater numbers of speakers and increased civilization. However, I have shot these two rejected notions to many non-linguists, and they all felt that these statements had truth to them. Once again, my field violates common sense in the name of the abstract and abstruse “we can’t prove anything about anything” scientific nihilism so common in the intellectually degraded social sciences.

Indeed, some of the most wildly complex languages of all can be found among rather primitive peoples such as Aborigines, Papuans, Amerindians and even Africans. Most language isolates like Ket, Burashaski and Basque are pretty wild. The languages of the Caucasus are insanely complex, and that region doesn’t exactly look like Manhattan. Siberian languages are often maddeningly complex.

Even in China, in the remoter parts of China, language becomes highly differentiated and probably more complex. I know an American who was able to learn Cantonese and Mandarin who told me that at age 35, for an American to learn Hokkien was virtually impossible. He tried various schemes, but they all failed. He finally started to get a hold of the language with a strict eight hour a day study schedule. Anything less resulted in failure. Hokkien speakers that he spoke too said you needed to grow up speaking Hokkien to be able to speak the language well at all. By the way, this is another common sense notion that linguists reject. They say there are no languages so difficult that it is very hard to pick them up unless you grew up with them.

The implication here is that Min Nan is even more complex than the difficult Mandarin or even the forbidding Cantonese, which even many Mandarin speakers give up trying to learn because it is too hard.

Min Nan comes out Fujian Province, a land of forbiddingly high mountains where language differentiation is very high, and there is often difficult intelligibility even from village to village. In one area, fifteen years ago an American researcher decided to walk to a nearby village. It took him six very difficult hours over steep mountains. He could have taken the bus, but that was a four-day trip! A number of these areas had no vehicle roads until recently and others were crossed by vast rivers that had no bridges across them. Transportation was via foot. Obviously civilization in these parts of China is at a more primitive level, and it’s hard to develop Hong Kong-style cities in places with such isolating and rugged terrain.

It’s more like, “Oh, those people on the other side of the ridge? We never go there, but we heard that their language is a lot different from ours. It’s too hard to go over that range so we never go to that area.”

In the post, I theorized that as civilization increased, time becomes money, and there is a need to get one’s point across quickly, whereas more primitive peoples often spend no more than 3-4 hours a day working and the rest sitting around, playing  and relaxing. A former Linguistics professor told me that one theory is that primitive people, being highly intelligent humans (all humans are highly intelligent by default), are bored by their primitive lives, so they enjoy their wildly complex languages and like to relax, hang out and play language games with them to test each other on how well they know the structures. They also like to play tricky and maybe humorous language games with their complicated languages. In other words, these languages are a source of intellectual stimulation and entertainment in an intellectually impoverished area.

Of course, my field rejects this theory as laughably ridiculous, but no one has disproven it yet, and I doubt if the hypothesis has even been tested, hence it is an open question. My field even tends to reject the notion of open questions, preferring instead to say that anything not proven (or even tested for that matter) is demonstrably false. That’s completely anti-scientific, but that’s the trend nowadays across the board as scientistic thinking replaces scientific thinking.

Of course this is in line with the terrible conservative or reactionary trend in science where Science is promoted to a fundamentalist religion and scientists decide that various things are simply proven true or proven not true and attempts to change the consensus paradigm are regarded derisively or with out and out fury and rage and such attempts are rejected via endless moving of goalposts with the goal of making it never possible to prove the hypothesis. If you want to see an example of this in Linguistics, look at the debate around  Altaic. They have set it up so that no matter how much existing evidence we are able to gather for the theory, we will probably never be able to prove it as barriers to proof have been set up to make the question nearly unprovable.

It’s rather senseless to set up Great Wall of China-like barriers to proof in science because at some point,  you are hardly proving anything new, apparently because you don’t want to.

Fringe science is one of the most hated branches of science and many scientists refer to it as pseudoscience. Practitioners of fringe science have a very difficult time as the Scientific Establishment often persecutes them, for instance trying to get them fired from professorships. Yet this Establishment is historically illiterate because many of the most stunning findings in history were made by widely ridiculed fringe scientists.

The commenter below rejects my theory that increased civilization itself results in language simplification, as it gets more important to get your point across as quickly  as possible with increasing complexity and development of society. Instead he says civilization leads to increased contact between speakers of different dialects or language, and in such cases,  language must be simplified, often dramatically, in order for any decent communication to occur. Hence increased contact, not civilization in and of itself, is the driver of simplification.

I like this theory, and I think he may be onto something.

To me the simplification of languages of more ‘civilized’ people is mostly a product of language contact rather than of civilization itself. If the need arises to communicate with foreign people all of the time, for example in trade, then the language must become more simple in order to be able to be understood by more people.

Also population size matters a lot. It has been found that the greater the number of speakers, the greater the rate of language change. For example Polynesian languages, although having been isolated centuries or even millennia ago, still have only minor differences from one another.

In the case of many speakers, not all will be able to learn all the rules of a language, so they will tend to use the most common ones. And if the language is split in many dialects, then speakers of each dialect must find a compromise in order to communicate, which might come out as simple. If we add sociolects, specific registers for some occasions, sacred registers, slang etc, something that will arise in a big and stratified civilization, then the linguistic barriers people will need to overcome become greater. So it is just normal that after some centuries, this system to simplify.

We don’t need to look farther than Europe. Most languages of the western half being spoken in countries with strong trade links to one another and with much of the world later in history are quite analytic, but the languages of the more isolated eastern part are still like the older Indo-European languages. Basques, living in a small isolated pocket in the Iberian Peninsula, have kept a very complex language. Icelanders, also due to isolation, have kept a quite conservative Germanic language, whereas most modern Germanic languages are ridiculously simplified. No one can argue in his sane mind that Icelanders are primitives.

On the other hand, Romanian, being spoken in the more isolated Balkans, has retained more of the complex morphology of Latin compared to West Romance languages. And of course advance of civilization won’t automatically simplify the language, as Turkish and Russian, both quite complicated languages compared to the average European tongue, don’t seem to give up their complexity nowadays.

On the other hand, indigenous people were living in a much more isolated setting compared to the modern world, the number of speakers was comparatively low, and there was no need to change. Also, neighboring tribes were often hostile to one another, so each tribal group sought to make itself look special. That is the reason why places with much inter-tribal warfare like New Guinea have so many languages which are so different from one another. When these languages need to communicate, we get ridiculously simple contact languages like Hiri Motu.
So language simplification is more a result of language contact rather than civilization itself.


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