Monday, 24 June 2013

Jason Colavito on Ibn Farrukh

Yesterday, Jason Colavito posted a brilliant article contesting a claim that an Arab navigator made his way to America in 999 CE.  The claim had made its way to Wikipedia, and has cropped up elsewhere.  Colavito's takedown is excellent, and I recommend reading it.

Check out the rest of Colavito's website, as well.  There's really no reason for anyone else to go about debunking Ancient Aliens when Colavito has already done the hard work for us.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Trask vs. Crowley

I got an email asking why I decided to use Terry Crowley's Introduction to Historical Linguistics instead of Larry Trask's Historical Linguistics, so I thought I'd answer it here.  When I had the choice, I went for Crowley's book.  I have a strong interest in Austronesian languages, and at the time of first studying the subject I was very interested in New Guinea and Australia as well, so Crowley's was the natural choice.  Trask, an expert on Basque, drew primarily on Indo-European and Basque examples, which are certainly interesting but not exactly what I was looking for.  Having read Trask's as well - an excellent book, and actually somewhat more readable than Crowley's - I still think Crowley's is the better option for the beginner.  There are a couple examples of editorial choices that put Crowley's above Trask's, if only slightly.  For instance, if I remember correctly, Trask puts such things as final devoicing in his section on fortition, instead of in the section on assimilation/dissimilation.  Final devoicing certainly is an example of fortition, but it's best thought of as an assimilatory change (assimilating the voicelessness of the silence following the word).  At least, assimilation is the best explanation for why it occurs, rather than the more mysterious fortition.

So that's the answer.  Crowley focuses on languages from the Pacific, which come from several language families and are (in many cases) morphologically simpler, making linguistic rules easier to understand.  Trask, meanwhile, went a more classical route, which was less optimal for my needs.  In addition, Crowley's lay-out, while less readable/humourous, is marginally easier to understand for the beginner.  They're both excellent books, though, as is Lyle Campbell's, so take your pick based on your own criteria.  If your interest is in Eneolithic Eurasia, or learning Grassmann's Law, Grimm's Law, etc, in quite a classical environment, then Trask's is the book for you.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Pseudoscience: Western Xia Become Navajo? - An Email from Alice Beck Kehoe

I received an email from Alice Beck Kehoe, an archaeologist/anthropologist who holds some ever-so-slightly fringe ideas about pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact - a bit like Betty Meggers, an anthropologist whose expertise was demonstrable but many of whose ideas were contrary to evidence or parsimony.  She emailed me because of a book I mocked, briefly, in a post on The People of Alor: Ethel Stewart's utterly bizarre The Dene and Na-Dene Indian Migrations 1233 A.D.: Escape from Genghis Khan to America, a book claiming to set out the evidence for a recent migration of Sino-Tibetan-speaking people to North America because of the Mongol invasion of the Western Xia polity in the early thirteenth century.  These migrants then became the Athabaskan-speaking populations of western North America, including the Haida, Navajo, and Apache.  I mocked the book because it's totally unsupported and among the worst of fringe archaeology, claiming something downright silly and in defiance of the facts.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Dissimilation - 'Introduction to Historical Linguistics' by Crowley and Bowern, Part VIII

This is the eighth part in a series on historical linguistics, using Terry Crowley and Claire Bowern's Introduction to Historical Linguistics as a base.  Part I is here.  Part II, here.  Part III, here.  Part IV, here.  Part V, here.  Part VI, here.  Part VII, here.

Having covered all of the features of assimilation, dissimilation should be a piece of cake.  It's just the inverse of assimilation: instead of sounds becoming more similar due to proximity, they become less similar.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Assimilation II - 'Introduction to Historical Linguistics' by Terry Crowley and Claire Bowern, Part VII

This is the seventh part in a series on historical linguistics, using Crowley and Bowern's Introduction to Historical Linguistics as a base.  Part I is here.  Part II, here.  Part III, here.  Part IV, here.  Part V, here.  Part VI, here.

So, last time we dealt with several aspects of assimilation, finishing on one of the most famous sound changes of them all, palatalisation.  This time, we're going to look at assimilation-at-a-distance, final devoicing, and vowel and nasal harmony.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Assimilation I - 'Introduction to Historical Linguistics', Part VI

 This is post VI on historical linguistics using Terry Crowley and Claire Bowern's Introduction to Historical Linguistics as a base.  Part I is here.  Part II, here.  Part III, here.  Part IV, here.  Part V, here.  The topic of this post is assimilation.

Assimilation is the most common form of sound change, and so it's a good idea to spend time on it.  The essential idea is that sounds in proximity to one another can change one another, and they can do so when they are right next to one another or when they are scattered throughout a word (or even a sentence - pepper becoming 'pecker' in 'Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers' is an example of assimilation at a distance).  It's extremely common and found in all languages and language families.  It's different from fusion, in that the sounds do not fuse together to become a single sound.  Instead, they change one another slightly (or completely) but maintain their separateness.