[b-hebrew] Nostratic

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Wed Apr 18 15:37:39 EDT 2007

On 4/18/07, Peter Kirk wrote:

> Yonah, you can't see this clearly in Latin because the fusion actually
> took place much earlier. If you look back at reconstructed
> Proto-Indo-European, see the examples I gave earlier, the
> correspondences are much more clear. Despite what Uri wrote, that "this
> is the realm of sheer speculation", this is in fact as clearly
> demonstrated as anything can be from the remote past. This is how
> language works, even if you have to look a bit beyond Latin 101 to see it.

Saenz-Badillos has this to say on Nostratic:

"Starting with the publications of H. Moller at the beginning of the twentieth
century, there have been a number of studies on the relationship of the
Afro-Asiatic phylum and Indo-European, despite the problems associated
with this kind of study.  Although the lexical comparisons of Moller and M.
Honnorat did not seem particularly compelling, pioneering studies of
comparative phonetics and morphology, such as those of A. Cuny, have
helped clarify the relationship.  However, as a result of assumptions about
racial history then prevalent, Cuny, and other scholars like H. Pedersen
and G.I. Ascoli, went beyond the evidence of shared linguistic features in
developing the hypothesis of a proto-language which was the common
ancestor of both Indo-European and Hamito-Semitic.  Ascoli called this
putative language 'Aryo-Semitic', whereas Pedersen and Cuny preferred
'Nostratic'.  Other scholars, such as P. Meriggi, also came to support
this idea, which, however, should not be regarded as well-founded."

"In this type of analysis the methods used are of primary importance, and
nowadays the approach of Moller and Cuny is rightly viewed with suspicion.
But there are difficulties as well with the more recent analysis by S. Levin,
who, basing himself primarily on vocalized texts, concluded that there are
many common features among Hebrew, 'an aberrant Semitic language',
Greek, and Sanskirt.  Other studies, like that of M. Fraenkel, which follow
in the path laid down by Moller, are excessively simplistic, limited to a
rather crude, unscientific, comparison of vocabulary."

Don Ringe, in 'Reconstructed Ancient Languages' from the Cambridge
Encylocpedia of the World's Ancient Languages concludes his discussion
of the methods of reconstruction with:

"At this point it should be clear to the reader that rigor, caution, and a
general knowledge of linguistics that is as wide as possible are crucial to
the reconstruction of protolanguages.  Those considerations alone refute
the claims of some scholars to have established so-called long-range
genetic groupings of langauges that include several recognized families
(such as 'Nostratic' and 'Amerind'), because /without exception/ their
work fails to meet the best standards of mainstream historical linguistics
(see refutations in, /inter alios/, Campbell 1988, Vine 1991).  It is also
true that simple, robust statistical tests reveal such claims to be
untenable (see Ringe 1995, 1996a, 1999; Nichols and Peterson 1996 with

Going back to Saenz Badillos, the above discussion concludes on a
hopeful note:

"Much more acceptable is the work of M.L. Mayer, who, without employing
the image of a family tree, examined the zones of contact between the two
language groups, drawing attention to Akkadian-Hittite and Ugaritic-Hittite
isoglosses, Semitic loanwords in Greek, and so on.  We agree with his
conclusion that it is becoming ever more likely that in prehistoric times
groups of Indo-European and Semitic languages co-existed or at least
existed in close proximity to one another, and that perhaps, after
completion of the necessary investigations, it might be possible to speak
not of a 'mother language' (in the sense intended by Ascoli, Moller,
Pedersen, or Cuny), but of a range of isoglosses across the Indo-
European and Semitic languages."

References follow.

Yitzhak Sapir

Saenz-Badillos, 1996.  A History of the Hebrew Language.  translated by
John Elwolde

Campbell, L. 1988, "Review of 'Language in the Americas.'" Language 64:591-615
Nichols, J. and D. Peterson. 1996. "The Amerind personal pronouns."
Language 72:336-71
Ringe, D. 1995. "'Nostratic' aand the factor of chance." Diachronica 12:55-74.
Ringe, D. 1996a. "The mathematics of 'Amerind'." Diachronica 13:133-154
Ringe, D. 1999. "How hard is it to match CVC-roots?" Transactions of the
  Philological Society 97:213-244
Vine, B. 1991.  "Indo-European and Nostratic." Indogermanische
Forschugen 96:9-35

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