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5.0 out of 5 stars A family within Nostratic, 18 Oct 2008
By 
Pieter Uys "Toypom" (Johannesburg) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Indo-European and Its Closest Relatives: The Eurasiatic Language Family: Lexicon v. 2 (Hardcover)
Joseph H Greenberg (1915 - 2001) was probably the most important linguist of the 20th century, well-known for his work in classification and typology. His classification of African languages into the 4 macro-families Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan, Khoisan and Niger-Kordofanian in the books Studies in African linguistic classification (1955) & Languages of Africa (1963) was almost universally rejected by the linguists at the time, then accepted by African specialists and universally accepted today.

The Danish linguist Holger Pedersen first proposed the idea of Nostratic in 1903. Modern Nostraticists differ about the exact extent of this genetic grouping but it generally includes Afro-Asiatic (languages include Hebrew, Akkadian, Arabic, Egyptian & Coptic, Aramaic, Hausa & Somali), Kartvelian (Georgian), Indo-European (Italic, Celtic, Greek, Germanic, Baltic, Armenian etc.), Uralic (incl. Finnish & Hungarian), Dravidian (incl. Tamil & Telugu), Altaic (incl. Mongolian & Turkish) and Eskimo-Aleut. Nowadays there's growing support for the view that Nostratic had a Southern Cluster: Dravidian, Kartvelian & Afro-Asiatic and a Northern which corresponds closely with Eurasiatic.

Greenberg came to the conclusion that what he termed Eurasiatic languages are more closely related in time to one another, and as a family most closely related to the Amerind family of the Americas. In his view the Afro-Asiatic, Kartvelian and Dravidian families separated from Eurasiatic much earlier. In Volume 1: Grammar, he investigates 72 grammatical etymologies. In this second volume, he explores the lexical evidence through 437 lexical etymologies.

Eurasiatic consists of Altaic, Chukotian, Eskimo-Aleut, Etruscan, Gilyak, Indo-European, Japanese-Korean-Ainu and Uralic-Yukaghir. Many of the relevant etymologies of the larger families had already been published in the work of Nostraticists like Bomhard, Dolgopolsky, Illich-Svitych and Kerns, so Greenberg emphasizes those from languages not considered Nostratic like Ainu, Gilyak, Chukotian or deserving of more attention like Eskimo-Aleut.

He speculates that the Eurasiatic & Amerind families may have separated around 15,000 BP with the melting of the Arctic ice cap. The root *ME demonstrates the closeness of Eurasiatic & Amerind, as it encompasses meanings like "hand" & "measure" in both families; compare Italian MANO to Algonquian MI or Uto-Aztecan MA, all meaning hand.

Greenberg's methodology is explained in chapter one of Language in the Americas, his seminal work on Amerind. This methodology does not equate the regularity of sound correspondences with regular sound changes. There is no one-to-one relation since strict regularity is broken by for example analogy and lexical diffusion. Amongst the evidence provided is the following: English - Mother, Father, Brother versus German Mutter, Vater, Bruder. The brother breaks the pattern.

Further proof is available from the Turkic language group. Chuvash vowels do not correspond with those in Old Turkic and there are significant consonantal variations. The same holds true for the Dravidian languages of India & Pakistan where phonetic correspondences do not exist in etymological clusters. Yet the cognates are obvious in all the aforementioned cases.

The main body of the work consists of the 437 lexical etymologies with reference to a huge array of living and extinct languages like Ainu, Gilyak, Old Japanese, Eskimo-Aleut, Proto Indo-European, Altaic, Hittite, Armenian, Greek, Latin, Uralic and Lithuanian to mention just a few.

So exactly which living languages comprise Eurasiatic? They are:

Altaic (Mongolic, Turkic, Tungusic)

Chukotian (5 small languages of northeastern Siberia & the Kamchatka Peninsula)

Eskimo-Aleut (Spoken from Alaska to Greenland)

Gilyak (Spoken by about one thousand Nivkh people in far eastern Siberia & Sakhalin Island)

Indo-European (Albanian, Armenian, Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Greek, Indo-Iranian, Italic & Slavic, representing the dominant languages of the Americas, Europe, southern Asia from Armenia eastwards through northern India to Bangladesh, plus Australia & New Zealand). To further elaborate on just two of these, the Italic family today comprises inter alia Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian & Romanian, whilst the Germanic includes English, Dutch, German, Danish, Swedish & Afrikaans to name a few.

Japanese-Korean-Ainu (Japan, Korean Peninsula)

Uralic-Yukaghir (Estonian, Finnish & Magyar of Europe plus the tiny Yukaghir group in Siberia).

The extinct families/languages include Anatolian of which Hittite was the most prominent, Etruscan which was spoken in Tuscany and surrounding areas of north-central Italy and the easternmost Indo-European language Tocharian of the Xingjian Uyghur region of China.

This fascinating book includes tables, maps, bibliographic references plus semantic & phonetic indexes. Together with volume one & Language in the Americas, it makes a valuable contribution to genetic classification and the study of mankind's unknown past. Although there is fierce opposition now, I have no doubt Greenberg will be proved correct as he was in the case of the languages of Africa. Just give it another 50 years.

I also recommend Sprung from Some Common Source: Investigations Into the Prehistory of Languages edited by Sydney M Lamb, The Nostratic Macrofamily: A Study in Distant Linguistic Relationship by Allan R Bomhard and On the Origin of Languages: Studies in Linguistic Taxonomy by Merritt Ruhlen.
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