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The Uralic Language Family. Facts, Myths and Statistics

Book review
The Uralic Language Family. Facts, Myths and Statistics
Angela Marcantonio, Publications of the Philological Society, 35 Oxford, UK, Blackwell,
Boston, USA, 335 pp., ISBN 0-631-23170-6 (pb)
1. Every field of scholarly endeavour can doubtless benefit from taking stock from time
to time. It needs to confront the material it has accumulated and the techniques it has used
to handle that material, the hypotheses it has evolved and the all-important research ethos
in which its work has taken place, to check if it is in line with what can rightly be expected
of scholarship: results of enduring value. Such a stocktaking will also, of necessity,
highlight areas where there are still unresolved issues and thus move us forward. Naturally
such work can be carried out only by someone who has mastered both the material and the
techniques of handling it in terms of method and theory. And it can be an added bonus if
that person is able to carry out their evaluation while maintaining some perspective, since
this will increase the chances of objectivity. Looking at its title and subtitle, one might well
imagine that Marcantonio’s book is of this calibre, especially as the publisher is a
distinguished one and the author is a lecturer in general linguistics at the University of
Rome ‘La Sapienza’ with special interests in Uralic studies. At first blush the theme of the
work is also attractive, apparently complementing for an international audience, linguists
and non-linguists alike, English-language materials about the Uralic language family
available in Sinor (1988) and Abondolo (1998).
2. Marcantonio’s book contains ten major chapters, supported by a map, five appendices,
notes, bibliography and three sets of indices.
2.1. Like the other chapters, the Introduction (1–18) is headed by an epigraph. The
purpose of an epigraph is generally to encapsulate the aim of the chapter and the one here,
from Martin Rees, declares that a bad theory is one that is so flexible that it can be adjusted
to account for any data. This undoubted truth is used to summarize the goal of the author in
this work: to examine the extent of the applicability to the Uralic family of languages of
the frequently-voiced allegation (here attributed to Dixon, 1997: 28) that the family tree
model used in historical linguistics can be realistically utilized for only a small number of
language families, such as Indo-European, Semitic, Polynesian, and Uralic. Here the
author already advances the claim that her conclusions about the nature and origin of
the Uralic languages differ significantly from the traditional view, in that the result of the
detailed analyses in her book have led her to conclude that there is no scholarly evidence to
support the view that there exists a genetic relationship between languages claimed to be
Uralic and that, consequently, no Uralic language family exists. She also outlines what she
understands by the ‘standard Uralic theory’, summarily listing in seven points the claims of
the standard theory or the textbook interpretation. In the author’s view these claims are
sometimes merely implicit or ‘hidden’ assertions and thus should rather be called beliefs or
Lingua 115 (2005) 1053–1062
0024-3841/$ – see front matter #2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
tenets: that the Uralic languages of today originate from a single antecedent, Proto-
Uralic, and are unrelated to the languages surrounding them; the majority of intermediate
language levels are reconstructions; the daughter-languages come into being by splitting
into two from a common ancestor; their sound systems essentially develop by means of
systematic sound changes; the morphology of Proto-Uralic was particularly rich, etc. She
accuses traditional research in Uralic studies of frequently confusing scholarly facts (which
are provable) and impressions and interpretations (which are not). By way of example she
considers the ‘‘sound laws’’, by which one must hope she means ‘‘sound correspon-
dences’’, otherwise what she writes in this connection is meaningless. The number of these
is greater than of the number of regular etymologies (45). The author accepts these regular
etymologies but subsequently appeals to proofs that they could just as well be attributed to
chance. A considerable section of her Introduction is already devoted to the history of the
Uralic theory, claiming that its founder, Jo
´zsef Budenz, failed to apply the comparative
method correctly, for he does not give sound rulesand of the etymologies he proposed
81% have not stood the test of time. Later, in Chapter 2, the author dwells at even greater
length on a critique of Budenz (18691870) and Donner (18741888) which might well
have been interesting from the point of view of the history of the subject, but in the context
of the rightness or otherwise of the Uralic theory is quite pointless: it is difcult to see why
the entire paradigm is erroneous simply because those who rst proposed it did not yet have
access to all the linguistic material or to the more sophisticated techniques which became
available only in more recent times. Marcantonio patently fails to see the logical
untenability of her argument: she casts doubt on not just Budenzs achievements but
the achievements of all Uralic linguistic research since his time.
The notions introduced in the Introduction are duly adumbrated in subsequent chapters.
Marcantonio is surprised to discover how consistently the specialist literature fails to
address counter-examples to the data discussed, leading in the general linguistic literature
and in English-language (!) textbooks to an idealized picture which systematically
minimizes or re-interprets the counter-examples (12). It is at this point that the authors
technique rst gives rise to doubt in the reader: the accusation of data-reinterpretation
or -rejection is generalized to the entire discipline, without detailed indication of whose
work(s) this is based on. It is a characteristic of Marcantonios argumentation to offer lists
of generalizations without references (one need look only at the opening sentences of her
chapters: 19, 54, 130, 155, 181, etc.). She says on numerous occasions that it is the
‘‘idealized’’ picture offered by textbooks and handbooks, and the obscurity of the picture
that emerges from contradictory extracts, that has driven her to submit the primary data to
detailed analysis. The question inevitably arises: who in fact is the author challenging, to
whom is her critique addressed? The authors of (English-language) textbooks? The authors
of the handbooks? Summary studies or reference-book articles? If that the case, why does
she extend the critique to the entire eld of Uralic studies, and in particular to those who
represent the ‘‘traditional’’ view?
Marcantonio claims that by careful examination of the facts that contradict the
traditional view a clear picture can emerge, since the number of these facts has now
reached a critical mass, the paradigm is due for revision, and the time has come for the
systematic and exhaustive confrontation of the facts and counter-facts. It is not clear what
critical massmight mean in this context. Who has claimed, and when and where, that
1054 Book review
there has been a consensus in historical linguistics in general, or in Uralic linguistics in
particular, on this bombastic-sounding but, in this context, quite meaningless notion?
2.2. Chapter 2, entitled The historical foundation of the Uralic paradigm (1954), claims
to evaluate the historical sources and ethnonyms, as well as the achievements of Budenz
and Donner. The author devotes some dozen pages to the variant forms and current
interpretations of the names of the Finns and Hungarians in the various historical sources
(2132), and to the prehistory of the Hungarians (including coverage of the nineteenth-
century debates in Hungary on the Turkic vs. Finno-Ugric origin of the Hungarians, locally
dubbed the Ugric-Turkic battle, c.f. 3237). As regards the historical terminology, the
degree of methodological naivete
´with which Marcantonio addresses the debate is difcult
to credit. It is well-known that the Hungarians are referred to as Turksin the Arab (and
Byzantine) historical sources and rightly, since their links were close and (for example) a
number of Hungarian titles are of Turkic origin (26); but such facts cannot be used to argue
for or against a genetic relationship between the languages. The name of a speech
community is one thing, the origin of the speech community is quite another. Any handbook
would have offered the author examples aplenty of how a number of different names were
applied to the various Uralic peoples, none of them in any way connected with their origins.
The supercial account of the Ural-Altaic hypothesis is no more convincing, for it is difcult
to see how it can have any bearing on the unity (or otherwise) of the Uralic languages, except
perhaps as a backdrop to the authors undoubtedly interesting suggestion, running through
the whole book, that there is a link between the Altaic, Paleosiberian and Uralic languages.
This chapter concludes with an ill-chosen section detailing the well-known ideological
background to the the Ugric-Turkic battle, the inuence of Soviet policies, and a nouveaute
the Finnssearch for their origins in recent times. Marcantoniosreading between the lines
leads her to conclude that both the Hungarians and the Finns were subjected to political
pressures which forced them to play down the notion of Altaic kinship. It would be
interesting to know what pressures are being brought to bear upon Uralic studies today.
2.3. Chapter 3, Modern interpretations of the Uralic paradigm (5568), considers rst
some of the periodizations that have been offered for Uralic, followed by ve of the
hypotheses on the classication of the Finnic languages as well as the isogloss arrange-
ments of Hajdu
´(1975) and Kulonen (1995). The author uses the term isoglossesin her
captions so it is incomprehensible that she claims them as variants of the family tree model.
Is she unaware of the difference between the concepts of family tree and isogloss? To reject
the notion of kinship she uses Pusztays 1997 model and the Sprachbund hypothesis,
appealing to the possible role of a lingua franca. This is ne, but while she criticizes the
traditional model ercely, she offers no evaluation of the idea of a wider language family or
of language mixture. Yet her conclusion is that the traditional view needs revision because
there are disagreements about the relationship of particular Uralic (and non-Uralic)
languages to each other! (67).
2.4. The title of the fourth and longest chapter, Reconstructing the sound structure and
lexicon of the Uralic family tree (68135), is incoherent. A family tree can have, at most,
branches; it can hardly have a lexicon and even less a sound structure. This chapter
doubtless owes its length to the fact that the author rightly sees this as the main operational
arena of the comparative method and protolanguage reconstruction that she criticizes so
vehemently; and it is in deed beyond question that this is the domain in which the most
Book review 1055
sophisticated results of Uralic studies have been obtained. Despite this, the fact that it is not
possible or worthwhile to deal with this chapter in detail stems from the authors
misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the facts and their interactions to a degree
that is almost incredible. I must limit myself to a few illustrative examples.
At the outset the author identies Janhunen (1981) as the most up-to-date contribution
for the reconstruction of the Uralic language family (69) and as the starting point for her
chapter. While there is no question that this work of Janhunens is essential for the
reconstruction of the protolanguage, Marcanatonio does not say why this is so. This is all
the more incomprehensible because if she criticizes Janhunen for basing his reconstruc-
tions of the Uralic protolexicon on the Finno-Permic and the Samoyed branches (ignoring
the Ugric languages), why did she not opt for some other corpus? Sammalahti (1988) for
example does not ignore Ugric even though he too has as his starting point the work
of Janhunen; nor does the UEW (Re
´dei, 19861988) omit a single branch, though its
methodology of reconstruction differs in other respects from those just mentioned. Since,
pace Marcanatonio, Janhunen applies a large number of sound rules to a smaller number of
etymologies, the signicance criterion of the comparative method cannot apply and
consequently it is impossible to determine whether the corpus represents genuine linguistic
correspondences or just chance coincidences. Above, in discussing Marcantonios Intro-
duction, I pointed out she uses the term sound ruleswithout explanation. One can only
guess whether she means sound lawsor sound correspondences. But in the case of her
criticism of Janhunen, it makes little difference, because it is transparent that she does not
understand what Janhunens vowel correspondences actually mean. She demands that the
reconstructions correspond to her sound rules, that is, she imagines that in words that may
be cognate every single segment must always and without exception correspond to its
counterpartand in an identical way. Thus, she criticizes the examples Csepregi (1998)
quotes for initial pin Finnish !initial fin Hungarian on the grounds that protolanguage
may also have a corresponding bwhile the sounds that follow Finnish pand Hungarian
fdo not always correspond regularly. Thus, these etymologies cannot be regular corre-
spondences and therefore cannot have a common origin. Marcantonio makes such exiguous
demands repeatedly, even more than once on the same page (e.g. ‘‘there have been no
systematic attempts to reconstruct this [sc. Finno-Ugric] node using conventional methods
(130); discussing the p>fchange ‘‘Although these changes are generally embedded within
etymologies that are irregular in other respects and therefore should be rejected according to
a strict application of the Comparative method ...’’ (130) etc; emphases mine, MB-N) and
quite often subsequently, which inevitably makes the reader reect on the historical
linguistic competence of the author (who lists a number of excellent handbooks in her
bibliography: Anttila, 1989; Bynon, 1977; Hock, 1986 and others), as well as on which
language family or genetically related languages the author would be convinced by. I doubt
in fact whether there is anywhere a set of related languages that would meet the authors
criteria of genetic relatedness. It is perhaps superuous to say anything about the value of the
statisticsbased on such an approach (74), though I will return to this point.
The author devotes some 50 pages (79129) to sketching the phonological structure of
the Uralic languages (i.e., their phoneme-stock and phonological structureone wonders
what this might mean?), attempting to reconstruct the vocalism and consonantism of the
Uralic protolanguage, including an assessment of the Ugric innovations, in a somewhat
1056 Book review
distinctive manner, which I can illustrate only through two examples. One is a quotation
from material about vowels, on the basis of which anything could be asserted about any
linguistic data: ‘‘ In what follows I shall report on the P-Uetymologies as reconstructed
by Janhunen (1981a). I shall choose obviously the lexical items which best fit the purpose of
this work, without therefore closely respecting the author’s way of arguing and grouping of
the material’’ (94, emphases mine, MB-N). The other is a quotation about consonants,
where interestingly the author starts out not from Janhunen but from UEW and although
she cites the consonantism of the Uralic and Finno-Ugric protolanguages from Sammal-
lahti (1988), she begins her analysis by writing of only those sounds which are not disputed
in the literature: thus she fails to treat
Z, while in a number of cases she adds
any Altaic data from UEW that supports the similarity. The authors illogical leap is
connected with these data. For example, the Hungarian change
k- >
x- > h- is shown to be
rather late and independent of similar changes in Ob-Ugric and Samoyedic, since Old
Hungarian documents still show a x. She then remarks that this change is not limited to the
Uralic languages, since there are similar changes in Altaic which should be kept in mind
together with these. They are indeed kept in mind, but one must ask why in some cases
sound changes may be independent of each other and thus due to pure chance (chiey when
they might represent links between Uralic languages), and in other cases they may provide
eloquent examples of kinship (i.e., when there is the possibility of a link between
Hungarian and Turkic, or between Finno-Ugric and Altaic)? How is it possible that the
same change may be used to argue both for and against the same phenomenon?
She gives four, supercial conceptions of the Ugric branch not dealt with by Janhunen
and high-handedly uses selective quotation to declare that it simply does not exist and that
Hungarian stands isolated(7578). Subsequently she treats this matter as settled as far as
she is concerned: ‘‘ Despite the total lack of evidence in support of the Ugric node ...’’
(120). This methodological sleight of hand characterizes the entire work. She argues
against the existence of a Ugric protolanguage for a further six pages. Here too the same
sound changes speak both against Ugric unity and in support of Turkish/Turkic links of the
non-borrowed type. Two brief examples must sufce to show how unclear Marcantonio is
about the sound changes she boldly addresses and how she manipulates the literature to suit
her (pre)conceptions. Citing Honti (1997: 353) she writes: ‘‘Already in Proto-Ugric
markedly different allophones in front-vocalic versus back-vocalic environments. The
result was the development, albeit separately in each of the three Ugric languages of
(>h in Hungarian) in back-vocalic words’’. She then continues: ‘‘However ... (as also
remarked by Honti) this change has come to completion only in Hungarian ... and cannot
be classified as a ‘Ugric innovation’’’ (121, emphases mine MB-N). The question is: who
or what does the author think she is challenging by claiming that this not a Ugric
innovation? For example, Honti here and earlier (1997: 13) made it clear that it is at
most the tendency, i.e. the allophonic differentiation that can be Ugric, the change itself
cannot. Indeed, Marcantonio herself cites the views on this of Gheno-Hajdu
´(1992: 172)
and Sauvageot (1971: 172), who share Hontis views.
On page 122 she tries to argue that the change of non-initial PU/PFU
w> PUg
gis not
ascribable to Ugric: on Hungarian te
´lshe writes ‘‘Regarding the etymology for winter
¨, one may observe that alongside Ostyak te
˘lgthere is Vogul ta
´land Hungarian te
(Acc. tele-t), where there is no trace of
g’’. If the author had looked more closely at
Book review 1057
the history of the consonants in Ugric she would have realised that intervocalic PU/PFU
behaves differently according to whether it is part of a cluster: "lw >"l(!!!); while the
the Ostyak form cited is a formative element. The examination of every
wC and
cluster in the protolanguage and their reexes in all the Ugrian language and dialects, and
the history of formatives in Ob-Ugric is no easy task, though with the help of excellent
dictionaries and handbooks it is not an impossible one. Instead of selectively dipping into
materials second- or third hand, Marcantonio should have used primary sources to shape
her argument, as she indeed promises she will in her Introduction (10) wherever possible.
In the nal section of this chapter (Conclusions 129135) she claims that she has
analysed in detail attempts to reconstruct the ‘‘sound structure’’ of the protolanguage and
the intermediate nodes. Is it therefore the case that everything that Uralic studies has
achieved in the phonological reconstruction of Uralic is treated ‘‘ in detail’’ in 66 pages,
with these selected examples and very limited knowledge of phonology? And the
conclusion she wishes to draw is that, contrary to the generally held view, the various
stages of the family tree have not been deduced according to the traditional Comparative
Method. What does traditionalmean in this context? And does it matter, once she has
stated on p. 134 that it is incomprehensible why Uralic studies employs only this method
and not dialectology or the diffusionist theory? Doubtless it would be useful to apply the
latter in Uralic studies, but the author ought to say why she recommends this approach.
2.5. Chapter 5, False matches or genuine linguistic correlations? (136153), aims to
show that since the comparative method is not capable of distinguishing between chance
correspondences and genuine linguistic kinship, a new approach is required. The author
states that this new approach is the statistical approach, whereby she concludes (152) that
although not every etymology is to be seen as a chance correspondence, these non-chance
correspondences cannot be evidence of kinship. What they are evidence of is formulated as
follows: they should be examined in a broader Eurasian context, which might show that
‘‘... the relationship between these lexical items is to some extent of genetic nature’’ (sic).
It is not clear what some extentmight mean here. The method appears to be an adaptation
of Ringe (1992), but does not allow Marcantonio to reach valid conclusions not because she
applies it incorrectly, but because the data she uses are irrelevant. She uses two samples
(140): the certainetymologies of Janhunen 1981 and the names of body parts from UEW;
she also promises a control-group of statistics which, however, careful examination of the
book has failed to discover. For a reconstructed lexicon this seriously restricted number of
words cannot produce any relevant result and even for the indication of tendencies it can be
used only with reservations. She picks and chooses and groups freely from the various
languages: Hungarian stands alone, Saami is regarded as a single language while the Volga-
Permic languages count as ve(?). The phonemes are selected at random, the correspon-
dences are obscured (e.g. #C !#is ignored with the claim that is statistically
irrelevant (141)). This startling fact suggests that this lecturer in linguistics does not regard
as signicant the correspondence s!zero, either synchronically or diachronically. Even if
we ignore all else, the material in this paragraph is enough to show that calculations on the
basis of the data are meaningless.
2.6. Chapter 6, Borrowed or inherited? (154179) is based on two thoughts. The rst is
the claim that the Neogrammarians considered the phonological changes of borrowed
words irregular compared with the regular changes exhibited by the native vocabulary, the
1058 Book review
second that in the course of borrowing loanwords adapt and as a result become indis-
tinguishable from non-borrowed (native) words and hence incapable of casting light on the
nature of the relations between languages. On the rst point it has to be said that no such
consideration exists. Word borrowing and, within this framework, sound-substitution, is just
as systematic a phenomenon as sound correspondences between dialects or languages that
are genetically relatedso much so that the sound-substitution in the borrowing language
can often be predicted. This is evident to anyone who has looked at the very considerable
volume of loanword-studies in Uralic. As for the indistinguishability of loanwords after
adaptation: it is enough if we point out that if shewere right, in the languages of the world it
would be possible to show the borrowed nature only of those words in which no sound-
substitution has occurred. The chapter again contains selectively chosen groups of lexemes:
names of body parts, ora and fauna, and surveys of relationships-borrowings between
Uralic and Altaic, Hungarian and non-Uralic (i.e. Turkic, Chuvash, Mongol), Uralic and
Yukaghir, Uralic and Indo-European. How these borrowings t with the genetic relationship
between the languages traditionally regarded as Uralic it is not at all clear.
2.7. In Chapter 7, The antiquity of Proto-Uralic (180202), Marcantonio at once declares
(180) that since the age of Uralic cannot be determined on the basis either by archae-
ological or ethnographic materials, and since no records remain of ancient linguistic value,
the conception of the age of the protolanguage is based on palaeolinguistic analysis and on
Indo-European loanwords. Examining this material, she concludes that on the basis of the
former notion nothing can be said about the absolute age of Uralic (184, 201). Whatever
this might mean, it is certainly the case that no-one has ever dared suggest an absolute date
for the protolanguage. After an assessment of research on Baltic and Germanic loans in
Finnic, she develops her views on the alleged Uralic substrate and concludes ‘‘ However,
the fact remains that no convincing evidence has been identied to support this claim [sc.
about the antiquity of Uralic] so far’’ (202).
2.8. Chapter 8, Morphology (203251), devotes nearly fty pages to demolishing the
claim that she alleges (without, as usual, any references) is held by Uralic scholars: that the
morphological reconstruction of the Uralic languages has been carried out in a consistent
manner. She claims that (203) the systems and subsystems reconstructed for the nominal,
pronominal or verbal categories in Proto-Indo-European cannot be reconstructed with such
completeness for Uralic and that there is no consensus on tense or aspect, and there are even
four plural markers reconstructed. Furthermore, the case and verb endings and the plural
markers are in many cases innovations that have arisen independently and there is evidence
that many cases arose through grammaticalization in the historical period. The latter
expression is also used elsewhere (212, 227), but it is not possible to determine what it
means, just as it is difcult to interpret the term historical languages (221). The author
concludes from all this that the comparative method is inapplicable and here, too, the
statistical method should be employed (204). Why this method is inapplicable is not made
clear and in any case the author herself employs it by adding to the majority of the Uralic
morphological phenomena the parallels she has found for them in the Altaic languages
(212, 219, 222224, 227, etc.). Following the analysis of the Hungarian case sufxes that
have evolved from the primary and secondary case sufxes, she shows by mathematical
means the morphological correlations between Samoyedic and Yukaghir, grammatical and
isomorphic construction in Uralic and Altaic, and nally the geographical distribution of
Book review 1059
consonantal formatives in Eurasia. Her conclusion that the Uralic languages are relatively
young and developed rather late is again obscure, though it is possible that the author is
thinking of the evolution of some common ancestor language (251). Throughout this
chapter she compares morphological phenomena in Eurasian languages and later she
explicitly draws on typological observations, thus leading her to propose certain assump-
tions about how all this might be linked both to what is known about the rapidity or even
suddenness of processes of grammaticalization and also the agglutinating typological
character of the Uralic languages: the Uralic languages might be old, but she is inclined to
think they are relatively youngand that the morphological structure of their immediate
ancestors was relatively simple. Unfortunately it is not clear what all this might mean in
terms of relative chronology, ancestry, or more narrowly, of the origin of the Uralic
languages, or of youngor oldlanguages. What does seem to be clear is that such
mingling of typology, grammaticalization and historical linguistics is most unfortunate.
2.9. The nal two chapters of the book are entitled Completing the picture: proper
names, archaeology and genetics, and Summary and conclusion. The rst amounts to a
survey of the etymologies proposed for nn and magyar, for some names of tribal
dignitaries, geographical names, and some incoherent data on genetics and archaeology.
The last is worth quoting in extenso:‘‘One may conclude this chapter by stating, following
¨kkinen ... that there is no self-evident link between the linguistic tradition, and the
genetic and archaeological ndings’’ (268). I am not aware of any serious Finno-Ugrist
who ever claimed the opposite. The nal chapter is nothing but a list of extreme and
bombastically formulated claims, characteristic of the book as a whole, that the traditional
conception of the Uralic languages is no longer tenable, that the comparative method is
inadequate, that those who cling to the old views do so only for emotional reasons, that the
time has come for a revision of the paradigm, and so forth.
3. What is wrong with this book? Why are the readers hopes gradually dissipated, his
expectations continuously frustrated? As seen above, one of the authors goals is to prove
that the family tree model is not suitable for modelling the relationships of the members of
the Uralic language to each other. Her serious reservations about the family tree model no
doubt feed on recent work such as Dixon (1997) and Nichols (1992), as is clear from her
references. The problem, however, is that the author is on the one hand incapable of treating
these notions critically (she metes out not even a fraction of the criticism with which she
assails the family tree model, the comparative method, or Uralic studies utilizing these
methods), while on the other hand she also fails to apply them, that is, she fails to explore
how much greater might be the explanatory power of the Dixon-type diffusionist model
over the traditional methods as regards the various congruences and non-congruences
between Uralic and/or non-Uralic languages. Marcantonio either does not know or does not
understand the basis of the family tree model,
the purpose of which is to offer an image of
the lineage of languages, of a reality that is thought to have existed in the past, with the aid
of a metaphorand a metaphor and what it represents should not be confused. A genetic
Dixons formulations are a good deal more circumspect that Marcantonios: ‘‘Rather than asking whether a
form of a family tree is appropriate to the language region in some newly studied region, it has often been simply
assumed that it is. What began as a metaphor has been ascribed reality, and has acted to constrain enquiry along
narrow lines’’ (Aikhenvald-Dixon, 2001:67; underlined emphases mine, M.B.-N.). In her aggressive criticisms
it is, in fact, Marcantonio who confuses metaphor and reality.
1060 Book review
relationship between languages, as modelled by a tree diagram, of course does not exclude
secondary convergences between these languages or other kinds of (e.g., loan-based)
relationships between languages, but to recognise this cannot be to invalidate the
possibility of modelling their genetic relationships by means of a family tree. Therefore
this model, precisely because of the complex relationships between languages that may be
related, may need to be supplemented or modied, but (at least as far as Uralic is
concerned) cannot be simply abandoned unless and until a better or more adequate model
is offered. Marcantonio does not offer a better or more adequate model.
The other methodological problem with the book is the related one that the author does not
know either the materialor the method she proposes and attempts to apply well enoughfor her
criticisms or proposals to be taken seriously. (This is especially surprising in view of the
bibliography, which implies wide reading in the subject.) She is prejudiced in her manner of
discussion and argumentation and in her handling of the data and thus fails to meet the ethical
standards that might lend her words credence. A nal example: the authors technique of
argumentationis characterized throughout by a spateof conscious or unconscious distortions.
At the end of the fourth chapter (133), where she claims that most (!) Uralic etymologies are
not correspondences but similarities, to substantiate her claim she appeals (inter alia) to
Mikola (1976), who stresses that semantic correspondences are just as important as
phonological ones and shows with convincing examples how, in spite of the absence of
systematic correspondences at the phonological level, well-supported ones at the semantic
level can underpin the validity of an etymology. To put it another way: phonological and
semantc criteria are both essential to demonstrating correspondences. What happens to
Mikolas still-valid thoughts in Marcantonios mill? They disappear. She says that Mikola
notes the large number of etymologies which are ‘‘stable’’ in meaning but not in phonetic
form: ‘‘[Mikola] concludes that in U[ralic] historical linguistics the phonological criteria
cannot hold that privileged position they normally hold within comparative linguistics’’
(133). That is: Mikola stresses the importance of semantic correspondences in Uralic
BECAUSE the criteria necessary for phonological correspondences are lacking and that
THEREFORE phonological criteria cannot be privileged as it normally(?) is in comparative
linguistics. There is, of course, no trace in the work of Mikola of the views Marcantonio
ascribes to him; in fact, the opposite is the case: ‘‘looser’’ phonological correspondences are
highlighted here because they can support good etymologies if the semantic criteria are equal.
Had I corrected every statement needing qualication or replacement, this notice could
easily have swelled to twice the size of the book under review. So just two concluding
remarks. One cannot but help wonder how the distinguished Publications of the Philo-
logical Society could have hosted such a work, well-edited and stylish though it may be.
And Uralists must reect urgently on their responsibility for outcomes that are capable of
being interpreted in the way illustrated here.
Abondolo, D. (Ed.), 1998. The Uralic languages. Routledge Language Family Descriptions. Routledge, London.
Aikhenvald, A.Y., Dixon, R.M.W., 2001. Introduction. In: Aikhenvald, A., Dixon, R.M.W. (Eds.), Areal
Diffusion and Genetic Inheritance: Problems in Comparative Linguistics. Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge, pp. 126.
Book review 1061
Anttila, R., 1989. Historical and Comparative Linguistics, 2nd ed. Benjamins, Amsterdam.
Budenz, J., 18691870. A magyar e
´snn-ugor nyelvekbeli szo
´sek. Nyelvtudoma
´nyi Ko
´nyek 6,
374478, 7, 172.
Bynon, T., 1977. Historical Linguistics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Dixon, R.M.W., 1997. The Rise and Fall of Languages. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Donner, O., 18741888. Vergleichendes Wo
¨rterbuch der nnisch-ugrischen Sprachen IIII. Frenckell & Son,
Gheno, D, Hajdu
´, P., 1992. Introduzione alle Lingue Uraliche. Rosemberg & Sellier, Torino.
´, P., 1975. A rokonsa
´g nyelvi ha
´ttere. In: Hajdu
´, P. (Ed.), Ura
´li ne
´pek. Nyelvrokonaink kultu
´ja e
´nyai. Corvina, Budapest, pp. 1143.
Hock, H.H., 1986. Principles of Historical Lingusitics. Mouten de Gruyter, Berlin.
Honti, L., 1997. Az ugor alapnyelv ke
´hez. Budapesti Finnugor Fu
¨zetek 7. ELTE Finnugor Tansze
Janhunen, J., 1981. Uralilaisen kantakielen sanastosta. Journal de la Socie
´Finno-Ougrinne 77, 219274.
Kulonen, U.-M., 1995. Uralilaisten kieleten sukupuu. Helsinki, Hiidenkivi 4, 50.
Mikola, T., 1976. Hangtan e
´s jelente
´stan az etimolo
´ban. In: Benko
˝, L., K. Sal, E
´. (Eds.), Az etimolo
´lete e
´s mo
´dszere. Nyelvtudoma
´nyi E
´sek 89, 209212.
Nichols, J., 1992. Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Pusztay, J., 1997. Ajatus uralilaisten kansojen ketjumaisesta alkukodista. In: Julku, K., A
¨, M. (Eds.),
¨merensuomi/eurooppalainen maa. Studia Historica Fenno-Ugrica II. Atena, Jyva
¨, pp. 919.
Ringe, D.A., 1992. On Calculating the Factor of Chance in Language Comparison. Transactions of the American
Philosophical Society, 82. The American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, pp. 1110.
Sammallahti, P., 1988. In: Sinor, D. (Ed.), Historical Phonology of the Uralic languages, pp. 478554.
Sauvageot, A., 1971. LEdication de la Langue Hongroise. Klincksieck, Paris.
Sinor, D. (Ed.), 1988. The Uralic Languages. Description, History and Foreign Inuences. Handbuch der
Orientalistic 8/1. Brill. Leiden.
´dei, K., 19861988. Uralisches Etymologisches Wo
¨rterbuch 13. Akade
´miai Kiado
´, Harrassowitz
Verlag, Budapest, Wiesbaden.
M. Bakro-Nagy
Department of Finno-Ugristics
Research Institute for Linguistics, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
BudapestSzeged University, Szeged, Hungary
E-mail address:
Available online 25 March 2004
1062 Book review
... The generally accepted view, and the one which is reported in most encyclopaedias and textbooks (Hajdú 1975;Hajdú and Domokos 1978;Abondolo (ed.) 1998;Laakso 1999, to quote just some recent publications), is that there was such a language / community, and it originated in the area of the Ural Mountains. However, my personal convictions differ from this (Marcantonio 2000(Marcantonio & 2001. I belong to that minority of scholars who argue that there is not enough linguistic evidence to establish a privileged relationship between the Finnic, the Ugric and the Samoyed languages. ...
... The inclusion of the Turkic languages like Tuvan and Uyghur in a hypothetical Altaic family is now also generally discarded. It was also hypothesized that both the Uralic and the Altaic languages should fit into a large Ural-Altaic family, although this hypothesis is also considered controversial, see [28,42] for an overview. The LanGeLin syntactic data have already been used recently to study these families and the Ural-Altaic hypothesis, [23]. ...
Full-text available
We use the persistent homology method of topological data analysis and dimensional analysis techniques to study data of syntactic structures of world languages. We analyze relations between syntactic parameters in terms of dimensionality, of hierarchical clustering structures, and of non-trivial loops. We show there are relations that hold across language families and additional relations that are family-specific. We then analyze the trees describing the merging structure of persistent connected components for languages in different language families and we show that they partly correlate to historical phylogenetic trees but with significant differences. We also show the existence of interesting non-trivial persistent first homology groups in various language families. We give examples where explicit generators for the persistent first homology can be identified, some of which appear to correspond to homoplasy phenomena, while others may have an explanation in terms of historical linguistics, corresponding to known cases of syntactic borrowing across different language subfamilies.
... There are two main kinds of language clustering: genealogical clustering and typological clustering. In genealogical clustering, languages are clustered into language families (Durbin, 1985;Marcantonio, 2002) by their genetic relatedness. Languages in the same language family have the same ancestral language. ...
... There are two main kinds of language clustering: genealogical clustering and typological clustering. In genealogical clustering, languages are clustered into language families (Durbin, 1985;Marcantonio, 2002) by their genetic relatedness. Languages in the same language family have the same ancestral language. ...
Full-text available
Multilingual pre-trained models have demonstrated their effectiveness in many multilingual NLP tasks and enabled zero-shot or few-shot transfer from high-resource languages to low resource ones. However, due to significant typological differences and contradictions between some languages, such models usually perform poorly on many languages and cross-lingual settings, which shows the difficulty of learning a single model to handle massive diverse languages well at the same time. To alleviate this issue, we present a new multilingual pre-training pipeline. We propose to generate language representation from multilingual pre-trained models and conduct linguistic analysis to show that language representation similarity reflect linguistic similarity from multiple perspectives, including language family, geographical sprachbund, lexicostatistics and syntax. Then we cluster all the target languages into multiple groups and name each group as a representation sprachbund. Thus, languages in the same representation sprachbund are supposed to boost each other in both pre-training and fine-tuning as they share rich linguistic similarity. We pre-train one multilingual model for each representation sprachbund. Experiments are conducted on cross-lingual benchmarks and significant improvements are achieved compared to strong baselines.
... The inclusion of the Turkic languages like Tuvan and Uyghur in a hypothetical Altaic family is now also generally discarded. It was also hypothesized that both the Uralic and the Altaic languages should fit into a large Ural-Altaic family, although this hypothesis is also considered controversial, see [26], [40] for an overview. The LanGeLin syntactic data have already been used recently to study these families and the Ural-Altaic hypothesis, [21]. ...
We use the persistent homology method of topological data analysis and dimensional analysis techniques to study data of syntactic structures of world languages. We analyze relations between syntactic parameters in terms of dimensionality, of hierarchical clustering structures, and of non-trivial loops. We show there are relations that hold across language families and additional relations that are family-specific. We then analyze the trees describing the merging structure of persistent connected components for languages in different language families and we show that they partly correlate to historical phylogenetic trees but with significant differences. We also show the existence of interesting non-trivial persistent first homology groups in various language families. We give examples where explicit generators for the persistent first homology can be identified, some of which appear to correspond to homoplasy phenomena, while others may have an explanation in terms of historical linguistics, corresponding to known cases of syntactic borrowing across different language subfamilies.
... While Portuguese and English derive from the Latin and Germanic families respectively, two very distinctive branches, Finnish is so peculiar in its etymological structure that it is considered by the author as part of a separate branch, not even derived from the proto-language Indo-European tree. Other scholars comment on how uncertain the positioning of Finnish is in the attempts of placing it in a family tree, although it is certain it does not belong to either Latin or Germanic branches (Marcantonio 2002). ...
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Games have been used for a variety of educational purposes. The immersive nature of games, however, becomes a challenge when the goal is to promote language learning for beginners. In this sense, this research investigates the key strategies for using games in the context of a foreign language learning course for beginners. Specifically, this study is being carried out in partnership with the Brazil-Finland Cultural Center (CCBF) and it aims to improve student engagement in learning Portuguese as foreign language in a distance learning modality. The research was organized in two stages: A diagnostic, that aims to understand the experience and the needs with the current edition of the course; and an interventionist, that seeks the student engagement and learning by the introduction of digital mini games as complementary teaching material. Therefore, the challenges identified in the first stage and some possible ways to address them with the second were presented as results. The next steps involve an evaluation of the first generation of games, which must follow iterative cycles until reaching the idealized solution. Although it was not feasible to implement all the raised attributes in these first versions, we understand that those characteristics are central to expanding the agency of teachers and students in the learning process and should guide the evolution of this platform.
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Ebben a tanulmányban a magyarországi finnugor nyelvészet ezredforduló utáni legfőbb eredményeit tekintem át. Az elmúlt évtizedekben a finnugor kutatások terén jelentős átrendeződés ment végbe. A paradigmaváltás több területen is érzékelhető. A múlt század vége felé elkészültek a nagy hangtörténeti, etimológiai szintézisek, ez a terület mára visszaszorult. Előtérbe kerültek az élőnyelvi kutatások, a társas nyelvészet főbb kérdései, elsősorban a kétnyelvűség, a nyelvelhalás, a revitalizációs folyamatok vizsgálata, valamint az irodalmi nyelvek kialakulásának kutatása. Egyre nagyobb teret kap a kisebb finnugor népek néprajza, folklórja is. Az élőnyelvi kutatások révén egyre több elméleti nyelvészeti tanulmány születik, felfejlődött a nyelvtipológia-kutatás. A nyelvek mai állapotáról szerzett információk emellett termékenyítőleg hathatnak a történeti kutatásokra is. Az angol nyelvű publikációk révén erősödik a magyarországi finnugrisztika nemzetközi beágyazottsága. A paradigmaváltás Finn- és Észtországban is hasonló módon megy végbe. Írásomban áttekintem az etimológiai, a hang-, alak- és mondattani kutatások legfontosabb eredményeit, elsősorban a monográfiákra és a nemzetközi fórumokon megjelent publikációkra koncentrálva. Szólok a nyelvpolitikai helyzetről, a kétnyelvűség-kutatásokról, az irodalmi nyelvek vizsgálatának fellendüléséről, a szövegkiadásokról. Külön figyelmet fordítok arra, hogyan lépnek fel a tudósok az utóbbi időben nagymértékben felerősödött finnugorellenes nézetekkel szemben.
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Researches on language families have been built to the analogue of the human family relationships, the Darwinian model of evolution, whose scope of applicability to languages has been overestimated. As a matter of fact, teh evolutionary metaphor is unable to describe every type of relations occurring between really existing languages, considering the historical, socio-cultural circumstances and events the languages condtantly undergo to.
Historical Linguistics is concerned with the process of language change through time. It investigates how and why the language of individuals, a social group or a whole 'speech community' develops in respect of its pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. Dr Bynon regards language as essentially a dynamic phenomenon, whose character can be at best only partly understood by a static, and necessarily idealized, synchronic approach. In Part I she establishes the theoretical framework by providing a systematic survey of the three main models of language development - the neogrammarian, structuralist, and transformational generative. Examples drawn substantially from English and German, but also from classical languages, French, Welsh and a variety of others, are used to explain and compare these approaches. In Part II she turns to sociolinguistics and shows how changes within a language over a period of time, and changes brought about by contact between languages, are both indicators and agents of more general cultural developments. Accounts of bilingualism and of pidgin and Creole languages are included as well as wider-ranging examples of different kinds of borrowing such as loan words, loan translations and extensions of meaning. The student is provided with a practical and critical guide both to what has been done and what can be done to discover and verify these linguistic relationships. Designed primarily as a textbook for linguistics and philology students, this book will also be of interest to those studying English language, classics and modern languages.
This book puts forward a different approach to language change, the punctuated equilibrium model. This is based on the premise that during most of the 100,000 or more years that humans have had language, states of equilibrium have existed during which linguistic features diffused across the languages in a given area so that they gradually converged on a common prototype. From time to time, the state of equilibrium would be punctuated, with expansion and split of peoples and of languages, most recently, as a result of European colonisation and the globalisation of communication which are likely to result in the extinction, within the next hundred years, of 90% of the languages currently spoken. Professor Dixon suggests that every linguist should assume a responsibility for documenting some of these languages before they disappear.
Historical linguistic theory and practice contains a great number of different 'layers' which have been accepted in the course of time and have acquired a permanency of their own. These range from neogrammarian conceptualizations of sound change and analogy to present-day ideas on rule change and language mixture. To get a full grasp of the principles of historical linguistics it is therefore necessary to understand the nature and justifications (or shortcomings) of each of these 'layers', not just to look for a single 'overarching' theory. The major purpose of the book is to provide in up-to-date form such an understanding of the principles of historical linguistics and the related fields of comparative linguistics and linguistic reconstruction. In addition, the book provides a very broad exemplification of the principles of historical linguistics.
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