FACTOID # 21: 15% of Army recruits from South Dakota are Native American, which is roughly the same percentage for female Army recruits in the state.
 
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Encyclopedia > Merritt Ruhlen

Merritt Ruhlen is a lecturer in Anthropological Sciences and Human Biology at Stanford, and a co-director of the Santa Fe Institute Program on the Evolution of Human Languages. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford in 1973. (The wind of freedom blows. ... The Santa Fe Institute [SFI] is A non-profit research institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico founded by Murray Gell-Mann in 1984 to study complex systems and disseminate the notion of a separate interdisciplinary study of complexity theory. ... Doctor of Philosophy (Ph. ...


Ruhlen is an extremely controversial figure in the linguistics community, from which he has been all but ostracized, due to his vocal support of the Proto World Hypothesis, which claims that all the extant languages of the world can be traced back to a single proto-language, and that this proto-language can be accurately reconstructed. Most mainstream historical linguists believe that Ruhlen's assumptions and methodology are unsound and unfounded, and think that there is simply no possible way to reconstruct a language that would had to have been spoken at least 30,000 years ago, and most probably many thousands of years before that. Broadly conceived, linguistics is the scientific study of human language, and a linguist is someone who engages in this study. ... The term Proto-World language refers to the hypothetical latest common ancestor of all the worlds languages, an ancient language from which all modern languages and language families – and usually including all known dead languages – derive. ... Proto-language may either refer to a language that preceded a certain set of given languages, or to system of communication during a stage in glottogony that may not yet be properly called a language. ... Historical linguistics (also diachronic linguistics or comparative linguistics) is primarily the study of the ways in which languages change over time, by means of examining languages which are recognizably related through similarities such as vocabulary, word formation, and syntax, as well as the surviving records of ancient languages. ...


The majority of criticisms of Ruhlen center around his use of mass comparison, which instead of using common historical linguistic methods of comparison, involves comparing the lexicons of however many languages one is investigating and examining them for words in two or more languages which appear similar phonologically and have a similar meaning. Historical linguists argue that most results turned up with mass comparison could easily be cases of simple coincidence. Furthermore, by using mass comparison, Ruhlen makes his data unfalsifiable. If he were to develop regular phonological correspondences between languages as in mainstream historical linguistics, then it would be possible to find examples which violated these correspondences, thus falsifying the hypothesis. This is impossible to do with Ruhlen's data, however, which makes linguists skeptical. Mass lexical comparison or mass comparison is a controversial method developed by the well-known linguist Joseph Greenberg to find genetic relationships among languages in the remote past, beyond the limits of the traditional comparative method, or in situations where there are too many languages to practically apply the latter... A lexicon is a list of words together with additional word-specific information, i. ... This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ...


Linguists are also wary of Ruhlen's arguments because of the large volume of errors which have been uncovered in the data he presents, most frequently, mistranslations, citing a form when the form in the parent language is known and is more distant phonologically and semantically from the proposed Proto-World root, and separating cited words with arbitrary morpheme boundaries which do not actually exist.


Ruhlen and his followers reply that the sheer volume of the correspondences which their mass comparisons have turned up is far too large to possibly be due to chance. They insist that even if many of the results were chance similarities, it is beyond belief that there could be so many similarities. More evidence to support Ruhlen can be found in the work of the geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, who has studied the genes in human populations throughout the world and constructed a phylogenetic tree, a structure similar in many respects to traditional trees of language families, showing where in the "tree" given genetic groups separated. The results show a remarkable match-up with Ruhlen's proposed structure or the languages and language families of the world. Categories: People stubs | 1922 births | Italian people | Population geneticists ... A phylogenetic tree is a tree showing the evolutionary interrelationships among various species or other entities that are believed to have a common ancestor. ...


References

  • Cavalli-Sforza, L, Gènes, peuples et langues. Paris: Odile Jacob, 1996
  • Picard, Marc. 1998. The Case Against Global Etymologies: Evidence from Algonquian. International Journal of American Linguistics 64:141-47.
  • Ruhlen, M., On the Origin of Languages: Studies in Linguistic Taxonomy. Stanford University Press, 1996.
  • —————, The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue. Wiley, 1996.
  • Trask, R. L., Historical Linguistics. London: Arnold, 1996.

  Results from FactBites:
 
Merritt Ruhlen at AllExperts (637 words)
Ruhlen is an extremely controversial figure in the linguistics community due to his vocal support of the Proto World Hypothesis, which claims that all the extant languages of the world can be traced back to a single proto-language, and that parts of this proto-language can be accurately reconstructed.
The majority of criticisms of Ruhlen center around his use of mass comparison, which instead of using common historical linguistic methods of comparison, involves comparing the lexicons of however many languages one is investigating and examining them for words in two or more languages which appear similar phonologically and have a similar meaning.
Ruhlen and his followers reply that the sheer volume of the correspondences which their mass comparisons have turned up is far too large to possibly be due to chance.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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