Darwin-L Message Log 8:16 (April 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

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<8:16>From CRAVENS@macc.wisc.edu  Thu Apr  7 10:06:09 1994

Date: Thu, 07 Apr 94 11:05 CDT
From: Tom Cravens <CRAVENS@macc.wisc.edu>
Subject: Re: Distance method for linguistics
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

Paul, I'm not sure if I understood. Let's see, with just one utterance,
in three Romance languages, 'I'm hungry'.

Fr. J'ai faim.
It. Ho fame.
Sp. Tengo hambre.

We record these in speech, and they come out (blessed ASCII! -- excuse
the fake phonetic alphabet):


I'm not sure how your proposal would proceed at this point. Traditional
analysis (pretending no a priori knowledge) might go something like this:
it would catch that the first syllable in Fr. and It. is different,
and that it seems to correspond to two (unrelated) syllables in Sp. Then
we'd work to sort out what's going on in those cases, and it would fall
out that we have three distinct forms of 'I have', and that French uses
the subject pronoun. Depending on the type of analysis, we may continue,
to figure out that the 'have' of Fr. and It. are historically related, and
Sp. 'have' is another item altogether. Or we may jump to the syllables
following 'have', and find that to Fr. and It. [f] corresponds Sp. null
(I'm thinking in Romance and the syntax shows it; sorry!), and that all
three then have vowel + [m] (or in French, nasalization suggesting something
m-ish). Somehow we'd have to account for French ending with a (remnant of)
/m/, but Italian having [e] following it, and Sp. with a mouthful, [bre].
Synchronic analysis wouldn't take us much further than finding that It.
and Sp. disfavor (some would claim, don't allow) final [m], but an
historical examination would eventually reveal that the two variants
[fe~], [fame] are derivable from the same proto-form by regular
sound change evinced in other words, and that Sp. fits into this except
for the [bre] part. If we're looking for "family" relationships, we could
say, then, that the 'hunger' word is either a very early borrowing
(early enough to have been run through all the expected historical
changes of each language), or it's a form inherited in all three from the
"mother" language. If we assume that the mother is Latin, we will,
in fact, find what looks like [fame] there, confirming
the commonly inherited origin. (Further work would show that Sp. [bre]
requires a source [famine], but enough; I fear eyes are glazing as I

Can you say how your suggestion is different from this?

Tom Cravens

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