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Convergent or divergent linguistic development?

The comparative method of Indo-European linguists, which has become a widely accepted paradigma for historical linguistics historical linguistics
n. (used with a sing. verb)
The study of linguistic change over time in language or in a particular language or language family, sometimes including the reconstruction of unattested forms of earlier stages of a language.
 in general, is based upon the principle that related languages diverge with passage of time. Robert M. W. Dixon has developed a general model of long-term linguistic equilibrium within an enduring linguistic area, followed by an episode of drastic change (Dixon 1997; 1999). He sees the punctuation episode, when the dispersal is actuated that triggers the divergence, underlying the family tree formation, as a rather special event. The more normal situation is one where convergence processes prevail. R. M. W. Dixon's standpoints are supported by Daniel Nettle nettle, common name for the Urticaceae, a family of fibrous herbs, small shrubs, and trees found chiefly in the tropics and subtropics. Several genera of nettles are covered with small stinging hairs that on contact emit an irritant (formic acid) which produces a  (1999). D. Nettle argues that when Modern Man Homo sapiens Homo sapiens

(Latin; “wise man”)

Species to which all modern human beings belong. The oldest known fossil remains date to c. 120,000 years ago—or much earlier (c.
 sapiens sa·pi·ens  
Of, relating to, or characteristic of Homo sapiens.

[Latin sapi
 moved initially from the eastern part of Africa into a new area would be a great variety of available geographical nishes and the population would fission fission, in physics: see nuclear energy and nucleus; see also atomic bomb.  repeatedly and often. The newly split languages would go on changing until they were sufficiently different to be identified as different language families. But then he follows R. M. W. Dixon's convergence approach and predicts a decrease in number of apparent language families.

I am convicted that R. M. W. Dixon's model of punctuated equilibrium punc·tu·at·ed equilibrium
The theory that speciation occurs in spurts of major genetic alterations that punctuate long periods of little change.
 is the best for explaining emergence of the Uralic language family. Likewise, I see the only possible way for a further development of historical linguistics in its symbiosis symbiosis (sĭmbēō`sĭs), the habitual living together of organisms of different species. The term is usually restricted to a dependent relationship that is beneficial to both participants (also called mutualism) but may be extended to  with population genetics Population genetics

The study of both experimental and theoretical consequences of mendelian heredity on the population level, in contradistinction to classical genetics which deals with the offspring of specified parents on the familial level.
 and archaeology which, in turn, support R. M. W. Dixon's model. The formation of intergrated Uralic languages by way of convergence has been supposed much earlier also by Janos Pusztay, Kalevi Wiik Kalevi Wiik is a professor emeritus of phonetics at the University of Turku, Finland. He is best known for his controversial theories about the origins of the Finno-Ugric languages.  and me. But in his book, deeply affecting upon the theoretical thought of the global historical linguistics, "The Rise and Fall of Languages" R. M. W. Dixon Robert Malcolm Ward Dixon is a Professor of Linguistics and Director of the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.

Professor Dixon has written on many areas of linguistic theory and fieldwork, being particularly noted for his
 writes: "Work on Indo-European is, by and large, of the highest quality and has acquired a justified prestige. (Add to this the fact that the IE languages themselves include the major prestige languages in the world today.) As a result the family tree is the 'received model' of linguistic relationship which scholars working in other areas attempt to apply to their own groups of languages. Sometimes the family tree model is applicable, and a genetic relationship can be proved in the same way that has been for IE, e.g. Uralic, Semitic, Algonquian." (Dixon 1997 : 28; 1999 : 28).

But I must note that Angela Marcantonio begins her book "The Uralic Language Family: Facts, Myth and Statistics" (Marcantonio 2002) with the following words: "It is often claimed (for example Dixon 1997 : 28) that the family tree model of historical linguistics is realistically only applicable in a small number of language families, namely Indo-European, Semitic, Polynesian and Uralic. The purpose of this book is to examine closely the foundation of this claim for Uralic, by bringing together the main linguistic and non-linguistic evidence in one volume. My conclusions on the origin and nature of the Uralic languages will differ in several important respects from the conventional wiew. The detailed analysis is carried out in this book, uncovered a total absence of scientific evidence in favour of the notion that the Uralic languages form a language family, that is, a genetically coherent group of related languages. Therefore, in short, I shall conclude that Uralic is not valid a node." (c.f. also Marcantonio 2001; Marcantonio, Nummenaho, Salvagni 2001). And Lutz Edzard breaks to shivers the idea of the Semitic family tree model in his book "Polygenesis pol·y·gen·e·sis  
Derivation of a species or type from more than one ancestor or germ cell.

, Convergence, and Entropy: An Alternative Model of Linguistic Evolution Applied to Semitic Linguistics" (Edzard 1998; see also Edzard 2000). Unfortunately, I have no information about the state with language family tree conception concerning the Algonquian or Polynesian languages Polynesian languages: see Malayo-Polynesian languages. .

Colin Renfrew notes that the first linguist to have his doubts about the divergent origin of the Indo-European language Noun 1. Indo-European language - the family of languages that by 1000 BC were spoken throughout Europe and in parts of southwestern and southern Asia
Indo-Hittite, Indo-European
 family and presented a convergent model of the origin seems to have been N. S. Trubetzkoy (1939) (Renfrew 1999 : 261). C. Renfrew indicates that "the model of the gradual convergence of initially independent languages to form a new language family as conceived by Trubetzkoy ... does clearly anticipate aspects of Dixon's work" (Renfrew 2000 : 13). The theory of convergence has had supporters already before and after N. S. Trubetzkoy, e.g. the Indo-Europeist Hugo Schuchardt Hugo Ernst Mario Schuchardt (4 February 1842, Gotha (Thüringen) – 21 april 1927, Graz (Styria) was an eminent linguist, best-known for his work in the Romance languages, the Basque language, and in mixed languages, including pidgins, creoles, and the Lingua franca of the  and Finno-Ugrists Dmitrij Bubrich and Valter Tauli (see especially Honti 2000 : 135-138). For some time already in each of the three independent Finno-Ugric countries there have been one rather remarkably active converge-minded Finno-Ugrist (better known as contact-theoretician). In Hungary, since the 1980s already, Janos Pusztay is writing his diachronic di·a·chron·ic
Of or concerned with phenomena as they change through time.
 papers in the spirit of the theory of convergence, in Estonia, since the beginning of the 1990s, I am doing it, since the middle of the 1990s, Kalevi Wiik is pursuing the ideas of contact theory (see about our gist of ideas in Kunnap 1998; 2000). Johanna Nichols is known to have criticised the issue in addressing the diversity of world languages, it is the model of the Indo-European language family that is usually proceeded from, however, it need not suit the former at all (Nichols 1992). As J. Nichols sees it, the language tree model suits well for explaining the diversity on the Eurasian steppe The Eurasian Steppe (sometimes referred to collectively as The Steppes or The Steppe) is the term often used to describe the vast steppe ecoregion of Eurasia stretching from the western borders of the steppes of Hungary to the eastern border of the steppes of  area: from time to time new languages move in from east, spreading all over the area. Other areas--for instance the Caucasian mountainous region--maintain the diversity of various languages and a language from elsewhere has no chance of spreading over the whole area. Gosta Bagenholm writes (1998): "That social and ethnic integration has overcome the segregating forces during the millennia is illustrated by Fenno-Scandia having few languages and a slight pre-industrial split of dialects, while New Guinea New Guinea (gĭn`ē), island, c.342,000 sq mi (885,780 sq km), SW Pacific, N of Australia; the world's second largest island after Greenland.  over a long period of time has been and will remain the language-richest region of the world. [---] these converging forces over time prevailed in Scandinavia and Finland."

During the last couple of years the work of the international multidisciplinary workteam "The Roots of Peoples and Languages of Northern Eurasia" has focused on quite new theoretical considerations concerning the origin of the Uralic languages. The workteam has grown out of the partnership that since 1997 organises closed symposiums with invited participants and publishes collection of papers read there (The Roots of Peoples and Languages of Northern Eurasia I (1998); The Roots of Peoples and Languages of Northern Eurasia II and III (2000); The Roots of Peoples and Languages of Northern Eurasia IV (2002)). At present the workteam consists of about thirty persons all over Europe, involving besides linguists also represantives of history, archaeology, population genetics, physical anthropology and other fields of science Fields of science are widely-recognized categories of specialized expertise within science, and typically embody their own terminology and nomenclature.

Natural sciences

Main article: Natural science
. The workteam supposes that there was no narrow Uralic proto-home with unitary Uralic proto-language, proto-race, proto-religion etc. in the east in the Volga or southern Urals area. There was a vast area of periglacial ''You may be looking for paraglacial, meaning unstable conditions related to local glaciation in the recent past.

Periglacial is an adjective referring to places in the edges of glacial areas, normally those related to past ice ages rather than those in the modern era.
 population in northern Europe from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains. This population was the very first wave of spread of Homo sapiens sapiens to Europe. They could speak either relatively unitary Uralic languages or quite different languages. Groups of this population had linguistic and other contacts with each other in all respects. If there were quite different languages, these entered into a language union (Sprachbund) and by means of the intermediate lingua franca (or link language) these different languages unified up to a definite level but each one of them preserved some features of the initial language. If there were only relatively unitary Uralic languages initially, they, too, have preserved some old features of their own (See particularly Kunnap 1998; 2000).

Recently Johanna Laakso has expertly presented the difficulties confronting both convergenge and divergence theories (or contact theory and traditional comparativistics) in clarifying the earlier history of the relationships between languages (interlinguistic relationships), particularly in the area of morphosyntax, at that (Laakso 1999). At the end of her paper she writes as follows: "The real challenge for future is now to find--after correcting the areal extremist exaggerations--a way to connect the traditionally self-dependent comparative method with studies of areal and contact phenomena. [---] Combining these two, the studies of internal vs. external explanation, sometimes seems hopelessly like mixing oil with water." (Laakso 1999 : 69). It becomes more explicit when we replace the opposition "internal vs. external explanation" by a question if the earlier history of interlinguistic relationships concerns mainly a convergent or divergent development. Traditional comparativists tend to regard it as an axiom that traditionally postulated families have developed by divergence, and so J. Laakso, too, proceeds from that axiom. When proceeding from that axiom the whole traditional comparativist arsenal will be set in play, including language trees and proto-languages, as well as preferably narrow proto-homes and departures from them.

A viewpoint by Uralic contact theorists was presented principally correctly by J. Laakso as follows: "There was not one proto-language but heterogeneous proto-Sprachbund with many centres, an area of constant convergence and divergence processes (this view has been propagated especially by Pusztay 1995)" (Laakso 1999 : 39). However, J. Laakso considers this view as ontologically and methodologically impossible (p. 60). Methodologically, certainly, if we proceed from the methodology of traditional comparativistics, but why then ontologically impossible? There is no answer found to this question in J. Laakso's paper. Another standpoint of Uralic contact theorists is again principally correct as presented by J. Laakso in the following way: "There was no well-formed, complete proto-language because the proto-language was defective: it was (or: had originally been) a lingua franca used between speakers of different languages" (Laakso 1999 : 59-60). J. Laakso argues against this point of view as follows: "... we have numerous cases of language death as powerful evidence to the contrary: after a stage of bilinguality (with the two contacting languages living together but apart), the generation following the terminal speakers e.g. Gaelic in Ireland (or Sami in Lapland) does not speak a mixture of Gaelic and English (Sami and Finnish/Swedish/ Norwegian/Russian) but a language which, despite some possible substrate features, is indisputably English (Finnish/Swedish etc.)." (Laakso 1999 : 60).

The evidence about language shift given by J. Laakso are certainly correct, however, she herself leaves two more options: "There are, of course, two exceptions to this axiom. First: for languages closely related (or dialects of the same language, or a pidgin pidgin (pĭj`ən), a lingua franca that is not the mother tongue of anyone using it and that has a simplified grammar and a restricted, often polyglot vocabulary.  and its lexifier language), it is so easy to borrow not only words but affixes, structures and other features that a massive influx of borrowings can almost or completely cover some original features. In borrowing between closely related languages, "contamination" is a frequent phenomenon. [---] Another exception are the real mixed languages now known in many parts of the world ... However, mixed languages only develop in exceptional circumstances, and they are typically in-group languages, not link languages." (Laakso 1999 : 60-61). Well, let it be that way. But when proceeding from the convergent development theory of interlinguistic relationships I fail to see the use of the traditional comparativist term "closely related languages", or another term "in-group language". This is the position of Uralic contact theorists that primarily different languages converged, among them some to the extent that traditional comparativists can regard them as closely related languages or interprete their mutual relationships as in-group relations.

J. Laakso does not seem to find it possible to observe Proto-Uralic as a form-scanty lingua franca, since "Proto-Uralic ... seems to have been a clearly agglutinative language with a rich morphology: at least five case endings, personal and possessive suffixes, number markers, several derivational suffixes etc. [---] Pidgin languages typically have little morphology; in extreme cases (although by far not always ...) they are isolating languages." (Laakso 1999 : 66). J. Laakso seems to argue on behalf of a onetime actually existent Proto-Uralic, although she herself emphasises that "the proto-language reconstruction and the actual language spoken sometimes in the past are two different things" (Laakso 1999 : 63). What I have in mind is the reconstruction of Proto-Uralic, made by linguists. I think Juha Janhunen's version of Proto-Uralic (Janhunen 1981; 1982) is relatively good, reflecting minimal lexical and grammatical material, reconstructed into the supposed Proto-Uralic on the basis of maximally strict criteria. What is J. Janhunen's crop like? No more than 140 word stems, the phonetic system (based on the latter), about fifteen morphological suffixes and some syntactic features, actually rules of word order. However, it does not automatically mean that insisting on the traditional comparativist divergence model, internal reconstruction, proto-languages and language trees would solve the problem, although holding fast to the habitual may appear safer than heading for yet little-known new tracks. But the tracks are really there and, unavoidably, they have to be covered.


Bagenholm, G. 1998, Linguistic Changes (Indo-Europeanisation) without Migration in an Archaeological Model (Manuscript).

Dixon, R. M. W. 1997, The Rise and Fall of Languages, Cambridge (In Japanese: 2001).

--1999, The Rise and Fall of Languages, Cambridge (Reprint of Dixon 1997). Edzard, L. 1998, Polygenesis, Convergence, and Entropy: An Alternative Model of Linguistic Evolution Applied to Semitic Linguistics, Wiesbaden.

--2000, Monogenesis mon·o·gen·e·sis
1. The theory that all living organisms are descended from a single cell or organism.

2. The production of similar organisms in successive generations.

 and Polygenesis in Comparative Semitics and Arabic.--The Roots of Peoples and Languages of Northern Eurasia II and III. Szombathely 30.9.-2.10.1998 and Loona 29.6.-1.7.1999, Tartu (Historica Fenno-Ugrica. FU 23), 85-92.

Honti, L. 2000, Az urali/finnugor "osnyelv"-rol. Hipotezisek es teveszmek az urali nyelvtudomanyban.--Szegfoglalok 1995-1998 III, Budapest, 1-21.

Janhunen, J. 1981, Uralilaisen kantakielen sanastosta.--JSFOu 72, 219-274.

--1982, On the Structure of Proto-Uralic.--FUF 44, 23-42.

Kunnap, A. 1998, Breakthrough in Present-Day Uralistics, Tartu.

--2000, Contact-induced Perspectives in Uralic Linguistics, [Munchen--Newcastle] (LINCOM Studies in Asian Linguistics 39).

Laakso, J. 1999, Language Contact Hypotheses and the History of Uralic Morphosyntax.--JSFOu 88, 59.72.

Marcantonio, A. 2001, The Basic Uralic Lexicon and the Uralic Paradigm.--CIFU IX, pars V, 339-345.

--2002, The Uralic Language Family: Facts, Myths and Statistics. (Forthcoming.)

Marcantonio, A., Nummenaho, P., Salvagni, M. 2001, The "UgricTurkic Battle.: A Critical Review.--LU XXXVII, 81-102.

Nettle, D. 1999, Linguistic Diversity, Oxford.

Nichols, J. 1992, Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time (Chicago, 1992) is linguist Johanna Nichols's best known work, considered a pioneering work in the use of linguistic typology as a tool for understanding human migrations in prehistory. , Chicago.

Pusztay, J. 1995, Diskussionsbeitrage zur Grundsprachenforschung (Beispiel: das Protouralische), Wiesbaden (Veroffentlichungen der Societas Uralo-Altaica 43).

--2000, A "megzakitott egyensuly" elmelete es az urali alapnyelv kialakulasa.--Folklorisztika 2000-ben. Folklor--irodalom--szemiotika. Tanulmanyok Voigt Vilmos 60. szuletesnapjara II, Budapest, 550-556.

Renfrew, C. 1999, Time Depth, Convergence Theory, and Innovation in Proto-Indo-European: 'Old Europe' as a PIE Linguistic Area.--The Journal of Indo-European Studies The Journal of Indo-European Studies (JIES) is a journal of Indo-European studies, established in 1973. It aims to serve "as a medium for the exchange and synthesis of information relating to the anthropology, archaeology, mythology, philology, and general cultural history  27 3&4, 257-293.

--2000, At the Edge of Knowability: Towards a Prehistory prehistory, period of human evolution before writing was invented and records kept. The term was coined by Daniel Wilson in 1851. It is followed by protohistory, the period for which we have some records but must still rely largely on archaeological evidence to  of Languages.--Cambridge Archaeological Journal 10 1, 7-34.

The Roots of Peoples and Languages of Northern Eurasia I, Turku 1998 (Historica Fenno-Ugrica).

The Roots of Peoples and Languages of Northern Eurasia II and III. Szombathely 30.9.-2.10.1998 and Loona 29.6.-1.7.1999, Tartu 2002 (Historica Fenno-Ugrica. FU 23).

The Roots of Peoples and Languages of Northern Eurasia IV, Oulu 2002.

Trubetzkoy, N. S. 1939, Gedanken uber das Indogermanenproblem.--Acta Linguistica (Hafniensa) 1, 81-89 (Reprinted in: Die Urheimat der Indogermanen, Darmstadt 1968, S. 212-223).

Wiik, K. 2000, European Lingua lingua /lin·gua/ (ling´gwah) pl. lin´guae   [L.] tongue.lin´gual

lingua geogra´phica  benign migratory glossitis.

lingua ni´gra  black tongue.
 Francas.--The Roots of Peoples and Languages of Northern Eurasia II and III. Szombathely 30.9..2.10.1998 and Loona 29.6.-1.7.1999, Tartu (Historica Fenno-Ugrica. FU 23), 202-236.

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Author:Kunnap, Ago
Publication:Linguistica Uralica
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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