Monday, December 10, 2007

Dead Hand of the Comparative Theory - 2 - Out-of-Taiwan?

Arthur Capell, writing nearly half a century ago, but only 20 years after the creation of proto-Austronesian, by Otto Dempwolff, gives some idea of just exactly how 'proto-Austronesian' came about:

Dempwolff (1938) established a vocabulary of some 2,000 words which he regarded as "Original Austronesian" (Uraustronesisch).
- The basis of this restoration is found in [just] two Western IN (Indonesian) languages, Toba-Batak (Sumatra) and Javanese, and one Northern IN language, Tagalog (Philippines).
These, with occasional references to Malagasy, Ngadju (Borneo), and a few other languages, served to establish proto-IN (Indonesian).
- He later added to his list Fijian and Sa'a (Southeast Solomons) and based a "proto-MN (Melanesian)" on the agreements of these with his IN (Indonesian).
- In the third stage, he examined three PN (Polynesian) languages (Tongan, eastern Futuna, and Samoa) and similarly established a proto-PN (Polynesian). In each of the latter two cases he sought to establish phonological innovations on the *AN sound-system, to determine what vocabulary appeared in each of the MN (Melanesian) and PN (Polynesian) areas, again with scant attention to MC (Micronesian).
- Moreover, all his PN (Polynesian) languages belong to the western subgroup of the family, without reference to Tahitian or Maori of the eastern subfamily. He did not seek to establish any original AN (Austronesian) morphology; and very little has yet been done in that sphere.

Arthur Capell - Oceanic Linguistics Today - Current Anthropology, Vol. 3, No. 4. (Oct., 1962), pp. 371-428.

Andrew Pawley and Malcom Ross carry on the story:
During the 1960s and 1970s a more complex theory of AN high order subgroups emerged from work on historical phonology and morphology. The poorly documented Formosan languages, completely left out of Dempwolff's comparisons, became key witnesses in the reconstruction of PAN. Several changes to Dempwolff's proposed PAN sound system have been made in the light of Formosan testimony .

Dyen noted the possibility of a primary split in AN between
(a) some or all Formosan languages and
(b) a group containing all other AN languages on the grounds of phonological mergers common to all the extra-Formosan languages.
Dahl argued forcefully for such a primary split.
Blust named the extra-Formosan branch "Malayo-Polynesian" (MP) and gave a morphological argument supporting it. Although several scholars have expressed strong reservations (Wolff, Dyen),the hypothesis has gained increasing acceptance.

...According to Blust, Harvey, and Reid the Formosan languages may comprise more than one first-order branch of AN, perhaps dividing into Atayalic (northern), Tsouic (central), and Paiwanic (southern) groups.

... Although most Philippine languages seem at least superficially similar to each other, Reid suggests that they have no significant innovations in common. Zorc challenges Reid, arguing that Philippine languages share numerous lexical replacements and that these constitute innovations defining a Philippine subgroup. The problem in the Philippines, as in many other compact regions, is to distinguish innovations from borrowings among related languages that have been in contact for millennia. A recent study of Tiruray (Mindanao) vocabulary shows that this Philippine language has replaced nearly 30% of its basic vocabulary with loans from its neighbors.
Blust has proposed a more detailed family tree. In this tree the
Western MP comprises chiefly the languages of the Philippines, Malaysia, western Indonesia (including Sulawesi) as far east as mid-Sumbawa, and Madagascar and
Central MP comprises approximately the languages of eastern Indonesia east of Sumbawa and Sulawesi excluding Halmahera.

Oceanic remains, but it has been demoted to something like a fourth-order subgroup.[;-(]

...It is probably fair to say that of Blust's proposed subgroups, MP and three of its daughters-Eastern MP, South Halmahera/West New Guinea, and Oceanic-are rather widely accepted because each is based on a significant body of diagnostic innovations. Western MP, Central MP, and Central~Eastern M P, on the other hand, are much more problematic. The difficulties in finding innovations encompassing the entire putative Central MP group very likely reflect the existence of an earlier extensive and longstanding dialect network in the eastern Indonesian region . What one finds is overlapping innovations, each covering part of the region. As 'a whole, Western MP languages seem to inherit only the innovations shared by all MP languages, i.e. those attributable to Proto MP (PMP).

This suggests that there was no Proto Western MP, but rather that PMP diverged into a number of dialects, one of whose descendants became Proto Central Eastern MP. The Western MP languages are simply those MP languages that do not belong to the Central Eastern group. In the same vein, Central MP languages may be just those Central Eastern languages that are not members of Eastern MP.

However, Pawley and Ross do not even mention that Isidore Dyen, a giant in Austronesian language studies, still believes that the Austronesian languages originated around Melanesia, and merely relegate him to a bit-part in the formation of the Out-of-Taiwan paradigm.
Some Evidence Favoring the Central Hypothesis. Isidore Dyen. Yale University (Emeritus).

The Out-of-Taiwan paradigm rests on remarkably little:

The Malayo-Polynesian (MP) hypothesis (that all extra-Formosan languages belong to a single first-order An subgroup, while the Formosan languages constitute one or more first-order subgroups) rests on the following phonological (and some nonphonological) innovations:
(a) PAn *C and *t merged as PMP *t.
(b) PAn noninitial *L and *n merged as PMP *n.
(c) PAn *S became a glottal spirant in PMP, possibly merging with *h.
The Sound of Proto-Austronesian: An Outsider's View of the Formosan Evidence
Malcolm D. Ross Oceanic Linguistics, Vol. 31, No. 1. (Summer, 1992), pp. 23-64.

But then Robert Blust, by now the leader of the pack, produced his bombshell:
Blust, R. (1999). "Subgrouping, circularity and extinction: some issues in Austronesian comparative linguistics" in E. Zeitoun & P.J.K Li (Ed.) 'Selected papers from the Eighth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics' (pp. 31-94). Taipei: Academia Sinica.
showing not only that Formosan languages differed radically from all others in the Austronesian family, but they formed no less than nine separate first-order families, each ranking equal with Proto-Malayo-Polynesian.

This was soon followed by a blitz of publicity:
Taiwan’s gift to the world - Jared M. Diamond

Quote: "A reanalysis of Austronesian languages by Robert Blust strengthens the identification of the first Austronesian waystation, illuminates archaeological findings and the history of boatbuilding, and may help reinterpret the histories of other language families".
- In fact, of the 94 pages of Blust's 1999 paper:
- Only 14 deal with the language classification (within Formosa alone, not of Austronesian languages in general, and concerning phonology only), with some notes about coastal/inland Formosan vocabularies.
- 13 pages are devoted to dismissing competing theories
- 4+ deal with the putative Austronesian Mainland Homeland, (and the embarrassing question of why there's no trace of them). There's also the embarrassing question of why, if the speakers of proto-Malayo Polynesian left Taiwan, they also left no traces behind them.
- 9 deal with boats (although he has some difficulty in proposing a viable method of boat transport from Taiwan out to the Philippines that would be sufficient to set in train a major wave of emigration).

Entrenchment of the Myth:
When a multidisciplinary conference was held in Geneva in June 2004, Peter Bellwood felt able to say, with full confidence:
"As a linguistic category, the Austronesian languages have a history of dispersal from Taiwan through the Philippines into Island Southeast Asia and on to Oceania and Madagascar.

Malcolm Ross explained why the majority of linguists accept Taiwan as the Proto-Austronesian homeland and in what directions the ancestral languages spread and emphasized their transmission through inheritance rather than language shift, implying that the Austronesian language dispersal was associated with an actual movement of Austronesian-speaking people....
Bellwood, Peter & Alicia Sanchez-Mazas (June 2005). "Human Migrations in Continental East Asia and Taiwan: Genetic, Linguistic, and Archaeological Evidence". Current Anthropology 46:3: 480-485
So, it's definite, isn't it?

Well, this little map may be a clue to the 'political' (in the very widest sense) motivation of the Blust-Diamond-Bellwood-everyone else bandwagon, who (mostly) believe the Chinese kicked the Austronesians into Taiwan, and then nudged them gently out to Easter Island and Madagascar:
There may be a hint of the strong current political and nationalist motivation behind the Out-of-Taiwan hypothesis in the accompanying article

Indeed, one wonders whether Taiwan would figure in the Austronesian story at all from the 1950s onwards if Chiang Kai-Shek hadn't retreated there in 1949, and opened up the place to his American allies, and if a 'native' Taiwanese (Li Denghui) hadn't become president of Taiwan in 1990, with an implicit agenda of promoting Taiwanese separation from China.

Dead Hand of the Comparative Method - 1

I may sound like a linguist, and even flatter myself occasionally that I'm learning and aspiring to be one, but I try to keep my head clear, as much as possible, from the complex phonological and grammatical technicalities that seem to be the meat of so many current An linguistics papers:
- The origin of the Kelabit voiced aspirates: a historical hypothesis revisited.
- On the origin of Philippine vowel grades

- The pronoun system in Galeya: arguments against a clitic analysis.
Oceanic Linguistics Dec 2006
Of course, these phonological and grammatical details are essential in the recording and study of existing languages, as a whole. They are extremely useful in differentiating between, and grouping, related languages.

But they are simply irrelevant in studying the typology and semantics of number words and number-sets, en masse, as I am attempting to do. (Later on, if I ever get there, I may use phonology to resolve the very ends of the twigs, or, if it's worthwhile, to analyse the mass of Western Malayo-Polynesian number-sets which look, very boringly, almost identical. It is essential to know the inherited sounds of a particular language to be able to help distinguish between inherited words ('reflexes') and borrowed words).

I do feel that the analytical power of phonology is greatly over-estimated in the special field of historical linguistics, and that over-reliance on it can lead to a very misleading results.

A statement like this, from the doyen of An linguists, who kindly sent me the numerals chapter of his forthcoming book:
"Although this may seem like a drastic departure from the decimal system that these languages inherited from a remote common ancestor, even more drastic innovations in numeral systems are found in some AN languages of New Guinea, where they clearly reflect Papuan contact influence."

makes me go quietly ballistic.

It completely reverses the 'normal' hypothesis that a less-developed number system will evolve into a more-developed one. It states that, somehow, all the less-developed and 'irregular' number systems in Austronesian languages (more than half of them) are 'innovations' from a 'pure' An ancestor.

[And, so far, I have not found a single instance where an An number system in New Guinea can be shown to 'clearly reflect Papuan contact influence']. If anything, it seems to have been quite the opposite.

It's easy to see how this happened: the WMP (Western Malayo-Polynesian, once called Indonesian) languages (from which PAn was originally derived) are fairly well homogenised, and all have a full decimal system (with only two minor exceptions). The majority of them use recognisably similar words for those numerals.

- Therefore, so does PAn (proto-Austronesian), the reconstructed ancestor of all Austronesian languages. You sift through those words, just like you'd pan some gravel, end up with some glittering cognates, and reconstruct the familiar 'proto-Austronesian':
*esa/isa, *duSa, *telu, *Sepat, *lima, *enem, *pitu, *walu, *Siwa, *sa-puluq

- Therefore, POc (proto-Oceanic) must also inherit this system, because it also has to demonstrate descendence from PAn.

- Therefore, if you reconstruct a proto-lexicon by sieving through a gradually-reducing mesh of current cognate words you will end up with a 'proto numeral' lexicon that mirrors the majority of current vocabularies, even if that particular lexicon set has been relatively recently introduced, and become very rapidly widespread. If that numeral lexicon also implies a fully-developed number system, you've allowed yourself to be led right down the plughole.

From there on, you must consider anything else as a deviant numerical practice, or innovation (probably brought about by miscegenation with fuzzy-wuzzies).

Therefore, most Melanesians and Polynesians are raving numerical deviants.

The limitations of the Comparative Method are revealed (between the lines) by its greatest current exponent, Robert Blust:

Historical linguistics depends for its results on two fundamental and by now well-tested claims about the nature of language: (1) The relationship between sound and meaning is largely arbitrary, and (2) sound change is largely regular. The first of these claims was first clearly enunciated by Saussure (1959), and the second by various of the Neogrammarians during the last three decades of the nineteenth century. Both have been challenged in various ways, but both remain as pillars of linguistic method.

Like everything in Nature, language changes. In time words come to differ in shape and perhaps also in meaning. Since sound change is regular, the differences in the sound shape of words are systematic, and permit the original forms to be reconstituted with a rather high degree of confidence. The procedures followed in such reconstitution of prehistoric forms are collectively known as the Comparative Method. Where we have documentary checks, as in comparing the modern Romance languages with their immediate common ancestor, Latin, we are encouraged that even in the absence of documentary support our results will not ordinarily go far wrong.
The application of the Comparative Method to related (cognate) words by a process of triangulation results in a reconstruction of the sound system and vocabulary of an earlier language, called a proto-language.

To illustrate with three simple examples, Malay langit, Samoan langi, Hawaiian lani "sky", Malay tangis, Samoan tangi, Hawaiian kani "weep"; and Malay mata, Samoan mata, Hawaiian maka "eye" show recurrent correspondences of sound in words of related meaning, and so are assumed to derive from (reflect) a common ancestral form in each case, conventionally preceded by an asterisk to show that it is based on inference, not on observation.
For our purposes here (leaving out information that can be supplied only by the aboriginal languages of Taiwan), these forms can be reconstructed as *langit "sky", *tangis "weep" and *mata "eye".

Robert Blust
The Prehistory of the Austronesian-Speaking Peoples: A View from Language
Journal of World Prehistory, Vol. 9, No. 4, 1995

Having reconstructed a proto-language, you can then then propose it as the root of a family tree, and trace back the branches to separate the modern, existing languages into their bunches, or groups, each bunch of twigs descended from one node on a major branch.

You end up with a family tree that looks like this:
(Click on the picture for a larger version)

You´ll soon notice a few peculiarities:
1) The family tree is upside down. This is only one of linguistics' weird idosyncrasies, where 'reflect' means derive from, 'innovation' can mean 'reversion', etc.

2) The tree is heavily weighted towards the right, ie towards Oceanic, with a proto-language featured at each node. On the other major branches:

Formosan languages
Western Malayo-Polynesian

There are no proto-languages at the major nodes at all.
Each of those major groups has proved impossible to reduce down to an ancestral proto-language, so far.
Which is a great pity, since it implies that around the majority of all current Austronesian-speakers speak an orphan language, or at least one whose immediate parental identity and location are in doubt.

But you've got a neat map, showing the distribution of language groups.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Decades in Polynesia

To mitigate the Tongan 50 SNAFU, I posted a list of Polynesian numbers that I consider are overlays on older sytems:

Language - 10 - 20 - 50
Takuu - sinafuru - matarua, rue - matarima, lima
Vaeakau-Taumako - katoa, kharo, dumaa - gatoaelua - gatoaelima
Futuna East - kau, agafulu - kaulua - kaulima
Pukapuka - laugaulu - tinolua, laulua, luangaulu - tinolima, laulima, limangaulu
Fijian - e tini na, sagavulu, - rua-sagavulu - lima-sagavulu
Niuean - hongofulu - tekau - lima fiha
Tongan - hongofulu - tekau - nimangofulu
Rarotongan - nga'uru - rua nga'uru - rima nga'uru
Tahitian - ho'e'ahuru - piti 'ahuru, ta'au, arooato - ?
Marquesan - 'onohu'u, 'okohu'u - tekau - ?
Hawaiian - umi - iwakâlua - haneli
Maori - ka-cahuru, ngahuru, tekau - rua tekau, tekau - rima tekau

The 'proto-Austronesian' number system goes:
10 = *sa-puluq (1 x10) - 20 = *duSa-puluq (2 x 10) - 50 = *lima-puluq (5 x 10)
so, any major variations in the Polynesian numbers (ie non-cognates) must be, by the rules of the game, innovations in the purely linguistic sense.
But in the real world, a retained number-name from an older vigesimal system (above no 10), cannot possibly be a technical innovation.

Even linguists recognise that
90=quatre-vingt dix
are not 'innovations'.

Most of these Polynesian systems appear to be relatively 'modern' constructions:
Only Rarotongan shows a regular series.
Why else should Fijian make 20= 2 x 1 x 10, 5 x 1 x 10?
Why else does Maori rename 20 as 10, in modern times, and then make up a series?
And what does fiha mean in Niuean? Or haneli in Hawaiian?

Old Numbers Overlaid by New ?

The evidence of 4 base systems, plus several quite scattered and different 'subtractive from 10' systems, suggests that Austronesian number systems may have evolved individually through separate stages in many different areas, ,just as 'Papuan' , and many other languages appear to have done.

They could then have invented or borrowed new words for increasing needs to count exchangeable agricultural or fishing surpluses, and later again adopted very widespread loanwords with more contact and real trade, perhaps long after proto-Austronesians or proto-Oceanics were actually speaking those languages.

(Perhaps, like the Kilivila (Trobriand) chief who got to 9000 and 10000, for counting shells, and ran out of options, they just invented new words on the spot).

Going through New Guinean language records, it's very obvious that the new decimal Tok Pisin has influenced modern speakers very quickly, obliterating earlier recorded systems, at least in the higher numbers. The overlaying process is ongoing, and very visible.

In my Filipino village, everyone now uses Spanish numbers for trade, and nobody can tell me the 'real Surigaonon' for 10, any teens, or 20 up, except 'gatus'=100, which is still used in fishing and agriculture. But the 'native' system was decimal anyway, so there's no radical system change.
It should be quite possible, then, to infer multiple overlays of newer systems on old.

Tongan may be an example:
10 = hongofulu
20 = tekau
50 = nai rima avuru (why has hongofulu become avuru?)
(this turned out to be a very definite SNAFU - situation-normal- all-fucked-up.. The Tongan 50 turned out to come from Uruava in the Solomon Islands)

The only An languages that seem to have preserved traces of apparent original number systems are out of the mainstream:
Formosa, Ilongot, Borneo, Sumba, Flores, Timor, SW Maluku, Micronesia, and all of Melanesia south of a fairly definite line.