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Pseudolinguistics is the study of language in a way that falls short of academic rigor. It is the linguistic cousin of the pseudoscientific family.

Nationalists of various stripes are especially proficient abusers of linguistics. Many like to make up family relationships between languages or language families and then claim the newly discovered kin as a part of their nation. For example, a Turkish linguist might claim that the Finn-Ugric languages are related to Turkish and that therefore the Finns are actually Turks (for some reason you'll never hear it the other way around, that my language is related to your language and therefore my people don't exist but are members of your people). 'Mysterious' languages such as Basque, Ainu or any Native American language (as well as the Turkish and Finn-Ugric families for some reason) seem to be particularly popular languages in such theories. A typical pseudolinguistic language family claim will show a list of similar words with similar meanings in both languages. As the Zompist has already eloquently torn apart such claims there is no need for debunking them here.

If mixed with an unhealthy dose of religious whackery you might find pseudolinguists looking for an 'Adamic language', which was spoken by all of mankind before of the Tower of Babel. In the Middle Ages, Basque was believed by many to be the Adamic language, as it was one of the few known languages clearly not related to any other language. (The search for the Adamic languages should not be confused with the Proto-World language theory, which is a legitimate though controversial hypothesis of all languages in the world having one origin.)

With the advent of social linguistics, woo-meisters have to explain and influence human behavior based on spurious claims regarding human language. Feel free to blame postmodernists as well if you like.

Of course, pseudolinguistics has ties with other fields such as pseudohistory and pseudoarcheology.

Clear examples

  • The Sun Language Theory, claiming that language was invented by the Turks as a way to convert ritual blathering into a means of meaningful communication. The Sun Language Theory was promoted by the Turkish government under Atatürk in the 1930s.
  • The Lemurian theory, invented by Tamil autor Devaneya Pavanar which claimed that Tamil (suprise!) was the mother of all languages.
  • Conservapedia:Conservapedian linguistics, Conservapedia:History of the English Language and Conservapedia:Linguistic determinism. Or for that matter, any claim that any language is somehow 'superior' to another language.
  • Some theories regarding the Voynich Manuscript
  • Neurolinguistic programming incorporates some pseudo-linguistic claims.
  • Any form of Cratylism, that is, the idea that words are not arbitrary linked to what they signify, but that each of their sounds has an inherent meaning.
  • The idea that somehow, Celtic and Berber languages are related (quite popular in some circles in France).

Milder examples and borderline cases

  • Weak interpretations of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (that language has an effect on how we interpret the world) are considered to be a part of legitimate linguistics. However, the original proposition of the hypothesis, and stronger interpretations (that language defines and constrains our thoughts) are considered by many linguists as pseudolinguistics today. (Modern linguistics views the thought control through language in 1984 to be impossible.)
  • Arguably, some claims (what claims???) used by proponents of international auxiliary language (such as Esperanto) can be classified as pseudolinguistics.
  • Attempts to reconstruct "Proto-world" without the comparative method (more to come here).

See also


Articles on RationalWiki related to pseudo-studies
Pseudoarchaeology - Pseudohistory - Pseudolaw - Pseudolinguistics - Pseudomathematics - Pseudoscience - Pseudopsychology - Pseudoscience list - Pseudoscience in advertising - Pseudoskepticism - Pseudovitamin
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