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Pseudolinguistics could use some help. Please research the article's assertions. Whatever is credible should be sourced, and what is not should be removed.

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 Finno-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[1]). Language isolates (i.e. those with no living relatives, such as Basque, Ainu or many Native American languages) seem to be particularly popular choices for such theories, as well as any ancient language of some long-gone civilization (Sumerian, Egyptian, etc.). 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 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-Human 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[edit]

  • Theories about any given (known) language being the original language of mankind. (See also Lemuria below.) Although humanity may have had an original language, it would have evolved beyond all recognition over thousands of years.
    • Any theory involving ancient astronauts which claims aliens taught us writing or that dead languages such as Egyptian are in fact descended from alien tongues. (Note: aliens have in all likelihood never visited Earth for much the same reasons that we have not visited them, and if they did, it is highly unlikely their languages would be pronounceable by humans. Think Chewbacca.)
    • Any form of goropismWikipedia's W.svg; theories that Sanskrit, Hebrew, Romanian, or some other historical attested language is the original language of mankind and all others are derived from them.
      • Chief among these is 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.
      • A pile of Tower of Babel-related apophenia by Isaac Mozeson that he calls Edenics, which purports to trace all languages to old Hebrew by ignoring vowels and permuting consonants.
  • Anything invoking the lost continents of Atlantis, Mu or Lemuria (or indeed mythology) in any way is immediately suspect.
    • The Lemurian theory, invented by Tamil author Devaneya Pavanar which claimed that Tamil (surprise!) was the mother of all languages.
  • Pseudoscientific attempts to group unrelated languagesWikipedia's W.svg into a single family, which are protoscience at best:
    • The idea that somehow, Celtic and Berber languages are related (quite popular in some circles in France). There is some speculation suggesting a Celto-Semitic Sprachbund,[2][3] but not much more.
    • Some Hungarian nationalists believe that the Hungarian language is actually related to the Huns. Usually mixed with conspiracy theories (e.g. "the Hapsburgs faked the linguistics, later maintained by the Jewish media"), wishful thinking, national mysticism. Usually predicated by charlatans with expensive books. What is preserved of the Hunnic language are some proper names and three common words, all three believed to be Indo-European borrowings. We don't even know Attila's real name. Attila is Gothic and means "little father". That theory is therefore absolutely untestable on linguistic grounds.
      • Also many other claims to do with the Hungarian language, most notably the attempt to link it to Sumerian.
    • A large number of speculations linking the Basque languageWikipedia's W.svg to other languages. This is particularly common with apparent linguistic isolates.
  • Some theories regarding the Voynich Manuscript.
  • Neurolinguistic programming incorporates some pseudo-linguistic claims.
  • Any form of sound symbolismWikipedia's W.svg, that is, the idea that words are not arbitrarily linked to what they signify, but that each of their sounds has an inherent meaning. (OnomatopoeiaWikipedia's W.svgs are, of course, an exception.)
  • The idea that Chinese characters prove the veracity of the Biblical account of creation.
  • The entire "Filipino" language, which in reality is only a variant of Tagalog. "Filipino" proponents regularly depreciate other distinct Philippine languages such as Ilokano, Cebuano, Kapampangan, Hiligaynon, and many others, and refer to these languages as "dialects" when in fact, they are no more mutually intelligible to each other than French or Spanish, for instance. Until a few decades ago, the French pulled the same kind of shenanigans with their country's minority languages, claiming they were dialects of French in an effort to discredit them and weed them out from daily use. The French were mostly successful in that effort, as the minority languages (OccitanWikipedia's W.svg, ArpitanWikipedia's W.svg, GalloWikipedia's W.svg, etc.) are almost extinct today and are kept going only by a special effort of their respective provinces.
  • The idea that some dialects are inferior to others.
  • The idea that the Romance languages are not descended from Latin.
  • Anything specific about extraterrestrial languages, i.e. astrolinguistics... since it's all protoscience and speculation in reality.
  • Channelled languages, xenoglossy and glossolalia.
  • Valery Chudinov concluded that Russians are more ancient than most civilizations by "noticing" monosyllabic Russian words enscribed on ancient artifacts, the ocean floor, the sun's surface and drying plaster.
  • Then there's this guy:

Milder examples and borderline cases[edit]

  • Weak interpretations of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (the concept that language has an effect on how we interpret the world) are considered to be a part of legitimate linguistics. However, many linguists now regard the original proposition of the hypothesis, and stronger interpretations (suggesting that language defines and constrains our thoughts) as pseudolinguistics. (Modern linguistics regards the thought-control through language in 1984 as impossible.)
  • Some claims[4] used by proponents of international auxiliary language (such as Esperanto) can be classified as pseudolinguistics.
  • Attempts to reconstruct "Proto-Human" without the comparative method. The multilateral comparisonWikipedia's W.svg methods espoused by Joseph Greenberg, John Bengtson and Merritt Ruhlen arguably fall into this category.
  • Various theories about Pictish, now generally considered P-Celtic (or Gallo-Brittonic).
  • Decipherment of various obscure scripts including Linear A from Crete in Greece or Rongorongo from Easter Island.

Pseudolinguistics on Conservapedia[edit]

This section is for people who don't like Conservapedia. Most of these links include side by side commentary.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. It's egocentrism. To combat them, just ask them if they believe Germans are Iranian.
  2. Orin Gensler. A Typological Evaluation of Celtic/Hamito-Semitic Parallels. Berkeley, 1993. Via Librik. " Answer to Are there other pairs of languages that are as close grammatically despite not being in the same language family as Korean and Japanese?]". Linguistics Stack Exchange, 2011-09-21. Accessed 2014-02-02.
  3. Steve Hewitt. "Remarks on the Insular Celtic / Hamito-Semitic question". Accessed 2014-03-25. Believed to be preprint of Hewitt, S. (2009), The Question of a Hamito-Semitic Substratum in Insular Celtic. Language and Linguistics Compass, 3: 972–995. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-818X.2009.00141.x.
  4. As mocked here
Articles on RationalWiki related to pseudo-studies
Pseudoarchaeology - Pseudoastronomy - Pseudohistory - Pseudolaw - Pseudolinguistics - Pseudomathematics - Pseudoscience - Pseudopsychology - Pseudoscience list - Pseudoscience in advertising - Pseudoskepticism - Pseudovitamin