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Pseudolinguistics

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

Types of pseudolinguistics[edit]

Nationalist pseudolinguistics[edit]

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[note 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,[1] there is no need for debunking them here.

Religious pseudolinguistics[edit]

If mixed with an unhealthy dose of religious whackery you might find pseudolinguists looking for an 'Adamic languageWikipedia's W.svg', 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.)

Clear examples[edit]

  • Anything specific about extraterrestrial languages, i.e. astrolinguistics... since it's all protoscience and speculation in reality.
  • Channelled languages, xenoglossy and glossolalia.
  • Valery Chudinov[10] 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[11] used by proponents of international auxiliary languages (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 PictishWikipedia's W.svg, 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.[12]

Arguments used in pseudolinguistics[edit]

Ancestral convergence[edit]

In order to prove that one language is the "mother" of another, pseudolinguists will sometimes show that if one trace certain of its words or linguistic features back in time, they increasingly resemble their equivalents in the claimed (often contemporaneous) "daughter" language. The reasoning is that if one traces a language back in time, it becomes more and more similar (and eventually identical) to the original proto-language (which is true enough); since this is the case with the languages being analyzed, it proves that one must be the ancestor of the other.

However, it is not necessarily the case that a language must be descended from another language if the former becomes increasingly similar to the latter as one goes further back in the past, as related languages that descend from a common ancestor may be conserative or innovative in different aspects. Consider a hypothetical language X, and its daughter languages Y and Z. X has seven cases and three genders; Y has lost all the cases and preserved the genders, while Z has lost the genders and preserved the cases. If one looks at the development of the case system of Y over time, we find that its similarity to that of Z increases as time goes backwards. From this perspective, it might seem as though Y inherited its case system from Z. However, comparing the historical development of the genders in the two languages, we find that the genders of Z tend to become more similar to those of Y as one goes backward in time. Thus, in one aspect Y appears to be diverging from an original Z, while in another it is Z that appears to be diverging from an original Y. A similar argument might be made of vocabulary; while some archaic words of Y might resemble their cognates in modern Z, the reverse might be true as far as other pairs of cognates are concerned. Hence, it is possible for the archaic stage of one language to appear to converge to another language (at least as part of its features or vocabulary is concerned), without the former being descended from the latter. In any case, though two contemporaneous languages may share a common past ancestor, a language cannot be descended any of its contemporaries.

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]

Notes[edit]

  1. It's egocentrism. To combat them, just ask them if they believe Germans are Iranian.

References[edit]

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