Talk:Comparative linguistics

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"Less controversial [than glottochronology] is mass lexical comparison." Pardon me? Most historical linguists were up in arms about Greenberg's approach, saying that his work should be shouted down from the rooftops (or other such strong language). Changed the text to a more accurate description. Godfrey Daniel 19:58, 26 April 2006 (UTC)

I know what you mean, but:
  • Glottochronology is based on an assumption about "basic vocabulary" and a quantitative method both of which lack a secure foundation. It's a technique cannot do what it claims and is beyond hope.
  • Mass lexical comparison is a bad way to "establish" new relationships, particularly at spectacular time depths, but is actually a reasonable way of sub-grouping or clustering varieties which are already known to be related. No one can see how to evaluate closeness where A & B share a phonological innovation and A & C a morphological one. At least mass lexical comparison, where etymolgies are already proven, takes the subjectivity out of it. I would say that the problem is not with the technique, but the combination of shoddy workmanship and exaggerated claims from its most well-known proponents.
Perhaps the text should just say "Also controversial..." ;-) --Pfold 19:15, 27 April 2006 (UTC)
This is a mess. Mass comparison is mentioned twice and lexicostatistics is to all intents and purposes identical to glottochronology. Both are rejected by the scientific community and are not even to begin with part of the comparative method. They can be mentioned under diachronic linguistics, or historical linguistics, but NOT under the comparative method. I request that they be moved to where they belong, a bare (compare: [lexicostatistics]) will do instead.--AkselGerner (talk) 20:45, 29 February 2008 (UTC)
There, fixed the worst of it. Still this should be merged with [comparative method]. Also, these statistical methods are not part of comparative linguistics and it is unfitting that the article has very little information on the main topic but lots of information about peripheral and fundamentally flawed theories. That's like having most of the article about Presidents of the United States of America be about Dan Quayle and his spelling of potato.--AkselGerner (talk) 21:01, 29 February 2008 (UTC)

Anytime anyone major publishes anything, others in the field are honor-bound to critique it. After two decades, however, many linguists have quietly accepted Greenburg and Ruhlen's basic assumptions (see the article on Proto-World). Indeed, once the mitochondrial DNA came in at the same age that Greenburg predicted there was once a small human community living in Africa, many comparative linguists restored him to favor. I think the article needs only a little bit of work, it's a difficult subject and the controversies many. I do not favor a merger with "comparative method," since that article would have to be far too broad. Many short articles is more encyclopedia, and in looking through dozens of linguistics articles (and hundreds of basic articles in the general area of anthropology), I'd say the length and scope of this one is very well-suited to Wikipedia. Experts in the field who disagree with the basic premises of any article should be listed by name, with citations, and have their own articles, with their viewpoints expanded. If that can be done (the critics of Greenberg listed, for example, with contemporary citations), this article would be improved.Levalley (talk) 18:31, 10 April 2009 (UTC)


Such a nicely written article, especially the lead (which is always difficult to write). I'm reading through dozens of articles related to anthropology, and this one stands out as exemplary. It's a difficult subject to describe, but the editors here have made it sound straightforward and easy to grasp.Levalley (talk) 18:26, 10 April 2009 (UTC)

I disagree strongly. This article is entirely misleading, unbalanced, and misrepresents the methodology and meaning of the comparative method entirely. There is far too much emphasis on lexicostatistics and mass comparison, and almost nothing on the comparative method itself. babbage (talk) 02:29, 13 November 2010 (UTC))
The article is unprofessional and terrible.


Is based on premises widely accepted in cultural anthropology (that there is core vocabulary and that observed language change occurs less quickly in core terms). It is not, therefore, a strictly linguistic method, but relies on observing speech acts in the field (participant-observation, usually), an area that has to take into account the cultural settings in which language is used. High church language, for example, in many religions changes way less than the surrounding language of common speech, when institutions provide rigid training for priests, monks and nuns. If these facts are known, they are applicable to the study of language over time. But they are not strictly linguistic facts (e.g. the facts of the institution of a priesthood or a genealogical or placename chanting society), they are cultural facts. Thus, the method straddles two disciplines and as such, get criticism from both. Nevertheless, folks like Greenberg and Ruhlen have been uncannily able to anticipate work like that of Cavalli-Sforza, who goes out of his way to show how glottochronology aligns with research about gene markers.Levalley (talk) 18:38, 10 April 2009 (UTC)

Frog language[edit]

Is that last line in the Pseudoscience section genuine, about Jean-Pierre Brisset's claim that humans descended from frogs, based on the similarity betwen "Frog language" and French? Either it's a joke (based on the use of "Frogs" as a slur from the French), or it's the most brilliantly lunatic crackpot theory ever. (The Jean-Pierre Brisset article mentions it too, but the language is a bit strange and informal ("dead serious"), and I cannot access the sole source). Iapetus (talk) 12:32, 28 March 2014 (UTC)

  • dear Iapetus Wardog, Jean-Pierre Brisset was dead serious. His book "La Grande Nouvelle" is still for sale $2.69 -a steal. The book was his life work, and Brisset was not aware of its ridicule. Nor are the other linguists mentioned in the Pseudoscience chapter. Some of these theories are still taken very seriously (maybe not the frog one, or the Latin/nitale theory of good father Prat).
    The domain of Comparative Linguistics is ridden with wrong theories (not just internet crackpottery, but serious-looking publications, conferences, even prizes; people donning titles and degrees) - I would like to see this fact recognised, and would welcome a sound criterion in the lemma that can make a clear cut between science and crackpottery. Riyadi (talk) 18:37, 3 August 2014 (UTC)