HOME

TheInfoList



OR:

In
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and structure. Linguis ...
, the comparative method is a technique for studying the development of languages by performing a feature-by-feature comparison of two or more languages with
common descent Common descent is a concept in evolutionary biology applicable when one species is the ancestor of two or more species later in time. All living beings are in fact descendants of a unique ancestor commonly referred to as the last universal comm ...
from a shared ancestor and then extrapolating backwards to infer the properties of that ancestor. The comparative method may be contrasted with the method of
internal reconstruction Internal reconstruction is a method of reconstructing an earlier state in a language's history using only language-internal evidence of the language in question. The comparative method compares variations between languages, such as in sets of co ...
in which the internal development of a single language is inferred by the analysis of features within that language. Ordinarily, both methods are used together to reconstruct prehistoric phases of languages; to fill in gaps in the historical record of a language; to discover the development of phonological, morphological and other linguistic systems and to confirm or to refute hypothesised relationships between languages. The comparative method was developed over the 19th century. Key contributions were made by the Danish scholars Rasmus Rask and Karl Verner and the German scholar
Jacob Grimm Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm (4 January 1785 – 20 September 1863), also known as Ludwig Karl, was a German author, linguist, philologist, jurist, and folklore studies, folklorist. He is known as the discoverer of Grimm's law of linguistics, th ...
. The first linguist to offer reconstructed forms from a
proto-language In the tree model of historical linguistics, a proto-language is a postulated ancestral language from which a number of attested languages are believed to have descended by evolution, forming a language family. Proto-languages are usually unat ...
was
August Schleicher August Schleicher (; 19 February 1821 – 6 December 1868) was a German linguistics, linguist. His great work was ''A Compendium of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-European Languages'' in which he attempted to reconstruct the Proto-Indo-Eur ...
, in his ''Compendium der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen'', originally published in 1861. Here is Schleicher's explanation of why he offered reconstructed forms:
In the present work an attempt is made to set forth the inferred Indo-European original language side by side with its really existent derived languages. Besides the advantages offered by such a plan, in setting immediately before the eyes of the student the final results of the investigation in a more concrete form, and thereby rendering easier his insight into the nature of particular
Indo-European languages The Indo-European languages are a language family native to the languages of Europe, overwhelming majority of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and the northern Indian subcontinent. Some European languages of this family, English language, Englis ...
, there is, I think, another of no less importance gained by it, namely that it shows the baselessness of the assumption that the non-Indian Indo-European languages were derived from Old-Indian (
Sanskrit Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominalization, nominally , , ) is a classical language belonging to the Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia after its predecessor languages had Trans-cul ...
).


Definition


Principles

The aim of the comparative method is to highlight and interpret systematic
phonological Phonology is the branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds or, for sign languages, their constituent parts of signs. The term can also refer specifically to the sound or sign system of a ...
and
semantic Semantics (from grc, wikt:σημαντικός, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference, Meaning (philosophy), meaning, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct discipline ...
correspondences between two or more
attested language In linguistics, attested languages are languages (living or dead language, dead) that have been documented and for which the evidence (attestation) has survived to the present day. Evidence may be Archaeological record, recordings, Transcription ( ...
s. If those correspondences cannot be rationally explained as the result of
language contact Language contact occurs when speakers of two or more languages or Variety (linguistics), varieties interact and influence each other. The study of language contact is called contact linguistics. When speakers of different languages interact closely ...
( borrowings, areal influence, etc.) or linguistic universals, and if they are sufficiently numerous, regular, and systematic that they cannot be dismissed as chance similarities, then it must be assumed that they descend from a single parent language called the '
proto-language In the tree model of historical linguistics, a proto-language is a postulated ancestral language from which a number of attested languages are believed to have descended by evolution, forming a language family. Proto-languages are usually unat ...
'. A sequence of regular
sound change A sound change, in historical linguistics, is a change in the pronunciation of a language. A sound change can involve the replacement of one speech sound (or, more generally, one phonetic feature value) by a different one (called phonetic ch ...
s (along with their underlying sound laws) can then be postulated to explain the correspondences between the attested forms, which eventually allows for the reconstruction of a proto-language by the methodical comparison of "linguistic facts" within a generalized system of correspondences. Relation is considered to be "established beyond a reasonable doubt" if a reconstruction of the common ancestor is feasible. In some cases, this reconstruction can only be partial, generally because the compared languages are too scarcely attested, the temporal distance between them and their proto-language is too deep, or their internal evolution render many of the sound laws obscure to researchers. In such case, a relation is considered plausible, but uncertain.


Terminology

''Descent'' is defined as transmission across the generations: children learn a language from the parents' generation and, after being influenced by their peers, transmit it to the next generation, and so on. For example, a continuous chain of speakers across the centuries links
Vulgar Latin Vulgar Latin, also known as Popular or Colloquial Latin, is the range of non-formal registers of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was ori ...
to all of its modern descendants. Two languages are '' genetically related'' if they descended from the same ancestor language. For example, Italian and French both come from
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
and therefore belong to the same family, the
Romance languages The Romance languages, sometimes referred to as Latin languages or Neo-Latin languages, are the various modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin. They are the only extant subgroup of the Italic languages in the Indo-European languages, I ...
. Having a large component of vocabulary from a certain origin is not sufficient to establish relatedness; for example, heavy borrowing from
Arabic Arabic (, ' ; , ' or ) is a Semitic languages, Semitic language spoken primarily across the Arab world.Semitic languages: an international handbook / edited by Stefan Weninger; in collaboration with Geoffrey Khan, Michael P. Streck, Janet C ...
into Persian has caused more of the
vocabulary A vocabulary is a set of familiar words within a person's language. A vocabulary, usually developed with age, serves as a useful and fundamental tool for communication and learning, acquiring knowledge. Acquiring an extensive vocabulary is one ...
of Modern Persian to be from Arabic than from the direct ancestor of Persian,
Proto-Indo-Iranian Proto-Indo-Iranian, also Proto-Indo-Iranic is the Linguistic reconstruction, reconstructed proto-language of the Indo-Iranian languages, Indo-Iranian/Indo-Iranic branch of Indo-European languages, Indo-European. Its speakers, the hypothetical Pr ...
, but Persian remains a member of the Indo-Iranian family and is not considered "related" to Arabic. However, it is possible for languages to have different degrees of relatedness. English, for example, is related to both German and Russian but is more closely related to the former than to the latter. Although all three languages share a common ancestor,
Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European language family. Its proposed features have been derived by linguistic reconstruction from documented Indo-European languages. No direct record of Proto-Indo-E ...
, English and German also share a more recent common ancestor,
Proto-Germanic Proto-Germanic (abbreviated PGmc; also called Common Germanic) is the linguistic reconstruction, reconstructed proto-language of the Germanic languages, Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages. Proto-Germanic eventually developed from ...
, but Russian does not. Therefore, English and German are considered to belong to a subgroup of Indo-European that Russian does not belong to, the
Germanic languages The Germanic languages are a branch of the Indo-European languages, Indo-European language family spoken natively by a population of about 515 million people mainly in Europe, North America, Oceania and Southern Africa. The most widely spoken ...
. The division of related languages into subgroups is accomplished by finding ''shared linguistic innovations'' that differentiate them from the parent language. For instance, English and German both exhibit the effects of a collection of sound changes known as
Grimm's Law Grimm's law (also known as the First Germanic Sound Shift) is a set of sound laws describing the Proto-Indo-European language, Proto-Indo-European (PIE) stop consonants as they developed in Proto-Germanic in the 1st millennium BC. First systematic ...
, which Russian was not affected by. The fact that English and German share this innovation is seen as evidence of English and German's more recent common ancestor—since the innovation actually took place within that common ancestor, before English and German diverged into separate languages. On the other hand, ''shared retentions'' from the parent language are not sufficient evidence of a sub-group. For example, German and Russian both retain from Proto-Indo-European a contrast between the
dative case In grammar, the dative case (list of glossing abbreviations, abbreviated , or sometimes when it is a core argument) is a grammatical case used in some languages to indicate the recipient or beneficiary of an action, as in "Maria Jacobo potum dedit ...
and the
accusative case The accusative case (list of glossing abbreviations, abbreviated ) of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. In the English language, the only words that occur in the accusative case are pronouns: 'me, ...
, which English has lost. However, that similarity between German and Russian is not evidence that German is more closely related to Russian than to English but means only that the ''innovation'' in question, the loss of the accusative/dative distinction, happened more recently in English than the divergence of English from German.


Origin and development

In Antiquity, Romans were aware of the similarities between Greek and Latin, but did not study them systematically. They sometimes explained them mythologically, as the result of Rome being a Greek colony speaking a debased dialect. Even though grammarians of Antiquity had access to other languages around them ( Oscan,
Umbrian Umbrian is an language death, extinct Italic languages, Italic language formerly spoken by the Umbri in the ancient Italy, Italian region of Regio VI Umbria, Umbria. Within the Italic languages it is closely related to the Oscan language, Oscan ...
, Etruscan,
Gaulish Gaulish was an ancient Celtic language spoken in parts of Continental Europe before and during the period of the Roman Empire. In the narrow sense, Gaulish was the language of the Celts of Gaul (now France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switze ...
, Egyptian, Parthian...), they showed little interest in comparing, studying, or just documenting them. Comparison between languages really began after Antiquity.


Early works

In the 9th or 10th century AD, Yehuda Ibn Quraysh compared the phonology and morphology of Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic but attributed the resemblance to the Biblical story of Babel, with Abraham, Isaac and Joseph retaining Adam's language, with other languages at various removes becoming more altered from the original Hebrew. In publications of 1647 and 1654, Marcus van Boxhorn first described a rigorous methodology for historical linguistic comparisonsGeorge van Drie
The genesis of polyphyletic linguistics
and proposed the existence of an
Indo-European The Indo-European languages are a language family native to the languages of Europe, overwhelming majority of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and the northern Indian subcontinent. Some European languages of this family, English language, Englis ...
proto-language, which he called "Scythian", unrelated to Hebrew but ancestral to Germanic, Greek, Romance, Persian, Sanskrit, Slavic, Celtic and Baltic languages. The Scythian theory was further developed by Andreas Jäger (1686) and William Wotton (1713), who made early forays to reconstruct the primitive common language. In 1710 and 1723, Lambert ten Kate first formulated the regularity of sound laws, introducing among others the term root vowel. Another early systematic attempt to prove the relationship between two languages on the basis of similarity of
grammar In linguistics, the grammar of a natural language is its set of structure, structural constraints on speakers' or writers' composition of clause (linguistics), clauses, phrases, and words. The term can also refer to the study of such constraint ...
and
lexicon A lexicon is the vocabulary of a language or branch of knowledge (such as nautical or medical). In linguistics, a lexicon is a language's inventory of lexemes. The word ''lexicon'' derives from Koine Greek language, Greek word (), neuter of () ...
was made by the Hungarian János Sajnovics in 1770, when he attempted to demonstrate the relationship between Sami and Hungarian. That work was later extended to all Finno-Ugric languages in 1799 by his countryman Samuel Gyarmathi.. However, the origin of modern
historical linguistics Historical linguistics, also termed diachronic linguistics, is the scientific study of language change over time. Principal concerns of historical linguistics include: # to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages # ...
is often traced back to Sir William Jones, an English
philologist Philology () is the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is the intersection of textual criticism, literary criticism, history, and linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is c ...
living in
India India, officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by area, seventh-largest country by area, the List of countries and dependencies by population, second-most populous ...
, who in 1786 made his famous
The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists. There is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothick and the Celtick, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanscrit; and the
old Persian Old Persian is one of the two directly attested Old Iranian languages (the other being Avestan language, Avestan) and is the ancestor of Middle Persian (the language of Sasanian Empire). Like other Old Iranian languages, it was known to its native ...
might be added to the same family.


Comparative linguistics

The comparative method developed out of attempts to reconstruct the proto-language mentioned by Jones, which he did not name but subsequent linguists have labelled
Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European language family. Its proposed features have been derived by linguistic reconstruction from documented Indo-European languages. No direct record of Proto-Indo-E ...
(PIE). The first professional comparison between the
Indo-European languages The Indo-European languages are a language family native to the languages of Europe, overwhelming majority of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and the northern Indian subcontinent. Some European languages of this family, English language, Englis ...
that were then known was made by the German linguist Franz Bopp in 1816. He did not attempt a reconstruction but demonstrated that Greek, Latin and Sanskrit shared a common structure and a common lexicon. In 1808, Friedrich Schlegel first stated the importance of using the eldest possible form of a language when trying to prove its relationships; in 1818, Rasmus Christian Rask developed the principle of regular sound-changes to explain his observations of similarities between individual words in the Germanic languages and their cognates in Greek and
Jacob Grimm Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm (4 January 1785 – 20 September 1863), also known as Ludwig Karl, was a German author, linguist, philologist, jurist, and folklore studies, folklorist. He is known as the discoverer of Grimm's law of linguistics, th ...
, better known for his ''
Fairy Tales A fairy tale (alternative names include fairytale, fairy story, magic tale, or wonder tale) is a short story that belongs to the folklore genre. Such stories typically feature magic (paranormal), magic, incantation, enchantments, and mythical ...
'', used the comparative method in ''Deutsche Grammatik'' (published 1819–1837 in four volumes), which attempted to show the development of the
Germanic languages The Germanic languages are a branch of the Indo-European languages, Indo-European language family spoken natively by a population of about 515 million people mainly in Europe, North America, Oceania and Southern Africa. The most widely spoken ...
from a common origin, which was the first systematic study of
diachronic Synchrony and diachrony are two complementary viewpoints in linguistic analysis. A ''synchronic'' approach (from grc, συν- "together" and "time") considers a language at a moment in time without taking its history into account. Synchronic l ...
language change. Both Rask and Grimm were unable to explain apparent exceptions to the sound laws that they had discovered. Although
Hermann Grassmann Hermann Günther Grassmann (german: link=no, Graßmann, ; 15 April 1809 – 26 September 1877) was a German polymath known in his day as a linguistics, linguist and now also as a mathematician. He was also a physicist, general scholar, and publi ...
explained one of the anomalies with the publication of Grassmann's law in 1862, Karl Verner made a methodological breakthrough in 1875, when he identified a pattern now known as
Verner's law Verner's law describes a historical sound change in the Proto-Germanic language whereby consonants that would usually have been the voiceless fricatives , , , , , following an unstressed syllable, became the voiced fricatives , , , , . The law ...
, the first sound-law based on comparative evidence showing that a
phonological Phonology is the branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds or, for sign languages, their constituent parts of signs. The term can also refer specifically to the sound or sign system of a ...
change in one
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme () is a unit of sound that can distinguish one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West M ...
could depend on other factors within the same word (such as neighbouring phonemes and the position of the accent), which are now called ''conditioning environments''.


Neo-grammarian approach

Similar discoveries made by the ''Junggrammatiker'' (usually translated as " Neogrammarians") at the
University of Leipzig Leipzig University (german: Universität Leipzig), in Leipzig in Saxony, Germany, is one of the world's oldest University, universities and the List of universities in Germany#Universities by years of existence, second-oldest university (by conse ...
in the late 19th century led them to conclude that all sound changes were ultimately regular, resulting in the famous statement by Karl Brugmann and Hermann Osthoff in 1878 that "sound laws have no exceptions". That idea is fundamental to the modern comparative method since it necessarily assumes regular correspondences between sounds in related languages and thus regular sound changes from the proto-language. The ''Neogrammarian hypothesis'' led to the application of the comparative method to reconstruct
Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European language family. Its proposed features have been derived by linguistic reconstruction from documented Indo-European languages. No direct record of Proto-Indo-E ...
since
Indo-European The Indo-European languages are a language family native to the languages of Europe, overwhelming majority of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and the northern Indian subcontinent. Some European languages of this family, English language, Englis ...
was then by far the most well-studied language family. Linguists working with other families soon followed suit, and the comparative method quickly became the established method for uncovering linguistic relationships.


Application

There is no fixed set of steps to be followed in the application of the comparative method, but some steps are suggested by
Lyle Campbell Lyle Richard Campbell (born October 22, 1942) is an American scholar and linguist known for his studies of Indigenous languages of the Americas, indigenous American languages, especially those of Central America, and on historical linguistics in ...
and Terry Crowley, who are both authors of introductory texts in historical linguistics. This abbreviated summary is based on their concepts of how to proceed.


Step 1, assemble potential cognate lists

This step involves making lists of words that are likely cognates among the languages being compared. If there is a regularly-recurring match between the phonetic structure of basic words with similar meanings, a genetic kinship can probably then be established.. For example, linguists looking at the Polynesian family might come up with a list similar to the following (their actual list would be much longer): Borrowings or
false cognate False cognates are pairs of words that seem to be cognates because of similar sounds and meaning, but have different etymologies; they can be within the same language or from different languages, even within the same family. For example, the Engli ...
s can skew or obscure the correct data. For example, English ''taboo'' () is like the six Polynesian forms because of borrowing from Tongan into English, not because of a genetic similarity. That problem can usually be overcome by using basic vocabulary, such as kinship terms, numbers, body parts and pronouns. Nonetheless, even basic vocabulary can be sometimes borrowed. Finnish, for example, borrowed the word for "mother", ''äiti'', from Proto-Germanic *aiþį̄ (compare to Gothic ''aiþei''). English borrowed the pronouns "they", "them", and "their(s)" from Norse. Thai and various other
East Asian languages The East Asian languages are a language family A language family is a group of languages related through Genetic relationship (linguistics), descent from a common ''ancestral language'' or ''parental language'', called the proto-language of ...
borrowed their numbers from Chinese. An extreme case is represented by Pirahã, a Muran language of South America, which has been controversially claimed to have borrowed all of its
pronoun In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun (list of glossing abbreviations, abbreviated ) is a word or a group of words that one may substitute for a noun or noun phrase. Pronouns have traditionally been regarded as one of the part of speech, parts o ...
s from Nheengatu.


Step 2, establish correspondence sets

The next step involves determining the regular sound-correspondences exhibited by the lists of potential cognates. For example, in the Polynesian data above, it is apparent that words that contain ''t'' in most of the languages listed have cognates in Hawaiian with ''k'' in the same position. That is visible in multiple cognate sets: the words glossed as 'one', 'three', 'man' and 'taboo' all show the relationship. The situation is called a "regular correspondence" between ''k'' in Hawaiian and ''t'' in the other Polynesian languages. Similarly, a regular correspondence can be seen between Hawaiian and Rapanui ''h'', Tongan and Samoan ''f'', Maori ''ɸ'', and Rarotongan ''ʔ''. Mere phonetic similarity, as between English ''day'' and
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
''dies'' (both with the same meaning), has no probative value.. English initial ''d-'' does not ''regularly'' match since a large set of English and Latin non-borrowed cognates cannot be assembled such that English ''d'' repeatedly and consistently corresponds to Latin ''d'' at the beginning of a word, and whatever sporadic matches can be observed are due either to chance (as in the above example) or to borrowing (for example, Latin ''diabolus'' and English ''devil'', both ultimately of Greek origin). However, English and Latin exhibit a regular correspondence of ''t-'' : ''d-'' (in which "A : B" means "A corresponds to B"), as in the following examples: If there are many regular correspondence sets of this kind (the more, the better), a common origin becomes a virtual certainty, particularly if some of the correspondences are non-trivial or unusual.


Step 3, discover which sets are in complementary distribution

During the late 18th to late 19th century, two major developments improved the method's effectiveness. First, it was found that many sound changes are conditioned by a specific ''context''. For example, in both Greek and
Sanskrit Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominalization, nominally , , ) is a classical language belonging to the Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia after its predecessor languages had Trans-cul ...
, an aspirated stop evolved into an unaspirated one, but only if a second aspirate occurred later in the same word; this is Grassmann's law, first described for
Sanskrit Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominalization, nominally , , ) is a classical language belonging to the Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia after its predecessor languages had Trans-cul ...
by Sanskrit grammarian Pāṇini and promulgated by
Hermann Grassmann Hermann Günther Grassmann (german: link=no, Graßmann, ; 15 April 1809 – 26 September 1877) was a German polymath known in his day as a linguistics, linguist and now also as a mathematician. He was also a physicist, general scholar, and publi ...
in 1863. Second, it was found that sometimes sound changes occurred in contexts that were later lost. For instance, in Sanskrit velars (''k''-like sounds) were replaced by palatals (''ch''-like sounds) whenever the following vowel was ''*i'' or ''*e''. Subsequent to this change, all instances of ''*e'' were replaced by ''a''. The situation could be reconstructed only because the original distribution of ''e'' and ''a'' could be recovered from the evidence of other
Indo-European languages The Indo-European languages are a language family native to the languages of Europe, overwhelming majority of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and the northern Indian subcontinent. Some European languages of this family, English language, Englis ...
. For instance, the
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
suffix ''que'', "and", preserves the original ''*e'' vowel that caused the consonant shift in Sanskrit:
Verner's Law Verner's law describes a historical sound change in the Proto-Germanic language whereby consonants that would usually have been the voiceless fricatives , , , , , following an unstressed syllable, became the voiced fricatives , , , , . The law ...
, discovered by Karl Verner 1875, provides a similar case: the voicing of consonants in
Germanic languages The Germanic languages are a branch of the Indo-European languages, Indo-European language family spoken natively by a population of about 515 million people mainly in Europe, North America, Oceania and Southern Africa. The most widely spoken ...
underwent a change that was determined by the position of the old Indo-European accent. Following the change, the accent shifted to initial position. Verner solved the puzzle by comparing the Germanic voicing pattern with Greek and Sanskrit accent patterns. This stage of the comparative method, therefore, involves examining the correspondence sets discovered in step 2 and seeing which of them apply only in certain contexts. If two (or more) sets apply in
complementary distribution In linguistics, complementary distribution, as distinct from contrastive distribution and free variation, is the relationship between two different elements of the same kind in which one element is found in one set of environments and the other ele ...
, they can be assumed to reflect a single original
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme () is a unit of sound that can distinguish one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West M ...
: "some sound changes, particularly conditioned sound changes, can result in a proto-sound being associated with more than one correspondence set". For example, the following potential cognate list can be established for
Romance languages The Romance languages, sometimes referred to as Latin languages or Neo-Latin languages, are the various modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin. They are the only extant subgroup of the Italic languages in the Indo-European languages, I ...
, which descend from
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
: They evidence two correspondence sets, ''k : k'' and ''k : : Since French ' occurs only before ''a'' where the other languages also have ''a'', and French ''k'' occurs elsewhere, the difference is caused by different environments (being before ''a'' conditions the change), and the sets are complementary. They can, therefore, be assumed to reflect a single proto-phoneme (in this case ''*k'', spelled , c, in
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
). The original Latin words are ''corpus'', ''crudus'', ''catena'' and ''captiare'', all with an initial ''k''. If more evidence along those lines were given, one might conclude that an alteration of the original ''k'' took place because of a different environment. A more complex case involves consonant clusters in Proto-Algonquian. The Algonquianist
Leonard Bloomfield Leonard Bloomfield (April 1, 1887 – April 18, 1949) was an American linguist who led the development of structural linguistics in the United States during the 1930s and the 1940s. He is considered to be the father of American distributionali ...
used the reflexes of the clusters in four of the daughter languages to reconstruct the following correspondence sets: Although all five correspondence sets overlap with one another in various places, they are not in complementary distribution and so Bloomfield recognised that a different cluster must be reconstructed for each set. His reconstructions were, respectively, ''*hk'', ''*xk'', ''*čk'' (=), ''*šk'' (=), and ''çk'' (in which ''x'' and ''ç'' are arbitrary symbols, rather than attempts to guess the phonetic value of the proto-phonemes).


Step 4, reconstruct proto-phonemes

Typology assists in deciding what reconstruction best fits the data. For example, the voicing of voiceless stops between vowels is common, but the devoicing of voiced stops in that environment is rare. If a correspondence ''-t-'' : ''-d-'' between vowels is found in two languages, the proto-
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme () is a unit of sound that can distinguish one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West M ...
is more likely to be ''*-t-'', with a development to the voiced form in the second language. The opposite reconstruction would represent a rare type. However, unusual sound changes occur. The
Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European language family. Its proposed features have been derived by linguistic reconstruction from documented Indo-European languages. No direct record of Proto-Indo-E ...
word for ''two'', for example, is reconstructed as ''*dwō'', which is reflected in
Classical Armenian Classical Armenian (, in Eastern Armenian pronunciation: Grabar, Western Armenian: Krapar; meaning "literary anguage; also Old Armenian or Liturgical Armenian) is the oldest attested form of the Armenian language. It was first written down ...
as ''erku''. Several other cognates demonstrate a regular change ''*dw-'' → ''erk-'' in Armenian. Similarly, in Bearlake, a dialect of the Athabaskan language of Slavey, there has been a sound change of Proto-Athabaskan ''*ts'' → Bearlake '. It is very unlikely that ''*dw-'' changed directly into ''erk-'' and ''*ts'' into ', but they probably instead went through several intermediate steps before they arrived at the later forms. It is not phonetic similarity that matters for the comparative method but rather regular sound correspondences. By the principle of economy, the reconstruction of a proto-phoneme should require as few sound changes as possible to arrive at the modern reflexes in the daughter languages. For example,
Algonquian languages The Algonquian languages ( or ; also Algonkian) are a subfamily of indigenous American languages that include most languages in the Algic language family. The name of the Algonquian language family is distinguished from the orthographically simi ...
exhibit the following correspondence set: The simplest reconstruction for this set would be either ''*m'' or ''*b''. Both ''*m'' → ''b'' and ''*b'' → ''m'' are likely. Because ''m'' occurs in five of the languages and ''b'' in only one of them, if ''*b'' is reconstructed, it is necessary to assume five separate changes of ''*b'' → ''m'', but if ''*m'' is reconstructed, it is necessary to assume only one change of ''*m'' → ''b'' and so ''*m'' would be most economical. That argument assumes the languages other than Arapaho to be at least partly independent of one another. If they all formed a common subgroup, the development ''*b'' → ''m'' would have to be assumed to have occurred only once.


Step 5, examine the reconstructed system typologically

In the final step, the linguist checks to see how the proto-
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme () is a unit of sound that can distinguish one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West M ...
s fit the known typological constraints. For example, a hypothetical system, has only one
voiced stop In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or simply a stop, is a pulmonic consonant in which the vocal tract is manner of articulation, blocked so that all airstream mechanism, airflow ceases. The occlusion may be made with the tongu ...
, ''*b'', and although it has an alveolar and a
velar nasal The voiced velar nasal, also known as agma, from the Greek word for 'fragment', is a type of consonantal sound used in some Speech communication, spoken languages. It is the sound of ''ng'' in English ''sing'' as well as ''n'' before velar cons ...
, ''*n'' and ''*ŋ'', there is no corresponding labial nasal. However, languages generally maintain symmetry in their phonemic inventories. In this case, a linguist might attempt to investigate the possibilities that either what was earlier reconstructed as ''*b'' is in fact ''*m'' or that the ''*n'' and ''*ŋ'' are in fact ''*d'' and ''*g''. Even a symmetrical system can be typologically suspicious. For example, here is the traditional
Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European language family. Its proposed features have been derived by linguistic reconstruction from documented Indo-European languages. No direct record of Proto-Indo-E ...
stop inventory: An earlier voiceless aspirated row was removed on grounds of insufficient evidence. Since the mid-20th century, a number of linguists have argued that this phonology is implausible and that it is extremely unlikely for a language to have a voiced aspirated (
breathy voice Breathy voice (also called murmured voice, whispery voice, soughing and susurration) is a phonation in which the vocal folds vibrate, as they do in normal (modal) voicing, but are adjusted to let more air escape which produces a sighing-like ...
) series without a corresponding voiceless aspirated series. Thomas Gamkrelidze and Vyacheslav Ivanov provided a potential solution and argued that the series that are traditionally reconstructed as plain voiced should be reconstructed as glottalized: either
implosive Implosive consonants are a group of stop consonant In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or simply a stop, is a pulmonic consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be made ...
or ejective . The plain voiceless and voiced aspirated series would thus be replaced by just voiceless and voiced, with aspiration being a non-distinctive quality of both. That example of the application of linguistic typology to linguistic reconstruction has become known as the glottalic theory. It has a large number of proponents but is not generally accepted. The reconstruction of proto-sounds logically precedes the reconstruction of grammatical
morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful Constituent (linguistics), constituent of a linguistic expression. The field of linguistics, linguistic study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology (linguistics), morphology. In English, morphemes are ...
s (word-forming affixes and inflectional endings), patterns of
declension In linguistics, declension (verb: ''to decline'') is the changing of the form of a word, generally to express its syntactic function in the sentence, by way of some inflection. Declensions may apply to nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, and ar ...
and conjugation and so on. The full reconstruction of an unrecorded protolanguage is an open-ended task.


Complications


The history of historical linguistics

The limitations of the comparative method were recognized by the very linguists who developed it, but it is still seen as a valuable tool. In the case of Indo-European, the method seemed at least a partial validation of the centuries-old search for an Ursprache, the original language. The others were presumed to be ordered in a
family tree A family tree, also called a genealogy Genealogy () is the study of families, family history, and the tracing of their Lineage (anthropology), lineages. Genealogists use oral interviews, historical records, genetic analysis, and other rec ...
, which was the
tree model In historical linguistics, the tree model (also Stammbaum, genetic, or cladistic model) is a model of the evolution of languages analogous to the concept of a family tree, particularly a phylogenetic tree in the biological evolution of species. ...
of the neogrammarians. The archaeologists followed suit and attempted to find archaeological evidence of a culture or cultures that could be presumed to have spoken a
proto-language In the tree model of historical linguistics, a proto-language is a postulated ancestral language from which a number of attested languages are believed to have descended by evolution, forming a language family. Proto-languages are usually unat ...
, such as Vere Gordon Childe's ''The Aryans: a study of Indo-European origins'', 1926. Childe was a philologist turned archaeologist. Those views culminated in the ''Siedlungsarchaologie'', or "settlement-archaeology", of Gustaf Kossinna, becoming known as "Kossinna's Law". Kossinna asserted that cultures represent ethnic groups, including their languages, but his law was rejected after World War II. The fall of Kossinna's Law removed the temporal and spatial framework previously applied to many proto-languages. Fox concludes:
The Comparative Method ''as such'' is not, in fact, historical; it provides evidence of linguistic relationships to which we may give a historical interpretation.... ur increased knowledge about the historical processes involvedhas probably made historical linguists less prone to equate the idealizations required by the method with historical reality.... Provided we keep he interpretation of the results and the method itselfapart, the Comparative Method can continue to be used in the reconstruction of earlier stages of languages.
Proto-languages can be verified in many historical instances, such as Latin. Although no longer a law, settlement-archaeology is known to be essentially valid for some cultures that straddle history and prehistory, such as the Celtic Iron Age (mainly Celtic) and Mycenaean civilization (mainly Greek). None of those models can be or have been completely rejected, but none is sufficient alone.


The Neogrammarian principle

The foundation of the comparative method, and of comparative linguistics in general, is the Neogrammarians' fundamental assumption that "sound laws have no exceptions". When it was initially proposed, critics of the Neogrammarians proposed an alternate position that summarised by the maxim "each word has its own history". Several types of change actually alter words in irregular ways. Unless identified, they may hide or distort laws and cause false perceptions of relationship.


Borrowing

All languages borrow words from other languages in various contexts. They are likely to have followed the laws of the languages from which they were borrowed, rather than the laws of the borrowing language. Therefore, studying borrowed words will probably mislead the investigator since they reflect the customs of the donor language, which is the source of the word.


Areal diffusion

Borrowing on a larger scale occurs in areal diffusion, when features are adopted by contiguous languages over a geographical area. The borrowing may be
phonological Phonology is the branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds or, for sign languages, their constituent parts of signs. The term can also refer specifically to the sound or sign system of a ...
, morphological or
lexical Lexical may refer to: Linguistics * Lexical corpus or lexis, a complete set of all words in a language * Lexical item, a basic unit of lexicographical classification * Lexicon, the vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge * Lexical ...
. A false proto-language over the area may be reconstructed for them or may be taken to be a third language serving as a source of diffused features. Several areal features and other influences may converge to form a
Sprachbund A sprachbund (, lit. "language federation"), also known as a linguistic area, area of linguistic convergence, or diffusion area, is a group of languages that share areal features resulting from geographical proximity and language contact. The lang ...
, a wider region sharing features that appear to be related but are diffusional. For instance, the
Mainland Southeast Asia linguistic area The Mainland Southeast Asia linguistic area is a sprachbund A sprachbund (, lit. "language federation"), also known as a linguistic area, area of linguistic convergence, or diffusion area, is a group of languages that share areal features resul ...
, before it was recognised, suggested several false classifications of such languages as Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese.


Random mutations

Sporadic changes, such as irregular inflections, compounding and abbreviation, do not follow any laws. For example, the Spanish words ''palabra'' ('word'), ''peligro'' ('danger') and ''milagro'' ('miracle') would have been ''parabla'', ''periglo'', ''miraglo'' by regular sound changes from the Latin ''parabŏla'', ''perīcŭlum'' and ''mīrācŭlum'', but the ''r'' and ''l'' changed places by sporadic metathesis.


Analogy

Analogy Analogy (from Greek language, Greek ''analogia'', "proportion", from ''ana-'' "upon, according to" lso "against", "anew"+ ''logos'' "ratio" lso "word, speech, reckoning" is a cognition, cognitive process of transferring information or Mean ...
is the sporadic change of a feature to be like another feature in the same or a different language. It may affect a single word or be generalized to an entire class of features, such as a verb paradigm. An example is the Russian word for ''nine''. The word, by regular sound changes from
Proto-Slavic Proto-Slavic (abbreviated PSl., PS.; also called Common Slavic or Common Slavonic) is the Attested language, unattested, linguistic reconstruction, reconstructed proto-language of all Slavic languages. It represents Slavic speech approximately ...
, should have been , but it is in fact . It is believed that the initial ' changed to ' under influence of the word for "ten" in Russian, .


Gradual application

Those who study contemporary language changes, such as William Labov, acknowledge that even a systematic sound change is applied at first inconsistently, with the percentage of its occurrence in a person's speech dependent on various social factors. The sound change seems to gradually spread in a process known as
lexical diffusion Lexical diffusion is the hypothesis that a sound change is an abrupt change that spreads gradually across the words in a language to which it is applicable. It contrasts with the Neogrammarian view that a sound change results from phonetically-condi ...
. While it does not invalidate the Neogrammarians' axiom that "sound laws have no exceptions", the gradual application of the very sound laws shows that they do not always apply to all lexical items at the same time. Hock notes, "While it probably is true in the long run every word has its own history, it is not justified to conclude as some linguists have, that therefore the Neogrammarian position on the nature of linguistic change is falsified".


Non-inherited features

The comparative method cannot recover aspects of a language that were not inherited in its daughter idioms. For instance, the Latin declension pattern was lost in
Romance languages The Romance languages, sometimes referred to as Latin languages or Neo-Latin languages, are the various modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin. They are the only extant subgroup of the Italic languages in the Indo-European languages, I ...
, resulting in an impossibility to fully reconstruct such a feature via systematic comparison.


The tree model

The comparative method is used to construct a tree model (German ''Stammbaum'') of language evolution, in which daughter languages are seen as branching from the
proto-language In the tree model of historical linguistics, a proto-language is a postulated ancestral language from which a number of attested languages are believed to have descended by evolution, forming a language family. Proto-languages are usually unat ...
, gradually growing more distant from it through accumulated
phonological Phonology is the branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds or, for sign languages, their constituent parts of signs. The term can also refer specifically to the sound or sign system of a ...
, morpho-syntactic, and
lexical Lexical may refer to: Linguistics * Lexical corpus or lexis, a complete set of all words in a language * Lexical item, a basic unit of lexicographical classification * Lexicon, the vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge * Lexical ...
changes.


The presumption of a well-defined node

The tree model features nodes that are presumed to be distinct proto-languages existing independently in distinct regions during distinct historical times. The reconstruction of unattested proto-languages lends itself to that illusion since they cannot be verified, and the linguist is free to select whatever definite times and places seems best. Right from the outset of Indo-European studies, however, Thomas Young said:
It is not, however, very easy to say what the definition should be that should constitute a separate language, but it seems most natural to call those languages distinct, of which the one cannot be understood by common persons in the habit of speaking the other.... Still, however, it may remain doubtfull whether the Danes and the Swedes could not, in general, understand each other tolerably well... nor is it possible to say if the twenty ways of pronouncing the sounds, belonging to the Chinese characters, ought or ought not to be considered as so many languages or dialects.... But,... the languages so nearly allied must stand next to each other in a systematic order…
The assumption of uniformity in a proto-language, implicit in the comparative method, is problematic. Even small language communities are always have differences in
dialect The term dialect (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) arou ...
, whether they are based on area, gender, class or other factors. The Pirahã language of
Brazil Brazil ( pt, Brasil; ), officially the Federative Republic of Brazil (Portuguese: ), is the largest country in both South America South America is a continent entirely in the Western Hemisphere and mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, ...
is spoken by only several hundred people but has at least two different dialects, one spoken by men and one by women. Campbell points out:
It is not so much that the comparative method 'assumes' no variation; rather, it is just that there is nothing built into the comparative method which would allow it to address variation directly.... This assumption of uniformity is a reasonable idealization; it does no more damage to the understanding of the language than, say, modern reference grammars do which concentrate on a language's general structure, typically leaving out consideration of regional or social variation.
Different dialects, as they evolve into separate languages, remain in contact with and influence one another. Even after they are considered distinct, languages near one another continue to influence one another and often share grammatical, phonological, and lexical innovations. A change in one language of a family may spread to neighboring languages, and multiple waves of change are communicated like waves across language and dialect boundaries, each with its own randomly delimited range. If a language is divided into an inventory of features, each with its own time and range (
isogloss An isogloss, also called a heterogloss (see #Etymology, Etymology below), is the geographic boundary of a certain linguistics, linguistic feature, such as the pronunciation of a vowel, the meaning of a word, or the use of some morphological or s ...
es), they do not all coincide. History and prehistory may not offer a time and place for a distinct coincidence, as may be the case for
Proto-Italic The Proto-Italic language is the ancestor of the Italic languages, most notably Latin and its descendants, the Romance languages. It is not directly attested in writing, but has been reconstructed language, reconstructed to some degree through th ...
, for which the proto-language is only a concept. However, Hock observes:
The discovery in the late nineteenth century that
isogloss An isogloss, also called a heterogloss (see #Etymology, Etymology below), is the geographic boundary of a certain linguistics, linguistic feature, such as the pronunciation of a vowel, the meaning of a word, or the use of some morphological or s ...
es can cut across well-established linguistic boundaries at first created considerable attention and controversy. And it became fashionable to oppose a wave theory to a tree theory.... Today, however, it is quite evident that the phenomena referred to by these two terms are complementary aspects of linguistic change....


Subjectivity of the reconstruction

The reconstruction of unknown proto-languages is inherently subjective. In the Proto-Algonquian example above, the choice of ''*m'' as the parent
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme () is a unit of sound that can distinguish one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West M ...
is only ''likely'', not ''certain''. It is conceivable that a Proto-Algonquian language with ''*b'' in those positions split into two branches, one that preserved ''*b'' and one that changed it to ''*m'' instead, and while the first branch developed only into
Arapaho The Arapaho (; french: Arapahos, ) are a Native Americans in the United States, Native American people historically living on the plains of Colorado and Wyoming. They were close allies of the Cheyenne tribe and loosely aligned with the Lakota p ...
, the second spread out more widely and developed into all the other Algonquian tribes. It is also possible that the nearest common ancestor of the
Algonquian languages The Algonquian languages ( or ; also Algonkian) are a subfamily of indigenous American languages that include most languages in the Algic language family. The name of the Algonquian language family is distinguished from the orthographically simi ...
used some other sound instead, such as ''*p'', which eventually mutated to ''*b'' in one branch and to ''*m'' in the other. Examples of strikingly complicated and even circular developments are indeed known to have occurred (such as Proto-Indo-European ''*t'' > Pre-Proto-Germanic ''*þ'' >
Proto-Germanic Proto-Germanic (abbreviated PGmc; also called Common Germanic) is the linguistic reconstruction, reconstructed proto-language of the Germanic languages, Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages. Proto-Germanic eventually developed from ...
''*ð'' > Proto-West-Germanic ''*d'' >
Old High German Old High German (OHG; german: Althochdeutsch (Ahd.)) is the earliest stage of the German language, conventionally covering the period from around 750 to 1050. There is no standardised or supra-regional form of German at this period, and Old High ...
''t'' in ''fater'' > Modern German ''Vater''), but in the absence of any evidence or other reason to postulate a more complicated development, the preference of a simpler explanation is justified by the principle of parsimony, also known as
Occam's razor Occam's razor, Ockham's razor, or Ocham's razor ( la, novacula Occami), also known as the principle of parsimony or the law of parsimony ( la, lex parsimoniae), is the problem-solving principle that "entities should not be multiplied beyond neces ...
. Since reconstruction involves many such choices, some linguists prefer to view the reconstructed features as abstract representations of sound correspondences, rather than as objects with a historical time and place. The existence of proto-languages and the validity of the comparative method is verifiable if the reconstruction can be matched to a known language, which may be known only as a shadow in the
loanword A loanword (also loan word or loan-word) is a word at least partly assimilated from one language (the donor language) into another language. This is in contrast to cognates, which are words in two or more languages that are similar because the ...
s of another language. For example,
Finnic languages The Finnic (''Fennic'') or more precisely Balto-Finnic (Balto-Fennic, Baltic Finnic, Baltic Fennic) languages constitute a branch of the Uralic language family spoken around the Baltic Sea by the Baltic Finnic peoples. There are around 7  ...
such as Finnish have borrowed many words from an early stage of Germanic, and the shape of the loans matches the forms that have been reconstructed for
Proto-Germanic Proto-Germanic (abbreviated PGmc; also called Common Germanic) is the linguistic reconstruction, reconstructed proto-language of the Germanic languages, Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages. Proto-Germanic eventually developed from ...
. Finnish ''kuningas'' 'king' and ''kaunis'' 'beautiful' match the Germanic reconstructions *''kuningaz'' and *''skauniz'' (> German ''König'' 'king', ''schön'' 'beautiful').


Additional models

The wave model was developed in the 1870s as an alternative to the tree model to represent the historical patterns of language diversification. Both the tree-based and the wave-based representations are compatible with the comparative method. By contrast, some approaches are incompatible with the comparative method, including contentious
glottochronology Glottochronology (from Attic Greek Attic Greek is the Greek language, Greek dialect of the regions of ancient Greece, ancient region of Attica, including the ''polis'' of classical Athens, Athens. Often called classical Greek, it was the prestige ...
and even more controversial mass lexical comparison considered by most historical linguists to be flawed and unreliable.; .


See also

*
Comparative linguistics Comparative linguistics, or comparative-historical linguistics (formerly comparative philology) is a branch of historical linguistics Historical linguistics, also termed diachronic linguistics, is the scientific study of language change ...
*
Historical linguistics Historical linguistics, also termed diachronic linguistics, is the scientific study of language change over time. Principal concerns of historical linguistics include: # to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages # ...
* Lexicostatistics *
Proto-language In the tree model of historical linguistics, a proto-language is a postulated ancestral language from which a number of attested languages are believed to have descended by evolution, forming a language family. Proto-languages are usually unat ...
* Swadesh list


Notes


References

* . * . * * * * * * * * * * * * * . * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


External links

* * {{DEFAULTSORT:Comparative Method Historical linguistics Comparative linguistics