historical linguistics

Linguistics B(h)at Signal: Phylogenetics and PIE Again

Martin Rundkvist has told me that Russell Gray is writing about Proto-Indo-European using phylogenetics again (basically, trying to figure out when languages diverged from one another by seeing how many words they have in common). The last paper in Science on this topic using these methods was so poor from a linguistic point of view that a whole monograph from Cambridge University Press was needed to explain the problems. Like the last paper, this one is in Science, which is a good journal for some things but not competent to review papers on linguistics. I’m a philologist but not a linguist or a specialist in PIE. Can any of my gentle readers point me to where linguists are discussing it? I am sending out the <*bhat> signal.

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Dashes and Alephs

Photograph of a forest on hills disappearing into fog
At least I am not claiming that I got lost in the mountains, although that is easier in Innsbruck this summer than you might think.

While troubles with my Internet connection have prevented me from posting anything substantial, this week I added a paragraph to my post on how to interpret the special characters in Latinizations of Near Eastern languages. Transliterations of Semitic names often contain dashes (<->) and alephs (<ˀ> or <‘>) and these can look a bit mysterious to the uninitated.

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How Do You Pronounce Those Accented Characters in Ancient Near Eastern Languages Anyways?

An old cutwater of natural stones set in concrete, barely higher than the water which flows by it and into cracks in the end facing the onrushing water; some stones are covered with slimy moss
Rivers have their own interesting sounds. The cutwater of the old footings of a bridge in the river Inn. Photo by author.

Specialists in ancient Southwest Asia do not always name and define the special accented characters which they use to transcribe words in languages like Aramaic, Babylonian, Sumerian, and Old Persian. While this is convenient for fellow specialists, and avoids taking side in some debates about the sounds of ancient languages, it makes it hard for readers without their special training to read these words, to pronounce them, and to copy them on a computer. They also sometimes refer to these characters after their Greek or Hebrew names, which can also be confusing if one does not know these alphabets and how they are transcribed in Latin letters. One of the appendices to my doctoral thesis will give the names and pronunciations of every special character which I use. I thought it might be of interest to a wider audience. If a passing phoneticist drops in to prevent a poor historian from mangling the International Phonetic Alphabet or spreading nonsense about Akkadian phonology, so much the better! I would rather be corrected now than by a reviewer when in the distant future the dissertation becomes a book.
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