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Challenging the Status-Quo: Drift, Direct Inheritance and Reconstruction

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Title: Challenging the Status-Quo: Drift, Direct Inheritance and Reconstruction
Authors: Reid, Lawrence A.
LC Subject Headings: Tibeto-Burman languages
Historical linguistics
Proto-Austronesian language
Grammar, Comparative and general
Issue Date: 2009
Citation: Reid, Lawrence. "Challenging the Status-Quo: Drift, Direct Inheritance and Reconstruction." In Linguistic Substrata in the Tibeto-Burman Area, edited by Yasuhiko Nagano, 1-10, Senri Ethnological Studies #75. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, 2009.
Abstract: The appearance of grammatical morphemes that are identical. or at least similar in form and meaning across a set of languages that are known to be genetically related, typically provide primary evidence for their reconstruction to the parent language of the group and the structures of which they form a part are then also considered to be reconstructible. This has been the modus operandi of various linguists who have published on the morphology and syntax of Proto-Austronesian resulting in the widely accepted belief that Proto-Austronesian had a syntax similar in many respects to that found in so-called Philippine-type languages, with a "voice' system of one active and three passive constructions (Wolff 1973, 1979). There are two major problems with this approach. The first is that the morphemes, especially when they are short may in fact not be true cognates, their forms may be the end result of independent innovations. The second is that even if they can be shown to be cognates the structures in which they function may have developed independently in each of the daughter languages from a different structure in the parent language. Languages for example, having an accusative case alignment may have independently developed from one with an ergative case alignment. or vice versa. The problem in a nutshell is to distinguish convergence or drift (as well as language contact including sub- and superstratal effects) from direct inheritance, and to determine the relative weight that is given to conclusions based on the assumption that similar forms and functions in related languages necessarily imply reconstructibility of the same forms and functions to their shared parent language. as against assumptions regarding commonly observed directions of morphosyntactic change and resulting independently shared innovations. The purpose of this paper is not to challenge the reconstruction of the syntactic patterns of Proto-Austronesian, but to challenge the validity of two Proto-Austronesian morphemes that have been reconstructed on the basis of what appear to be cognates, but which on closer examination are probably the result of convergence in the daughter languages.
Pages/Duration: 10 pages
Appears in Collections:Lawrence A. Reid: Articles, Monographs, Book Chapters

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