Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bering Strait linguistic connection proposed

Linguistics is a field that rarely comes across exciting new discoveries, but this one seems as exciting as linguistics can get: a linguist at Western Washington Universities believes he's found a connection between two almost-extinct languages on either side of the Bering Strait. The language on the Eurasian side is Ket, of the Yeniseic family, and the language family on the American side is the Na-Dene family. "Long rangers," or linguists who try to connect languages that aren't commonly accepted as from the same language, have often tried to connect Basque (the most famous language isolate), as well as others like Finnish and Hungarian (which have unclear origins), but connecting the languages on either side of the Bering Strait would be the holy grail, as it could pave the way for further investigation into the Nostratic language hypothesis – the theory that many language families that today are not seen as related all stemmed from one source. (And the Nostratic hypothesis isn't too far from the proto-World language hypothesis, which posits that all languages alive today came from one source.) Before this discovery, "long rangers" were often regarded as a bit kooky by historical linguists, but maybe in the next few years we'll see a shift in attitudes in linguistics, a field that's traditionally very conservative in its proposals.

Edit: here is a website with all of the original research, if you're into historical/comparative linguistics.

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