There are three special courses which do not specifically belong to any of the other programmes: Introduction to Etruscan, Shiri Dargwa, Basic Introduction to Macro-Comparative Linguistics.
- Time slot 2: Etruscan (11.30 - 13.00)
- Time slot 3: Shiri Dargwa (14.00 - 15.30)
- Time slot 4: Basic Introduction to Macro-Comparative Linguistics (16.00 - 17.30)
Michael Weiss (Ithaca)
Etruscan is the paradigmatic case of a "mysterious" language that frequently attracts the attention of the general public. In this class we will remove the shroud of mystery from Etruscan by showing that it is just like any other human language. Although our understanding of the lexicon is — and will always be — fairly limited, our understanding of the grammatical structure of the language has advanced significantly in the past half century. We will examine what is now known about the phonology and morphology of Etruscan and see how Etruscan changed over time. We will examine the complex linguistic and cultural interactions between the Etruscans and the other peoples of Ancient Italy. We will read a selection of inscriptions and discuss the interpretive difficulties they present. Finally, we will discuss the Etruscans' place in the Tyrrhenian family of languages and the question of the origins of the Etruscans.
Oleg Belyaev (Moscow)
Dargwa is traditionally viewed as one of the East Caucasian languages, the sole member of its own branch. Like other East Caucasian languages, Dargwa is characterized by ergative alignment, a rich system of spatial cases and a complex verb morphology with a wide variety of speciaized tense-aspect-mood forms. Other traits include the use of participles and converbs for most types of clause combining and an elaborate system of preverbs. Of special typological interest is the Dargwa system of person agreement, almost unique among East Caucasian languages and based on a complex interaction of the person hierarchy (2 > 1 > 3 or 1,2 > 3) with the grammatical function hierarchy (S/P > A or A > S/P).
Even though Dargwa is still considered a single language for official purposes, most linguists consider it to rather be a group of closely related lects, many of which are not mutually intelligible. Most of the Dargwa languages remain undescribed. This course will be dedicated to the Shiri variety, spoken in the eponymous village in the southern part of the Dargwa area (Dakhadaev district of the Republic of Daghestan). Shiri has never been described or even mentioned in the literature. It is quite structurally distinct from neighbouring varieties and possesses a number of traits that make it especially suited for an introduction to Dargwa in general.
This course will consist of a general description of Shiri grammar in typological perspective, with heavy reliance on spontaneous spoken texts and occasional comparison to other Dargwa languages. No prior familiarity with East Caucasian is required.
George Starostin (Moscow)
It is frequently asserted that our abilities to penetrate into linguistic prehistory have not just strict, but also frustratingly shallow chronological limitations. The majority of commonly accepted linguistic families, such as Indo-European, Uralic, Austronesian, Bantu, etc., go back to proto-languages whose relative age, as corroborated by archaeology, genetics, and various glottochronological techniques, rarely exceeds 5-6 thousand years. Beyond that chronological threshold, genetic relationships between languages and language families become so blurred by the inevitable loss of cognate forms and features, accumulated over millennia, that structural correspondences between them can no longer be detected, and the remaining similarities become undistinguishable from chance resemblances, such as exist between any of the world's languages.
Despite the seemingly logical pessimism of this picture, it has not stopped 19th, 20th and even 21st century researchers from probing into the issue of deep level relationships between various families — in fact, if anything, the issue has become even more relevant and pressing today than it has ever been, due to historical linguistics now being part of a dense cluster of "paleohistorical" disciplines, including archaeology, ethnography, and, perhaps most importantly, human genetics. Today, "macro-comparative" research is primarily concerned with multiple issues of a methodological order (how to distinguish between chance and non-chance similarities, or between borrowings and cognates?; which levels of language are more prone to change and which ones tend to be more stable?; does one require regular phonetic correspondences to prove linguistic relationship?; should we discuss such issues in deterministic or probabilistic terms?), but also with the critical evaluation and development of a veritable host of hypotheses on deep level relationship. These range from relatively simple binary comparisons, such as Indo-Uralic, Dene-Yeniseian, Austro(nesian)-Thai, etc., to huge macrofamily hypotheses such as Nostratic, Sino-Caucasian, Austric, Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, and others.
The principal aim of the course is to introduce students to the major intrigues, temptations, challenges, and dangers of macro-comparative linguistics in its principal incarnations — ranging from the approximations of Greenberg's "mass comparison" method to the much more elaborate phonological and lexical reconstructions of the "Moscow school of comparative linguistics" and, finally, to the major problems and perspectives of macro-comparative linguistics as seen by scholars today. Along the way, we will make brief acquaintances with certain controversial, but "respectable" hypotheses of deep level language relationship, such as Altaic, Nostratic, and even Khoisan; learn the subtle differences between such theories as "Dene-Caucasian" and "Dene-Yeniseian"; and, most importantly, will develop a set of criteria to help us distinguish between hypotheses of relationship that may be considered "proven beyond reasonable doubt", "promising, if inconclusive, leads", and "anti-scientific" — a valuable skill for anybody with a serious interest in human prehistory.
An overall acquaintance with the most basic elements of general and comparative-historical linguistics is required. No special language knowledge is necessary, but students with some background in either comparative Indo-European studies or the comparative history of any other language family will have a slight advantage.
There will be select reading assignments in class and occasional small homeworks.
Participants who would like to prepare for the course in advance may check the following sources:
Lyle Campbell, William J. Poser. Language Classification: History and Method. Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Murray Gell-Mann, Ilia Peiros, George Starostin. . // Journal of Language Relationship, 1, 2009, pp. 13–30.
Stefan Georg, Peter A. Michalove, Alexis Manaster-Ramer, Paul Sidwell. Telling general linguists about Altaic. // Journal of Linguistics, 35, 1998, pp. 65–98.
Ilia Peiros. Macro Families: Can a Mistake Be Detected? / In: Indo-European, Nostratic, and Beyond: Festschrift for Vitalij V. Shevoroshkin. Ed. by Irén Hegedűs, Peter A. Michalove and Alexis Manaster Ramer. JIES Monograph No. 22. Institute for the Study of Man, Washington D.C.; pp. 265–292.
Joseph C. Salmons, Brian D. Joseph (eds.). Nostratic: Sifting the Evidence. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1998.
Bonny Sands. Eastern and Southern African Khoisan: Evaluating Claims in Distant Linguistic Relationships. Ed. by R. Vossen. Quellen zur Khoisan-Forschung / Research in Khoisan Studies, Bd 14. Hamburg: Rüdiger Köppe, 1998.