LINGUIST List 5.1040

Sat 24 Sep 1994

Misc: FYI, Multilateral comparison, Informant

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Gwyn Williams, Announcement: New Southeast Asian Languages Mailing List
  2. Scott DeLancey, Re: 5.1035 Multilateral comparison
  3. Janet Bing, Re: 5.1022 Informant: last posting

Message 1: Announcement: New Southeast Asian Languages Mailing List

Date: Mon, 19 Sep 1994 20:40:09 +0700 (GMT+0700)
From: Gwyn Williams <>
Subject: Announcement: New Southeast Asian Languages Mailing List
 Southeast Asian Languages Mailing List (SEALANG-L) is an unmoderated
mailing list and central electronic archive. It is maintained on at NECTEC (The National Electronics
and Computer Technology Center), Ministry of Science, Technology and
Environment, Bangkok, Thailand.
 The purpose of SEALANG-L is to provide an international scholarly
forum and central archive for the discussion, documentation, and
dissemination of information on the languages spoken in Southeast Asia.
 The languages spoken in this region belong to five major language
families: Austronesian (AN); Mon-Khmer (Austro-Asiatic; AA, including
Munda); Tai-Kadai (TK); Tibeto-Burman (TB; a branch of Sino-Tibetan ST);
and Hmong-Mien (HM; also known as Miao-Yao). These are the core
languages which form the Southeast Asian linguistic area.
 In addition to the core languages of Southeast Asia proper, SEALANG-L
extends to all languages of the Sino-Tibetan language family, as well
as all languages of the Austronesian language family, spoken in
Vietnam and Cambodia, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia,
Java, and the Micronesian, Melanesian, Polynesian, and Madagascar
regions. Recently introduced European languages, such as English, are
included in the discussion.
 The scope of discussion includes formal features of these languages,
as well as issues related to theory, research, history, relationship,
sociolinguistic situation, language planning, and teaching.
 All postings to SEALANG-L are automatically archived. In addition,
participants are invited to contribute files to the SEALANG-L Archive.
Possible contributions include online bibliographic files, dictionaries,
texts, scholarly papers, reports, and software.
 Anyone, whether or not a subscribed member, can view and retrieve
contributions to the mailing list in the SEALANG-L Archive which are
accessible through NECTEC's FTP and gopher.
 Mail to:
 In the body of the message, type:
 subscribe SEALANG-L yourfirstname yoursurname
 Ex: subscribe SEALANG-L John Doe
 Address your message to: (Internet)
 Or simply select the Reply option while reading a SEALANG-L message.
 Any submission to the mailing list is immediately and automatically
distributed to all subscribed members and a copy archived.
Mr. Gwyn Williams <>
Mr. Trin Tantsetthi <>
Further information will be posted upon subscription.
Please direct any queries to: <>
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re: 5.1035 Multilateral comparison

Date: Fri, 23 Sep 1994 16:45:58 -0700 (PDT)
From: Scott DeLancey <>
Subject: Re: 5.1035 Multilateral comparison
Alexis Manaster-Ramer <>
> It was good to hear from Matthew Dryer about the history of
> bilateral comparisons in Amerindian linguistics (something
> I should have thought of but did not), but I am puzzled by
> by Matthews' statement that "few if any of Greenberg's detractors
> today would argue with Greenberg's point about binary comparison",
> since Donald Ringe in his 1992 book decries multilateral
> comparison on principle (and what is equally important) many
> of Greenberg's critics seem to simply not address this very
> significant issue. I don't understand why people do not openly
> applaud Greenberg for at least being right on this point, but
> I don't think that many people are.
There's room for a lot of confusion here; "multilateral comparison"
can mean several different things. First off, are we talking about
looking for relationships among languages, or working toward reconstruction
of a proto-language from a set of languages which are reasonably
established as being related? In the latter case, good practice
obviously requires that data from as many of these languages as
possible be used. In this sense I hardly think that the appropriateness
of "multilateral comparison" is controversial among serious
historical linguists, whatever the odd Altaic dabbler might have
to say about it.
 But Greenberg is explicitly not interested in reconstruction.
The practice for which he has been criticized involves "comparing"--
I use scare quotes here because this procedure is quite different
from the comparison involved in the first case--a very large number
of languages, with no initial hypothesis about which among them are
related, and expecting any relationships which may exist in the data
to emerge from inspection of the data. This is what Greenberg
calls multilateral comparison, but it is a completely different
matter--a different methodology, with different goals and different
assumptions--from application of the comparative method to a set
of apparently related languages.
 Whatever one may think of either of these enterprises, it
isn't appropriate to criticize those who endorse the first but
not the second as inconsistent simply because the same term may have
been used to refer to both.
Scott DeLancey
Department of Linguistics
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403, USA
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Re: 5.1022 Informant: last posting

Date: Fri, 23 Sep 94 13:10:00 EDT
From: Janet Bing <>
Subject: Re: 5.1022 Informant: last posting
The choice of the term "consultant" rather than "informant" was not a
trivial matter when I worked with Gborbo Krahn, the language of the tribe of
the late President Doe of Liberia. For the first two years my consultant
was so convinced I worked for the CIA that he wouldn't give me either his
home address or phone number (even though he was a student at the university
where I teach). When I went to Liberia, both Doe and his family still suspecte
d I had some connection to the CIA so I was careful always to avoid the word
"informant" when referring to my consultant and to always keep my hands in
sight around his trigger-happy bodyguards. I agree with Ellen Contina-Morava
that the public's understanding of the terms is also a factor.
 Janet Bing, Old Dominion University
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue