Linguist Forum

General Linguistics => Linguist's Lounge => Outside of the box => Topic started by: lx on May 03, 2014, 03:22:48 PM

Title: High elevation -> ejectives
Post by: lx on May 03, 2014, 03:22:48 PM
I happened across this paper (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi/10.1371/journal.pone.0065275) today. What do you guys make of the idea they postulate? Should I not be as shocked as I actually am? I find the underlying claim to be utterly ridiculous, almost to the point of it being comedic. Thoughts?
Title: Re: High elevation -> ejectives
Post by: Daniel on May 03, 2014, 03:38:42 PM
Quote
We present evidence that the geographic context in which a language is spoken may directly impact its phonological form.
I've heard this claim before actually, and I'm very skeptical about it. There was a talk at the Portland, Oregon (Jan. 2012) LSA conference a few years ago. Not sure if it's related to this particular research.
The idea was that environment changes acoustics enough to eventually result in these relationships.

Again, I'm skeptical.


In this case, a much simpler explanation is that languages in higher elevation tend to be more isolated and therefore less susceptible to outside influence. And that's how ejectives are preserved, because they're relatively rare sounds. Note that plenty of languages (for example, in western North America) do have ejectives at lower elevations (even sea level) so there is probably some other explanation.

As is said too often (but perhaps not often enough?) correlation does not imply causation.

Certainly interesting, though.
Title: Re: High elevation -> ejectives
Post by: MalFet on May 03, 2014, 09:15:33 PM
Yikes.

I don't let my children play with our electrical system because they don't understand how it works and consequently are likely to hurt themselves or others. I feel similarly about most linguists and statistics.
Title: Re: High elevation -> ejectives
Post by: Daniel on May 03, 2014, 09:24:52 PM
Wow. :D
Title: Re: High elevation -> ejectives
Post by: freknu on May 04, 2014, 05:45:06 AM
Kind of similar to how Grimm's law is supposedly due to Proto-Germanics being tired from travelling across hills and mountains or some such :D
Title: Re: High elevation -> ejectives
Post by: Daniel on May 04, 2014, 08:50:56 AM
I'm pretty sure that's an abandoned idea from the 1800s. But maybe someone should revisit it with statistics. Let's see. 100% of the languages in the world that went through Grimm's law also went across mountains. Looks like we have a winner!