Significance testing of the Altaic family
Historical linguists have been debating for decades about whether the classical comparative method provides sufficient evidence to consider Altaic languages as part of a single genetic unity, like Indo-European and Uralic, or whether the implicit statistical robustness behind regular sound correspondences is lacking in the case of Altaic. In this paper, I run a significance test on Swadesh-lists representing Turkish, Mongolian and Manchu to see if there are regular patterns of phonetic similarities or correspondences among word-initial phonemes in the basic vocabulary that cannot be expected to have arisen by chance. The methodology draws on Oswalt (1970), Ringe (1992), Baxter & Manaster Ramer (2000) and Kessler (2001, 2007). The results only partially point towards an Altaic family: Mongolian and Manchu show significant sound correspondences, while Turkish and Mongolian show some marginally significant phonological similarity, that might however be the consequence of areal contact. Crucially, Turkish and Manchu do not test positively under any condition.
Keywords: comparative method, historical linguistics, Altaic, lexicostatistics, Swadesh lists, multilateral comparison
Published online: 17 September 2019
Barbançon, François, Steven N. Evans, Luay Nakhleh, Donald A. Ringe & Tandy Warnow
Baxter, William H.
Baxter, William H. & Alexis Manaster Ramer
Bomhard, Allan R.
Dolgopolsky, Aaron B.
Dybo, Anna & George Starostin
[ p. 323 ]
Hangin, John G., John R. Krueger & Robert G. Service
Hock, Hans Henrich & Brian D. Joseph
Kassian, Alexei, Mikhail Zhivlov & George Starostin
Kessler, Brett & Annukka Lehtonen
Li, Gertraude Roth
Longobardi, Giuseppe, Cristina Guardiano, Giuseppina Silvestri, Alessio Boattini & Andrea Ceolin
Longobardi, Giuseppe, Andrea Ceolin, Luca Bortolussi, Cristina Guardiano, Monica Alexandrina Irimia, Dimitris Michelioudakis, Nina Radkevich & Andrea Sgarro
Manaster Ramer, Alexis & Paul Sidwell
Menges, Karl Heinrich
Miller, Roy Andrew
Oswalt, Robert L.[ p. 324 ]
Ramstedt, Gustav John
Ringe, Donald A.
Ross, Alan S. C.
Salmons, Joseph & Brian Joseph
Starostin, Sergei, Anna Dybo, Oleg Mudrak & Ilya Gruntov
Unger, Marshall J.
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Guardiano, Cristina, Giuseppe Longobardi, Guido Cordoni & Paola Crisma
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