and of the power of morphology
Hi fellow hattics,
I don't know the languages in question but I just want to comment on the difference between Morphology and Typology, which seem to be confused in one statement below. It is true that the typology (which refers to general types of language organization)
of a language can change quite drastically over time and therefore is not necessarily relevant as a criterion for language relationship. Examples of typological features which are often shared between two languages which are otherwise unrelated genetically
are: the number of vowels, the presence of unusual consonants, the presence or and number of tones, the indication of nominal features such as case through affixes or through word order, and similarly for the indication of verbal features such as tense, the
presence or absence of articles, of grammatical gender, and many others. Such general resemblances can be due to actual relationship, but also to contacts between neighbouring but unrelated languages. For instance, in South Africa the Zulu language uses
"clicks" as part of its stock of sounds, like the neighbouring Khoisan languages, but it is not related to them. Instead it is a member of the Bantu family which covers a very large area but most languages of which do not have clicks, which are present in
all the Khoisan languages. Historical records kept in tribal memories (as well as other data) show that the Bantu languages (along with cultural hegemony) expanded southward at the expense of the Khoisan ones.
Morphology on the other hand deals not only with the existence of general features but with the formation of words and the actual morphemes, the bits of language used in forming words and (if relevant) in adding the indication of extra features. For instance,
all the Romance languages have a complex verb morphology largely inherited from Latin, their common ancestor. Even though this morphology has become somewhat simplified (thus affecting the typology), what is left is still very obviously Latin in both general
form and actual verb endings, such the infinitive in -re. All these languages also have articles, which Latin did not have, but Latin did have several demonstratives which survive in the shapes of the modern articles, as in French le, la, Spanish el, la,
and others, from Latin ille, illa. The change from the absence of articles in Latin to the presence of articles in its descendants is a typological change, but that does not affect the validity of the relationship (which we would accept even if the history
of the language group was not known) since the morphemes still exist, albeit with a slight change in their function.
This is why I am not very happy with the authors' statement about the great differences in morphology and syntax (the latter indeed very subject to hange) between the languages they are dealing with, and their almost dismissing of morphology in a couple of sentences. Large numbers of resemblant vocabulary, even with rules of sound correspondences, are often due to contact and borrowing rather than genetic relationship. On the other hand, morphemes which are indispensable in the respective languages (such as those indicating verbal tense in most Indo-European languages) are usually present in large number of words, so that their form and meaning are readily identifiable within a single language, and can easily be compared between languages.
An obvious example is the determination of whether English and French are closely related or not. There are obvious resemblances between large numbers of French and English words, usually with close sound correspondences. Relying on lexical items alone (as in danse: dance, or cheminée : chimney) could lead to placing them together in a single genetic group (something which has actually been suggested). But comparison of their verbal morphologies makes this impossible: French verbs borrowed into English have been adapted to English verb structure, losing all their French features, and similarly for the (less common) opposite change through which English verbs borrowed into French have lost their typical English endings and added French verbal morphemes instead. Wider comparison involving Spanish, Italian, Dutch and German (at least) verb morphologies places French firmly in the Latin camp and English in the Germanic camp in spite of the fact that much English vocabulary is similar to that of French or Latin rather than Dutch or German. In this case, we do not have to guess about the source of the similarities, since we know of the historic event after which England was dominated for a few centuries by French-speaking conquerors, a situation in which the dominated population often adopts many words and sometimes other features of the dominant language.
So, I would say that the authors' conclusion should still be considered as tentative rather than definite, until they deal more thoroughly with the morphological aspects.
Sorry to take so long!