There’s some interesting discussion at my LH post (including a visit from one of the authors). A comment I found particularly enlightening:
I decided to check the cognacy database from the Bouckaert et al Science paper; in the online supplement they describe how they extracted these cognate lists from the earlier publications, corrected massive errors, and weeded out the borrowings. I hoped to find at least some evidence for or against antiquity of the “Steppe-words”.
But the resulting database leaves a very depressing impression. It doesn’t have any fauna words apart from two species, dog and louse (and its treatment of dog/bitch/hound or louse/nit variability is pitiful IMVHO, with a decision on what cognacy grouping to assign a language following very capriciously from the choice of just one of the related words). So some Slavic languages go with “pes” male dog, and others with “sobaka” female dog (despite having both forms). Not even to mention that “sobaka” must be a Turkic borrowing ... and that so many cultures have tabooed the dogs that it could have caused runaway euphemization.
No “steppe concepts” in the list, but at least one “marine concept”, Sea/Ocean, which must have been heavily borrowed or calqued by all the landlocked languages. And indeed the database has Turkic and Arabic borrowings (like Ossetian dengiz or Dari bahr) as well as Greek (like Farsi oqyanus). But many attested cognates meaning something lesser than a sea go missing (like Latvian maria / Prussian mary “sea bay”, English marsh, and perhaps even Sanskrir maryada which stands for a limit or a boundary but also for seashores and riverbanks).
Of course with its 200-odd meanings, even picked haphazardly and with capriciously omitted cognates and unrecognized borrowings, the sheer volume of the database might have mitigated some of its problems. Still we are taught “GIGO”, if you know the acronym. So it’s kind of depressing to watch.
Posted by: Dmitry Pruss at August 30, 2012 04:47 PM
(Edited to put quote in quote box.)