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The Limits of Language Reconstruction

Winfred P. Lehmann

N.B. The email essay below may have been edited, e.g. to remove content not essential to the main point(s) or to standardize English spelling/grammar.

April 23, 2004

[The] comparative method is only one of the procedures of historical linguistics. With the method of internal reconstruction, one deals only with material in one language; that means one can push back beyond a proto-language even if there are no related languages. And through examining everyday language one often finds historical relics, such as umlaut in man:men, [and] ablaut in sing:sang:sung:song, because children learn such parts of language before they master the rules, such as making plurals by adding -s. And then there is the current typology, as in the article [W.P. Lehmann and Cristina Rinaldi, "Human Language and the Functioning of the Brain," Logos and Language 4 (1), 2003, pp. 17-33]. So our "limits" would be much earlier than [those applying to the comparative method].

W. P. L.