The Comparative Method

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  • Topic: Historical linguistics, Linguistics, Comparative method
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  • Published : January 6, 2011
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The Comparative Method: systematic correspondences
and comparative reconstruction; protolanguages

Comparative reconstruction (CR)
′Similar words with similar meanings - in different languages (or with meanings which might oncehave been similar) may have descended from some common but now lost ancestor form. ′It is possible to reconstruct those earlier ancestral forms. ′Forms that are reconstructed rather than attested (i.e., recorded in texts or inscriptions) are marked with an asterisk *in front. ′Reconstructed forms are called proto-forms(proto-phonemes, proto-morphemes, proto-words). ′Words or forms in different languages that have derived from a common ancestor are known as cognates. ′The procedure of comparing cognate forms in order to reconstruct proto-forms is called comparative reconstruction. ′Comparative reconstruction consists of four steps.

(1)Cognate sets
′Compile cognate sets, eliminating borrowings.
′As an example of a cognate set, imagine three languages, A, Band C, and the word meaning ‘strawberry’in each, pronounced as follows: A [siza]; B [sesa]; C [siza]; ‘GLOSS - strawberry’
Semantic identity + phonetic similarity=> cognates
(2)Sound correspendences
′Determine sound correspondences.
′A[siza] B[sesa] C[siza]
′Reconstruct a sound for each position. 3 steps:
a.Total correspondence. If there is the same sound in a position in all languages=> reconstruct that sound. 1.[s][s][s]2.[i][e][i]3.[z][s][z]4.[a][a][a]
=>*[s__ __ a]
b.Most plausible development For the remaining positions, if possible, reconstruct the sound that would have undergone the most plausible (or natural) sound change. Certain types of sound change are very common, while others almost never happen. •voiceless sounds become voiced between vowels and before or after voiced consonants; •stops(=plosives) become fricatives between vowels;

•consonants become palatalized before front...
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