Joseph Greenberg

Joseph Harold Greenberg ( born May 28, 1915 in Brooklyn, New York; † 7 May 2001, Stanford ( California)) was an American linguist. He is equally known for his achievements in language typology ( universals ) as in the classification of the languages ​​of Africa, America, Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific region. In the second half of the 20th century, he was - along with Noam Chomsky - one of the most influential linguists worldwide. Researched for many years and he taught as a professor at Stanford University.

Contributions to language typology

Greenberg was known for his fundamental contributions to language typology, in particular for universals. Since the 1950s, he examined large speech corpora in terms of " linguistic universals " that is occurring worldwide linguistic features in phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics. In particular, he established the idea of ​​" linguistic implication " that comes to statements of the following type: " If a language has a certain structural feature X, it also has the feature of Y have. " ( For example: " If a language has a dual she also has a plural. " )

Contributions to the classification of languages

African Languages

Greenberg is well known and recognized for its fundamentally new classification of African languages ​​, which he began in 1948, after many intermediate stages in 1963 finally finally formulated. This new approach was bold for its time and partly speculative, particularly as regards the group of the Nilo-Saharan languages. He coined the term " Afro-Asiatic " as a replacement for the confusing and loaded term " Hamito - Semitic ". His classification of African languages ​​in the four phyla

  • Afro-Asiatic
  • Niger - Congo
  • Nilo-Saharan
  • Khoisan

Was the basis for all further classificatory work in African Studies since 1963. During the genetic unity of Afro Asiatic and Niger - Congo is undisputed today, the Khoisan group must have as areal Sprachbund viewed with mainly typological similarities (for example, the Schnalz / clicking sounds ). Especially in the discussion will be the Nilo-Saharan, the by some specialists (LM Bender, C. Ehret, H. Fleming ) is regarded as a genetic unit with a reconstructed proto-language, while other investigators only see him as a Sprachbund, its core, however, a genetic unit represents. ( The current debate concerns the size of the core. )

The services Greenbergs especially in the African see the article in African languages.

Indo-Pacific languages

1971 Greenberg suggested the Indo-Pacific macro family from which the Papuan ( non- Austronesian languages ​​of New Guinea and neighboring islands ), the Andaman and includes Tasmanian languages ​​and consists of the following sub-groups:

  • Anda manic ( the languages ​​of the indigenous Andamanese Negrito population)
  • Tasmanian ( the languages ​​of the extinct Tasmanian aborigines in the 19th century )
  • Nuclear New Guinea ( Central, North, South, Southwest New Guinea)
  • West Papua (West New Guinea, North Halmahera, Timor - Alor )
  • Eastern New Guinea
  • West New Guinea
  • Pacific ( Bougainville, New Britain, Central Melanesian )

This classification - which does not include the Australian languages ​​- goes back to similar concepts of A. Trombetti ( Glottologia 1923). It is now almost entirely discarded and not used as a working hypothesis of employees with these languages ​​linguists. While the Andamanese and Tasmanian languages ​​each represent a single genetic unit, decompose the Papuan according to present knowledge in a dozen independent language families, whose core is the Trans - New Guinea phylum, and some isolated languages. Phylogenetic relationships of the so-called Papuan languages ​​are not clarified until today concludes.

American languages

After Greenberg examined the indigenous languages ​​of the Americas, which break down into hundreds of genetic units and isolated languages ​​according to the majority opinion of the relevant research. His 1987 published result is the classification of American languages ​​in just three genetic groups:

  • Eskimo - Aleut (Inuit / Inuktitut, Yupik, Aleut, and Sirenik / Unangan )
  • Na - Dene ( Haida, Tlingit and Eyak Athabaskisch )
  • Amerindian ( all the rest of all indigenous American languages ​​)

This tripartite division is supported by human genetic studies by Cavalli - Sforza and archaeological research, which show that these three groups have immigrated at different times from Siberia to America, most recently the Eskimos. While the Eskimo - Aleut and Na - Dene in principle also were recognized as genetic units for a long time, found and find the concept of Amerindian languages ​​with most Americanists no support. Typical of the present state of American Studies is the representation of Lyle Campbell, American Indian Languages ​​(1997), with well over 200 separate genetic groups and many isolated languages.

The massive Americanist criticism was not only Greenberg's classification result, but also his method of mass lexical comparison, in which the classification results from the comparison of words and morphemes of a very large group of languages ​​. This word equations are established and derived from these classifications; the establishment of sound laws and the reconstruction of Proto languages ​​is then a second step, the confirmed refined or refuted the results of the previous classification hypothesis. ( This second step has left others usually Greenberg. ) The method of mass comparison Greenberg had already applied to his now widely accepted classification of African languages. It is ultimately also the method by the researchers, the genetic unity and structure of Indo-European Finno - Ugric or recognized long before sound laws established or proto languages ​​were reconstructed.

In addition, Greenberg was accused of numerous errors in its data material, such as incorrect or nonexistent words, use of distorted or over -stretched meanings, words that were assigned to the wrong language, wrong word decomposition of the material into prefixes, suffixes and word core. Although in several essays Greenberg defended his method and also showed that many allegations did not apply ( these essays are in Greenberg 2005 combined ), have to admit it that the Greenberg approach of the Ameri -Indian according to current estimates of most Americanists is largely failed. Only medium-sized units of its classification could be confirmed by further research, which already is in today's disruption of the linguistic landscape of America is a big step forward. The demonstration or definitive refutation of the relationship of larger language groups in America will certainly require several decades of intensive linguistic fieldwork and comparative research, if this is not done prematurely impossible by the already observable today alarmingly rapid extinction of Native American languages ​​.

Eurasian languages

At the end of his life, Greenberg dedicated the languages ​​of Eurasia and formed from various European, Asian and North American language families and isolated languages ​​of Siberia a new macro family, however, has great similarities with the nostra matic hypothesis, dating back to predecessor from the 19th and early 20th century. For Eurasian counts Greenberg:

  • Etruscan
  • Indo-European
  • Ural- Jukagirisch
  • Korean -Japanese- Ainu
  • Giljakisch ( Niwchisch )
  • Tschuktscho - Kamtschadalisch
  • Eskimo - Aleut

The difference to Nostra tables is, in particular, that the Nostra tables in contrast to the Eurasian Kartwelische and Dravidian includes, but not the smaller Siberian groups and individual languages. The previously regularly Nostra tables counted Afro-Asiatic - so even Dolgopolsky 1998 - will take place today viewed by representatives of Nostra tables rather than " Schwesterphylum " as a subfamily, which have brought closer the approaches of "Eurasia table " and " Nostra table ", especially since recent ideas to Nostra tables take into account the Siberian languages.

Greenberg calls his work on the Eurasian something provocative Indo-European and Its Closest Relatives. It is still too early to judge the success of this very comprehensive hypothesis. Classical Indo-European scholars reject these conclusions, as they reach down into a large time depth, so that the material can no longer be meaningful enough. In Mother Tongue VI (2001) John D. Bengtson gives a detailed positive review of the first volume ( Grammar, 2000). He concludes with the words: While one Could quibble about Certain details, there is no doubt, did Greenberg 's grammatical evidence for Eurasiatic is a monumental achievement and a fitting capstone to his life 's work as the supreme linguistic taxonomist of all time.

As with the Amerind Greenberg has been compared with the Eurasian next related words and grammatical elements together, their similarities are quite convincing in part (especially in Indo-European, Uralic and Altaic ), and which can not be explained simply by the concepts Sprachbund and borrowing.

Major works by Joseph Greenberg