Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 20

Hi again, everybody! ‘Hall Of Shame’ continues.

20 ZOLTÁN SIMON

As some readers may recall, Zoltán Simon (ZS) argues for a historical Atlantis in Western Atlantic waters, and for a catastrophist and otherwise revisionist account of early human history; he believes that the cases for (a) catastrophist interpretations of early history, (b) the early discovery (and subsequent loss) of advanced technology, and (c) extraterrestrial intervention in that period are much more persuasive than they are. He exaggerates the influence of his native Hungarian and its early speakers on linguistic differentiation and world history, finding pseudo-cognates and grammatical parallels between Hungarian and English and reading the arguably mysterious runic Yarmouth Stone (Nova Scotia) as Hungarian.

ZS’s linguistic ‘evidence’ is of the usual amateur kind, but his approach is somewhat more overt than is often the case. For example, he believes that a good way of establishing whether or not any two languages are related is to compare their vocabularies for matching pairs (similar forms, similar meanings). In fact, he imagines that this is how mainstream historical linguists operate, and berates them for engaging in this enterprise in a disorganised way and for not following up apparent connections which they find unpalatable. ZS appears unaware of linguists’ focus on SYSTEMATIC similarities in this context. He also pays no attention to a) the degrees of phonological and semantic similarity between words which might be required if they were to be regarded, pre-theoretically and prima facie, as probably shared (he talks as if pairs of forms are either obviously connected or obviously not, and his own judgments on this front appear arbitrary), b) the phonological systems of the relevant languages (which affect how similar forms can be and which phonemes are likely to correspond with which if forms are connected), c) the lengths of the words (for example, if two languages not known to be connected share a very short word-form such as [sa] with the same meaning, this could very well be accidental, whereas if they share the form [tolpesveblig], again with the same meaning, or with transparently related meanings, this is less likely), d) the cross-linguistic frequency of the sounds and sound-sequences in question (very widely-shared sounds such as [e], [s], etc. or common sound-sequences such as [til] or [po] are more likely to be shared by chance than sounds and sequences found in relatively few languages). And e) he openly disregards matters of grammar, maintaining indeed that until recently many languages did not even have grammar (a most gross error!).

In addition, ZS has an interest in dialectology and has worked on a dialect atlas of Hungary. He has also done some work on the results of the 1950s Survey of English Dialects (UK), comparing the vocabularies of different English dialects with a view to assessing the relative closeness of relationship between each pair of dialects (as he does with languages, as described above). It is more unusual in this context for factors a)-d) above to be an issue (it is normally clear enough whether or not forms with the same meaning in different dialects of the same language are ‘the same word’); but ZS still ignores the systematicity requirement, the phonological structures of the various dialects, and matters of grammar. His approach (which he himself regards as altogether pioneering) is at best a rough-&-ready initial method of assessing the overall patterning of such data. (The same applies to his work on Hungarian.)

ZS criticises the SED for poor and incomplete presentation of their data (‘cartographically a disaster’), but this seems to involve the fact that he has seen only their maps themselves, not the background and interpretive materials.

ZS has a range of other non-mainstream opinions. For example, he holds that Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe is in fact autobiographical.

More next time!

Mark

For my book Strange Linguistics, see:
http://linguistlist.org/pubs/books/get-book.cfm?BookID=64212

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany. Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.

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3 Responses to Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 20

  1. Pacal says:

    Let me get this straight. This guy Zoltan Simon practices the infamous and largely useless word list game!

    Nobody can even remotely be taken seriously when talking about linguistics if they practice the word list game. It is a nearly useless way to compare languages, has you have said in earlier posts because the simple fact that given the range of sounds available in human speech and the number of words in different languages if you look hard enough you will find similarities by mere chance. In order to prove a connection the similarities have to be systematic and follow certain rules otherwise it is all mere puffery.

    As for his apparent belief that until recently some languages didn’t have grammar!? I like to try what he is smoking. How the hell can a language NOT have grammar! I rather doubt that there is a single human language that doesn’t have grammar.

    I am wondering if perhaps you didn’t misunderstand something he said because the statement is just so idiotic as to beggar belief. But then it is probably true that he does indeed think that.

    I am a little shocked that this guy has published works on linguistics. But then considering what often gets a Phd, (I use Proquest so I have lots of copies of Phds), I guess I should not be surprised. The amount of sheer lunacy in what is regarded as “scholarship” is in my opinion considerably underrated.

  2. marknewbrook says:

    Thanks, Pacal! I did check that ZS really believes that grammar is of recent origin and he confirmed this. Of course, grammar is an inherent feature of human language and all languages have it. (Any earlier developmental stage when grammar was lacking or more rudimentary is long gone.) Cheers Mark

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