Joann Loviglio does indeed tell the Chulym story very nicely and accurately. But even she feels impelled to include a lexical profusion remark: "The Middle Chulym language echoes their way of life, with an abundance of words related to hunting and fishing, plants and flowers, weather and family relations."
Think about that. Of what human language, exactly, could one conceivably not say that it had an abundance of words related to hunting and fishing, plants and flowers, weather and family relations? I know I could write down a thousand or two. Think of all the words you know: all the plant and flower-related terms, the entire weather vocabulary, every word for family relations, even (though you may not actually spend much time subsisting in the backwoods) hunting and fishing words you've encountered. Would it not be an abundance? Then what's the point?
Why do people yearn so desperately to believe that there is some kind of incredible profusion of words for such things among hunter-gatherer peoples, when they have never been shown a single scintilla of quantitative evidence? Suppose I said that that German echoes the German way of life, with an abundance of words for beer, sausage, trains, freeways, and high-end automobile engineering. Would you take this seriously, given that I have absolutely no evidence that the numbers of words for these things in German makes it significantly different from English? Then why do people keep on repeating it about far-away tribesmen they know so much less about?Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at February 10, 2004 07:47 PM