Brugmann's 'wrong approach' to Proto-Indo-European

I read in some [tag]Slavic[/tag]-oriented personal website, with a tiny section dedicated to Indo-European studies, that [tag]Brugmann[/tag]’s old approach was wrong due to his wrong assumptions about PIE – confusingly enough, he mixes Brugmann’s (late) PIE with an early PIE, in turn related to a hypothetical [tag]Indo-Uralic[/tag] -, and subsequently also every single work published since his Grundriss which didn’t correct those mistakes. In this very case – which is not the only one that can be found out on the Web – the author emphasized the importance of the wrong accusative reconstruction of the German linguist; I’ve also read about some (usually interesting) online studies on PIE [tag]ergativity[/tag], on wrong relations of languages considered within or outside the Indo-European language family, on strange theories about the [tag]Urheimat[/tag] (some of them can be read in our grammar), etc.

All those personal sites are possibly well-minded works if considered individually, but peculiarly enough I’m sure that more than 50% of online freely available works about the [tag]Indo-European language[/tag] are theories rejected by most IE researchers, another reason why the Internet can be a great source of misinformation, as neither [tag]Googlebot[/tag] nor [tag]Wikipedia[/tag] (and its future ‘social’ search engine Wikisahahari.. whatever) have yet the ability to sort websites by better knowledge, instead of better web design or online social support.

The question is whether those scholars are to blame for such a mess the Internet is becoming, created by our human egoistic desire of self-promotion; the answer, I think, is yes – they could solve it easily by explaining the reconstructed Indo-European, whilst presenting their articles as alternative theories, instead of constantly trying to present their works as if they were as well-documented, as scientific, and as possible as the others, thus undermining the real scientific reconstruction, which is undervalued by those who read their pages, who will think that they all are equal hypothesis, instead of accepting (late Proto-)Indo-European as a real language, considering the rest as mere possibilities.

I am not the linguist here, so I can only say it is possible that Brugmann’s junggramatische approach was partly wrong, and thus also the works of some of those who followed his opinions. Undoubtedly, his sin (if any) was to pay too much attention to [tag]Sanskrit[/tag] and [tag]Greek[/tag], leaving most other proto-languages aside. A problem that was mostly due to the lack of research on those other Indo-European [tag]proto-languages[/tag], and an imperfection that has certainly been reexamined, corrected and reduced more and more during the last century, thanks to the work of hundreds of researchers.

Whichever the reasons one has to believe himself as the one who will revolutionize an academic field, I must say I cannot disagree more with such a behaviour, trying to obtain supporters through different channels when one’s scientific theories are rejected in the traditional ones. Obviously, science is about discussing theories, and there’s room for all of them in research, but science is also, to some extent, about achieving solutions, at least in [tag]social sciences[/tag]; and [tag]historical linguistics[/tag] is indeed not about [tag]humanities[/tag], where each expert or group of experts can have different opinions on the same artistic work.

It is true that [tag]comparative linguistics[/tag] is not a [tag]science[/tag] that can be proven beyond all doubt; nevertheless, most (if not all) scientific knowledge is mainly based on trust: there is always a point where we simply have to trust something, to believe that something said or perceived or (as in this case) approved by somebody else is true.

Again, I am nobody – in this field or in any other – to say where that line – which defines the minimum trust to accept – is, but if you say that the best language reconstruction that science has achieved – and probably will ever be able to achieve -, that of [tag]Proto-Indo-European[/tag], is wrong, and that only you and some followers are right in your opinions, while the majority of scholars mistakenly ignore the truth, then you are simply saying science is not reliable. Then, we should probably only follow your revolutionary thoughts… no, wait! and what if there are more like you or your group, who think they are right? Yes, that’s the answer: the rules of peer-reviewed journals and acceptance by the majority of experts are still the best rules to be followed if we want to keep improving scientific knowledge.

I have to say, before finishing the post, that:

  1. Exactly because the Internet can reach anyone, such linguistic controversies are found frequently due to individual promotion efforts, but actually represent a tiny percentage of what IE experts are really discussing: when one publishes his controversial research (usually dismissing commonly accepted premisses) on the Net, mainly for non-experts to read it, it is probably to advertise an idea fiercely rejected within such academic field’s publications.
  2. Thus, if you want to learn something about Indo-European, you should look up at least two or three good (printed) grammars – I won’t tell you which ones, only try to choose modern books with different but thorough approaches to PIE – to obtain a good image of what is really going on in PIE research, and also, if possible, get access to your Public or University library to read some modern publications on PIE and comparative linguistics. To form one’s opinion on the subject is not really that difficult, and it will save you from many (no, I mean really many) online nonsense.
  3. I discuss (and thus advertise) such theories in this weblog just because that’s what people who arrive here usually read, and also because I like looong, non-practical dissertations, as any reader can easily notice; if I wrote for a printed, peer-reviewed journal, I would probably discuss other minor problems on PIE reconstruction, instead of completely new theories that try to break the whole reconstructed system.
  4. Even though I criticize them because of the aforementioned reasons, I like such unproven but brave theories, when they don’t flood the Web; specially the ones on (early PIE’s) ergativity and an Indo-Uralic proto-language are very appealing, given that 97% of Europeans speak Indo-European languages, whilst most of the rest speak Uralic languages – real proofs on such a common linguistic ancestor for both branches would boost even more European integration, based on our common culture and history!

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