Argumentation, debate, and dialectic in Science, applied to Linguistics

The title is somehow formal, but I couldn’t find a better one.
I tried to talk with my uncle again about Indo-European: I don’t care about a thousand ignorants saying “PIE is an invention”, but it’s obvious I don’t like a learned Latin professor like him promoting this idea among his students…

So, after introducing the question (“how are things in the Uni?..Oh…hmm, and, about Indo-European…”), and beginning the debate, we ended up by saying:

(Me) – How can you say you are objective? The whole family believes you (and not me) only because you are a Latin professor, but you haven’t ever read anything about the Proto-Indo-European language: you just decided it didn’t exist and that’s all.

(Uncle) – And? You just decided that it existed and that’s all.

Puff, he won again in front of the family: “PIE invention 2 – PIE real 0”. Now, did he really win the debate? Was there any debate at all? Are we (the family) a good example of argument, debate, logic?

After the Wikipedia, the Argumentation theory consists of:

– Understanding and identifying the presentation of an argument, either explicit or implied, and the goals of the participants in the different types of dialogue.
– Identifying the conclusion and the premises from which the conclusion is derived
– Establishing the “burden of proof” — determining who made the initial claim and is thus responsible for providing evidence why his/her position merits acceptance.
– For the one carrying the “burden of proof”, the advocate, to marshal evidence for his/her position in order to convince or force the opponent’s acceptance. The method by which this is accomplished is producing valid, sound, and cogent arguments, devoid of weaknesses, and not easily attacked.
– In a debate, fulfillment of the burden of proof creates a burden of rejoinder. One must try to identify faulty reasoning in the opponent’s argument, to attack the reasons/premises of the argument, to provide counterexamples if possible, to identify any logical fallacies, and to show why a valid conclusion cannot be derived from the reasons provided for his/her argument.

Why is it so easy to avoid such formal process when it comes to debating about PIE?
Can you imagine somebody saying “What about Rome? That is an invention of Latin lovers. What, not? Then prove it to me; no, really, I mean, show me actual proofs”. Or “What, the Krebs Cycle? All that Acetyl-CoA, Acetate and that stuff? That’s an invention of doctors. Oh really? Prove that I’m wrong – show me the molecules”.

I thought before that the family was the worst place to discuss anything – from politics to science -, as my grandmother previously selects who is right because of his age (the older you are the better), and then the rest of us are quiet unless we support the ‘chosen winner’… But now, seeing what some are saying out there about Proto-Indo-European (and how they are saying it), I think I should have learned to debate in such a difficult environment (instead of laughing always at our stupid conversations) to be able to debate other similar stupidities.

I guess linguistics has left science and has come so near to politics in some fields (viz. Basque is the oldest language, Tamil is the oldest language, PIE didn’t exist, and so on), that unless you are prepared to maintain your position against thousands of immovable opinions, ideas, and beliefs, and to get enrolled in different (‘for’ and ‘against’) bands, you’d rather study maths.

The time when most linguistic discussions were about achieving scientific consensus is finished – long live individual ideas!

Addition: I thought it was worth it to add a link to an interesting post I found, related to a personal discussion on evolution vs. revisionism, and I would select this short paragraph to summarize it:

All that remains is me thinking that my belief is based on more evidence than his belief, and that’s where the evidence comes in. Hence a never ending cycle simply because I don’t understand the science well enough myself to articulate and defend it.

From dmiessler blog.

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