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Revisiting Tungusic Classification from the Bottom up: A Comparison of Evenki and Oroqen

Lindsay J. Whaley, Lenore A. Grenoble and Fengxiang Li
Language
Vol. 75, No. 2 (Jun., 1999), pp. 286-321
DOI: 10.2307/417262
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/417262
Page Count: 36
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Abstract

Efforts to determine the genetic relations among Tungusic languages have been dominated by a methodology that categorizes the entire family on the basis of a small number of sound correspondences and some shared inflectional morphology, despite the fact that this evidence can be interpreted in contradictory ways. The approach, styled after traditional classification, which uses a tree model, is even less successful in indicating the relationships among languages at a finer level of detail. This article demonstrates that two Tungusic languages, Evenki and Oroqen, which have long been treated as a single language for classification purposes, are better treated as distinct linguistic varieties. The article raises fundamental questions about the current classification of Tungusic languages and suggests a renewed examination of the role of dialect continua and contact languages in understanding the composition of the family. Finally, we question whether a tree-based model is appropriate for classifying languages that have had a high degree of contact and are found in families or branches of a shallow time depth.

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