His work was always founded directly on quantitative data from a single language or from a wide range of languages. His chief legacy to contemporary linguistics is in the development of an approach to the study of language—typology and univerals—and to historical linguistics. Yet he also made major contributions to sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, phonetics and phonology, morphology, and especially African language studies.
His father was a Polish Jew and his mother, a German Jew. As a child he sat fascinated next to his mother while she played the piano, and he asked her to teach him.
She taught him musical notation and then found him a local teacher. Greenberg ended up studying with a Madame Vangerova, associated with the Curtis Institute. Greenberg even gave a concert at Steinway Hall at the age of fourteen, and won a citywide prize for best chamber music ensemble.
But after finishing high school, Greenberg chose an academic career instead of a musical one, although he continued to play the piano every evening until near the end of his life. He went to Hebrew school, which offered only an elementary education in Hebrew, essentially how to read the script.
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But Greenberg got hold of a Hebrew grammar and taught himself the language. On the way home Joe cried and his father took him into town and bought him a Greek grammar and dictionary from a used-book store. So he taught himself Greek—in fact, that was the usual way he learned languages. He also signed up for classes in obscure languages such as Akkadian and various Slavic languages, annoying professors who thought they could get away without teaching by offering classes they thought nobody would take.
In his senior year he also audited a class given by Boas on American Indian languages, and on his own read all the Native American language grammars in Boas , Because of his Classical and Semitic background, Greenberg entertained the idea of becoming a medieval historian specializing in contacts between Christianity and Islam in Africa.
But opportunities in the humanities in the Depression were nonexistent, and his anthropology professor, Alexander Lesser, suggested he apply for a Social Science Research Council Ph.
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Many linguists reject the methods used to determine these forms. Several areas of criticism are raised with the methods Ruhlen and Gell-Mann employ. The essential basis of these criticisms is that the words being compared do not show common ancestry; the reasons for this vary. Another is the taboo quality of certain words. Campbell's assertion is that these types of problems are endemic to the methods used by Ruhlen and others. There are some linguists who question the very possibility of tracing language elements so far back into the past.
Campbell notes that given the time elapsed since the origin of human language, every word from that time would have been replaced or changed beyond recognition in all languages today. Campbell harshly criticizes efforts to reconstruct a Proto-human language, saying "the search for global etymologies is at best a hopeless waste of time, at worst an embarrassment to linguistics as a discipline, unfortunately confusing and misleading to those who might look to linguistics for understanding in this area.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses. Home FAQ Contact. Proto-Human language Wikipedia open wikipedia design. The origin and dispersal of languages: Linguistic evidence. In Nina Jablonski and Leslie C. Aiello, eds.
Languages of the World - Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics
Memoirs of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
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Bowern, Claire November The logic of phoneme inventories and founder effects". Linguistic Typology. August 1, Christian Science Monitor.
Retrieved 18 May Retrieved June 30, Bengtson, John D. In Ruhlen a, pp. Also: HTML version. Campbell, Lyle, and William J. Language Classification: History and Method. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Edgar, Blake March—April Retrieved 5 November Gell-Mann, Murray and Merritt Ruhlen. Also: HTML version [ dead link ].
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On Understanding Grammar. New York: Academic Press. Greenberg, Joseph. In second edition of Universals of Language , pp. Greenberg, Joseph H. The Languages of Africa , revised edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Reprinted in Joseph H.
- Project MUSE - Obituary: Joseph Harold Greenberg;
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Language in the Americas. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Volume 1: Grammar. Volume 2: Lexicon. Klein, Richard G. The Dawn of Human Culture. New York: John Wiley and Sons. Nandi, Owi Ivar. Ruhlen, Merritt.