The Transparenztheorie and the Componential Approach to Comparative Grammar


1. Linguistic synchrony is a reflection of linguistic diachrony. The modern linguistic typology is a mapping of the historic typology, a geographic mapping of the historical glottogenenis of mankind.  Most prehistoric tribes, their customs and languages have been preserved to a greater or lesser degree in the modern ethnographic and linguistic diversity.                               

2. The dialectology of any language is a synchronic mapping of its diachronic linguistic history. The history of a particular language has been preserved to a greater or lesser extent in the diversity of its modern dialects.            

3. The internal genetic stability in language development is prior to external influences and factors. A language cannot change of its own will unless it is overlaid by a different language. Dialects and folk customs are degenerate survivals of prehistory: they may grow and magnify but they cannot produce new forms. Medieval linguistic evolution is but a hybridisation, a decay of what had existed formerly in pure forms. 

4. A tribe is a unity of its linguistic, anthropologic and ethnographic manifestations. Anthropology, prehistory, archaeology, ethnography and comparative linguistics should principally share their respective categories.                          

5. All pure cultures existed only in ancient primitive societies while all modern advanced societies are mixed amalgams of different ethnic components. Linguistic development is a convergent process of assimilation eroding all ancient tribal dialects. Any modern language is a sum of tribal dialects of all previous linguistic invasions into its area. ‘In reality language diversity is always primary while language unity is the secondary product either of the expansion of a language over wide territories or the creation of an oral or literary standard language’ (Wagner 1970: 228-9).

6.  The more primitive a society is, the greater dialectal diversity it manifests.                                  

7. The lexical parallels betray only the degree of overlapping between two neighbouring languages but it is the structural similarity that reveals genetic kinship. The linguistic identity of an isolated tribal tongue will perish, but its structural characteristic and special words will survive in dialectal peculiarities. Oral dialects are prior to literary standards (F. de Saussure). ‘Traditionally, the appearance of IE consonantism was equalled with that of languages with the most ancient literary tradition such as Sanskrit and partly classic languages, Old Greek and Latin. These tongues enjoying wide popularity and prestige often determined directly the shape of the reconstructed system in comparative Indo-European grammar. This explains why Grimm and Rask understood the Old Germanic stage as a product of a shift (Lautverschiebung) of original IE phonemes ... But it is not a result of an appropriate linguistic analysis but a product of casual historical development caused by the special prestige enjoyed by languages of earliest literary records’ (Gamkrelidze, Ivanov 1980: 23).

8. Every linguistic change is a victory of one standard over another caused either by an outer military invasion or by the ascent of a different social and ethnic caste. Any sound change is a reception of an older linguistic culture into a new standard or a translation of subdued ethnic languages into the system of the victorious one. There are no sound changes without exceptions, there are no defeats without surviving relics. Dialects are dead reservoirs of relics, they have no inner development but gradual decay. Every sound shift is a switch from one ethnic tradition to another within a linguistic culture. The so-called ‘lexical cognates’ are mostly loanwords. Instead of sound laws we need an integrated theory of receptions of loanwords. 

9. The social stratification of dialects in a society is a map of the historical superposition of ethnic castes in its historical area. The ethnic stratification of a society is the germ of its social stratification. Linguistic changes are only outer manifestations of ethnic and social changes. There is no immanent linguistic development outside the ethnic and social evolution. The social evolution of languages in civilised societies forms only one thousandth of their tribal existence. The social changes in the supremacy of classes reinforce shifts in the literary standard. The official literary standard is not the national language fathering and engendering local dialects; it is an ethnic and social dialect that won victory over other dialects. The medieval evolution of languages may be described in terms of ethnic transformations as ‘Normanisation’,  ‘Germanisation’, ‘Slavinisation’ or ‘Arabisation’. The history of English and many other European languages has several common stages: absorbing original autochthonous populations (Celtisation), conquests resulting in feudalisation (Normanisation), barons depart and London merchants take the lead (re-Englishing England), modern townsfolk wins democratic revolutions, the Puritan round-heads bring democratisation  (a new re-Celtisation).                            

10. Ancient migrations have left over long chains of tribal dialects running across different linguistic areas. Ancient tribes lived in concentric tribal centres that periodically burst out into offshoots of colonisations. Later these radial migration belts dissolved and began to assimilate into new local concentric areas speaking national languages.

11. The peripheral languages living in ethnic isolation preserve best the earliest shape of the original proto-language in the ethnic cradle-land. They usually provide a reliable record of the original stage of a proto-language before its ethnic diaspora. The original linguistic cradle-land preserves the original linguistic type reliably if and only if they has sufficiently eliminated all outer intrusive ethnic elements. It is only the linguistic cradle-land and periphery that have successfully preserved the original diversity of languages.


(An extract from Prehistoric Dialects, 2004, ISBN 80-86580-05-9, pp. 18-19)