15 April 2010

Crackpots in action

In historical linguistics, the term crackpot is applied to people (no matter whether academic or amateur) who defend absurd theories (and also to the theories themselves).  Crackpots should be differentiated from pseudo-linguists, people with none or little knowledge of linguistics who engage themselves in the subject with catastrophic results (e.g. Edo Nyland or Polat Kaya).

I'm going to list the crackpots I've got acquainted with in my own career1. The first one is the French Arnaud Fournet, who has posited an "Proto-Exo-African" [sic] super-family to replace Nostratic. Not only he considers Basque and Etruscan to be remnants of a Paleo-European substrate2, but he also claims Yenisseian is an IE language, and has "discovered" several imaginary IE substrate languages in present-day France. Recently, he has written with the Nostraticist Allan Bomhard a paper on the supposed relationship between IE and Hurrian.

The Canadian Glen Gordon is known for his Indo-Aegean hypothesis relating IE and Etruscan3. Being a sui generis Nostraticist, he's a Bomhard's fan but a harsh critic of Starostin4. He also likes to "nip in the bud" his rivals' theories.

The German Theo Vennemann is an academic scholar who believes OEH isn't related to IE but to Basque, constituting a "Vasconic" substrate. He also posits an "Atlantidic" substrate akin to Semitic in the Atlantic fringe5.

The Italian Mario Alinei is the champion of the so-called Paleolithic Continuity Theory (PCT) of IE origins, which states that IE languages were already spoken in their respective historical homelands since the Mesolithic. The Valencian Jesús Sanchis is one of his supporters.

Last but not least is Michel Morvan, an unortodox French Vascologist who posited a genetical relationship between Basque and Eurasiatic in his doctoral thesis Les origines linguistiques du Basque (1996).
1 I should notice that some of them have criticized my own work, even to the point of making personal attacks and censoring me in their own blogs/lists.
2 In his own words, Basque and Etruscan "never moved an inch".
3 In the same line than the Spanish Indo-Europeanist Rodríguez Adrados, but a more sophisticated approach.
4 Even mentioning the name Starostin makes him angry.
5 According to Wikipedia, he now has replaced this theory with a Punic superstrate in Germanic.


  1. Questi crackpot meritano scherno e ludibrio. In particolare il canadese non è altro che un miserabile troll.
    Un saluto

  2. Ma il francese é anche un troll. Il suo nickname è yangg, dal Cinese yang.

  3. I think crackpots as individuals and radically alternative theories do not necessarily coincide. There are crackpots who support mainstream theories and there are serious scholars who advance radically alternative theories. The difference between a crackpot and a non-crackpot is in the degree of compulsion to defend, advance and propagate a theory - whether mainstream or not. A crackpot has an uncontrollable urge to believe and propagate a theory. He needs to win public acceptance at any cost, even at the cost of turning a mainstream theory into a fad. A serious scholar can put a break on his alternative at any time in response to a new fact or at least strategically. And he doesn't care if his idea is accepted or not. What matters is that it evolves.

    Also, there are scholars who are not linguists in a strict sense of the word, but they are scientists trying to uncover truths concealed under the veil of linguistic facts. They are not pseudo-linguists, although they may sometimes look as such. Alternatively, there are linguists who are not scientists and who turn linguistics into a kind of pseudo-religion.