The Dene-Yeniseian connection: a reply to G. Starostin
Edward Vajda (Western Washington University,
Journal of Language Relationship, № 8, 2012 - p.138-152
The paper gives a detailed critical assessment of the so-called “Dene-Yeniseian” hypothesis of genetic relationship between the Na-Dene language family of North America and the Yeniseian family in Siberia (represented today by the Ket language as its sole survivor). The hypothesis, recently promoted by Edward Vajda and supported by several prestigious scholars, has drawn much attention from the linguistic community, but, as the current paper indicates, still lacks a thorough critical evaluation that would focus exclusively around the quality of the comparative data. The paper attempts to present such an evaluation for at least some of the data, such as comparative verbal morphology, certain phonetic correspondences, and basic lexicon involved in Vajda’s comparison. It is concluded that only a part of these comparisons stands proper historical criticism, and that this part, by itself, is insufficient to prove a specifically “Dene-Yeniseian” link beyond reasonable doubt. However, it may be quite useful for the ongoing research on Na-Dene and Yeniseian languages as parts of a larger taxonomic unit (the “Dene-Caucasian” macrofamily), within which these two taxa may be related on a more distant basis than originally proposed.
Keywords: Dene-Yeniseian hypothesis, Dene-Caucasian hypothesis, Na-Dene languages, Yeniseian languages, linguistic macrofamilies, deep level language relationship, verbal morphology, typology of phonetic correspondences