13. Language typology and reconstruction

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The same scholar who provided the comparative study of African languages with a new impetus as a result of his classificatory work, Joseph H. Greenberg, also made quint-essential contributions to the field of language typology. When Greenberg was working on his doctoral dissertation on the pre-Islamic religion of the Hausa at Yale University (USA), he also began to develop some groundbreaking ideas on inductive methods in linguistics. His intellectual impetus apparently derived from the research of Yale anthropologists, who were trying to come to grips with variation between cultures in the way kinship terminology is organised on the basis of a worldwide comparison of kinship systems. Greenberg transferred this inductive method onto the comparative study of languages (as stated in an interview published in Newman 1991). In a way, Greenberg continued a tradition started by 19th century scholars like Friedrich von Schlegel, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Friedrich Müller and others, as well as 20th century scholars like the eminent Edward Sapir, Nikolai Sergejewitch Trubetzkoy, or Roman Jakobson, who also based their theories on an ever increasing corpus of data on languages from different parts of the world. Below, we shall discuss both the value and the potential danger of language typology as a supplementary method in the historical-comparative study of languages.


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