Volume 36, Issue 3
  • ISSN 0176-4225
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9714
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Historical linguists have been debating for decades about whether the classical comparative method provides sufficient evidence to consider Altaic languages as part of a single genetic unity, like Indo-European and Uralic, or whether the implicit statistical robustness behind regular sound correspondences is lacking in the case of Altaic. In this paper, I run a significance test on Swadesh-lists representing Turkish, Mongolian and Manchu to see if there are regular patterns of phonetic similarities or correspondences among word-initial phonemes in the basic vocabulary that cannot be expected to have arisen by chance. The methodology draws on Oswalt (1970)Ringe (1992)Baxter & Manaster Ramer (2000) and Kessler (20012007). The results only partially point towards an Altaic family: Mongolian and Manchu show significant sound correspondences, while Turkish and Mongolian show some marginally significant phonological similarity, that might however be the consequence of areal contact. Crucially, Turkish and Manchu do not test positively under any condition.1


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