Academic News World of Language — JLSSCNC Vol I, No 2 Contents Rating the World’s Languages—Dikembe Mutombo and John Thompson

Progress in South American Protolinguistics

Recent work in South American Proto-World language reconstruction has placed the well-attested Proto-Sino-Franco-Indonesian (*PSFI) superfamily (Pulju 1990) [See also Pulju 1989—eds.] in a larger historical context which includes Kiowan, a North American Indian language which has not, until now, been definitively affiliated with any language family (Watkins 1984). This paper gives evidence for a Proto-Sino-Kiowan (*PSK) superfamily, which interacted with Proto-Franco-Indonesian (*PFI) to form the well known *PSFI group. At this point it seems that the larger Proto-*PSFI-Kiowan (*P*PK) metasuperfamily, the Holy Grail of South American protolinguistics, has evaded us once again and we are forced now to posit two independent South American protolanguages.

The following examples leave little doubt that Kiowan and Chinese are historically related.

*PPK Kiowa Chinese
 ‘but’     ne  ‘a modal particle’
 ‘old man’    
 ‘husband’     gē[gē]  ‘elder brother’
 ‘a small number’    
 ‘two’      ‘one’
 ‘word of welcome’    
 ‘telephone greeting’

The relatively sparse lexical overlap between Kiowa and French/Indonesian reveals the historic process leading to today’s distribution. I propose the following progression.

  1. *PSK and *PFI speakers inhabit South America. This is the state of the Proto-World as far back as we can trace it.
  2. The Kiowan group splits off from *PSK and moves north, presumably to await the white man, disease, genocide, etc.
  3. The remainder of the *PSK group, now speaking what we might call proto-proto-proto-Chinese temporarily link up (presumably not by their own doing) with the bloodthirsty Proto-Franco-Indonesian speakers. This is the well-known *PSFI period, during which proto-proto-proto-Chinese adopted an enormous number of *PFI words and completely lost the complex *PSK inflection-derivation system, as tends to happen to oppressed people who become lazy, depressed and mumbly. Note that Kiowa and Chinese both retained the tone system of *PSK, while *PFI presumably was not a tone language (assuming we disregard Lørenesenn’s contention that French is a tone language).
  4. By this time the proto-proto-proto-Chinese speakers, now speaking proto-proto-Chinese, break the bonds of slavery (or whatever) and escape to Asia completely free of inflection, agreement, etc., but, as luck would have it, terribly afflicted with word-order.
  5. The final migration, which locates the modern French and Indonesian speakers in France and Indonesia, respectively, is the source of some conjecture, and I direct you to Parker’s (1990) monograph for further discussion.

The historical progression described above leaves the present situation. The descendants of the peaceful Proto-Sino-Kiowan group are now a large, docile, disinflected Chinese-speaking population in Asia and an almost nonexistent docile Kiowan population on a reservation in Oklahoma. Large unsavory, warlike populations in France and Indonesia are the remnants of the original *PFI group. I feel my findings are conclusive, and do not intend to entertain any criticism.


Lørenesenn, Fugløy. “Tone Sandhi in French.” Psammeticus Quarterly X.4, 1984. Pp 661-71.

Parker, Christ J. Big Scary Jungle Spiders: New Perspectives on the Depopulation of Ancient South America. 1990. (unpublished)

Pulju, Tim Q. The Phonology of Proto-Sino-Franco-Indonesian. The Hague: Mouton & Company, 1990.

Watkins, Laurel J. A Grammar of Kiowa. Lincoln: The University of Nebraska Press, 1984.

Robert Norris Rice University

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