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If bound pronouns can arise from contact alone, and if their presence does in fact motivate the subsequent development of the other characteristics, then languages might share a major complex of features for geographical rather than genetic reasons. Finally, typological investigation is crucial to diachronic linguistics in another way. Much of the traditional comparative work on Indo-European has, appropriately, been based on an understanding of Indo-European systems of grammar. Certain categories are traditionally isolated and compared, and developmental interrelationships are expected among particular parts of grammars.

The data Data on American Indian languages are for the most part much less abundant than for the Old World languages that provided the basis for the development of historical linguistics. It is a commonplace to observe that historical sequences of documents are generally lacking, although it is sometimes possible to find earlier materials that shed light on historical questions. An example can be cited from Seri, which pluralizes nouns by a number of complex patterns, including vowel ablauting; one pair, which has to be treated as suppletive, is kw[kke 'person, Seri' and its plural kogkáak.

Direct equations imply linguistic history but are rarely used productively as part of a hypothesis about what the linguistic history actually was. This failing is particularly evident in Greenberg's (1987 a) recent book. What Greenberg calls etymologies are actually sets of word equations. The history that they might be assumed to imply is not discussed. That is to say, the subject matter that is the entire point of historical linguistics is essentially absent from the book. Even established facts about the linguistic history of the languages and forms discussed are generally ignored (Chafe 1987; Goddard 1987; Campbell 1988).

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