Sapir’s Thesis: Six Basic Indian Languages

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Map Code: Ax01398

After the numerous smaller language groups outlined by John Powell in 1891, later theories moved towards broader categorizations. Edward Sapir’s theory on the existence of six super-stocks, which was released in its most notable form in Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1929, made a number of amalgamations of Native American language stocks that had previously been considered separate. Along with a number of other linguists researching Native American languages at the time, Sapir favoured a ‘lumping’ or reductionist approach to classification. This commonly uses lexical comparisons to assume relationships between languages, as opposed to a splitting approach, which favours hard evidence of a common ancestor language to admit multiple languages to the same stock. Sapir himself considered his own theory of the six super-stocks to be more of a suggestive hypothesis than one based on rigorous proven evidence. Nevertheless, Sapir’s theory was considered to be remarkably accurate and has remained influential in later theories.

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