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"Introduction to Handbook of American Indian Languages" by Franz Boas

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This is the introduction book to a series of books that is aimed at giving a summary of the information available about the prehistory, history, and cultures of the native people of North America and the urban civilization of Central Mexico. The first chapter is dedicated to understanding their races and languages. Right from the time when Columbus landed in America, he found people whose physical characteristics were not familiar to him, and since he was sailing to Indies, he termed them as Indians. Later, the Spanish that came to South and parts of North America continued to refer to them as the Indians. There are two methods used in the determination of a race; they include finding a definite position of the race in the classification and tracking down the history to as far as the data may allow. Using the scientific evidence, the early scholars attempted to classify the Indians using the characteristics of the race, language and culture. A close analysis of the interrelationship between the three characteristics led to a theoretical hypothesis that at the beginning, people may have been living in isolated groups with sharp separations of cultures and languages. The author then analyzes the concept of languages and sounds in the speech. He notes that there were limited distinct speeches amongst the groups of people. He then proceeds to classify the languages based on dialects and influences. Based on the above analysis, the author outlines 55 American languages that have been accepted to date.

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The article is a classical study of ancient and modern languages with the aim of identifying similarities and differences in an effort to group the seemingly similar languages together. The author attempt to use language and culture of a particular race to demonstrate the possibilities of a single element without the others being changed is a classical demonstration of how cultures and languages are distributed in the world without the anatomical features being similar. He then studies in details the languages and gets an in-depth understanding of the roots of languages. This way Franz Boas is able to identify hidden characteristics of the sounds that have the ability to demonstrate similar origins. The author's assertions that similarities in phonetics, vocabularies, and grammar point to a similar origin are accurate. On the other hand, the author’s notion that the languages came from the peoples who were living in isolated groups does not seem to be accurate. According to a research paper by Martin Haspelmath, pre-established categories do not exist. The author argues that as children grow, they choose the categories from the people around them. Thus, the categories available in a particular group will be passed to the following generations. There are thus no universal categories in the languages that can be viewed as of the ultimate origin. Any language is an assimilation of the environment and the majority of people living in it. The entire classification is based on theories and assumptions that have no way of proving, and that begs the question of accuracy of the paper. The author assumes narrow characteristics that include only the language, culture, and the anatomical features. There are other factors that affected the general characteristics of a group. For instant, religious belief affects the development of languages and culture. A good example is the Catholics who have worshiped in Latin for many years. Although one may argue that religion is a part of a cultural issue, there is evidence of people from different cultures worshipping in a totally different way, and thus it may shape their culture.

The article enhances understanding of the characteristics of the languages. It sheds more light on the classifications and characteristics of the languages in the modern world. This includes the grammatical categories, phonetics and lexicographic. The article further extends the understanding of the relationship between languages and environment. In my opinion, the article makes huge strides in understanding the relationship between the languages, culture and anatomical features. It substantiates the characteristics and further enhances the definition of languages. Whereas there are some areas of the descriptive research that need improvements, it is a great start point, and the classification that the article resulted in is an ideal start point for further discussion.

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