Merritt Ruhlen

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Merritt Ruhlen

Merritt Ruhlen (born May 10, 1944 in Washington, DC ) is an American linguist . The main focus of his work is the classification of languages ​​worldwide and the evolution of humans in the light of their language ability.


Ruhlen studied at the universities of Paris , Illinois and Bucharest . He received his PhD in 1973 from Stanford University with a dissertation on the generative analysis of Romanian morphology . He then worked for several years at Stanford as an assistant to Joseph Greenberg . Since 1994 he has been a lecturer in anthropology and human biology at Stanford and, together with Murray Gell-Mann and Sergei Anatoljewitsch Starostin, director of the Santa Fe program Evolution of Human Language . He is visiting professor at Hong Kong University . For more than 35 years he worked closely with his mentor Joseph Greenberg, who died in 2001.

Work areas

Merritt Ruhlen was and is a pioneer of interdisciplinary methods that combine the results of historical linguistics with human genetics and archeology . This led him to intensive collaboration with the geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza and the archaeologist Colin Renfrew . As one of the main proponents of Joseph Greenberg's taxonomic techniques , he became one of the most important supporters of the Amerind hypothesis. In Nepal he took part in research into the isolated language Kusunda , which he assigns to the same ancient language class to which Nahali and the so - called Indo - Pacific languages ​​also belong. He investigated the relationship of the Yenisian with the North American Na-Dené languages , which is of central importance for the Dene-Caucasian macro family . Another special interest of Ruhlens are global etymologies ( word equations ), which are supposed to prove the monogenesis of all languages.

In particular, the possibility of establishing valid global etymologies is viewed with skepticism by the overwhelming majority of comparative linguists, as they cannot be empirically proven and can only be developed speculatively. Ruhlen and Bengtson write in their article Global Etymologies (1994):

"In the long run we expect the evidence for monogenesis of extant languages ​​to become so compelling that the question will not be, wether all the world's languages ​​are related, but why it took the linguistic community so long to recognize this obvious fact."

“In the future - we assume - the evidence for the monogenesis of all existing languages ​​will be so compelling that the question will not be whether all the languages ​​of the world are related, but why it took linguistics so long to recognize this obvious fact . "


  • A Guide to the World's Languages. 1987. Edward Arnold, London, Melbourne, Auckland 1991.
  • On the Origin of Languages: Studies in Linguistic Taxonomy. Stanford University Press, 1994.
  • The Origin of Language. Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue. John Wiley, New York 1994.

A list of other publications is available on the Merritt Ruhlen website.

Web links