Er, so I’m writing up still. End is in sight! Back to blogging sometime in February! For now I just wanted to post this quote for posterity, although no doubt I will find someplace to jam it in the conclusion.
On comparative linguistics and ethnography
In conducting diachronic research on a language that existed five or six millennia in the past one learns to accept a certain measure of crudity in comparison with what could be accomplished if direct observation were possible. The same caveat applies to the reconstruction of cultures that are associated with such prehistoric languages: for a social anthropologist to demand that a linguistic reconstruction provide details that are descriptively important to anthropological theory may be unreasonable, given the cultural lability of both lingusitic and cultural forms over a period of millennia. It is a remarkable fact that the comparative method allows us to penetrate confidently to a time-depth of perhaps six millenia, and any general feature of social organization that can be inferred from such reconstructed language material is a gift that we are not likely to recieve in any other way. (p. 37)
R. Blust (1980) Austronesian sibling terms and culture history. Bijdragen TLV 149 (11), 22-76.