Back in 1999, there was a great paper co-authored by anti-Altaicist Stefan Georg with some Altaicists that gave the history of the Altaic theory, gathered up all of the evidence, and tried to work out what the substantive questions were and who was trying to answer them: Telling general linguists about Altaic (also on Google Scholar).

Since then, the debate has changed quite a bit—as I understand it, Starostin completed his system and published an etymological dictionary and basically nobody follows Poppe anymore; Japanese is now central to the theory (so the various alternative Japanese classification theories now directly oppose Altaic); Vovin set out to systematically answer all of the old criticisms by Dörfer that had been mostly ignored; etc. (Also, Martine Robbeets' "Transeurasian" seems like an alternative to Poppe and Starostin that's roughly equivalent to Altaic, and didn't even exist in 1999.)

But trying to look at any of the publications, they're more like flame wars than scientific papers (especially after Vovin switched sides).

Has anyone written anything like Georg's survey, but updated to cover the last 20 years? Even if there's not a paper, a solid blog post would be helpful.

There are a few related questions on this site which aren't being automatically picked up by the Related sidebar, so I'll link them directly:

The last one links to a no-longer-available 2014 blog post; digging it up on Wayback, it gives a brief summary of the issues, but not at the depth I'm looking for. It also has links to a number of papers—including Georg 1999, and some of the more recent flame-war papers I mentioned, and Starostin's actual primary research data—but none of them are what I'm looking for. Which implies that, at least as of 2014, there probably is no answer to this question. But I'll leave it open out of optimism.

  • @vectory Thanks; added a link (but to English rather than German Scholar).
    – abarnert
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 21:04

2 Answers 2


The main problem with "Altaic" is that the most competent people in the relevant languages have all become hostile to the idea of an "Altaic" genetic group. Vovin is competent on Japanese and Korean, and considers "Altaic" to be a religious [sic] issue, not a scientific one. Georg is competent on Mongolian and considers Mongolian unrelated to Turkic. So what we have now is a deadlock. The mainstream communis opinio is thoroughly if not dogmatically hostile. So no progress can be expected in the near future.

  • I remember Vovin calling the anti-Altaicists religious fanatics, so I'm not surprised he still sees it as a religious issue after "conversion". But are you saying that, other than some changes in the players (Doerfer and Starostin died, Vovin switched sides, …), things haven't changed at all since 1999 (e.g., Starostin's etymological dictionary was neither useful nor blatantly wrong, but just irrelevant to the question), so nobody has bothered writing anything new? Or that the sides are even more entrenched so a fair survey like Georg 1999 is much less possible?
    – abarnert
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 20:41
  • In my opinion, the situation around the "Altaic" or even "Ural-Altaic" issue is deadlocked. The only way out would be to propose a reliable solution that would really explain how these languages can be compared. Starostin's EDAL is too lousy to be such a proposal.
    – user23769
    Commented Feb 14, 2019 at 10:04

(this became more a comment than an answer, my apologies)

Stefan Georg added that it is not "his survey":

For me, who is (albeit only due to the realities of the Latin alphabet only) listed as the main author of this paper (in fact I did little more than furnish bibliographical data and oversee the historiographical sections of this),

There are reasons which force me to deeply regret my participation in the publication of this paper, and, most of all, the fact that my name is mentioned first among its authors. I cannot deny having given a hand in this, though, sadly.

Later, Georg has taken on Eurasiatic, Nostratic, Transeurasian, finally The Poverty of Altaicism.

The blog OP referred to has moved, still has a category Altaic, but does not contain the specific article about Japanese+Korean. The author also has an academia.edu profile, and has two drafts from 2021 relating to the topic, but they are definitely not neutral:

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