The Comparative Method versus Mass Comparison

Despite Cavalli-Sforza's support for Greenberg's findings, linguists continued to assail Greenberg's work on grounds of factual errors and methodology. As even Greenberg's supporters concede, he was interested in the big picture, not the details. Numerous small errors, of the type scholars usually do their best to avoid, crept into his work. Some were errors of transcription, some perhaps the result of working in haste as he reviewed the grammar and vocabulary of hundreds of languages, transcribing everything with his own hand and usually without a graduate student to check things. Were the errors fatal, as his Americanist critics contended, or trivial, as his supporters averred? The verdict of the Africanists, who came to agree with him, is that the errors were not significant. "There are . . . more errors in data-entering than one expects in such a work," writes Lionel Bender, an Africanist at Southern Illinois University, about Greenberg's book on African languages. "Nevertheless, he got it right for the most part and his African classification culminating

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