This sort of moderation has some precedent: "1866 the Société de Linguistique banned papers on language origins." This topic is more respectable than it used to be and now has a more objective research agenda.

In this category I'd put the following topics in that category of not really ready for a site that specializes in questions with real answers.

  • Voynich manuscript
  • Origins of Basque
  • Attempts to tie Algonquin rock glyphs to Egyptian hieroglyps
  • Protoworld
  • Some of the claims about Piraha, a language for which the reference grammar isn't widely available

I'd temper by saying, there are lots of objective questions that can be asked, such as "What examples are there of languages developing clicks without borrowing them from neighboring languages?"

"What statistical techniques are used to distinguish decorative symbols from a possible writing system?"

Can anyone think of other sexy, but probably too controversial or crackpot ideas that probably won't generate more light than heat on this site?

UPDATE: I'm was listing topics that are likely to lead to flamewars, I didn't list my particular opinions on the topics above, i.e. I'm not imply that I think the relevant parties in are crackpots.

  • How about Nostratic, and anything by Merritt Ruhlen! Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 6:30
  • Is the point of your last question to get examples of controversial questions?
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 13:45
  • Nah, I'm more interested in what to do about them. The SE format isn't optimized for fight club. I think the anti-monogenesis crowd is a bunch of over emotional crackpots and they think the same about the monogenesis crowd. I posted an answer below saying that I think these questions have a higher burden in asking (answerable, reasonably narrow questions) and a higher burden in answering (like needing sources to be cited) Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 14:16
  • It is irresponsible to lump together claims about Piraha, which are readily verified by online material posted by Everett--- including videos of speakers producing sentences--- with Voynich manuscript or other fringe linguistics topics. Piraha is a complete falsification of the bread-and-butter hypotheses of many working linguists, and must be treated carefully, because there are vested academic interests that oppose the idea. In fact, this whole question, because of the Piraha business, reads like an attempt to ban Piraha questions from the site, and this is censorship, not science.
    – user810
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 12:04
  • @Ron - nah, censorship is power crushing the opposition. SE isn't run by who ever might be in power in the real world. My original question is about online communities and topics that seem to generate flamewars. The Skeptics website came up with an interesting solution (since the Skpetics website really does deal with crackpot science like dowsing, atlantis, mind reading, etc-- they require all answers to be posted with citations.) re Piraha- I don't really support closing questions, I favor rehabing them, but most moderators find that to be too much work. Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 13:56
  • All SE sites really do ban questions from certain categories as being "off topic"-- I'm sure auxlang supporters feels that the ban on conlang questions is censorship. My orig question really was inspired by the ban on language origins, not because I want to squelch Everrett's work. (But his work is an excellent example of the sort of question that will attract answers of the sort, "well, he's just a crackpot") Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 14:02
  • @MatthewMartin: Except he's not the crackpot. The crackpots are in the majority in your field. This is why one has to tread carefully. See Karlsson's excellent paper regarding the origin of recursion and the reason for its homogeneity (here: ling.helsinki.fi/~fkarlsso/ceb5.pdf ), the Greeks invented it, the Romans popularized it, and everyone else seems to have just copied them.
    – user810
    Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 11:59
  • I'm a conlanger. For discussions of conlang development, I go to the Conlang Bulletin Board. But for answers to questions real languages and linguistics, I come to the Linguistics Stack Exchange. IMO, discussions of conlangs are and should continue to be off-topic on this list. Commented Mar 17, 2012 at 4:06

4 Answers 4


Regardless of whether the topics you mentioned are OK here, if you have a question is not suitable for StackExchange's Q&A format, but you think people would be interested and you want to discuss it for fun, I think you can do it in chats. You can go to the main chat room for Linguistics or even create your own.


I don't think these kinds of questions are unanswerable.

They can be answered by saying things like "linguists don't consider this a sane topic" and give references to linguists disowning such ideas such as that 1866 the Société de Linguistique ban.

You can say "there are crackpots or fringe dwellers that are not mainstream linguists that believe X, Y, and Z" but mainstream linguists don't accept this and for them the topic can be covered only up to the more modest "A, B, and C". For instance how far back language reconstruction can go if not all the way back to proto-world.


I'm new here and not familiar with the SE layout, but is there somewhere where we can put canned answers/comments on these issues, which we can point people towards?

  • There's the faq for the main site which has very general guidelines. But more generally, there's the search box in both the main site and meta site which should help find answers to your questions.
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 13:42

I'll answer my own question. I think the skeptics SE is a good model. That site specifically is courting questions about crackpots and they cope with the risk of unscientific crackpot sympathizers by requiring people to source their answers with something linkable and/or published.

That way, when someone starts asking questions about Saphir-Worph, we can move quickly into what has some evidence and away from what thoughts are merely pleasant to entertain.

  • 1
    The answer you give is not satisfactory, because of issues like Piraha. If you want to argue against Sapir-Worph, you should do so from first principles yourself here on the site, not by a reference to some godawful paper which is probably written in indecipherable jargon. If you feel the need to link to an incomprehensible paper, at least explain why it is relevant. A person with a new idea can't cite a paper that explains and supports this idea, for obvious reasons, so requirement of sourcing is just a way for conservative people to squelch new ideas. Do you want another dark age?
    – user810
    Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 12:08

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