Zombie linguistic terms
This page is a list of zombie linguistic terms, i.e. terms which linguists once used but no longer use, but have found an afterlife in the popular press. The page is the outcome of a discussion on the ZBB started by Geoff Eddy on March 14, 2011.
Phonetics and phonology
guttural - characterized by articulation in the back of the mouth, ranging from velar to glottal. Often misspelled gutteral.
hard/soft - a pair of words often used to describe sounds of language, but lacking a definition.
phonetic (of languages) - written in a script that approaches a phonetic transcription.
strident - a poorly defined term which encompasses sibilants, affricates and whatever the author sees fit.
Language classification and historical linguistics
mixed language - most languages labeled that way in the popular press (such as English) are just languages with many borrowed words, but a grammatical and lexical core that is of a single origin; most linguists doubt that truly mixed languages exist at all.
Discredited language families and obsolete names
Aryan - a term that was used to refer either to Indo-European or Indo-Iranian. This ambiguity, together with the racist abuse of this term, led to its abandonment.
Caucasian - now considered three families, not one.
Hamitic - a language family once believed to consist of Egyptian, Berber and Cushitic. All these languages are members of the Afro-Asiatic family (which is sometimes still called Hamito-Semitic), but no longer considered to form a valid node.
Indo-Germanic - an obsolete name for Indo-European.
Ural-Altaic - a language family once believed to consist of Uralic and Altaic. This relationship was proposed in the 19th century mainly on typological grounds and is no longer accepted (indeed, Altaic is doubted by many linguists now), but see Nostratic and Eurasiatic for similar but wider relationship hypotheses.
Obsolete language groupings persisting in areal usage
Kentum - a presumed primary branch of Indo-European, characterized by non-assibilation of palatovelar stops. Today, the term is used merely to characterize the phonology of particular IE languages, but the idea of a Kentum/Satem split has been abandoned.
P-Celtic - a presumed branch of Celtic characterized by a shift of /kʷ/ to /p/. The "P-Celtic" languages were Gaulish and Brythonic; it is doubtful whether they form a valid node.
Q-Celtic - a presumed branch of Celtic characterized by the absence of a shift of /kʷ/ to /p/. The "Q-Celtic" languages were Goidelic and Celtiberian, which do not appear to form a valid node.
Satem - a presumed primary branch of Indo-European, characterized by assibilation of palatovelar stops. Today, the term is used merely to characterize the phonology of particular IE languages, but the idea of a Kentum/Satem split has been abandoned.
Volgaic - a subgroup of Uralic consisting of Mordvinic and Mari; these are no longer considered a valid node, as Mordvinic is now considered to be more closely related to Finnic and Saamic than to Mari.