2.5.1.9 Family

 0 Contents 2 Background 2.5 Societal 2.5.1 Europe

Beaker Folk 2.5.1.11

2.5.1.10 The linguistic arguments

Introduction

Indo-European

The Indo-European language family

Today one family of languages dominates Europe, much of India and a stretch of territory between the two. The similarity between the ancient Indian language Sanskrit and ancient Greek and Latin was recognised by scholars as long ago as the 16th century, and it was gradually realised that many other languages belonged to the same family. The term Indo-European was coined to describe the family. Clearly these languages sprang from a parent language spoken in prehistory, for it is not recorded in writing. The parent, known as Proto-Indo-European (PIE) had broken into separate, far-flung languages by the time written records appear. So scholars have painstakingly reconstructed as much as possible of its vocabulary by comparision of words in its daughter languages. There are about 1,500 reconstructed PIE roots and words. This must fall far short of the full language. Yet the PIE lexicon reveals a great deal about the lifestyle of its speakers. They were familiar with agriculture, including the plough, and metallurgy. They coined words for wheels and wagons. They had a concept of social ranking, but few words for specific occupations or other clues to urban life. We can build up a picture of a Copper Age society, but not an urbanised state.1J.P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams, Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (2006).

Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza was one of the first scientists to see that our genes might contain clues to human history. By looking at the distribution of blood groups, antigens and other markers he deduced that there had been a massive influx into Europe from the Near East during the Neolithic.2A.J. Ammerman and L.L. Cavalli-Sforza, The Neolithic Transition and the Genetics of Populations in Europe(1984). Colin Renfrew built on that approach by arguing that the Indo-European languages were brought to Europe by Neolithic arrivals.3C. Renfrew, Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins (1987).This bold and attractive hypothesis was naturally unpopular with anti-migrationists, but it also suffered a counter-blast of another kind. In an impressive display of cross-disciplinary scholarship, J.P. Mallory championed the alternative hypothesis that Proto-Indo-European was spread later, along with metallurgy, by horse-mounted herders from a Yamna homeland on the Pontic-Caspian steppes.4J.P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, archaeology and myth (1989). Mallory discusses the numerous other proposed homelands of PIE, most of which are completely untenable. Those proposed more recently are dismissed by Z. Simon, Some critical remarks on the recent PIE homeland and ethnogenesis theories, Indogermanische Forschungen, band 114 (2009), pp. 60–72.

Language is crucial to understanding Europe's past. Today languages can be spread by education and modern communications. In prehistory the only way languages could propagate was by migration of people. So a complete language replacement in a particular region signifies a population change. It has been argued that the change could simply be the arrival of an elite. For example several areas of Europe adopted Latin after they were absorbed into the Roman Empire. However that process was reinforced by the state, and even so took many centuries and was far from universal. In general a common language suggests a common origin. So the need to explain the intriguing mosaic of languages spoken today is a major stumbling block for anti-migrationists. Evidence lurks in a scattering of odd place-names that languages unrelated to Indo-European were once spoken in Europe.5J. P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams (eds.), Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture (1997), p.243 mentions pre-Greek place-names such as Knossos and Corinth.

Yet unexpected support for migration-sceptics came from a linguist. Mario Alinei developed Palaeolithic Continuity Theory, which proposed that Indo-European languages arrived in Europe and Asia with the early hunter-gatherers.6M. Alinei, Origini delle Lingued’Europa, 2 vols. (1996, 2000). Few other linguists agree with Alinei. One thing is clear about language; it is always changing. Palaeolithic Continuity Theory requires us to believe in the long-drawn-out immobility of one language - Proto-Indo-European - in a world full of constant language evolution. We would also have to accept that Indo-European words for things that did not exist in the Palaeolithic period, like wheels and wagons, were acquired later across a geographical spread from Ireland to India. It is more realistic to expect a linguistic patchwork in prehistoric Europe. In the absence of mass education and government policy, the area that one language can cover is limited to the regularly communicating group. The diversity of native American languages provides a good example. Many language families and isolated languages developed in a continent spread thinly with hunter-gatherers.7J. Nichols, Linguistic diversity and the first settlement of the New World, Language vol. 66 (1990), pp. 475-521.

Jared Diamond and Peter Bellwood found that, of the 15 language families they studied, 12 appeared to have spread with agriculture.8J. Diamond and P. Bellwood, Farmers and their languages: the first expansions, Science, vol. 300 (2003), no. 5619, pp. 597-603. So the idea that the languages most Europeans speak today arrived in the Neolithic has an obvious appeal. Yet the attempt to link Indo-European languages and farming has three major flaws. One is the disparity in dating. Farming spread into Europe thousands of years before Proto-Indo-European had even developed, if we use the evidence of its reconstructed lexicon. The first farmers used digging sticks rather than ploughs. They had no wheels or wagons, no gold or silver. They kept cattle for beef, not milk and cheese. They did not make wine. Yet the Indo-Europeans had words for all these things. 9J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (2006). In response to criticism by linguists, Renfrew and Cavalli-Sforza developed a two-wave model in which 1) the original Anatolian farmers spoke Pre-Proto-Indo-European and spread it with farming, eventually reaching the South Russian steppe, from which 2) the Kurgan expansions spread Proto-Indo-European. For a detailed discussion of the linguistic problems of this revised model see B. Darden, On the question of the Anatolian origin of Indo-Hittite, in R. Drews (ed.), Greater Anatolia and the Indo-Hittite Language Family (2001), pp. 185-228.

Secondly, Proto-Indo-European developed in contact with Proto-Uralic. Uralic began as a language of hunter-gatherers. It borrowed terms for farming from PIE and its daughter languages. Its homeland was probably the forest zone beside the Ural Mountains, north of the steppe.10C. Carpelan and A. Parpola (eds), Early Contacts between Uralic and Indo-European: Linguistic and archaeological considerations(2001). Thus a location on the steppe, between the foragers to the north and early farmers to the south and west makes perfect sense as the PIE homeland. Thirdly, Renfrew argued that farming spread into Europe from Anatolia, where Indo-European languages were spoken at one time. Yet analysis of the spread of early Neolithic cultivars shows an island-hopping trail from the Levant, heartland of a different language family.11F. Coward, S. Shennan, S. Colledge, J. Conolly and M. Collard, The spread of Neolithic plant economies from the Near East to Northwest Europe: a phylogenetic analysis, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 35, no. 1 (2008), pp. 42-56.

Afro-Asiatic

Sumerian clay tablet recording the allocation of beer (British Museum)

Writing was invented by farming people, once they developed urban living and the kind of centralised organisation which requires records to be kept. So we have evidence of the languages of the Levantine farmers, albeit millennia after farming began. We know that the Afro-Asiatic language family has deep roots into the past, for it includes Ancient Egyptian. Egyptian hieroglyphics have been dated from about 3300 BC.,12G. Dreyer, Umm El-Quaab I--Das pradynastische Konigsgrab U-j und seine fruhen Schriftzeugnisse (1998). about the same age as Sumerian cuneiform writing. Among the modern relatives of Ancient Egyptian are Arabic, Amharic, Hebrew, Maltese, and the Berber languages. Today they are spoken across North Africa, the Middle East and Malta. The history of that language dissemination is complex, but in part it can be explained by the spread of agriculture.

Barbara Arredi and colleagues have studied the Y haplogroup E1b1b1b (E-M81) in North Africa. They discovered an east-west cline, with genetic diversity increasing towards the Middle East. The estimates of the times to the most recent common ancestor suggest a largely Neolithic origin. So they propose that Afro-Asiatic-speaking pastoralists from the Middle East spread across North Africa.13B. Arredi et al, A predominantly neolithic origin for Y-chromosomal DNA variation in North Africa, American Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 75, no.2 (2004), pp. 338-45. It has been argued that Afro-Asiatic must be rooted in Africa, for all but one of its branches were historically spoken on that continent. Only Semitic is clearly non-African in origin. Yet if Afro-Asiatic spread with farmers, it may once have had European branches, long submerged by the Indo-European family.

Uralic

Uralic languages. Click to enlarge in new window.

The Uralic languages are mainly spoken across the far north of Western Eurasia. The exception is Hungarian, which arrived in Europe in the Middle Ages with the Magyars, who swept up the Danube from the steppe. The Uralic language family is usually divided into two main branches, the Samoyedic languages, spoken east of the Urals, and the Finno-Ugric languages, spoken to the west of these mountains. In origin Proto-Uralic was a language of hunter-gatherers. It had no words for farming. Yet it appears relatively young, suggesting that it was spoken in the north, where the Mesolithiclifestyle continued unchanged, while farming spread across more the southerly latitudes better suited to crop-growing. It has similarities to the proposed Altaic group of languages of Asia, including the Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic families. So one can understand why Juha Janhunen recently argued for a Uralic homeland east of the Urals, somewhere closer to the Altai Mountains than the Urals. In that case the Fenno-Ugric branch would have broken away first, to roam the forest around the Volga, west of the Urals and in contact with the speakers of PIE, from whom words were borrowed. The subsequent history of the Finno-Ugric branch is a little easier to follow, despite the lack of records among peoples who came late to literacy. Linguistically there are a series of splits swhich seem to correspond to movements westwards.14J. Janhunen, Proto-Uralic—what, where, and when?,The Quasquicentennial of the Finno-Ugrian Society: Suomalais-Ugrilaisen Seuran Toimituksia = Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne, vol. 258 (2009), pp. 57–78.

The alternative is that Proto-Uralic descends from an earlier language of Asia, but that its speakers moved west of the Urals, only for one group (who would become the Samoyed branch) to move east again at a fairly early date. Janhunen attempts to dismiss the argument that Proto-Uralic was spoken among the people of the Lyolovo Culure (5000-3650 BC) and moved westwards with the cultures descending from it, such as the Comb Ceramic Culture.15C. Carpelan and A. Parpola (eds), Early Contacts between Uralic and Indo-European: Linguistic and archaeological considerations (2001). Yet this argument appears far more convincing than his own proposal that the language of the Tagar Culture in the Minusinsk basin was Proto-Samoyedic. Archaeological and genetic evidence show the Tagar to be descendants of the Andronovo Culture of the steppe, in other words Indo-Iranian speakers.16C. Keyser, C. Bouakaze et al., Ancient DNA provides new insights into the history of south Siberian Kurgan people, Human Genetics, vol. 126, no. 3 (September 2009), pp. 395-410. As Janhunen points out, Proto-Samoyedic seems to have developed in contact with some early eastern form of Indo-European, which could perhaps have been Proto- Tocharian. The latter probably developed among the earliest settlers in the Minusinsk basin (see Horsemen of the Steppe.) These settlers had some contact with hunters in the hills around them. So it could be that Samoyedic developed near the Minusinsk basin, though not among the more settled herders within it.

Notes

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  1. J.P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams, Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (2006).
  2. A.J. Ammerman and L.L. Cavalli-Sforza, The Neolithic Transition and the Genetics of Populations in Europe (1984).
  3. C. Renfrew, Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins (1987).
  4. J.P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, archaeology and myth (1989). Mallory discusses the numerous other proposed homelands of PIE, most of which are completely untenable. Those proposed more recently are dismissed by Z. Simon, Some critical remarks on the recent PIE homeland and ethnogenesis theories, Indogermanische Forschungen, band 114 (2009), pp. 60–72.
  5. J. P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams (eds.), Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture (1997), p.243 mentions pre-Greek place-names such as Knossos and Corinth.
  6. M. Alinei, Origini delle Lingue d’Europa, 2 vols. (1996 and 2000).
  7. J. Nichols, Linguistic diversity and the first settlement of the New World, Language, vol. 66 (1990), pp. 475-521.
  8. J. Diamond and P. Bellwood, Farmers and their languages: the first expansions, Science, vol. 300 (2003), no. 5619, pp. 597-603.
  9. J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (2006). In response to criticism by linguists, Renfrew and Cavalli-Sforza developed a two-wave model in which 1) the original Anatolian farmers spoke Pre-Proto-Indo-European and spread it with farming, eventually reaching the South Russian steppe, from which 2) the Kurgan expansions spread Proto-Indo-European. For a detailed discussion of the linguistic problems of this revised model see B. Darden, On the question of the Anatolian origin of Indo-Hittite, in R. Drews (ed.), Greater Anatolia and the Indo-Hittite Language Family (2001), pp. 185-228.
  10. C. Carpelan and A. Parpola (eds), Early Contacts between Uralic and Indo-European: Linguistic and archaeological considerations (2001).
  11. F. Coward, S. Shennan, S. Colledge, J. Conolly and M. Collard, The spread of Neolithic plant economies from the Near East to Northwest Europe: a phylogenetic analysis, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 35, no. 1 (2008), pp. 42-56.
  12. G. Dreyer, Umm El-Quaab I--Das pradynastische Konigsgrab U-j und seine fruhen Schriftzeugnisse (1998).
  13. B. Arredi et al, A predominantly neolithic origin for Y-chromosomal DNA variation in North Africa, American Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 75, no.2 (2004), pp. 338-45.
  14. J. Janhunen, Proto-Uralic—what, where, and when?, The Quasquicentennial of the Finno-Ugrian Society: Suomalais-Ugrilaisen Seuran Toimituksia = Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne, vol. 258 (2009), pp. 57–78.
  15. C. Carpelan and A. Parpola (eds), Early Contacts between Uralic and Indo-European: Linguistic and archaeological considerations (2001).
  16. C. Keyser, C. Bouakaze et al., Ancient DNA provides new insights into the history of south Siberian Kurgan people, Human Genetics, vol. 126, no. 3 (September 2009), pp. 395-410.

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