3. Linguistic aspects
of the Indo-European Urheimat question
3.4. EXCHANGES WITH OTHER
3.4.1. Souvenirs of language
the best keys to the geographical itinerary of a language is the exchange
of lexical and other elements with other languages. Two types of
language contact should be distinguished. The first type of language
contact is the exchange of vocabulary and other linguistic traits, whether
by long-distance trade contact, by contiguity or by substratum influence,
between languages which are not necessarily otherwise related. A
well-known example is the transmission of terms in the sphere of cattle-breeding
from IE (mostly Tokharic) to Chinese: terms for dog, horse, cow, milk,
honey. This doesn’t add new information on the Urheimat question
but neatly confirms the long-suspected presence of Tokharic in Western
China since at least the 2nd millennium BC. It also tells us a lot
about the relations between the tea-drinking Chinese farmers (till today,
milk is a rarity in the Chinese diet) and the milk-drinking cattle-rearing
‘barbarians’ on the northwestern borders.
surprising example is the apparent influence of Hamitic on Irish (as in
the unusual word order in Irish sentences): it would seem that after the
Ice Age, the European west coast was repopulated from the southwest, by
Basque and even Hamitic-speaking peoples, who were assimilated into the
IE and esp. the Celtic speech community, but smuggled some of their language
traits into their newly adopted language. The example is interesting
but does not provide information on the Urheimat, except to confirm that
it was not in Celtic Western Europe.
substratum elements are not identifiable with any known language.
Thus, while IE has a neat decimal counting system, the Albanian and French
languages show traces of a pre-IE, Old European counting system with base
twenty, e.g. in French, 76 is soixante-seize, “60 + 16” (but in
Belgian French, septante-six, “70 + 6”, the normal Romance form), or 80
is quatre-vingts, “4 X 20”. To be more precise: the analysis
of 76 into 70 + 6 (as opposed to 60 + 16) is IE, but the word order may
be a later innovation. The Indo-Aryan languages put the unit first:
Hindi paintIs, 35, is 5 + 30; paintAlIs, 45, is 5 + 40, etc.
Likewise in Germanic (except English, which has adopted the French form):
Dutch zesenzeventig, 76, is “six-and-seventy”. This difference
in sequence may also be due to substratum influence.
likely explanation is that the system with base 20 was the prevalent system
in parts of Europe in the pre-IE period, and that the people retained this
system at least in part even after adopting an IE dialect as their language.
This way, we find glimpses of pre-IE heritage in odd corners of the IE
terms exchanged with Sumerian, esp. karpAsa/kapazum, “cotton”, and
possibly ager/agar, “field”, and go/gu, “cow” (to cite some
suggestions from Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s magnum opus), would confirm
the presence of IE (though not necessarily of its PIE ancestor if Sumerian
was the borrowing language) in an area conducting trade with Sumeria in
the 3rd millennium or earlier. The main candidates would be Anatolia
(Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s Urheimat choice) and the Indus basin.
the main-language of civilization in ca. 3000 BC, one could not exclude
contact through long-distance trade with the Kurgan area. Note
however that the trade links between Sumeria and the Harappan civilization
(“Meluhha” in Mesopotamian texts) are well-attested, e.g. the names Arisena
and Somasena in a tablet from Akkad dating to ca.2200 BC.16
There are depictions of the Indian humped bull in Mesopotamia and even
with Harappan inscriptions have been found in Mesopotamia. No such
attestation exists for similar contacts with the Kurgan people.
of contact on a rather large scale which is taken as providing crucial
information on the Urheimat question is between early IE and Uralic.
It was a one-way traffic, imparting some Tokharic, dozens of Iranian and
also a few seemingly Indo-Aryan terms to either Proto-Uralic or Proto-Finno-Ugric
(i.e. mainstream Uralic after Samoyedic split off). Among
the loans from Indo-Iranian or Indo-Aryan, we note sapta, “seven,
week”, asura, “lord”, sasar, “sister”, shata, “hundred”.17
At first sight, this would seem to confirm the European Urheimat theory:
on their way from Europe, the Indo-lranian and Tokharic tribes encountered
the Uralic people in the Ural region and imparted some vocabulary to them.
This would even remain possible if, as leading scholars of Uralic suggest,
the Uralic languages themselves came from farther east, from the Irtysh
river and Balkhash lake area.
of the Uralic homeland obviously has consequences. Karoly Rédei
reports on the work of a fellow Hungarian scholar, Peter Hajdu (1950s and
60s): “According to Hajdu, the Uralic Urheimat may have been in western
Siberia. The defect of this theory is that
it gives no explanation for the chronological and geographical conditions
of its contacts between Uralians (Finno-Ugrians) and Indo-Europeans (Proto-Aryans).”18
Not at all: Hajdu’s theory explains nicely how these contacts may have
taken place in Central Asia rather than in eastern Europe, and with Indo-Iranian
rather than with the Western branches of IE. After the westward trek
of the first IE-speaking tribes, it was the turn of the Iranians and the
Uralic speakers to undertake parallel migrations to South Russia and North
(European) Russia, respectively.
Napolskikh has supported the Siberian Urheimat theory of Uralic with different
types of evidence from that given by Hajdu.19 The
Siberian or at least Asian Urheimat of Uralic is also indicated by its
well-known links with the Altaic languages, based in Mongolia, and by its
less well-known links with Dravidian.20 This
much at least is well-known, that both Uralic and Dravidian have an agglutinative
structure. In a first acquaintance with Hungarian and Tamil, it is
striking how both have long words with the stress on the first syllable
and very few of the consonant clusters so typical of IE. The case
against this Siberian Urheimat for Uralic rests precisely on a European
Urheimat theory of IE, as Rédei’s objection to Hajdu’s position
illustrates. So, if we drop the European Urheimat assumption for
IE, we need not maintain it for Uralic either.
case, two alternative explanations are equally sustainable. Imagine
the first waves of emigrants from India, taking most of the ancestor-dialects
of the various branches of the IE family with them, through the Oxus valley
to the Wolga plain and beyond. With the exception of Tokharic which
remained in the area, they did not come in contact with Uralic, or when
they did, they linguistically swallowed this marginal Uralic-speaking population
without allowing it much substratal influence. Only the Slavic branch
of IE shows some substratal influence from Uralic (and even this is disputed),
a fact which is neatly compatible with an India-to-Europe migration: an
Uralic-speaking tribe in the peri-Caspian region got assimilated in the
westwardly expanding IE-speaking population.
the Iranians who came in contact with Uralic on a large scale, partly because
they filled up the whole of Central Asia and (in the Scythian expansion)
even Eastern Europe as far as Western Ukraine and Belarus, where an older
Slavic population subsisted and adopted a lot of Iranian vocabulary, just
as the Uralic population to its northeast did; and partly because the Uralic-speaking
people were moving westward through the Urals region in a movement parallel
to the Iranian westward expansion. At any rate, the Iranian influence
is uncontroversial and easily compatible with any IE Urheimat scenario.
do the seemingly indo-Aryan words fit in? One possibility is that these
words were imparted to Uralic by non-Iranian, Indo-Aryan-speaking emigrants
from India at the time of the great catastrophe in about 2000 BC, when
the Saraswati river dried up and many of the Harappan cities were abandoned. This
catastrophe triggered migrations in all directions: to the Malabar coast,
to India’s interior and east, to West Asia by sea (the Kassite dynasty
in Babylon in ca. 1600 BC venerated some of the Vedic gods)21,
and to Central Asia. The Sanskrit terms in the Mitannic language
attested in Kurdistan in the 15th century BC seem to be a leftover of an
Indo-Aryan presence in West Asia, which presupposes an earlier Indo-Aryan
migration through (an already predominantly Iranian-speaking) Central Asia.
A similar emigrant group may have ended up in an Uralic-speaking environment,
imparting some of its own terminology but getting assimilated over time,
just like their Mitannic cousins. The Uralic term orya, “slave”,
from either Iranian airya or Sanskrit Arya, may indicate
that their position was not as dignified as that of the Mitannic horse
possibility is that the linguistic exchange between Proto-Uralic and Iranian
took place at a much earlier stage, before Iranian had grown distinct from
Indo-Aryan. It is by no means a new suggestion that these seemingly
Indo-Aryan words are in fact Indo-Iranian, i.e. dating back to before the
separation of Iranian from Indo-Aryan, or in effect, before the development
of typical iranianisms such as the softening of [s] to [h]. This
would mean that the vanguard of the Iranian emigration from India had not
yet changed asura and sapta into ahura and hafta,
and that Iranian developed its typical features (some of which it shares
with Armenian and Greek, most notably the said [s]>[h] shift) outside India. This
tallies with the fact (admittedly only an argument e silentio) that the
Vedic reports on struggles with Iranian tribes such as the Dasas and the
Panis (attested in Greco-Roman sources as the East-Iranian tribes Dahae
and Parnoi), the Pakthas (Pathans?), Parshus (Persians?), Prthus
(Parthians?) and Bhalanas (Baluchis?) never mention any term or phrase
or name with typically features.22
stage before Indo-Iranian unity, viz. when Indo-Iranian had not yet replaced
the PIE kentum forms with its own satem forms, may already
have witnessed some lexical exchanges with Uralic: as, Asko
Parpola has pointed out, among the IE loans m Uralic, we find a few terms
in kentum form which are exclusively attested in the Indo-Iranian
branch of IE, e.g. Finnish kehrä, “spindle”, from PIE *kettra,
attested in Sanskrit as cattra.23 It
is of course also possible that words like *kettra once did exist in branches
other than Indo-Iranian but disappeared in the intervening period along
with so many other original PIE words which were replaced by non-IE loans
or new IE formations. If kettra was indeed transmitted to
Uralic by early Indo-Iranian, it may have been as a result of trade instead
of migration, for the Indus basin was an advanced manufacturing centre
which exported goods deep into Central Asia.
us to a third possibility, viz. that the seemingly Indo-Aryan words in
Uralic were transmitted by long-distance traders, regardless of migrations,
possibly even at a fairly late date. They may have been pure Indo-Aryan,
as distinct from Iranian, normally spoken only in India itself, but brought
to the Uralic people by means of long-distance trade, regardless of which
languages were spoken in the territory in between, somewhat like the entry
of Arabic and Persian words in European languages during the Middle Ages
(e.g. tariff, cheque, bazar, douane, chess). If
we see India in the 3rd millennium BC as the mighty metropolis whose influence
radiated deep into Central Asia (as archaeology suggests)24,
this cannot be ruled out. At any rate, I believe I have shown enough
possible ways to reasonably reconcile the lexical exchange between the
eastern IE languages and Uralic with an Indian Urheimat scenario.
(i.e. common traits, whether of lexical, grammatical or phonetic nature)
between different languages may be due to historical contact between the
languages, but also to deep kinship: just as Portuguese and Italian have
both developed out of Latin (partly by absorbing each its own dose of foreign
elements), and just as both Latin and Tokharic have evolved out of a common
ancestor-language provisionally called PIE, so PIE must have evolved from
an even earlier language, which may at the same time have been the ancestor
of other language families as well.
important theory in this line of research is the Nostratic superfamily
theory, postulating a common origin for Eskimo-Aleut, Altaic, Uralic, IE,
Afro-Asiatic, Dravidian and possibly South-Caucasian. Some people
make fun of this theory, and refer it jokingly to the “nostratosphere”,
yet its basic postulate makes perfect sense: differentiation of ancestor-languages,
as attested in detail in the case of Latin and the Romance language family,
must have happened at earlier stages of history as well. Whether
the present superfamily theory and the methods actually used for reconstructing
the supposed Nostratic vocabulary are at all acceptable, is a different
of the art is that we just don’t know very much yet about the ancestry
of PIE, especially when even the location of PIE in its heyday is still
the object of debate. But just to be on the safe side in case of
a breakthrough of the Nostratic theory, it should be noted that the distribution
of the alleged Nostratic language families at their earliest date of appearance,
with most of them within travelling distance from the Indus-Saraswati basin
(Uralic in the Ob-Irtysh basin, Altaic in Mongolia, Semitic in Mesopotamia,
Elamite in Iran, Dravidian on the Indian coast), is certainly compatible
with a Northwest-Indian Urheimat of IE, more than with a European Urheimat.
For the rest, it is best to leave these proto-proto-languages alone and
concentrate on real language families.
(and by implication also the Chadic, Kushitic and Hamitic branches of the
Afro-Asiatic family, assumed to be the result of a pre-4th-millennium migration
of early agriculturists from West Asia into North Africa) is suspected
to spring from a common ancestor with IE, even by scholars skeptical of
Nostratic adventures. The commonality of some elementary lexical
items is striking, and includes the numerals 6 and 7 (Hebrew shisha,
shiva, Arabic sitta, sab’a, conceivably borrowed at the time
when counting was extended beyond the fingers of a single hand for the
first tune), arguably even all the first seven numerals.
with Akkadian (the Semitic language of Mesopotamia in the third millennium
BC) and even Proto-Semitic is attested by a good handful of words, esp.
some terms for utensils and animals. This includes two terms for “axe”:
PIE *peleku, Greek pelekus, Ossetic faeraet, Sanskrit
parashu, “axe”, related (one way or the other) to Akkadian pilaqqu,
“axe”, cfr. Arabic falaqa, “to split apart”; and PIE *sekwr,
Latin securis, “axe”, secula, “hatchet”, Old Slavic sekyra,
“hatchet”, related to a Semitic root yielding Akkadian shukurru,
“javelin”, Hebrew segor, “axe”. Some terms are in common only
with the Western IE languages, e.g. Semitic gedi, still recognizable
in English goat. This testimony is too slender, though, for
concluding that the Western Indo-Europeans had come from the East and encountered
the Semites on their way to the West.
remarkable are the common fundamental grammatical traits, which indicate
a common genetic origin rather than an influence from the one language
family on the other. Semitic, like IE, has grammatically functional
vowel changes, grammatical gender, declension, conjugational categories
including participles and medial and passive modes, and a range of phonemes
which in Proto-Semitic was almost entirely in common with PIE, even more
so if we assume PIE laryngeals to match Semitic aleph, he and
‘ayn. Many of these grammatical elements are shared only by
Semitic (or Afro-Asiatic) and IE, setting them off as a pair against all
other language families. If any language family has a chance of being
the sister of the IE family, it is Semitic.
to imagine how Semitic and IE went their separate ways has been offered
by Bernard Sergent, who is strongly convinced of the two families’ common
origin. He combines the linguistic evidence with archaeological and
anthropological indications that the (supposedly PIE-speaking) Kurgan people
in the North-Caspian area of ca. 4000 BC came from the southeast, a finding
which might just as well be cited in support of their Indian origin.
Thus, the Kurgan people’s typical grain was millet, not the rye and wheat
cultivated by the Old Europeans, and in ca. 5000 BC, millet had been cultivated
in what is now Turkmenistan (it apparently originates in China), particularly
in the Mesolithic culture of Jebel. From there on, the archaeological
traces become really tenuous, but Sergent claims to discern a link with
the Zarzian culture of Kurdistan 10,000 to 8500 BC. Short,
he suggests that the Kurgan people had come along the eastern coast of
the Caspian Sea, not from the southeast (India) but the southwest, in or
near Mesopotamia, where PIE may have had a common homeland with Semitic.25
those who interpret the archaeological data concerning the genesis of agriculture
in the Indus site of Mehrgarh as being the effect of a diffusion from West
Asia, may well interpret an eventual kinship of IE with Semitic as proving
their own point: along with its material culture, Mehrgarh’s language may
have been an offshoot of a metropolitan model, viz. a Proto-Semitic-speaking
culture in West Asia. This would mean that the Indus area was indeed
the homeland of the original PIE, but that in the preceding millennia,
PIE had been created by the interaction of Proto-Semitic-speaking colonists
from West Asia with locals. On the other hand, now that the case
for an independent genesis of the Neolithic revolution (i.e. the development
of agriculture) in Mehrgarh is getting stronger, we may have to reconsider
the direction of such a process.
rate, the actual proof for the Mesopotamian origin of the pre-Kurganite
culture to the east of the Caspian Sea has not yet been established.
Archaeologists favouring an Indian Urheimat ought to take up the challenge
and materially trace this culture to pre-Harappan India. At the same
time, linguists should develop a more precise model of the ancient relationship
between IE and Semitic,
3.4.6. Dravidian substratum
from contact between different languages which have continued to exist,
there can also be influence from a disappearing language on a surviving
language, often in the form of a substratum: people take to speaking a
new (mostly the elite’s) language, and drop their old language all while
preserving some lexical items, some phonetic propensities, some grammatical
ways of organizing information. The alleged presence of a large dose
of “pre-Aryan” substratum features in Sanskrit and the other Indo-Aryan
languages, notably from now-extinct Dravidian languages once spoken in
northern India, was historically one of the important reason for deciding
against India as the Urheimat.
19th century, it was not yet realized how the European branches of IE are
all full of substratum elements, mostly from extinct Old European languages.
For Latin, this includes such elementary terms as lapis and urbs,
borrowed from a substratum language tentatively described as “Urbian”.
For Germanic, it includes some 30% of the acknowledged “Germanic” vocabulary,
including such core lexical items as sheep and drink.
For Greek, it amounts to some 40% of the vocabulary, both from extinct
branches of the Anatolian (Hittite-related) family and from non-IE languages.
The branch least affected by foreign elements is Slavic, but this need
not be taken as proof of a South-Russian homeland: in an Indian Urheimat
scenario, the way for Slavic would have been cleared by forerunners on
the great IE trek to the West, chiefly Celtic and Germanic, and though
these languages would absorb many Old-European elements as substratum features,
they also eliminated the Old-European languages as such and prevented them
from further influencing Slavic.
if we accept as non-IE all the elements in Sanskrit described as such by
various scholars, the non-IE contribution is still not greater than in
some of the European branches of IE.26 And,
as Shrikant Talageri has shown, a large part of this so-called Dravidian
contribution is highly questionable: many words routinely described as
Dravidian-originated can be analyzed as pure IE.27
Numerous supposed loanwords have no counterpart in Dravidian and Munda,
or when they do, there is often no reason to assume that the direction
of borrowing was into rather than out of Indo-Aryan, especially when you
consider that Dravidian is attested in writing at least 1500 years after
(and at a distance of 2000 km from) the Sanskrit sources, and Munda has
not been committed to writing until the 19th century.
observation had been made earlier by Western scholars: the convergence
of Indo-Aryan and Dravidian (as well as Munda and to an extent Burushaski)
in lexical and grammatical features need not be due to a Dravidian substratum,
for which there are in fact no compelling indications.28
At any rate, there has been so much interaction of Indo-Aryan with Dravidian,
including exchange of people and goods, that a Dravidian contribution (as
a neighbourly or adstratum influence) is perfectly normal even without
any substratum effect. This contribution remains in any case much
smaller than the well-known Indo-Aryan influence on the Dravidian languages,
which no one tries to explain as a substratum effect.
respect, the testimony of the place-names may be useful. In the Hindi
belt and most of Panjab, there is absolutely no evidence of a Dravidian
substratum in the toponyms. By contrast, in Sindh and Gujarat, Dravidian
toponyms are fairly common, e.g. names ending in valli/palli, “village”.
In Sindhi, and more so in Gujarati and Marathi, Dravidian influence is
discernible, e.g. in the existence of two pronouns for we, an inclusive
one (including the speaker as well as the person addressed) and an exclusive
one (including only the speaker and his group, like in the French expression
nous autres). By contrast, Hindi has much fewer Dravidian
elements, even “losing” (or just never having had) a number of loanwords
which had been adopted in Sanskrit. There is no reason to assume a Dravidian
presence in North India, but it seems to have been there in the coastal
would fit in with David McAlpin’s Elamo-Dravidian theory, which puts Proto-Elamo-Dravidian
on the coast of Iran, spreading westwards to Mesopotamia (Elam) and eastwards
to Sindh and along the Indian coast southwards.29
This theory is supported by the similarities between the undeciphered early
Elamite script and the Harappan script, and by the survival of the Brahui
Dravidian speech pocket in Baluchistan. It would make the Harappan
culture area bi- and possibly multi-lingual: a perfectly normal situation,
comparable with multi-lingual Mesopotamia or with Latin-Greek bilinguism
in the Roman Empire.
that case, Indo-Aryan influence on Dravidian may be much older than usually
assumed, and date back well into the heyday of Harappan culture.
However, the Dravidians influenced by Indo-Aryan in Gujarat and Maharashtra
may have been a dead-end in the history of Dravidian, losing their language
altogether. There is no trace of Harappans migrating south, whether
to save their Dravidian language from Indo-Aryan contamination or for other,
more likely reasons.
way, Indo-Aryan influence on Dravidian is certainly more profound than
generally thought. Apart from the tatsama (literally adopted)
Sanskrit words which make up more than half of Telugu or Kannada vocabulary,
and which are attributed to the influence of Brahmin families settling
in South India since the turn of the Christian era, many apparent members
of the Dravidian core vocabulary as attested in Sangam Tamil
are actually very ancient tadbhava (evolved and sometimes unrecognizably
changed) loans from Sanskrit or Prakrit, e.g. AkAyam, “sky” (<
AkAsha); Ayutham, “weapon” (< Ayudha); tavem,
“penance” (< tapas); tIvu, “island” (< dvIpa);
chetti, “foreman, merchant” (< shreshthI), tiru,
term of respectful address (< shrI).30
It is not impossible that there ever was a pure Dravidian language in South
India, but in the oldest texts already, we find a Dravidian written in
a Brahmi-derived script and influenced by Sanskrit.
now assume that there was a third language in northwestern India, which
acted as a buffer between Dravidian and Indo-Aryan before being eliminated
by the latter. Words looking like Dravidian loans in Indo-Aryan could
then in fact have been borrowed from this third language into both Indo-Aryan
and Dravidian. To Indian critics of linguistics as a “pseudoscience”,
such a ghost language is a perfect proof of the purely speculative nature
of our science. Yet, it is an entirely reasonable proposition: even
Sumerian, one of the great vehicles of civilization, died out, and we have
reason to assume that the Bhil tribals originally spoke a different language,
possibly related to the isolated tribal Nahali language still spoken in
a few villages in Madhya Pradesh.
buffer language would at any rate explain, in an Indian Urheimat theory,
why there is no Dravidian influence on IE as a whole, merely on Indo-Aryan
and to a very small extent on Iranian (though it is remarkable that some
of the words transmitted from Indo-Iranian to Uralic are usually credited
with a Dravidian origin, e.g. shishu, “child”, and kota,
“house”: another modest argument for an Indian Urheimat?). By the
time the buffer language had been swallowed and Dravidian-IE interaction
began, most of the IE proto-languages had already left India.
for the alleged Dravidian substratum influence on Indo-Aryan phonetics,
viz. the retroflex or cerebral consonants in Indo-Aryan (as well as in
Dravidian), there has always been a school which rejects the hypothesis
of a Dravidian origin. According to Eric Hamp, the phonetic conditions
favouring the differentiation dental/retroflex “can be traced in the Indo-European
patrimony of Sanskrit”.31 Though Hamp is not
yet prepared to discard a Dravidian influence in cerebralization altogether,
he does note certain facts which plead against a Dravidian origin, e.g.
the absence of retroflexes in initial position. The debate is still
open, but the case for an indigenous IE origin is getting stronger.
Also, a Dravidian origin of the retroflexes would not prove the Aryan invasion,
merely that the interaction of Dravidian and Indo-Aryan happened later
than the latter’s separation from its IE sister branches.
an Asian homeland for IE, it is not good enough to diminish the connections
between IE and more westerly language families. To anchor IE in Asia,
the strongest argument would be genetic kinship with an East-Asian language
have been very early contacts between IE and Chinese, fossilized in IE
loan-words in Chinese, e.g. ma (< *mra, cfr. mare,
Sanskrit marka, “swift”), “horse”; quan, “hound”; sun,
“grandson” (cfr. son); mi, “honey” (cfr. mead, Sanskrit
madhu); gu, “bull”, and niu, “cow” (through *ngiu,
from IE *gwou-); and, more recently, shi, “lion” (Iranian
sher). Chang Tsung-tung has pleaded that there were linguistic and
cultural contacts between Indo-Europeans from Inner Asia and late-neolithic
Chinese peasants, who learned cattle-breeding from them.32
These loans generally came through Tokharic, which we know was the northwestern
neighbour of Chinese for many centuries, at least since the turn of the
1st millennium BC when the Tokhars are mentioned in records of the Western
Zhou dynasty, and until the mid-1st millennium AD.
between Tokharic and Chinese adds little to our knowledge of the Urheimat
but merely confirms that the Tokharic people lived that far east.
The adoption of almost the whole range of domesticated cattle-names from
Tokharic into Chinese also emphasizes a fact insufficiently realized, viz.
how innovative the cattle-breeding culture of the early IE tribes really
was. They ranked as powerful and capable, and their prestige helped
them to assimilate large populations culturally and linguistically.
But for Urheimat-related trails, we must look elsewhere.
Sanskrit and ancient Greek, and therefore perhaps also PIE, had a pitch
accent, a typical feature of Proto-Sino-Tibetan, preserved in Chinese and
in a smaller way in Tibetan. True, the behaviour of this pitch accent
is completely different in Vedic from what it is in Sino-Tibetan.
But that is only what you would expect after millennia of separate development;
after all, the behaviour of the pitch accent is completely different between
some of the Sino-Tibetan languages as well. Picking up this hint
from a similarity in accentuation, scholars have looked around for other
“deep”, structural similarities, e.g. the presumed
fact that all PIE roots, like the Sino-Tibetan roots, were monosyllabic,
while the original Sino-Tibetan roots (very unlike the modem Chinese words)
resembled the IE roots in being rich in consonant clusters.33
Pulleyblank claims to have reconstructed a number of rather abstract similarities
in the phonetics and morphology of PIE and Sino-Tibetan. Though he
fails to back this structural similarity up with any (even a single) lexical
similarity, he confidently dismisses as a “prejudice” the phenomenon that
“for a variety of reasons, the possibility, of a genetic relationship between
these two language families strikes most people as inherently most improbable.”
He believes that “there is no compelling reason from the point of view
of either linguistics or archaeology to rule out the possibility of a genetic
connection between Sino-Tibetan and Indo-European. Such
a connection is certainly inconsistent with a European or Anatolian homeland
for the Indo-Europeans but it is much less so with the Kurgan theory”,
esp. considering that the Kurgan culture “was not the result of local evolution
in that region but had its source in an intrusion from an earlier culture
farther east”.34 This is of course very interesting,
(and it deserves being repeated that the Kurgan culture came from farther
east), but: “It will be necessary to demonstrate
the existence of a considerable number of cognates linked by regular sound
correspondences. To do so in a way that will convince the doubters
on both sides of the equation will be a formidable task.”35
from Pulleyblank’s vision of a deep, Nostratic-type connection between
Sino-Tibetan and PIE, we should also consider the question of influence,
especially the interaction with neighbouring Tibetan. There is of
course a mass of Buddhistic loan-words which crept into Tibetan during
the Middle Ages, but they tell us nothing about origins.
Ulrich Libbrecht writes, the Tibetans were not native to their present
habitat, and immigrated there in the historical period: “The general ethnic
movement of the Sinitic-speaking peoples was southward. The immigration
of Tai- and Tibeto-Burman-speaking languages in Indochina has entirely
taken place within the historical period. The same is true of the
Chinese-speaking peoples from the middle part of the Yellow River basin
towards the southern and eastern coast. Indications from Greek geographers
and in Tibetan traditions teach us that the early centre of these peoples
lay more to the north than present-day Tibet, viz. in the upper Yangzi
basin. It is suspected that the centre of dispersion of the Sinitic
languages was near the Koko-nor lake, at the borders of China proper, Tibet
and Mongolia. From there, one branch spread
eastward and formed the Chinese language; another went southward to form
the Tibeto-Burman subgroup. The cause of this dispersal may well
be found in the periodic droughts affecting Inner Asia in prehistoric and
George van Driem confirms: “The Tibeto-Burman proto-homeland or Urheimat
probably lay at the language family’s current centre of gravity, which
is basically western Sichuan, northern Yunnan and eastern Tibet.”37
PIE came from China, there may have been thousands of years without any
substantial contact between IE and Sino-Tibetan, the first contact being
the Tokharian settlement on the Chinese border. No evidence of contact
has been identified for the PIE period, but the case for a distant genetic
kinship remains in the balance.
family with unexpected similarities to IE, similarities which may provide
a strong geographical clue, is Austronesian. This family of languages
is the one with the second greatest geographical spread after IE: from
Madagascar through Malaysia and Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines,
to Melanesia and Polynesia, as far south as New Zealand, as far east as
Hawaii and Easter Island. So, what is the relation of Austronesian
to Indo-Aryan and to PIE?
to Franklin Southworth: “The presence of other ethnic groups, speaking
other languages [than IE, Dravidian or Munda], must be assumed (…)
numerous examples can be found to suggest early contact with language groups
now unrepresented in the subcontinent. A single example will be noted here.
The word for ‘mother’ in several of the Dardic languages, as well as in
Nepali, Assamese, Bengali, Oriya, Gujarati, and Marathi (…) is AI
(or a similar form). The source of this is clearly the same as that
of classical Tamil Ay, ‘mother’. These words are apparently
connected with a widespread group of words found in Malayo-Polynesian (cf.
Proto-Austronesian *bayi …) and elsewhere. The distribution
of this word in Indo-Aryan suggests that it must have entered Old Indo-Aryan
very early (presumably as a nursery word, and thus not likely to appear
in religious texts), before the movement of Indo-Aryan speakers out of
the Panjab. In Dravidian, this word is well-represented
in all branches (though amma is perhaps an older word) and thus,
if it is a borrowing, it must be a very early one.”38
AyI, “mother”, Marathi has the form bAI, “lady”, as in TArAbAI,
LakshmIbAI etc.; the same two forms are attested in Austronesian.
So, we have a nearly pan-Indian word, attested from Nepal and Kashmir to
Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, and seemingly related to Austronesian. For
another example: “Malayo-Polynesian shares cognate forms of a few
[words which are attested in both Indo-Aryan and Dravidian], notably Old
Indo-Aryan phala- [‘fruit’], Dravidian paLam [‘ripe fruit’],
etc. (cf. Proto-Austronesian *paLam, ‘to ripen a fruit artificially’…),
and the words for rice.”39
seems to have very early and very profound links with IE. In the
personal pronouns (e.g. Proto-Austronesian *aku, cfr. ego),
the first four numerals (e.g. Malay dua for “two”) and other elementary
vocabulary (e.g. the words for “water” and “land”), the similarity is too
striking to be missed. Remarkable lexical
similarities had been reported since at least the 1930s, and they have
been presented by Isidore Dyen in 1966.40
Dyen’s comparisons are sometimes not too obvious but satisfy the linguistic
requirement of regularity. At the same time, this lexical influence or
exchange is not backed up by grammatical similarities: in contrast with
the elaborate categories of IE grammar, Austronesian
grammar looks very unsystematic and primitive, the textbook example being
the Malay plural by reduplication, as in orang, “man”, orang-orang,
of IE including myself know too little of Austronesian to verify Dyen’s
suggestion, and all of us tend to remind ourselves of the existence of
pure coincidence when confronted with these data. At any rate, the
relation would be one between the entire Austronesian and the entire Indo-European
family, indicating that it pre-dates their split into daughter languages.
Moreover, it concerns the very core of the vocabulary. Further, it so happens
that some Austronesian languages have the typically Indian cerebral or
retroflex consonants; it is possible that this was an original feature
of Proto-Austronesian, which its other daughter languages have lost.
the language structure, the similarity between PIE and Proto-Austronesian
is not established as being much above statistical coincidence. It
is, in that case, much less than that between PIE and Proto-Semitic, which
latter is still not enough to convince all linguists of a genetic relationship
rather than an influence through contact. At first sight, the similarities
between IE and Austronesian vocabularies may therefore better be explained
through contact than through a genetic relationship. In this case,
we may also be dealing with a case of heavy pidginization: a mixed population
adopting lexical items from PIE but making up a grammar from scratch.
Then again, genetically related languages may become completely different
in language structure (e.g. English vs. Sanskrit, Chinese vs. Tibetan).
Dyen therefore saw no objection to postulating a common genetic origin
rather than an early large-scale borrowing.
be accused of an Indian Urheimat bias either for IE or for Austronesian.
For the latter, “Dyen’s lexicostatistical classification of Austronesian
suggested a Melanesian homeland, a conclusion at variance with all other
sources of information (…) heavy borrowing and numerous
shifts in and around New Guinea have obviously distorted the picture”,
according to Peter Bellwood.42 It is in
spite of his opinions about the Austronesian and IE homelands that
he felt forced to face facts concerning IE-Austronesian similarities.
Meanwhile, the dominant opinion as reported by Bellwood is that Southeast
China and Taiwan are the Urheimat from where Austronesian expanded in all
seaborne directions (hence its proposed substratum presence in Japanese,
a rather hard nut to crack for an Indian Urheimat theory of Austronesian).
as the Kurgan culture may be a secondary centre of IE dispersal, formed
by immigrants from India, the supposed Southeast-Chinese Urheimat of Austronesian
may itself be a secondary homeland. If there is to be a point of contact
between PIE and Proto-Austronesian, it is hard to imagine it in another
location than India.
Sergent suggests northern China, arguing that the yellow race as a whole
comes from there, and that the Chinese-Siberian border was the place of
contact between white Indo-Europeans and the yellow race, including speakers
of Sino-Tibetan, Austro-Asiatic (Munda, Khmer) and Austronesian.43 But
that is a petitio principii; just as it need not be assumed that
the Proto-Indo-Europeans were blonde Nordics (as Sergent himself has forcefully
argued)44, there is no ground for racial assumptions
about the Austronesians. If they originated in India, they rely have been
brown-skinned (as most of them still are) rather than yellow. Moreover,
even if it is assumed that Austronesian came from southern China, there
is no need to trace it further back to northern China; and if its very
thin connection to northern China is sufficient for an impressive amount
of IE-Austronesian isoglosses, how come there aren’t even more IE-Chinese
isoglosses, as Chinese or Sino-Tibetan has a much longer certified presence
in northern China on the border with the barbarians?
alternative: suppose the Indo-Europeans and the Austronesians shared a
homeland somewhere in southern China or Southeast Asia. An entry of the
Indo-Europeans into India from the east, arriving by boat from Southeast
Asia, is an interesting thought experiment, if only to free ourselves from
entrenched stereotypes. Why not counter the Western AIT with an Eastern
AIT? Just imagine, a wayward Austronesian tribe sailed up the Ganga led
by one Manu who, as related in the Puranas, started Aryan history in the
mid-Ganga basin (Ayodhya, Prayag, Kashi), and whose progeny subsequently
conquered the Indus basin and expanded further westward. In that case,
the elaborate structure of PIE would be an innovation due to a peculiar
intellectual culture (let’s call it proto-brahminism) and to the influence
of local languages, including perhaps a lost branch of Semitic spoken by
colonists who had brought agriculture from West Asia to Indus settlements
like Mehrgarh. This is of course a speculation, a highly provisional thought
experiment made in order to accomodate the ‘theory’ of IE-Semitic kinship
in the present ‘theory’ of IE-Austronesian kinship.
welcome any new evidence which forces us to take the southeastern scenario
seriously. Until then, if there has to be a common homeland of IE
and Austronesian, I consider India more likely. India, in this case,
may have to be understood as including the submerged lands to its south
which were inhabited perhaps as late as 5000 BC. The scenario that unfolds
is of India as a major demographic growth centre, from which IE spread
to the north and west and Austronesian to the southeast as far as Polynesia.
Though disappearing from India, Austronesian expanded in the same period
and just as spectacularly as IE. These two most impressive linguistic
migrations would then have been part of one India-centred expansion movement
spanning the Old World from Iceland to New Zealand.
in R.S. Sharma: Looking for the Aryans, p.36, with reference to
J. Harmatta: “The emergence of the Indo-Iranians: the Indo-Iranian languages”,
in A.H. Dani and V.M. Masson, ed.: History of Civilizations, vol.
1, UNESCO Publ., Paris 1992, p.374.
rather complete list and discussion of common IE-Uralic vocabulary is Karoly
Rédei: “Die ältesten indogermanischen Lehnwörter der Uralischen
Sprachen”, in Denis Sinor, ed.: The Uralic Languages: Description, History
and Foreign Influences, Brill, Leiden 1988, p.638-664.
Rédei: “Die ältesten indogermanischen Lehnwörter der Uralischen
Sprachen”, in Denis Sinor, ed.: The Uralic Languages: Description, History
and Foreign Influences, p.641.
Napolskikh: “Uralic fish names and original home”, Ural-Altaische Jahrbücher,
Neue Folge Band 12, Göttingen 1993, p.35-57.
geographically divergent connections of Dravidian have been detailed by
Bernard Sergent. Genèse l’Inde, Payot, Paris 1997.
according to AIT defender Prof. R.S. Sharma (Looking for the Aryans,
p.36), Mesopotamian inscriptions from the 16th century BC “show that the
Kassites spoke the Indo-European language”, and mention the Vedic gods
“Suryash” and “Marutash”.
the Dasas, Dasyus (Iranian dahyu, “tribe”) and Panis were Iranians
and not “dark-skinned pre-Aryan aboriginals” is argued by a number of Indian
anti-invasionist authors but also by Asko Parpola: “The problem of the
Aryans and the Soma: textual-linguistic and archaeological evidence”, in
G. Erdosy: The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia (W. De Gruyter,
Berlin 1995), p-367ff. The identification of Pakthas, Parshus and
other tribes encountered by the Vedic king Sudas in the “battle of the
ten kings” (related in Rg-Veda VII:18, 19, 33, 83) is elaborated by Shrikant
Talageri: The Aryan Invasion Theory, a Reappraisal, p.319ff.
Parpola in G. Erdosy: The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia, p.355.
the margin of the 1996 South Asia Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, Prof.
J.M. Kenoyer did a slide show on beads and jewels found in Central Asia:
many of them, it turned out, were imported from the Harappan civilization.
Sergent: Les Indo-Européens, Payot, Paris 1995, p.398 and
the highest estimates is the 5% to 9% of Dravidian loans in Vedic Sanskrit
proposed by F.B.J. Kuiper: Aryans in the Rigveda, Rodopi, Amsterdam
1991. On p.90 ff., he gives a list of 383 “foreign words in the Rigvedic
language”, including such obviously IE words as aksha, “axle”, prdAku,
“leopard”; bala, “strenth” (cf. Greek beltiOn, “better”).
Madhav Deshpande rejects Kuiper’s presupposition that there was considerable
Indo-Aryan-Dravidian bilinguism: “There is not the slightest evidence in
the Rg-Veda of any large-scale bilingualism or social or religious convergence
of Vedic Aryans with non-Aryans.” (Deshpande and Hook, Aryan and Non-Aryan
in India, p.253).
Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory, a Reappraisal, p. 156-175.
To this effect, Thomas Burrow (in Thomas A. Seebok: Current Trends in
Linguistics, Mouton, The Hague/Paris, vol.5, p.18, quoted by Talageri,
op.cit., p.162) already wrote that “there has been a certain amount of
controversy concerning the question of non-Aryan loan-words in Sanskrit,
and some scholars (P. Thieme, H.W. Bailey) have adopted a sceptical
position in this respect. Alternate Indo-European etymologies have
been offered for words for which a Dravidian or Munda etymology had previously
been proposed, in some cases successfully (…)but more dubious in other
by Edwin Bryant: “Linguistic Substrata and the Indo-Aryan Migration Debate”,
read at the 1996 Atlanta conference on the Indus-Saraswati civilization;
he mentions Jules Bloch and Hans Hock, among others, to this effect.
e.g. D. McAlpin: “Linguistic Prehistory: the Dravidian Situation”, in M.M.
Deshpande and P.E. Hook, eds.: Aryan and Non-Aryan in India, Ann
Swaminatha Aiyar: Dravidian Theories, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi
1987 (but written in 1923).
P. Hamp: “On the Indo-European Origins of the Retroflexes in Sanskrit”,
Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1996, p.720.
in Stefan Zimmer: Ursprache, Urvolk und Indogermanisierung, Innsbruck
remarked in 1952 by Oswald Szemerenyi, quoted to this effect by Edwin G.
Pulleyblank: “The Typology of Indo-European”, Journal of Indo-European
Studies, spring 1993, p.63-118, spec. p.63 -64.
Pulleyblank: “The Typology of Indo-European”, Journal of Indo-European
Studies, spring 1993, p. 106-107. The article is followed by two sharply
critical pieces of comment, but the focus of their criticism is not the
connection between Sino-Tibetan and PIE, though the authors do no conceal
their skepticism of that point too. Remark that the claim of typological
similarity with PIE, here made by Pulleyblank for Sino-Tibetan, is also
made by others for North-Caucasian, and that the triangle is closed by
yet other argumentations for a typological (and even lexical) relation
between North-Caucasian and Sino-Tibetan, e.g. S.A. Starostin: “Word-final
Resonents in Sino-Caucasian”, Journal of Chinese Linguistics, June
Pulleyblank: “The Typology of Indo-European”, Journal of Indo-European
Studies, spring 1993, p. 109.
Libbrecht: Historische Grammatika van het Chinees, part III, Leuven
1978, p.3-4. In my opinion, the fertile and moderate-climate Yellow River
basin itself is a more likely centre of dispersal. Either way, it is a
long distance from northwestern India, not to mention the other regions
proposed as Urheimat for IE.
van Driem: “Language change, conjugational morphology and the Sino-Tibetan
Urheimat”, 1993, abstract on
Southworth: “Indo-Aryan and Dravidian”, in M. Deshpande & P.E. Hook:
Aryan & Non-Ayan in India, Arm Arbor 1979, p.205. Ay, “mother”
is also attested in Nahali, vide F.B.J. Kuiper: Nahali, a Comparative
Study, Amsterdam 1962, p.60.
Southworth: “Indo-Aryan and Dravidian”, in M. Deshpande & P.E. Hook:
Aryan & Non-Ayan in India, p.206.
Dyen in G. Cardona: Indo-European and Indo-Europeans, Philadelphia
1970, proceedings of the Third Indo-European Conference, 1966, p.431-440.
goes without saying that “primitiveness” in grammar says nothing about
the civilizational level of a language community; Chinese is spoken by
a highly civilized people, but its grammar strikes native speakers of German
or Russian as very childlike.
Bellwood: “An archaeologist’s view of language macrofamily relationships”,
Oceanic Linguistics, December 1994, p.391-406.
Sergent: Les Indo-Européens, p-398.
Sergent: Les Indo-Européens, p.435.
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