27 May 2008

Evolution of languages: the Continuity Theory

In the last few years I have read various books and articles about Indo-European. I was in search of the key to understanding how language was born, and how the different languages evolved and became what they are today. However, searching inside the field of Indo-European studies was somehow disappointing. I read J.P. Mallory's In Search of the Indo-Europeans (1989), a comprehensive account of the most important theories in this field, and an attempt to justify its fundamental concepts. Mallory's book is possibly the last in a series that began more than 150 years before, when scholars such as Schleicher and Bopp started to establish the rules and principles governing historical and Indo-European linguistics. These principles have remained the same over the years. Basically unchallenged. At the same time, this discipline has gradually fallen into oblivion. It doesn't look especially attractive any more: all classical texts have been analysed, all the major genealogical trees established, all the rules governing linguistic change established, everything in order... But somehow I felt there was something wrong in all this. Mallory wrote his book with one basic aim: to prove that there was an original homeland of the Proto-Indoeuropeans, a place from where they had set out to spread their language and culture throughout half of the world. His attempt is serious, honest, but a bit absurd: the archaeological data supporting his claims simply don't exist. I didn't know then what was wrong, or what the possible alternative could be. That was until last summer, when I came across, quite by chance, the Paleolithic Continuity Theory (PCT, or simply CT), put forward by the Italian dialectologist Mario Alinei. I was impressed by what I read on the web page of the CT workgroup. It's difficult to describe in a few words the main points of Alinei's paradigm. In this blog I'll try to offer some information about it, but I'll do it little by little. First, the link to the PCT web-site, Continuitas, where you can find a very clear introduction to CT. And also many other things, for example a selection of articles written by Alinei and other members of the workgroup.

Let's get started!


Sam Hopwood said...

Is the PCT specifically about the evolution and development of IE langs? I'm really interested in whether language evolved from something similar to modern primate communication,and it's oftern referred to as the dis/continuity debate. Do you discuss this on your site? Thanks!

Jesús Sanchis said...

No, the PCT is not specifically about Indo-European studies, it can be applied to other language groups.

The word "continuity", in this case, is not connected to primate communication, or the "dis/continuity" debate about it. In the context of the PCT, "continuity" refers to the languages of modern humans.

My blog is primarily about historical linguistics and also about the origins of language. So far, I've written more posts about the former, especially about the application of the PCT to historical linguistics, but there are also some posts about the origins of language.