27 May 2008

Indo-European cowboys

I don’t know much about horses. In fact, this is possibly the closest I have ever been to something similar to a horse:

This is me and a donkey (I am the one on the left, by the way).

Curiously, traditional Indo-European studies are full of horses and people who, riding those horses, invaded incredibly extensive areas, spreading with them their own language, namely Proto-Indo-European. According to the established canon, this started approximately 6,000 years ago. The funny thing is that, as Alinei has variously proved, there is no archaeological evidence to support this invasionist, or catastrophist, view of the expansion of Indo-Europeans. The data from genetics and from the study of dialects also refute it. In fact, it is quite obvious that the people who domesticated the horse and spread this innovation in Europe and Asia were not even Indo-Europeans but speakers of Altaic languages. Nevertheless, the idea of an association between horses and Indo-europeans is a leit motiv in the historical linguistics establishment. There is also some kind of legendary or mystic air to it. Xaverio Ballester has written an excellent article about this called, ironically enough, Centauros de la Estepa. It really is worth reading. One of the things he mentions is André Martinet’s classic book, Des Steppes aux Océans, in whose front cover there’s a photograph of a group of horses running free. It reminds you of some kind of western, where a group of cowboys is about to ride these horses and go West to discover new land:

Martinet’s book was written in 1986, and it could be argued that by that time the new multidisciplinary developments in the study of language origins and evolution had not yet taken place. But what about 2007? I have recently discovered a new book about the Indo-European homeland and expansion, written by David W. Anthony. Its title and subtitle, full of drama, summarize perfectly well the kind of wrong assumptions that have pervaded historical linguistics in the last 200 years:

Title: The Horse, the Wheel, and Language.

Sub-title: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World.

Year of publication: 2007.

What is this, a western?...


Arun said...

Centauros de la Estepa does not appear to be available anywhere.

Jesús Sanchis said...

You're right, the link doesn't work, and the article is no longer on the Continuitas website. I don't know why, really. Sorry about it.