On the whole, Alinei's ideas are really interesting, and revolutionary. Maybe the fact that he is not actually an expert in historical linguistics has given him the right perspective to evaluate things properly. The core of his approach is to apply sociolinguistic methods to the study of language evolution. He focuses on dialects, both modern and old. He is not worried about establishing rules or classifying languages in genealogical trees, and his aim is not to reconstruct protolanguages. It would be difficult to summarize the main points of his theory (for a good introduction, see here) but I'll try anyway:
- The traditional chronology for Indo-European languages is wrong. Proto-Indo-European didn't start to expand at around 4000 BC, as traditionally accepted, but much earlier, in the Paleolithic period.
- The dialects and populations of Europe are characterized by their continuity throughout the ages, at least from the Upper Paleolithic. This is confirmed by comparing linguistic, anthropological, archaeological and genetic data. There is no evidence for massive invasions or migrations in recent prehistory (Neolithic or post-Neolithic periods) .
- Languages don't change at a given speed or because of intrinsic mechanisms. Language change depends on external, historical factors. The most relevant one is hybridization, that is, when speakers of different dialects mix.
- The lexicon is the most reliable type of data in order to study language change. In the traditional paradigm, linguists were primarily concerned about grammatical and phonological rules.
In future posts I will discuss some of Alinei's writings and ideas. I'm planning to write a review of his book Origini delle lingue d'Europa.
Last edit: 12 July, 2008