In the second part, Garrett focuses on the origins and dispersal of IE. Using linguistic paleontology as the main argument, he concludes that the date of IE dispersal cannot be earlier than 4,000 BC., aligning therefore with the traditional, also called Kurganic theory. According to him, the existence of common Proto-Indo-European (PIE) words for plough, wheel, wool, yoke and other technological innovations invalidates Renfrew's theory of a Neolithic, and therefore earlier, dispersal of IE. At first sight, the argument of linguistic paleontology seems quite strong. It is one of the pillars of traditional PIE methodology, and has often been used as a way of reconstructing PIE society, economy, religion, etc. A remarkable example is Émile Benveniste’s (1969) Le Vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes (in this post you can find some comments on this book). Linguistic Paleontology aims to reconstruct the vocabulary of a proto-language by analysing and comparing the linguistic material of the descendant languages. It relies on the reconstructed linguistic forms and the inherent assumptions that lead to those reconstructions. In this blog I have shown various examples of how misleading this type of traditional reconstruction, based on branches, subgroups, laws and other theoretical entelechies can be. Linguistic paleontology can easily be proved wrong as a way of dating or reconstructing the homelands, the dispersals or the societies of the speakers of a given proto-language. For example, how can we know exactly what a given reconstructed word actually meant 6,000 years ago? This is only one of many questions that could be asked to the advocates of this method. In Chapter 4 of his book The Puzzle of the Indo-Europeans (1987), Colin Renfrew offers some curious examples of how the use of linguistic paleontology can lead to seemingly ridiculous results. In a previous post I mentioned the example of the word television. If we analysed the various words for 'television' in Romance languages from the perspective of language palaeontolgy, we could reach the conclusion that ancient Romans actually had TVs in their villas! For a complete evaluation (and I would say complete demolition) of linguistic paleontology I suggest reading an article by the British linguist Paul Heggarty (2006): Interdisciplinary indiscipline?: Can phylogenetic methods meaningfully be applied to language data - and to dating language? - Funnily enough, both articles, Garrett's and Heggarty's, are published in the same book: Forster, P., and C. Renfrew, eds. (2006) Phylogenetic methods and the prehistory of languages, Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research (further details here; a list of Heggarty's publications, here).
In the third part of his article, Garrett tackles the difficult question of IE dispersal, one of the leitmotivs of my blog. As we saw earlier, he champions the traditional chronology of IE, which means he is obliged to produce a convincing explanation for the dispersal of IE after 4,000 BC. Obviously, as we are in the 21st century and the traditional tales of horse-riding invaders from the steppes are no longer in fashion, he proposes a different type of explanation for the phenomenon of IE dispersal. In fact, he uses three different patterns: (p. 146): "One is steppe spread that led to the dispersal of Tocharian and Indo-Iranian. A second pattern is characteristic of the IE spread into Europe (...): dispersal was associated with systems collapse (...) and the social reorganizations of the secondary products complex (...) The third pattern is not widely noted but seems quite robust: a north-south spread into the interactional spheres of the urbanized zone that runs from the Aegean through Anatolia and the Near East to Bactria-Margiana". What we find here is a remnant of the traditional steppe migration plus a couple of relatively new ideas. The second pattern is peculiar: the idea of systems collapse reminds me of other catastrophic explanations for IE: there must be something catastrophic in order to explain the intercontinental expansion of this language group in just a couple of millennia (otherwise, how can you explain it?). 19th century scholars imagined a world of invasions and massive migrations. New developments, like Garrett's, put forward a more realistic scenario, but the problem still remains: in the systems collapse theory, there is a group of people, the speakers of PIE, who seem to have the secret of success. They wait in silence for centuries until the opportunity arises, and then, they are so irresistible that they impose their language causing the disappearance of any other previous language, an event which is repeated everywhere they go: Italy, Greece, Central Europe... IE opportunists I would call them. Maybe some elements in Garrett's proposals are acceptable and reasonable; very possibly they could explain some aspects of language spread or hybridization in the context of IE-speaking areas, but they can hardly be acceptable as a general explanation of the spread of PIE. As I have variously suggested in this blog, a much earlier date for IE dispersal is required.
- GARRETT, Andrew (2006). «Convergence in the Formation of Indo-European subgroups: Phylogeny and chronology», in Forster and Renfrew, eds. Phylogenetic Methods and the Prehistory of Languages. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 139-151.
- HEGGARTY, Paul (2006). «Interdisciplinary indiscipline?: Can phylogenetic methods meaningfully be applied to language data - and to dating language?», in P. Forster, and C. Renfrew, eds. Phylogenetic methods and the prehistory of languages, Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 183-194.
- RENFREW, Colin (1987). Archaeology and Language. The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins. London: Pimlico.