1 September 2011

More on Paleolithic proto-Indo-European

They don't usually do it, but sometimes they do, especially when they have to face apparently inexplicable phenomena like the emergence of some language groups (Indo-European, Afro-Asian, etc.) and their mysterious, even transcontinental dispersals at prehistoric times. It is then that some archaeologists feel the need to tackle the issue of ancient languages and devise their own theories. In the field of Indo-European studies, for example, the list is already quite long: Gordon Childe, Marjia Gimbutas (Kurgan theory), James Mallory, Colin Renfrew (Anatolian Hypothesis), Marcel Otte (Paleolithic Continuity), David Anthony, and many others. The debate is still alive, and it involves a number of archaeologists. Let's see an interesting example that I recently found:

Gamble et al (2005: 209; the highlighting is mine): "the most fruitful avenue for advocates of the cognitive origins synthesis to pursue might be the arrival of a proto-Indo-European dialect in southwestern Europe with the Badegoulian ATU2, in the refugium phase, and its subsequent codispersal with the Magdalenian ATU2 into western and northern Europe. It seems unlikely, however, that historical linguists who were not prepared to journey with Renfrew back to the early Neolithic would welcome the concept of a Late Glacial dispersal of Indo-European languages in western Europe."

Sounds like the Paleolithic Continuity hypothesis, doesn't it?

As we can see in the abstract, the authors of the article, among them two notorious British archaeologists (Clive Gamble and Paul Pettitt), criticise the role of historical linguistics and genetics in the debate and also the validity of what they call 'agriculturalist thinking', which was born in the work of Gordon Childe and continued by Colin Renfrew and other archaeologists. Let's see an excerpt from the abstract:

"This article presents the initial results from the S2AGES database of calibrated radiocarbon estimates from western Europe in the period 25,000-10,000 years ago. Our aim is to present a population history of this sub-continental region by providing a chronologically-secure framework for the interpretation of data from genetics and archaeology. (...) We conclude that only archaeology can currently provide the framework for population history and the evaluation of genetic data. Finally, if progress is to be made in the new interdisciplinary field of population history then both disciplines need to refrain from inappropriate agricultural thinking that fosters distorting models of European prehistory, and they should also pay less, if any, attention to historical linguistics."

I'm afraid I agree with them.

- Gamble, Clive, W. Davies, P. Pettitt, L. Hazelwood & M. Richards (2005). "The archaeological and genetic foundations of the European population during the Late Glacial: Implications for 'Agricultural Thinking'. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 15:2, 193-223.

- Magdalenian art. Lascaux (France).


Brunilde said...

I was wondering how does the PCP explain the decline of the Tobler-Mussafia law.
Does Alinei even write about it? I've found nothing on it and I'd seem to me quite a weakness of his theory.
If he says it's just another phenomenon that pre-existed Latin, why would it's decline have happened in all of the Romance languages over a couple of centuries - a short array of time compared to PCP times?

And again, if the decline phenomenon pre-existed Latin (and it's seems to me this is really really the only explanation he could try to give) then it's roots ought to be found in the Italo-Celtic subfamily, so...why didn't we see it happen in Celtic?

Thanks for your time

Jesús Sanchis said...

Hello Brunilde, and welcome to this blog. I must admit I have never heard of the 'Tobler-Mussafia law'. I don't know if Alinei has ever written about it, but in any case I'll try to find information about it.

In general, however, the PCP tends to take these 19th century-style linguistic laws, like Grimm's or Verner's, with deep scepticism.

Brunilde said...

You're very kind.

Tobler-Mussafia law wasn't invented by linguists, the name is just used to describ the constant phonosyntactical phenomenon of enclisis of the aton pronoun after a stong pause in written texts of all the romance languages. Since it starts to decline somewhat around the XIII sec. in all of those languages, it's widely considered a phenomenon that origineted in late spoken Latin.


Jesús Sanchis said...

The study of Romance languages is full of phenomena that cannot be fully explained by any theory, either traditional or non-traditional. You mention clitic pronouns, but we could move on to other interesting areas, e.g. the emergence of the perfect tenses, which is not just a Romance, but nearly a pan-European phenomenon. Is there a satisfactory explanation for these things? One day, I'll be discussing them in the blog.

Brunilde said...

There are some common innovetions in the Romance languages, such as the cited decline of the phenomenon that goes under the name of Tobler-Mussafia law or the emergence of the article, that are traditionally given to the common Latin ascendence and that PCP fails to explain.
I'm trying to read what Alinei wrote on the first emergence of the article but it looks like the one essay that covers that is the only one of the continuitas.org site that "will come back soon" (http://www.continuitas.org/texts/xxx.pdf). Maybe with better explanations for those facts?

Jesús Sanchis said...

You're right, that article is not available. However, the etymological explanation of "magnano" is included in the first volume of Alinei's "Origini delle Lingue d'Europa". And this explanation involves the old term "La Magna", reinterpretated by popular etymology from "Allemagna". I'm not sure whether Alinei offers a more or less complete theory about neo-Romance articles or just an ad hoc comment to explain the word "magnano" in the Middle Ages. In any case, it's a pity the article is not available.

Octavià Alexandre said...

As weird as might sound, Alinei's theory is that Romance actually predate Latin. He even tries to explain words like of problematic etymology from Latin itself by applying Romance sound laws: e.g. cāseus 'cheese' from coāgulum 'curdle, clot' through some North Italian dialect.

Of course, this is plainly absurd in diachronical terms. This inconsistence arises because his postulates negate the existence of language replacement and substrates.

Anonymous said...

>> they should also pay less, if any, attention to historical linguistics.

On population history and genetic data yes, not on language dispersal. That's why these are different disciplines.

Arun said...

I'm quite confused by the comments. How does PCP preclude the operation of new linguistic laws at some later stage of development as human society itself changes? The little I've read of PCP did not leave me with the impression that all valid linguistic rules originated in the Paleolithic.

Arun said...


The Tobler-Mussafia Law :

"in Medieval Romance languages object clitics appear postverbally only when being preverbal would place them in clause initial position."

How do Medieval phenomena have any implications for PCP?

Arun said...

Sorry for leaving short comments in profusion instead of one long comment. Would not the emergence of twitter and texting possibly lead to new linguistic phenomena and laws that would not be visible in the Paleolithic?

Of course, it may be that short text messages become technologically obsolete before they have any lasting linguistic effect.

Jesús Sanchis said...

This post is not about the PCP or about medieval languages, but anyway, I'll try to clarify some points.

The concept of language continuity, as stated in Alinei's or Ballester's work, does not only apply to the Paleolithic. It can be used to explain linguistic phenomena belonging to different eras. You can find a nice example here: