The Dravidian Salesman

From: x99lynx@...
Message: 13023
Date: 2002-04-05

Piotr wrote:
<<If only one survives, greater sociolinguistic prestige may often prove to
be the crucial selective factor.>>

I wrote:
> Often? Prove? How would you support that? 

Piotr replied:
<<With studies of current linguistic fashions and ongoing changes. Most of
the research to date has concentrated on phonological and morphological
social variables, but the lexicon probably changes in a similar way.>>

With much respect, I'd only suggest that such studies probably don't test
"prestige" explanations against economic analysis, for example. And I even
wonder how many cultural anthropologists would consider prestige a key
ingredient in the interaction between two cultures. Historians of technology
definitely wouldn't. As far as phonology and morphology, lexicon certainly
doesn't move in the same way. The Greek word <kentros> did not end up being
used to describe my local shopping "center" and the word <gay> did not become
currently such a well-used word and find its way into the laws of the State
of California because of such a simple explantion as prestige. There are a
lot of extra-linguistic reasons for how those words traveled and certainly
why they were used in place of other "synonyms."

Morris Silver, BTW, has done a terrific job in explaining otherwise
incomprehensible things in ancient history in terms of economics and ancient
technologies. Some of it has linguistic implications (at least with regard
to the Aegean and Near East) and I think that his approach might provide
historical linguistics with a wider sense of explanations and motivations for
lexical change.

I wrote:
> If Dravidians were selling raw materials to I-A's, it would just be
effective business to at least partially communicate with your customer in
his language. 

Piotr replied:
<< Were the early Dravidians full-time traders, selling things to the

No, they didn't have to be. All they needed to be were a people who made a
"full-time" living by being farmers and regularly growing, transporting and
selling commodities like cotton to buyers who counted cotton and "coin" in a
different language. There are communities of farmers who "live" exactly like
that today.

Heck, you only have to go down to Essex Street Market in Manhattan to hear
the first English words some of the newly arrived merchants learn. You don't
even have to know the name of the displayed fish, BUT you do have to count
dollars and you do have to count fish. After doing that all day, it would be
no surprise if you took those words home with you.

I mentioned that these kinds of words of exchange could have been used
throughout "the distribution pipeline" and that the buyer "writes the specs."
I knew one American company where the cost accounting was done in Yen, right
down to the shop floor where an ordinary worker would count up the materials
that way. And this was considered a real competitive advantage over other US
companies in dealing with Japanese companies.

This is a type of economic integration. It is not necessarily a cultural
integration. So, people don't learn a whole new language - after all we are
only talking about borrowing some words. They might borrow some terms of
commerce however and these should filter down deep, especially when a
society's economy is highly dependent on the traded product.

Numbers are as basic as you can get when it comes to terms of commerce. When
do we use numbers more frequently? What are the most common social occasions
for counting? Exchange or measurement. And I would suspect that a lot of
measurement is in the course of exchange.

I think you underestimate how much, say, a Dravidian cotton farmer and
family's well-being may have been tied to the marketplace. And in that kind
of situation, prestige should be the last thing on their minds. The
children's count in the cotton field had better match the count given a week
later to the buyer. That's just good business. And there's an obvious
advantage to using the same words to count in the field as you use in the

<Were they so obsessed with numbers and the raw-material trade that they
spoke to each other as they would have spoken to their non-Dravidian

Well, we're not saying that they borrowed the entire language here. We are
saying that they taught their kids to count in the manner of what would be
their future customers. No obsession. Again it's called "making a living."

<I wonder why the Polish Jews' Yiddish didn't absorb the Polish numerals,
then. Why, come to think of it, did Crimean Gothic borrow the Iranian
numerals '100' and '1000' (Cr.Goth. sada, hazer)?>

If there were econonic reasons, economic analysis might tell you why. Both
Karl Marx and Ronald McDonald will tell you that history moves by its
stomach. And even if Hegel is sometimes right, if history is sometimes led
by its head, humans are driven by a lot more in their heads than prestige.
Besides you can't eat prestige. I don't know about Yiddish, but Crimean
Gothic might have been asked to fill Iranian batch orders for those famous
Crimean Gothic Sausages in 100's or 1000's (or whatever it is that Crimean
Goths specialized in.) Maybe another extra-linguistic factor here is the
inscrutable human tendency to round-off numbers. :)