From: Rick McCallister
--- In email@example.com, Rick McCallister <gabaroo6958@...> wrote:
> Has anyone read Quintin Atkinson latest pronouncement about IE in
> the New York Times and Nature? QA claims it's rooted in Anatolia.
I personally find Dr. Atkinson's tirade against "linguistic palaeonthology", written (on the fly?) one of the last few days in reply to his critics, particularly disturbing and uninformed:
"Why do people think Indo-European languages came from the Steppes?
Advocates of the Steppe origin theory claim that there is a compelling reason why the Indo-European language family fits with a 5000 to 6000 year old Steppe origin – evidence from 'linguistic paleontology', an approach in which terms reconstructed in the ancestral 'proto-language' are used to make inferences about its speakers' culture and environment. Scholars have noted that words for technological innovations, such as terms for 'wheel', 'axle', 'yoke', 'horse' and 'to go, transport in a vehicle', are consistent across many Indo-European sub-families. On the basis of this, it is argued that these words and the associated technologies must have been present in the Proto-Indo-European culture, However, wheeled vehicles do not appear in the archaeological record until about 5000 years BP. Hence, the argument goes, the Indo-European languages must have expanded at around this time.
We are sceptical of these claims because inferences based on linguistic palaeontology have thus far failed to satisfy the following three requirements:
1. In order to reconstruct a term to Proto-Indo-European, the common ancestor of all Indo-European languages, it must be present in those languages that are first to branch off from the base of the tree. It is not enough to point to similar terms in some sub-groups of the family. Thus, in the case of Indo-European, if a word is not present in the Anatolian languages at the base of the tree, there is no reason to think it was present in Proto-Indo-European.
2. The putative shared forms across the family cannot be the result of more recent borrowing. However, terms for new technologies are highly likely to be borrowed along with the technology itself, and wheeled vehicles appear to be a prime example. It is true that linguists can sometimes identify borrowed words (particularly more recent borrowings) on the basis of the presence or absence of certain systematic sound correspondences. However, not all borrowings can be identified in this way. In the case of wheeled vehicles, borrowed terms are unlikely to be identifiable as such – if terms associated with wheeled transport were borrowed 5000-6000 years ago, as we would expect, then the terms in each of the major Indo-European lineages will have undergone all of the sound changes that characterize each lineage. This would make the words appear native to the lineage and thus inherited from Proto-Indo-European when in fact they could were early borrowings.
3. Whilst linguists can reconstruct the sound of words in proto-languages with some degree of certainty (the above caveats aside), reconstructued meanings are much less certain. Arguments for linguistic palaeontology also need to rule out the possiblity of independent semantic innovations from a common root, which can produce apparently related words with meanings that were not present in the common ancestral language. For example, upon the development of wheeled transport, words derived from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) term *kwel- (meaning 'to turn, rotate') may have been independently co-opted to describe the wheel '*kwekwlo-'.
We have not yet seen any compelling evidence that meets these requirements."