Re: [tied] Check out Origin of Ancient Languages

From: Piotr Gasiorowski
Message: 16226
Date: 2002-10-13

Let me return to this affiliation question (see also ).

To begin with, as regards the UPenn family tree, I entirely share Jay Jasanoff's scepticism. The choice of linguistic "characters" for a cladistic analysis is an extremely tricky business. I'm particularly suspicious of the use of grammatical and lexical innovations, which diffuse easily. Phonological innovations (the more uncommon the better) are much better indicators of genetic relatedness. The problem in linguistics (as opposed to biology, where the effect of horizontal diffusion between branches is practically negligible) is that the number of such reliable characters for a given family may be frustratingly limited, and that if we try to make up for that by using less reliable ones as well, it becomes impossible to rule out areal interference. I agree with Jasanoff that the unstable behaviour of Germanic (and the indeterminate position of Albanian) reflects a fundamental weakness of the method, not the fact of Germanic being a "special case". Its allegedly close relation to Balto-Slavic is an illusion, and the "consistent explanation for Germanic" is a face-saver proposed post factum by the humans involved in the project, not a computer-generated result.

Despite "the dizzying combinatorial explosion" of possibilities the results are quite unexciting. Don Ringe may have been surprised by the primary split producing Anatolian, but I suppose most historical linguists would actually have been surprised if Anatolian had _not_ branched off so early. Nobody doubts that Baltic and Slavic or Indic and Iranian are closely related; a special Italo-Celtic relationship, while debatable, is also an old idea. So is Graeco-Armenian, except that it has very few supporters now.

As for George's question in an earlier posting ("What are the arguments for such an early emergence of Slavic [ca. 1300-700 BC?]"), the dates I tentatively suggested referred to the separation of the lineages leading to Proto-East Baltic and Proto-Slavic, not to the emergence of Proto-Slavic understood as the most recent common ancestor of the Slavic languages. If we call anything pre-fifth century (AD) "Slavic", we should remember that we step upon slippery ground.
Though I doubt if the Aestii could really have been "Celtic" (who they were is a different question; West Baltic, perhaps), it's thinkable that there were some non-Germanic centum enclaves along the Amber Road even as late as the first century. Some of the hydronyms of the Oder system (including "Viadua" and "Adora") and along the Baltic coast can't have been adopted by Germanic speakers before Grimm's Law (they don't show the shift), which may mean that they were used by speakers of some other language long enough to be eventually absorbed by Germanic in unshifted form. The language in question was not Celtic either if names like Parse,ta (< *pars-ant-) are anything to go by (note the un-Celtic initial *p), but it might have been some kind of para-Celtic or para-Italic, or indeed para-Germanic (without Grimm's Law; by "para-" I mean "closely related to but not identical with").

----- Original Message -----
From: george knysh
Sent: Friday, October 11, 2002 3:16 PM
Subject: Re: [tied] Check out Origin of Ancient Languages

--- tgpedersen <tgpedersen@...> wrote:
> Given that the western Baltic languages (ie Old
> Prussian) are
> affiliated somehow with the Germanic languages and
> (if you believe
> this

*****GK: This is 6 years ago. I wonder if there have
been follow ups.******
> article) that Germanic was first influenced by
> Balto-Slavic,

*****GK: My understanding of "Balto-Slavic" is that it
is an ancestor language of all Baltic and Slavic
languages. So the affiliation mentioned here should
affect not only Western Baltic tongues but everything
else. As a matter of fact some of the linguistic
authorities who dealt with this problem had
hypothesized that there once existed a
"Germano-Balto-Slavic" group, which then broke up into
"Germanic" and "Balto-Slavic".******

then by
> Celtic, is it possible that there was once a dialect
> continuum on the
> South shore of the Baltic between the Baltic (Old
> Prussian) languages
> in (East) Prussia and the (Old) Germanic languages
> of Denmark and
> Sweden, a continuum that was breached by a Celtic
> colonization of the
> South shore (cf. Tacitus' remark that the Aestii
> spoke a language
> similar to that of the Britons)?

*****GK: I think we should be careful in not reading
too much into Tacitus' remark that the "Aestii" spoke
a language like that of the Britons. This is a
statement of the same category, it seems to me as
Strabo's (if I remember correctly) comment that the
Romans called the Germans "Germani" because the latter
were "genuine Celts". The only thing I could think off
to explain Tacitus was the possibility that some form
of Celtic could have played the role of lingua franca
along the Amber road as late as the 1rst c. AD.*****