Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Migration theories and the languages


First, we have to admit that the material culture of the human beings walks hand in hand with the language of the people. There are various views about the origin of the languages and their spread. There are almost 445 languages in Indo-European language category. Out of these 313 languages are sub-grouped under the Indo-Iranian head. The spread of these languages is vast that covers regions from North-West China to Europe. We are aware that the origin of the Aryan Race Theory finds its origins in some similarities in Vedic Sanskrit and European languages. Aryan Race Theory, after its disastrous outcome, was later named as Indo-European Language Theory. Without going into the racial aspects of the theory and its fatal impact on the global civilization, let us agree that there is an IE language group theory which consists of all the characteristics of the Aryan Race theory. IE language theory ultimately mean and is aimed to prove the same thing and that is the Aryan invasion, expansion or migration and their superiority.

The theory assumes that there were the people, settled at some hypothetical place, among whom a proto-Indo-European language originated. PIE speakers later dispersed in waves to spread IE languages and their superior culture wherever they went. It also is assumed that the IE people were inventors of the chariots and were first to domesticate the horses. They could invade and conquer the lands because of their superiority, coupled with their innovative invention. Michael Witzel calls them the “Vedic Tanks”!  However, in absence of the proofs to support the invasion theory, the linguists devised migration theory to replace earlier while keeping the notion of superiority of the IE ancestors intact.

In this regard, Kazanas states, "But invasion is the substratum of all such theories even if words like ‘migration’ are used. There could not have been an Aryan immigration because (apart from the fact that there is no archaeological evidence for this) the results would have been quite different. Immigrants do not impose their own demands or desires on the natives of the new country: they are grateful for being accepted, for having the use of lands and rivers for farming or pasturing and for any help they receive from the natives; in time it is they who adopt the language (and perhaps the religion) of the natives. You cannot have a migration with the results of an invasion.
In this matter Kazanas’ remarks need to be taken seriously, though, all scholars at the least unanimously agree that there was no invasion; however, they assert there was the migration in the waves in India and elsewhere to explain the similarities in the languages spoken across the IE world. They didn’t think for a moment that the movement of the people is not required to form the group or net of the language if at all it is to be called a group!

The linguistic groups are made out of the comparative study of the grammatical texture, sound-sequences, similarities in the words etc. It is thought that the group languages are developed from the common ancestry. Comparative methods are applied to decide whether certain language belongs to some group or other and also the attempts have been made to restructure the proto-language using modern devices. In a way, the group languages can be described as a tree with many branches. However, the linguists have proved that the German languages spoken in the eastern and western Germany do not belong to the same tree. Linguists hence have sub-grouped the European languages like Italo-Celtic, Greco-Armenian, and Greco-Aryan to solve the complicated issue of the languages.  The linguists admit that there are not enough proofs available to show the direct mother-daughter relationship between PIE and present IE languages.  

The oldest proofs those are considered to be the foundation for the PIE theory are the language of Avesta, Rig Veda, Hittite treaty and horse training manual of Kikkuli. Also, there is brief Greek epigraph called Diplon script which belongs to 800 BC.  

Here, we must not forget that the time of the Rig Veda is uncertain and so of the Avesta because both were committed to the writing in late era. Also, both has undergone significant linguistic changes through the passage of the time. There are no proofs to pin the exact time of both the scriptures except hypothetical conjectures. The oral tradition through which Rig Veda is said to be preserved unaltered has proven to be a myth. The only Hittite treaty is attested to 1380 BC, but the irony is the treaty itself is not at all in so-called IE language.  Among others, the treaty invokes some Iranian deities as well as demons those with efforts can be linked with the IE languages. Except for numerics and some technical terms the KIkkuli horse training manual too is in Semitic, language.  The appearance of some similar personal names, numerics, deities and demons in some distinct culture cannot become a solid foundation to prove the presence of the people speaking some hypothetical proto-language.

Another group classified is the Semitic group of the languages, spoken in north Africa, Western Asia and surrounding regions. This is the only language group that has written evidence beginning from 2800 BC. The first written (and hence unaltered) religious text is available in form of the Pyramid Text. Though the hype is all about PIE language and superiority of its authors, there is no conclusive evidence to support the existence of such certain group of the people those together located at some hypothetical place and their subsequent dispersions and conquests. Even the Rig Veda and Avesta does not support this claim. What they have at hand to make out a big claim that is some similarities in the IE languages, nothing else.

It is a fact that if thought linguistically, there exists group languages those again branch out in the sub-groups. Even if we consider ‘Out of Africa model’ to be true as claimed, it does not satisfactorily answer why there would be different language groups if the human being belongs to the same ancestry? Also, though a language belongs to the certain group, why it should be unintelligible to the people speaking other language belonging to the same group?

It will be insane to think that the human being invented the words scientifically devising the roots first. The words have been developed further, attained new or opposite meaning or lost in the course of the time. The science of the words or language follows later. There are many languages those do not have any grammar, still, they have some certain harmonic order that can deliver the intended meaning, no matter how limited it may be.

It is considered that the every word has root and it can be the basis for restructuring the proto-language. The root in language is either a base word or a part of a word to which affixes are added. Or, it is the part left after affixes have been taken away. Technically, it is the smallest unit which carries meaning: it cannot be reduced to smaller units. With reverse efforts, the root can be traced out but then the question is are they of any help?’. The Nairuktas (Indian etymological treaties) command that if a word fails to derive meaningful root then abandon the grammatical rules and go by the meaning suggested by the word itself! Obeying the command the etymologists like Yaska and others have found etymologies of the many words whose roots do not support them. For example, the word “Vadhu” (Bride) has the root “Vadh” (murder) so the root is useless to determine the etymology of the word Vadhu. What to be done then? Find nearest root “vah” (To move) which suggests the nearest meaning of the word “Vahu”, the girl is moved to the husband's home hence called Vadhu, bride. Of course, this is forceful etymology! There are many words like “Agni” those doesn’t have any certain etymology. The fact to be understood is the words did not emerge scientifically using the roots. Meanings attached to the word keep on changing and there hardly is any way to know what meaning the certain word delivered when it was invented. So, though on a base sound a group of words can be made, the root in itself will remain ambiguous and may not match the meaning of the word. This is why many scholars do not believe in the reconstruction of the proto-language on the mere hypothetical ground when the roots and the words do not agree with the meanings they want to extract, just to prove their migration theories.

The horse and the chariot in itself is a very flimsy foundation to make out a big theory. David Anthony states that it is impossible to know who invented the chariot and domesticated the horse first! As Edward Pegler states that few words in IE languages are attempted to connect with the chariot by reconstructing the root, the etymologies have proved to be the futile exercise as none of it gives the exact meaning what is expected from the word chariot. Even if it is considered that the PIE etymologies for chariot are true, it does not prove that they were the inventors of the chariot. In fact, Nicholas Kazanas, to take Indus time significantly back, tries to prove that the Vedic “Ratha” meant just wagon or cart and not chariot.

Some linguists have tried to connect spread of the IE languages with the invention of the agriculture.  If this is the case then we will have to agree that the agriculture was first invented in Anatolia and it was spread with the expansion of the PIE people! This will be the funny hypothesis because PIE people were not alone inventors of the agriculture! IE languages mostly lack in the agriculture related vocabulary. Vedic people were pastoralists. Sanskrit didn’t have a word for Plough hence they borrowed “Langal” from Dravidian or some other language. The fact is the cart, wagon, chariot, fire, agriculture and many other inventions cannot be related to some hypothetical super-intelligent human group. The spread of the languages too cannot be solely attributed to the migrations of the people.

Most importantly, as yet the PIE homeland issue remains hotly debated and controversial issue as there simply is no agreement on it. They also are not sure exactly when the PIE language arose. The estimates range from 2000 BC to 8000 BC. The Recent study published in “Science” (Feb. 15) implies that the Steppes of Russia and Ukrain could be the homeland of the PIE speakers and that the migration started about 4500 years ago.

What genetics say?

The genetics also have been used to explain the spread of the languages. In fact, genetics is to know the human ancestry and not the languages they spoke. 'Out of Africa' theory is the product of the modern genetics, which has been objected too, however, we will not entangle ourselves in that endless debate. But the fact remains that the genetics, too, have been used to explain migrations of the PIE speakers. 

Spencer Wells states that these are tenuous efforts to link migrations and languages. Genetic patterns do not provide clear support for their proposed model.

There have been several genetic research papers those deal with genetics and PIE languages. The report appearing in “Science” (Feb. 15) is based on the research of a large team of geneticists led by David Reich and Iosif Lazaridis of Harward Medical School. The DNA samples suggest that the Yamnaya people (DNA obtained from 4 skeletons) could have moved from Steppes 4500 years ago. This paper claims to have connected two far-flunged material cultures to specific genetic signatures. The report states that the team says they spoke a form of Indo-European language. Earlier it was considered that the origins of PIE were 6000 years ago. To meet this gap, hypothetically, it is being proposed that this may be secondary migration!

Another report published in ‘Nature’ too deals with the genomics and spread of the languages. A large team led by Morten E Alentoft examined about 101 sampled ancient individuals from Europe and Central Asia. They also used the archeological evidence of chariot burials (2000-1800 BC) to find the migration pattern. The report relies on the hypothesis of the linguists that ‘the spread of Indo-European languages must have required migration combined with social or demographic dominance and this expansion has been supported by archweologists pointing to striking similarities in the archeological record across western Eurasia during the third millennium BC. The genomic evidence for the spread of the Yamnaya people from the Pontic-caspian Steppe to both northern Europe and Central Asia during the early Bronze Age corresponds well with the hypothesized expansion of the IE languages.'

However, report agrees that the genomics cannot find which language those people spoke. Also, we must note here that the cultures do not expand only with the migrations of the people. The practice of the Horse/chariot burials across the civilizations cannot be attributed solely to the movement of the particular set of the people.

The major objection to the above report is that it is heavily dependent on sequencing of very few samples.  The Yamna culture was nomadic and was found in Russia in the Ural region, the Pontic Steppe dating back to 3600-2300 BC.   It is also known as the Pit Grave Culture, the Ochre Grave Culture and feeds into the Corded Ware Culture. This was not the independent culture but was an admixture of East European or Caucasus hunter-gatherers and near eastern people. So, genetically too, Yamna people were blending of three distinct ancestries. It has not been suggested exactly when and how this blend occurred. If PIE has to be linked with the genetics it will mean that the PIE too was blending of three different languages!

We have seen in the last chapter that the invention of the agriculture dates back to 12000 BC, which could have earlier beginning. Yamna people till Bronze age (2000BC)were pastoralists. Exactly when they moved to spread elsewhere is not known. Europe was already populated by 7000  BC by the hunter-gatherers and food gatherers people. There is no evidence that these people were wiped out by any migrating community. There is no evidence to prove that Yamna people had overwhelming population to effect demographic dominance. By the time Yamna culture came into the existence, Egyptian, Sumerian and Indus culture had reached its pinnacle. They had sophisticated languages and writing system. They had built massive cities and monuments. They had an irrigation system and advanced farming practices in place long before Yamna people (or any hypothetical PIE group) might, though a rare probability, have migrated. 

Agriculture effected in the cultural and linguistic explosion. New vocabulary, well-structured grammar and essential mathematics were the natural outcomes of meeting the urgent demands of the new lifestyle. It changed religious ideas too. The emergence of the fertility cult can be attributed to the invention and practice of the farming for the livelihood.  It can be easily shown that the languages of the settled agriculturist societies are always advanced over the languages of the pastoralists. The linguistic developments are always related to the growing complexities of the societies.

Genetics does not help us to understand the origin of the languages and its spread. The history of the languages is far older than the so-called migration era of the PIE speakers. Genetic mixtures too have a long history than it is assumed. The nomadic era of hunter-food gatherer man begins from at the least 60000 years ago. During this vast span of time, interbreeding between numerous tribes can result in admixture of various genetic pools.

Ability to speak has been developed in human species has an ancient origin. Though it is difficult to determine exactly when human started giving meaning to the certain seris of the sounds and structured them grammatically, it is certain that the rudimentary languages had developed in every tribe or culture long before the so-called Yamna people set out on a assumed mission to subjugate other cultures to impose their language! Even in the known history we hardly find any example where mighty rulers could impose their languages on the subjugated people, unless they outnumbered them.

The cultural and technological exchanges too have an ancient history. Hence the migration theory to prove spread of the IE languages is too weak and unreliable.
Most importantly, migration theories does not help us in solving the very problem of its origin. We have to go into the root to find why languages differ from region to region. We have to see how the distinct languages forms exhibiting distinct charachteristics to which we call different language group.


However, we must note from the genomics reports that the genes carry the regional markers without which it would be impossible to determine the source ancestral genes. The genomics report concludes that the yamna people were admixture of East European or Caucasus hunter-gatherers and near eastern people. So, genetically too, Yamna people were blend of three distinct ancestries. Without regional markers it would be impossible to determine location of the source genes.