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May 06, 2003

Languages, genes & migrations

Nick Wade has an article titled World's Farmers Sowed Languages as Well as Seeds. The following summations near the end capture my view:


Dr. Christopher Ehret of U.C.L.A., an expert in the history of African languages, said the authors had overstated the role of agriculture in explaining the pattern of language distribution.

"In reality, the spread of language families has come about for different reasons in different times and places, but one of the causes has sometimes been the development of agriculture," Dr. Ehret said.

...

But Dr. Colin Renfrew, an archaeologist at Cambridge University, said although he disagreed with Dr. Diamond on some aspects of Indo-European, "I expect that his synthesis will be useful."

And Dr. Merritt Ruhlen of Stanford, an expert on language families, said the two authors had put together a "very useful overview."

Posted by razib at 01:52 AM




What Diamond says about the Mongols is true, but Turkish came to be the language of Turkey by primarily military means (beginning prior to, but overlapping with the Mongol Empire). Turkey had earlier been inhabited by Greeks, Syrians, etc. The Turks were of eastern steppe origin.

The Mongol horde itself was mostly made of Turks, and in Russia Turkish became its primary language within a generation or two.

Once you've described the main language groups, you're left with the isolates. In Eurasia (excluding SE Asia and South China) these are quite few: Basque, Burushaski in the Himalayas, Nivkh/Gilyak and Yukagir in Siberia, and the Caucasian languages (Georgian, Chechen, and dozens of other languages which may themselves belong to three distinct, unrelated groups). The isolates seem to be survivors of larger groups (which would be consistent with Diamond's thesis).

Trivia: the word "kayak" is probably of Turkish origin. Most Turkish languages have a word like kayak for boat; the name of the "caique" used in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea is a Turkish word. The Eskimos were the last group to cross the Bering Strait and may have had the capacity to go back and forth. Turkish and related languages (Manchu / Tungus) extended well into Siberia.

So anyway, when the Norse in Greenland encountered Eskimos, they were, in a sense, encountering Eurasian travellers coming from the other direction.

Even more trivial: the Hunzas in health food myth speak Burushaski. Is Dr. Bronner (Einstein's cousin) still around?

Posted by: zizka at May 6, 2003 08:13 AM


diamond's is thesis obvious in some cases-the replacement of jomon with yayoi in japan. in other cases-the indo-europeans for instance, it is tenditious at best, weak at worst, to connect them to agriculture (in some circumstances possibly, but certainly not in india or southern europe).

Posted by: razib at May 6, 2003 10:24 AM


I need to see the article. My semi-informed opinion is that the Indo-European spread involved a cultural complex (economy, technology, family and group structure, etc.) and that the complex included some kind of military advantage (technology or organization). Dumezil claimed that all Indo-Europeans cultures had a dual leadership, religious (Brahman) and secular (Kshatriya), ruling over the humble productive class (Sudras, I think, but it gets more complicated at this level). My belief is that the secular leaders were war chiefs.

I liked Diamond's book and as far as I know he's top-of-the-line at his specific field (genetic historical geography?). On specifically historical questions he tends to bluff a lot. But so does William McNeill, and so do we all. I'm just happy to see broad-ranging discussions in history after half a century of forced super-specialization -- "Credit instruments in the Dutch textile industry in the third quarter of the sixteenth century" kind of stuff. (A paper with that title could be interesting and important in a larger context, but historians are discouraged from putting things into the larger context).

As far as I know there's no consensus on the relation between Korean and Japanese, or the origins of Japanese. I've even seen a theory that Japanese is a Dravidian language. I read a book of translations of Tamil poems once, and they seemed sort of haiku-ish, so the theory must be correct.

Posted by: zizka at May 6, 2003 11:53 AM


on vacation-so sorry for the brevity of response:

in SEVEN DAUGHTERS OF EVE b. sykes mentions that "japanese are about 20% ainu," it seems clear that the yayoi rice culture that spread from kyushu throughout japan in the semi-historical period is the other 80%-and they are probably from korea from what i've seen of the genetics. additionally, the japanese royal line & the nobility have documented lineages & descent from koreans in the 6th & 7th century during the time of prince shoktu & the introduction of buddhism.

indo-europeanoly is 3/4 tarrot-card reading ;) fun 4 shore, but r we saying anything of substance?

dravidian has a relationship to elamite of western iran, while brahui of baluchistan is dravidian. it seems clear that it once extended far to the west and might have come with a "demic diffusion." it is part of i believe the "nostratic" superfamily that includes IE, afro-asiatic & ural-altaic.

Posted by: razib at May 6, 2003 06:50 PM


Is this Diamond and Renfrew getting together. Renfrew is the "indo-european homeland in Turkey and spread by agriculture" guy right?

I've seen Refrewesque used as an insult by some. And Mallory's "in search of the indo-europeans" had nothing nice to say about the Renfrew hypothesis.

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at May 10, 2003 01:59 AM


the ideas sound renfrewesque-and yes, his idea that agriculture came with IE seems VERY sketchy now IMO. it doesn't explain india at all-only europe. even the upward revised y chromosomal lineage percentages (sykes gives 20% for europe, a later finding is 50%) given for neolithics from the mideast have VERY LOW figures in the northwestern fringes-though this doesn't discount demic diffusion i guess broadly interpreted.

Posted by: razib at May 10, 2003 11:00 AM


are native americans from central asia and speak
turkish I want to no that please send back

Posted by: kemal at May 14, 2003 09:22 AM