Open Thread, July 26th, 2015

51WnxzkxMTL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_Been reading The Indo-European Controversy: Facts and Fallacies in Historical Linguistics, by Asya Pereltsvaig and Martin Lewis. To a great extent it is a book length response to the research program which made such a big splash with the 2003 Nature paper, Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin. I’m over half-way through. Some of it has been hard going, as I’m not very familiar with the details of linguistic science (I get very confused when linguists start using technical terminology for accent changes; anything beyond diphthong). On the other hand, I know a decent amount about the nuts and bolts of Bayesian phylogenetics, and their critiques are cogent so far.

9rj62eTo be fair I’m broadly sympathetic to Pereltsvaig and Lewis’ program. There are a decent number of references to genetics in the work, though it looks like they were in final revisions before Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe. But even without the genetics, I think the case is pretty strong that a simple version of Colin Renfrew’s Anatolian demic diffusion doesn’t work. The contortions necessary to make it plausible in Anatolia during the Bronze Age are too implausible.

If The Indo-European Controversy is a bit too technical, I do recommend everyone check out The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. David Anthony’s work is probably a lot more relevant today because of the findings from genetics. Even if a Steppe-only model can’t explain everything, evidence of massive population replacement in Northern Europe really does overturn any naive idea that Germanic languages somehow derive from the LBK culture….

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