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zompist bboard • View topic - European languages before Indo-European

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2010 5:43 pm 
Smeric
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As this matter came up in another thread in Ephemera, I set up this thread to discuss the question:

What are your ideas about the languages spoken in Europe before the spread of Indo-European?

There are several theories around. assumes that most of western Europe was occupied by languages related to Basque, but his arguments in favour of his "Vasconic" hypothesis so far have failed to convince most scholars.

declares pre-IE languages nonexistent (other than Neanderthal semi-language) as Homo sapiens in Europe had been speaking Indo-European languages from the start - but that is rejected by virtually everybody else, as PIE clearly was, according to the reconstructible vocabulary, a languages spoken by farmers who knew wheeled vehicles, copper and probably also domesticated horses, meaning that PIE can hardly be earlier than 4000 BC.

My personal pet theory involves a group of languages I call , which formed a sister group of Indo-European and spread across much of Europe in the Neolithic about 2,000 years before the spread of IE, but did not displace all the earlier languages; after all, Basque and the Caucasian languages survived.

Speculate away. The stage is open.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2010 5:49 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:00 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:01 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:01 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:01 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:17 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:43 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:47 pm 
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 04, 2010 11:04 am 
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 04, 2010 11:46 am 
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 04, 2010 12:18 pm 
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 04, 2010 12:32 pm 
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 04, 2010 2:39 pm 
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 07, 2010 1:40 pm 
Smeric
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Let me give a brief overview of those pre-IE languages in Europe of which we know that they were (and still are) there.

1. Languages that are still spoken

The obvious one is of course Basque in the western Pyrenees. Basque is SOV, ergative and agglutinating, and shows no shred of evidence for a relationship to any other living language.

In the southeastern corner of Europe, on the boundary to Asia, we have the Caucasian languages, which fall into three different families not known to be related to each other or to anything else. While most of them are SOV, ergative and somewhere between agglutinating and fusional, and all of them have large phoneme inventories with uvulars and ejectives, the three families are very different from each other.

2. Fragmentarily attested languages

In the west, we have Iberian in a strip about 100 km deep along the Spanish Mediterranean coast, written in a script (with a northern and a southern variant) of whose letters we roughly know the sound values, but the language is not understood. Basque is not helpful here, the languages do not seem to be particularly close.

Another language written in a similar script is Tartessian, in southwestern Spain and southern Portugal, also not understood. The celtologist John T. Koch has proposed a reading of the Tartessian inscriptions as a Celtic language, which fits the fact that many place names in the area are Celtic, but this is controversial.

The best-known of the fragmentary non-IE languages of Europe surely is Etruscan in Italy. The script can be read with few problems, but the language is poorly understood and unclassified, except that Rhaetic in the Italian Alps and Lemnian in the Aegean appear to be related, but these two are even less known.

On Crete, we have two undeciphered scripts (not counting the enigmatic Phaistos Disc), Minoan hieroglyphs and Linear A, and some inscriptions in Greek letters but an unknown language designated Eteocretan. The situation on Cyprus is similar, with an undeciphered Cypro-Minoan script and an unknown language recorded in the (readable) Cypro-Syllabic script, Eteocypriot.

Europe north of the Alps is almost completely blank, as the art of writing arrived here only after the Indo-Europeanization and Uralicization was complete - the sole exception being Pictish, the unknown language of a few Ogham inscriptions in northeastern Scotland, which may be a non-Indo-European language or just an aberrant form of Celtic.

3. Traces

The landscape of Europe is laced with place names of unknown origin. Many of them, especially river names, seem to form a vast fairly homogenous network of recurring names, the Old European hydronymy. The German scholar Hans Krahe attributed them to Indo-European; Theo Vennemann assumes that they are Vasconic, i.e. from languages related to Basque. Both hypotheses are controversial.

Most European languages have many words with unknown etymologies. In Greek, these make about a third of the vocabulary, and are often attributed to an unknown language called Pelasgian. The situation in Germanic and Celtic is not much different. The Insular Celtic languages also have undergone a thorough restructuring of their syntax. This is sometimes attributed to a substratum language, which some scholars assume to be related to Semitic, but most scholars reject that relationship.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 10, 2010 10:56 am 
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 10, 2010 11:22 am 
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 10, 2010 12:05 pm 
Smeric
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 10, 2010 12:18 pm 
Avisaru
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 14, 2010 2:38 pm 
Smeric
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So, after listing those pre-IE stocks we have evidence for, here another take at it:

How many language stocks existed in prehistoric Europe?

This of course depends on what you mean by "prehistoric". I shall "visit" two points in time: 8,000 BC (just before the Neolithic Revolution) and 4,000 BC (just before the spread of Indo-European and Uralic).

For our purposes, the linguistic history of Europe begins with the entrance of Homo sapiens about 40,000 years ago. We don't know whether the Neanderthals and other hominids had language or not, but if they did, their languages probably did not survive.

Paleolithic Europe was a land of many tongues. There simply weren't any factors that could have enforced linguistic homgenity. So, there were many stocks 10,000 years ago. But how many?

Pre-colonial North America is perhaps helpful as a "standard of comparison"; so is the Caucasus region, where three indigenous stocks live today. Most likely, linguistic diversity was highest in the Mediterranean and lowest in the northeast. I think the following figures are fairly reasonable estimates:

Iberian peninsula: 3-5 stocks
Italy (with Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily): 3-4 stocks
Balkan peninsula: 3-5 stocks
Caucasus: 3-5 stocks
France: 2-3 stocks
British Isles: 1-2 stocks
Central Europe: 1-2 stocks
Scandinavia: 1-2 stocks
Eastern Europe: 1-2 stocks
----------------------------------------------
Total: 18-30 stocks

Where are Indo-European and Uralic at that time? The answer is: they aren't yet. Or rather: what would eventually be Indo-European and Uralic were then just two members of one of the stocks, somewhere north of the Caucasus. Yes, one stock: the morphological similarities between Indo-European and Uralic are such that a common ancestor seems very likely.

The Neolithic revolution brought about changes. The key question is: was the spread of agriculture demic, i. e. by immigration of farmers into new territories, or cultural, i. e. by local populations adopting farming from neighbours, or a mixture of both? It seems that it was predominantly demic north of the Alps, but less so in the Mediterranean.

This means that north of the Alps, one stock (probably that which Proto-Indo-European belonged to) spread across Central Europe from the east. The speakers of those languages were also the bearers of the Linear Pottery culture. I call this language family "Hesperic". See also "WeepingElf's Europic thread". Some of the stocks in that area may have died out, but others probably survived in refuge areas, perhaps in the Alps or in the mountains of Scandinavia.

In the Mediterranean, nothing like that happened. Some stocks probably expanded at the cost of others, and a few stocks may have disappeared. But at least half of the stocks in Mediterranean Europe survived the Neolithic revolution, and some of those lived to leave written records. By the year 4,000 BC, Europe may still have had some 10-15 stocks. Then came Indo-European and Uralic and displaced most of them, and the rest is history.

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 16, 2010 7:18 am 
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 16, 2010 10:45 am 
Avisaru
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Uh-oh, let’s hope it’s not another Octaviano.


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