3. Linguistic aspects
of the Indo-European Urheimat question
3.2. ORIGIN OF THE LINGUISTIC
3.2.1. Linguistic and
geographical distance from the origins
18th century, when comparative IE linguistics started, the majority opinion
was that the original homeland (or Urheimat) of the IE language
family had to be India. This had an ideological
reason, viz. that Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire were eager
to replace Biblical tradition with a more distant Oriental source of inspiration
for European culture.7 China was a popular
candidate, but India had the advantage of being linguistically and even
racially more akin to Europe; making it the homeland of the European languages
or even of the European peoples, would be helpful in the dethronement of
Biblical authority, but by no means far-fetched.
Indian language, Sanskrit, was apparently the closest to the hypothetical
Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language from which all existing members of the
language family descended. It had all the grammatical categories
of Latin and Greek in the most complete form, plus a few more., e.g. three
numbers including a dualis in declension and conjugation, and all eight
declension cases. Apparently, Sanskrit was very dose to if not identical
with PIE, and this was taken to support the case for India as the Urheimat.
there is no necessary relation between the linguistic antiquity of a language
and its proximity to the Urheimat. Thus, among the North-Germanic
languages, the one closest to Proto-North-Germanic is Icelandic, yet Iceland
was most definitely not its Urheimat. The relative antiquity of Sanskrit
vis-à-vis PIE does not determine its proximity to the Urheimat.
Conversely, the subsequent dethronement of Sanskrit and the progressive
desanskritization of reconstructed PIE do not imply a geographical remoteness
of India from the Urheimat. Yet, this mistaken inference has been
quite common, though more often silent and implicit than explicit.
first major element creating a distance between PIE and Sanskrit was the
kentum/satem divide. It was assumed, in my view correctly
(but denied by Indian scholars like Satya Swarup Misra)8,
that palatalization is a one-way process transforming velars (k,g) into
palatals (c,j) but never the reverse; so that the velar or “kentum” (Latin
for “hundred”, from PIE *kmtom) forms had to be the original and
the palatal or “satem” (Avestan for “hundred”) forms the evolved variants.
it would be erroneous to infer from this that the kentum area, i.e. Western
and Southern Europe, was the homeland. On the contrary, it is altogether
more likely that the Urheimat was in satem territory. The alternative
from the angle of an Indian Urheimat theory (IUT) would be that India had
originally had the kentum form, that the dialects which first emigrated
(Hittite, Italo-Celtic, Germanic, Tokharic) retained the kentum form and
took it to the geographical borderlands of the IE expanse (Europe, Anatolia,
China), while the dialects which emigrated later (Baltic, Thracian, Phrygian)
were at a halfway stage and the last-emigrated dialects (Slavic, Armenian,
Iranian) plus the staybehind Indo-Aryan languages had adopted the satem
form. This would satisfy the claim of the so-called Lateral Theory
that the most conservative forms are to be found at the outskirts rather
than in the metropolis.
Indian scholars have pointed out that the discovery of a small and extinct
kentum language inside India (Proto-Bangani, with koto as its word
for “hundred”), surviving as a sizable substratum in the Himalayan language
Bangani, tends to support the hypothesis that the older kentum form was
originally present in India as well.9 This
discovery had been made by the German linguist Claus Peter Zoller, who
does not explain it through an Indian Urheimat Theory but as a left-over
of a pre-Vedic Indo-European immigration into India.10
He claims that the local people have a tradition of their immigration from
in a recent survey among Bangani speakers, George van Driem (Netherlands)
and Suhnu Ram Sharma have found the hypothesis of a kentum Proto-Bangani
to be erroneous: the supposed kentum words turned out to be misreadings
of quite ordinary modem Bangani words or phrases.11 Then
again, an even more recent survey on the spot by Anvita Abbi (Jawaharlal
Nehru University) and her students has almost entirely confirmed Zoller’s
list of kentum substratum words in Bangani.12
As the trite phrase goes: this calls for more research.
3.2.3. Sanskrit and PIE
element in the progressive separation of Sanskrit from PIE was the impression
that the [a/e/o] differentiation in Latin and Greek was original, and that
their reduction to [a] in Sanskrit was a subsequent development (as in
Greek genos corresponding to Sanskrit jana). Satya
Swarup Misra argues that it may just as well have been the other way around,
and unlike the palatalization process, this vowel shift is indeed possible
in either direction.13 Mishra cites examples
from the Gypsy language, but we need look no farther than English, where
[a], still preserved in “bar”, has practically become [e] in “back” and
“bake”, and [o] in “ball”.
are, however, excellent reasons to stick to the conventional view that
the [a/e/o] distinctness is original and their coalescence into [a] a later
development. Firstly, the reduction to [a) is typical of just one
branch, viz. Indo-lranian, whereas a differentiation starting from
[a] would have been a change uniformly affecting all the branches except
one, which is less probable. Secondly, the different treatment of
the velar consonants in reduplicated Sanskrit verb forms like jagAma
or cakAra suggests a difference in subsequent vowel, with only the
first vowel having a palatalizing impact on the preceding velar: jegAma
< gegAma, cekAra < kekAra.
is no reason to reject the conventional view that Greek vowels are closer
to the PIE original than the Sanskrit vowels are. But here again,
we also see no reason to make geographical deductions from this.
India may as well have been the homeland of Proto-Greek, which left before
the shift from [a/e/o] to [a] took place.
element which increased the distance between reconstructed PIE and Sanskrit
dramatically was the discovery of Hittite. Though Hittite displayed
a very large intake of lexical and other elements from non-IE languages,
some of its features were deemed to be older than their Sanskrit counterparts,
e.g. the Hittite genus commune as opposed to Sanskrit’s contrast
between masculine and feminine genders, or the much-discussed laryngeal
consonants, absent in Sanskrit as in all other IE languages.
by no means universally accepted that these features of Hittite are indeed
PIE. Thus, the erosion of grammatical gender is a common phenomenon
in IE languages, especially those suddenly exposed to an overdose of foreign
influence, notably Persian and English. So, it is arguable that Hittite
underwent the same development when it had to absorb large doses of Hattic
or other pre-IE influence. In the past, the laryngeals have been
explained by competent scholars (the last one probably being Heinz Kronasser,
d. 1967) as being due to South-Caucasian or Semitic influence.
case, those who reject the laryngeal theory have definitely been marginalized.
But for our purposes there is no need to align ourselves with these dissident
opinions. Even if we go with the dominant opinion and accept these
elements as PIE, that is still no reason why the Urheimat should be in
the historical location of Hittite or at least outside India. As
the first emigrant dialect, Hittite could have taken from India some linguistic
features (genus commune, laryngeals) which were about to disappear in the
dialects emigrating only later or staying behind.
classic reference for the ideological factors in the development of the
Indo-European theory is Léon Poliakov: The Aryan Myth, London 1974.
Swarup Misra: The Aryan Problem (Delhi 1992), p.47. This palatalization
is known in numerous languages, e.g. Chinese (Yangzi-kiang > Yangzi-jiang),
the Bantu language Chiluba (cfr. Ki-konko, Ki-swahili, but Chi-luba), Arabic
(Gabriel > JibrIt), English (kirk > church), the Romance languages, Swedish
Shrikant Talageri: The Aryan Invasion Theory, a Reappraisal, Aditya Prakashan,
Delhi 1993, p.70.
discovery of Kentum elements in Proto-Bangani was announced to the world
by Claus Peter Zoller at the 7th World Sanskrit Conference, Leiden 1987,
in his paper: “On the vestiges of an old Kentum language in Garhwal (Indian
Himalayas)”, and elaborated further in his articles: “Bericht über
besondere Archaismen im Bangani, einer Western Pahari-Sprache”, Münchener
Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft, 1988, p. 173-200, and: “Bericht über
grammatische Archaismen im Bangani”, ibid., 1989, p-159-218.
van Driem and Suhnu Ram Sharma: “In search of Kentum Indo-Europeans in
the Himalayas”, Indogermanische Forschungen, 1996, p. 107-146. In
terms of serenity and academic factuality, the language they use to qualify
Zoller’s work leaves much to be desired, a fact which is sure to be used
by the Indocentric school to prove its point that the AIT school is just
biased. Likewise, the refusal by the Indogermanische Forschungen
editor to publish Zoller’s reply is a telling instance of the mentality
among defenders of the Aryan invasion status quo.
Abbi: “Debate on archaism of some select Bangani words”, http://www-personal.umich.edu
Swarup Misra: The Aryan Problem., p. 80-87, p. 89.
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