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Language as a Clue to Prehistory

lpetrich

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One might first ask how that can be possible. Pots aren't people, as archeologists warn us, and words aren't people, either. Consider all the people who have learned English. It is the third most spoken first language, after Chinese and Spanish, and the first most spoken second language. It is spoken by people all over the world, people of all races and almost all ethnicities.

But most people speak the language(s) that they grew up with, and that is how language can offer clues to prehistory.

Even so, people can borrow words, or more precisely, copy them, from other languages. Linguistic purists sometimes try to fight borrowing, like French linguistic purists who oppose "franglais" ("Frenglish"), English words borrowed into French. Like trying to say "le fin de semaine" instead of "le weekend". But phrases like that are calques or loan-translations, formations using existing linguistic resources.

So why don't people's languages get all mixed up?

To see what happens, we must look at history. Fortunately, speakers of some languages have left long paper trails. Or papyrus trails or clay trails or rock trails, as the case may be. So let us look at some of these trails.
 

lpetrich

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The people of the ancient Roman Republic and Roman Empire spoke Latin, but in the territory of that former state, nobody speaks Latin as a primary language. In much of that territory, people speak languages that are very similar to Latin in some ways -- the Romance languages. Much of their vocabulary is Latin-derived, as is much of their grammar.

Let us count from one to ten, using this resource: ūnus duo trēs quattuor quinque sex septem octō novem decem

Then:
Latin ūnus duo trēs quattuor quinque sex septem octō novem decem

Now:
Italian uno due tre quattro cinque sei sette otto nove dieci
Spanish uno dos tres cuatro cinco seis siete ocho nueve diez
Portuguese um dois três quatro cinco seis sete oito nove dez
French un deux trois quatre cinq six sept huit neuf dix
Romanian unu doi trei patru cinci şase şapte opt nouă zece
Also numerous similar-looking words in dialects and non-national languages like Rumansch, Occitan, and Sardinian.

I'll do an approximate transcription of their pronunciation:

Latin: ûnus, dwô, três, kwattwor, kwînkwe, seks, septem, oktô, nowem, dekem

Itaiian: uno, due, tre, kwattro, tshinke, sei, sette, otto, nove, dyetshi
Spanish: uno, dos, tres, kwatro, thinko, seis, syete, otsho, nweve, dyes
Portuguese: aN, dois, tres, kwatru, seNko, seis, sete, oitu, nove, des
French: aN, dö, trwa, katr, seNk, sis, set, üit, nöf, dis
Romanian: unu, doi, trei, patru, tshintshi, sase, shapte, opt, noua, zetshe

They look rather similar, though some Latin sounds have been turned into other sounds. Something like tomayto vs. tomahto for that vegetable, but carried further. Such sound changes tend to be very regular, and they can be used to distinguish additional cognates from borrowings.

Another interesting result is that commonplace sorts of words tend to be preserved very well, seldom borrowed or replaced by other word forms. However, this is not an absolute rule. The Latin word for dog was canis, with accusative or object case canem. Italian: cane, Spanish: perro, Portuguese: cão, French: chien, Romanian: câine. So some medieval Spanish speaker used "perro" instead of something like "can" and it caught on. The other medieval Romance speakers did not participate, and they kept their Latin-descended words.
 

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Can and canino are valid terms for the same animal in continental Spanish as well. Perro is preferred informally and in the colonias, but the latin-related term wasn't lost. Many think that perro began as some manner of onomatopeia, since it doesn't seem to have any equivalents in neighboring languages.
 
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lpetrich

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Turning to grammar, some things look very different. Latin had several noun cases, while the Romance languages have much fewer. But there is more similarity than what one might at first think. The Romance languages carry over Latin's prepositions, and use some of them to substitute for cases. To illustrate, let us consider "horse's head" or "head of the horse".

Latin: caput equi
(equi: genitive or of-case for equus, "horse")

Italian: testa di cavallo
Spanish: cabeza de caballo
Portuguese: cabeça de cavalo
French: tête de cheval
Romanian: capul calului

All of them are "head of horse" or "head of-horse" with that word order. Most of the Romance languages use descendants of the Latin preposition "de" ("from") for "of". Note also the word-form substitutions. For "horse", the Romance words descend from Late Latin "caballus", becoming common in the last few centuries of the Western Roman Empire. The words for "head" are more complicated, with "caput" descendants surviving in some cases, but being replaced by descendants of Latin "testa" ("pot") in others. The descendants of Latin "caput" in Italian and French are "capo" and "chef", both meaning "leader", as English "head" sometimes does.

Although this is simpler than Latin, the Western Romance languages have some complications. In particular, they have a definite article, a word for "the", a word that Latin lacks. In most of the Romance languages, it is derived from Latin "ille", meaning "that". They also have a lot of contractions of definite articles with prepositions.

French:
  • de + le = du, à + le = au
  • de + les = des, à + les = aux
The other combinations are written separately: de la and à la. Writing -ux instead of -us is a French spelling quirk.

Spanish:
  • de + el = del, a + el = al
The others are written separately here also.

Italian:
  • il (masc. sg. bf cons.) di + il = del
  • lo (masc. sg. bf c clus.) di + lo = dello
  • l' (sg. bf vowel) di + l' = dell'
  • la (fem. sg. bf cons.) di + la = della
  • i (masc. pl. bf cons.) di + i = dei
  • gli (masc. pl. bf vwl/clus.) di + gli = degli
  • le (fem. pl.) di + le = delle
All contracted here. The prepositions da ("from"), a ("to"), in ("in"), and su ("on") are similar, though in becomes ne-.
 

lpetrich

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I started off with Latin and Romance because this is a well-documented case of a language having descendants. The speakers of Latin in different parts of the former empire changed their language's sounds, its vocabulary, and its grammar, and changed them in different ways.

Returning to vocabulary, it is evident that much of the Romance languages' vocabulary is inherited from Latin. They also have lots of words borrowed straight from Latin itself, causing such doublets as Spanish cabeza, capital. In such doublets, the inherited word has sound changes that the reborrowed word lacks.

I now turn to word borrowing - what can easily be borrowed and what is seldom borrowed. The Romance languages are not very good for this, but one of their neighbors is: English. This language has numerous words borrowed from medieval Norman French, including lots of commonplace words. In particular, words for various animal meats are borrowings of Norman French words for those animals: beef, veal, pork, mutton. Modern French has boeuf, veau, porc, and mouton.

But there are plenty of words that English has inherited from pre-Norman Old English, and those include lots of function words and very commonplace words. Also, the grammar of English has continuity with the grammar of Old English. In particular, the past tenses and past participles are formed in essentially the same way, though English has lost most personal verb endings. English has two types of verb: strong verbs, with vowel shifts, and weak verbs, with -ed.

Several linguists have tried to find which sorts of words are seldom borrowed, and in the mid 20th cy., Morris Swadesh came up with a list of 200 word meanings, and later a list of 100. Appendix:Swadesh lists - Wiktionary has a list of 207 meanings, and  Swadesh list has the 100-meaning list. That article has a shorter 35-meaning list, and the  Dolgopolsky list is a 15-meaning list for super-conserved words. A separate list of 100 words is the  Leipzig–Jakarta list.

Dolgopolsky's list is I/me, two/pair, you (singular, informal), who/what, tongue, name, eye, heart, tooth, no/not, nail (finger-nail), louse/nit, tear/teardrop, water, dead.

The lists include such meanings as "name", "not", small numbers, pronouns, humanity and family relations, body parts, and common animals, plants, substances, natural phenomena, environment features, actions and properties, like basic colors.
 

lpetrich

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Let us look at English again. The first recorded form of English is Old English or Anglo-Saxon. It is different enough from present-day English to be a foreign language to present-day speakers, but it nevertheless has a lot of continuity with present-day English.

Looking at several other northern European languages, one finds a lot of similarity in grammar and basic vocabulary, especially in earlier forms, forms like Old English and Old High German and Old Norse. But we do not have any written record of any possible ancestral language. Yet we nevertheless identify a Germanic family of languages, and we propose that it had an ancestor, Proto-Germanic.

So we are sure that Proto-Germanic existed, even though we have no written record of it, not even a single word of it. We even have a likely location for where it was likely spoken, the  Jastorf culture of roughly 500 BCE - 1 CE in northern Germany and southern Scandinavia.

Likewise, in Eastern Europe, one can identify a Slavic family of languages and even propose a Slavic homeland: southern Poland and western Ukraine.

The champion of written record in Europe is Greek. The first surviving writings in Greek are from the Mycenaean period, around 1500 - 1200 BCE. The destruction of the Mycenaean palace society around 1200 BCE ended that period of literacy, with the burning palaces baking the clay tablets that were used for recordkeeping. Greek speakers became literate again around 750 BCE, and they have kept their writing system all the way to the present.

Turning to the Middle East, we find some more related languages, like Hebrew and Arabic and Aramaic and Akkadian, and in nearby east Africa, Amharic and the like. Someone named them Semitic after Noah's son Shem, who got the Middle East.

Looking further, in India, we find some languages with a long written history and with an ancestor called Sanskrit, much like the Romance languages and Latin.

So we have both direct evidence of ancestral languages - Latin and Sanskrit - and plenty of indirect evidence - Germanic, Slavic, Semitic, and Indic.
 

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Can and canino are valid terms for the same animal in continental Spanish as well. Perro is preferred informally and in the colonias, but the latin-related term wasn't lost. Many think that perro began as some manner of onomatopeia, since it doesn't seem to have any equivalents in neighboring languages.
Curiously, in English exactly the same process happened to exactly the same word. "Dog" is preferred informally, but the Germanic-related term "hound" is still a valid term for the same animal, and "hound" is the Germanic cognate of Latin "canis", and nobody knows where "dog" came from, and onomatopeia has been proposed.
 

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Can and canino are valid terms for the same animal in continental Spanish as well. Perro is preferred informally and in the colonias, but the latin-related term wasn't lost. Many think that perro began as some manner of onomatopeia, since it doesn't seem to have any equivalents in neighboring languages.
Curiously, in English exactly the same process happened to exactly the same word. "Dog" is preferred informally, but the Germanic-related term "hound" is still a valid term for the same animal, and "hound" is the Germanic cognate of Latin "canis", and nobody knows where "dog" came from, and onomatopeia has been proposed.

Good point! Well, it is a common enough means for a neologism to come about, though there others; I imagine lpetrich will be getting around to some of them.
 

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Berger calls language a compendium of our collective experience and history. When some phenomenon becomes critical enough that it needs to be symbolized, language emerges to describe it. If it falls out of necessity, it falls out of our language. So language used in prehistory should have been a reflection of the circumstances the speakers lived in - mostly whatever was necessary to survive in hunter-gathering conditions.

Wait, what are we talking about again?
 

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I also wonder if you could do an analysis on complexity, in theory the simplest words should have emerged first:

God, Bread, Dog, Horse, Sun, Tree

And so on..
 

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Latin itself had some relatives, notably Faliscan, Oscan, and Umbrian. They are known from inscriptions around roughly 500 - 100 BCE, much like early Latin. In fact, one can see some changes from early Latin to canonical Classical Latin.

 Lucius Cornelius Scipio (consul 259 BC) - his epitaph:

Original:
Honc oino ploirume cosentiont Romai
duonoro optumo fuise viro
Luciom Scipione. Filios Barbati
consol censor aidilis hic fuet apud vos,
hec cepit Corsica Aleriaque urbe,
dedet Tempestatebus aide meretod votam.

Classical Latin:
Hunc unum plurimi consentiunt Romae
bonorum optimum fuisse virum
Lucium Scipionem. Filius Barbati,
Consul, Censor, Aedilis hic fuit.
Hic cepit Corsicam Aleriamque urbem
dedit tempestatibus aedem merito.

English translation:
Romans for the most part agree,
that this one man, Lucius Scipio, was the best of good men.
He was the son of Barbatus,
Consul, Censor, Aedile.
He took Corsica and the city of Aleria.
He dedicated a temple to the Storms as a just return.

Notice some changes between Old Latin and Classical Latin.
 

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Can we go further? As Romans conquered Greece, they adopted a lot of Greek culture, even identifying Greek deities with theirs. They noticed that their languages are rather similar, and they concluded that Latin is descended from Greek. It was about 2000 years before anyone made any improvements on this. By the seventeenth century, Europeans had become acquainted with India, and they noticed something odd about Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas, the oldest Hindu religious literature. It had a remarkable resemblance to Latin and Greek. By the early nineteenth century, this led to the recognition of the Indo-European family, or Indo-Germanic (Indogermanisch) as German speakers like to call it.

The earliest recorded Germanic languages and their reconstructed ancestor, Proto-Germanic.
A prefixed * denotes a reconstruction.
Old English án twá þrí féower fíf sex seofon eahta niɣon tíen
Old High German ein zwâ drî fior fimf sehs sibun ahto niun zehan
Old Norse einn tveir thrír fjórir fimm sex sjau átta níu tíu
Gothic ains twai þreis fidwor fimf saíhs sibun ahtau niun taíhun
Proto-Germanic *ainaz *twai *þrijiz *fiþwor *fimfi *seks *sibum *ahtō *niwun *tehun

Latin ūnus duo trēs quattuor quinque sex septem octō novem decem

Classical Greek heīs dúō treīs téttares pénte héx heptá oktṓ ennéa déka
Greek éna ðío tría téssera pénde éksi eftá oχtó ennéa ðéka

Slavic:
Russian odín dva tri četÿre pyat’ šest’ sem’ vósem’ dévyat’ désyat’
Czech jeden dva tři čtyři pět šest sedm osm devět deset
Serbo-Croat jèdan dvâ trî čètiri pêt šêst sëdam ösam dëvēt dësēt

Sanskrit éka dvá trí catúr páñca ṣaṣ saptá aṣṭá náva dáśa

With this reconstruction of their ancestral forms:
Proto-Indo-European *oynos / *sem *duwō *treyes *kwetwores *penkwe *sweks *septṃ *oktō *newṇ *dekṃ

Outside the Indo-European family:

Semitic languages:
Akkadian ištēn šena šalaš erbe h`amiš šiššu sebe samāne tiše ešer
Arabic wāḥid iθnān θalāθah ’arba‘ah χamsah sittah sab‘ah θamāniyyah tis‘ah ‘ašarah
Classical Hebrew ’aḥat štayim šâlôš ’arba‘ ḥâmêš šêš šeba‘ šᵉmôneh têša‘ ‘eser
Biblical Aramaic ḥaḏ tərên təlāṯā ʾarbəʿâ ḥamšâ šittâ šiḇʿâ təmānyâ tišʿâ ʿaśrâ
Amharic and hulät sost arat ammɨst sɨddɨst säbat sɨmmɨnt zät’äññ asɨr

There is some resemblance in the words for 6 and 7, but that is about it.
 

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As to what Proto-Indo-European was like, linguist August Schleicher decided to illustrate what he had worked out:  Schleicher's fable

The Sheep and the Horses

[On a hill,] a sheep that had no wool saw horses, one of them pulling a heavy wagon, one carrying a big load, and one carrying a man quickly. The sheep said to the horses: "My heart pains me, seeing a man driving horses." The horses said: "Listen, sheep, our hearts pain us when we see this: a man, the master, makes the wool of the sheep into a warm garment for himself. And the sheep has no wool." Having heard this, the sheep fled into the plain.

Schleicher 1868 (rather Sanskrit-like)

Avis, jasmin varnā na ā ast, dadarka akvams, tam, vāgham garum vaghantam, tam, bhāram magham, tam, manum āku bharantam. Avis akvabhjams ā vavakat: kard aghnutai mai vidanti manum akvams agantam.

Akvāsas ā vavakant: krudhi avai, kard aghnutai vividvant-svas: manus patis varnām avisāms karnauti svabhjam gharmam vastram avibhjams ka varnā na asti.

Tat kukruvants avis agram ā bhugat.

Lehmann and Zgusta 1979 (other recent versions are much like this one)

Owis eḱwōskʷe

Gʷərēi owis, kʷesjo wl̥hnā ne ēst, eḱwōns espeḱet, oinom ghe gʷr̥um woǵhom weǵhontm̥, oinomkʷe meǵam bhorom, oinomkʷe ǵhm̥enm̥ ōḱu bherontm̥. Owis nu eḱwobh(j)os (eḱwomos) ewewkʷet: "Ḱēr aghnutoi moi eḱwōns aǵontm̥ nerm̥ widn̥tei". Eḱwōs tu ewewkʷont: "Ḱludhi, owei, ḱēr ghe aghnutoi n̥smei widn̥tbh(j)os (widn̥tmos): nēr, potis, owiōm r̥ wl̥hnām sebhi gʷhermom westrom kʷrn̥euti. Neǵhi owiōm wl̥hnā esti". Tod ḱeḱluwōs owis aǵrom ebhuget.
 

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Language does get mixed up together.

Sapnish prhrases are common in conversation here in Seattle.

I listend to Spanish language CDs. As I went along I realized language expresses a culture mor than I reralized.

Spanish speaking immigrants can sound like they are speaking bad English when they are conflating Spamish and Enlish. They fit Enf glish into Spanish form.

It is like language expresses diffeent thought process and paradigms through structure.

Ethiopian immigrants will commonly say 'I get you' for 'I will get it for you'. Spanish speakers similar.

I'd say language is history. Society has become hyper fast. Text and vrrbal communication has been compressed with acronyms and other short phrases.

Some languages have no specific word for self, or words for leaving. One never leaves even if gone for weeks in an island culture.
 

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Such linguistic crosstalk produces combinations like  Spanglish - Spanish + English.

 Standard Average European is likely a result of such crosstalk in western Europe. Here's a nice video: Euroversals - Are all European languages alike? - YouTube French and German are the most alike, the result of the "Charlemagne sprachbund", named after that medieval king's empire. A sprachbund is set of languages which have converged on features because their speakers live close enough to suffer from lots of linguistic crosstalk. European languages in number of Euroversals:
  • French, German
  • Other Romance, Germanic languages
  • Slavic languages
  • (hardly any Euroversals) Celtic langs, Finnish, Turkish, Basque
This also correlates with the US State Department's estimates of language difficulty. It is roughly I: Romance and most Germanic languages, II: most languages, III: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean. Category I contains those languages high on Euroversals. II and III contain medium to low in Euroversals.
 

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That is not a correct definition of the term cross talk, which refers to a systemic situation where signals are being exchanged but messages are not being correctly received and interpreted by their intended recipients. So two speakers of Spanglish are not engaging in cross talk, as they have actually created a consensus language that both are fluent in. Blended languages such as Spanglish occur because of two processes, pidginization and creolization. Cross talk is more common in cases where two speakers speak the same primary language but different dialects, sociolects, or vocational jargons.
 

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I return to Proto-Indo-European.

Some linguists disdain trying to construct protolanguage text, but others consider it a good exercise for showing off how much one can be confident in about a protolanguage. Schleicher's fable is the best-known, and  The king and the god is a recent example. In any case, much such research is on how one got from there to here.

One gets
  • Phonology - how it was pronounced.
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
Indo-European is the best-studied of the larger language families, and even there, there are lots of differences in opinion on what Proto-Indo-European was like.

PIE phonology was a bit complicated, so I will discuss only a few issues about it here.

PIE had several stop consonants, inferred from correspondences like English foot ~ German Fuss ~ Latin ped- ~ Greek pod- ~ Sanskrit pad- ~ PIE *ped-, English two ~ German zwei ~ Latin duô ~ Greek duô ~ Russian dva ~ Sanskrit dvâ ~ PIE *dwô, English three ~ German drei ~ Latin três ~ Greek treis ~ Russian tri ~ Sanskrit trayas ~ PIE *treyes, English hundred ~ German hundert ~ Latin centum ~ Greek hekaton ~ Russian sto ~ Sanskrit satam ~ PIE *kmtom, ...

p
t
k'
k
kw
b
d
g'
g
gw
bh
dh
gh'
gh
gwh
The columns are for point of articulation, where the sound is made: labial (lips together), dental (tongue against teeth), palatovelar (tongue against upper back of mouth), velar (tongue against back of mouth), and labiovelar (like velar, but with lips close together).

The rows are for voicing. They are traditionally reconstructed as unvoiced, voiced, and voiced aspirate, but in recent decades, some alternative reconstructions have been proposed. What are aspirate consonants? These consonants have a puff of breath after the main consonant sound, and English has some unvoiced aspirates.

till still
pill spill
kill skill

The first one is aspirate, and the second one non-aspirate. This "complementary distribution", as linguists call it, means that these two "phones" (low-level sounds) are "allophones" (sound variants) of "phonemes" (high-level sounds).

However, some languages distinguish voiceless aspirates and nonaspirates. Chinese does, and it has no voiced stops. The Wade-Giles transcription of Chinese indicates aspirates with apostrophes, while the Pinyin transcription omits them and writes nonaspirates in voiced. Thus:
Wade-GilesPinyin
P'in-yinPinyin
Mao Tse-tungMao Zedong
The Thai language also distinguishes aspirates and nonaspirates, and also voiced consonants.
 

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There are some problems with the traditional reconstruction of the PIE stops. Among known languages, when a language has voiced aspirates, it also has unvoiced ones, and in this reconstruction, there is no convincing evidence for voiceless aspirates.

Another problem is the rarity of *b, when the language has plenty of both *p and *bh. Example of the latter: English be ~ German bi- ~ Latin fu- ~ Greek phu- ~ Russian by- ~ Sanskrit bhav- ~ PIE *bheu- When a language lacks one of /p/ and /b/, it is always /p/ and never /b/. That means that the voiced unaspirated stops are likely some voiceless ones.

A prominent alternative is the "glottalic theory", where instead of traditional T, D, Dh, it's T(h), T', D(h), where the T and D standard for unvoiced and voiced stops. The "glottalic" sounds are the T' ones, pronounced with a small pause between the consonant and the following sound. Here is a table:
  • Traditional: T, D, Dh
  • Glottalic: T(h), T', D(h)
  • Thai-like: Th, T, D

Turning to grammar, PIE was very different from English and much like Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit. It had eight noun cases and complete sets of personal verb endings, though it was rather short on verb tenses. It had three aspects, imperfective (incomplete action), perfective (complete action), and stative (constant state). It had two main verb voices, active and mediopassive (reflexive + passive).

Its noun cases: vocative (for addressing someone), nominative (subject), accusative (object), genitive (of-case), dative (to-case), instrumental (with-case), locative (in-case), and ablative (from-case).

Its basic word order was subject-object-verb, unlike English subject-verb-object. It had no definite article, no word for "the". It indicated possession much like how Russian does, with "at me is something" instead of "I have something".

The earliest dialects of PIE likely had two grammatical genders, common and neuter, with common quickly getting split into masculine and feminine, making three. PIE had a dual number in addition to singular and plural; dual is a plural for two things.

PIE had lots of vowel shifts or "ablaut", and some of it survives, like in the past tenses and past participles of "strong" verbs in English and other Germanic languages.
 

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Sanskrit éka dvá trí catúr páñca ṣaṣ saptá aṣṭá náva dáśa

With this reconstruction of their ancestral forms:
Proto-Indo-European *oynos / *sem *duwō *treyes *kwetwores *penkwe *sweks *septṃ *oktō *newṇ *dekṃ
That also shows that decimal system perhaps existed with PIE.
Yeah, returning after a long time. The forum structure here is different. :)
 

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Sanskrit éka dvá trí catúr páñca ṣaṣ saptá aṣṭá náva dáśa

With this reconstruction of their ancestral forms:
Proto-Indo-European *oynos / *sem *duwō *treyes *kwetwores *penkwe *sweks *septṃ *oktō *newṇ *dekṃ
That also shows that decimal system perhaps existed with PIE.
Yeah, returning after a long time. The forum structure here is different. :)
Yes, indeed PIE had a decimal system. A word for "hundred" can also be reconstructed, but "thousand" varies among the dialects.

This leaves vocabulary, and one can make a lot of cultural inferences for what a language's speakers have words for.

The most stable sorts of vocabulary are, however, not very good for cultural inferences, because they are very commonplace.  Indo-European vocabulary Words for "Sun", "Moon", "fire", "water", "name", "eye", "ear", "tongue", "tooth", "foot", "to be", "to go", "to come", "big", "young", "old", "red", ...

But some words are for things that are not as commonplace, and these words have been used to try to locate the place and time where the Proto-Indo-European speakers lived.

For a long time, words for various kinds of trees were used, because different species have different ranges, and that would presumably be helpful. For example:

English birch ~ German Birke ~ Swedish björk ~ Latin fraxinus ("ash tree") ~ Russian beryoza ~ Sanskrit bhurja ("Himalayan birch") ~ PIE *bherHgos
English beech ~ German Buche ~ Swedish bok ~ Latin fâgus ~ Greek phêgos ("oak") ~ Russian buk ~ PIE *bheh2gos

So one must look for birches and beeches. But these trees grow over a wide area, so that is not very helpful.

Some words are more variable, like words for oak trees
English oak ~ German Eiche ~ Proto-Germanic *aiks
Latin quercus ~ English fir ~ PIE *perkus
Russian dub ~ Proto-Slavic *dobu

So we must look elsewhere.
 

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Words for domestic animals and technologies may be good, and their presence is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the presence of Indo-European speakers. Not sufficient because they can be present in the absence of speakers of IE languages. But their absence is good evidence of absence of IE speakers.

Looking at domestic animals, one finds "dog", "cow", "bull", "pig", "sheep", "goat", "horse", and "foal" (baby horse). A word for dog does not tell us much, since dogs are humanity's first domesticated animal. Most of the others were domesticated in the Middle East, and horses were domesticated in the steppe belt between eastern Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

They knew about a variety of wild animals: "wolf", "bear", "deer", "elk", "eagle", "mouse", "snake", and "trout/salmon".

Looking at technologies, one finds "wheel", "axle", "yoke", "wagon", meaning that the PIE speakers had wheeled vehicles. The word for wheel is derived from a word for rolling or turning, making it much like our word "roller".

One also finds words for wool, flax, spinning, and weaving, so they had woven clothing in addition to animal-skin clothing.

One also finds "metal" and "gold", with no evidence of "iron". Words for iron vary

So we must look for evidence of wheeled vehicles.

Why It Took So Long to Invent the Wheel | Live Science
A wheel in isolation is rather simple-looking, but a wheeled vehicle is not. The body of the vehicle has to have at least one axle, and the wheels have to fit onto the ends of the axles while being loose enough to rotate. The wheels themselves have to be close to circular with their axle holes in their centers.

The wheels, axles, and vehicle bodies were all made of wood, and their manufacture required metal tools. Stone tools are not precise enough. The first metal usable for tools is bronze, a copper-tin alloy. An early form of bronze was copper-arsenic, but it did not last long. Arsenic is well-known for its toxicity, and its users may eventually have decided that it is jinxed.

The first kind of wheel was likely a solid wheel, made from a slice of a log or from fastening some boards together. Spoked wheels were likely a later invention. The first wheel that we used may not have been a vehicle wheel but a potter's wheel, something easier to build.

So the image of a caveman carving a wheel is absolute bullshit. Never mind that most Paleolithic people did not live in caves, because there aren't many to live in. Instead, they made huts for themselves, something like what people with similar levels of technology were discovered doing by European and European-descended explorers. Most of these huts have not survived, but there are a few survivors: mammoth-bone huts in what's now European Russia.

We don't know for sure where and when the wheel was invented, but the first evidence of wheels is in Southeastern Europe and the Middle East. So the invention likely spread quickly once it was made.


Horses and wheeled vehicles point to an identification of the place and time of the Proto-Indo-European homeland as that steppe zone about 5000 years ago - the Yamna or Yamnaya culture.
 

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 Urheimat German: "original home", "homeland" - homelands of protolanguage speakers. That article discusses homeland hypotheses for several language families, and I will discuss some of them here.

Austronesian is an interesting case. The most divergent languages of this family are spoken in Taiwan, and that is why Taiwan is inferred to be the Austronesian homeland. It was settled around 3000 BCE from South China, and there are some speculative hypotheses about its closest relatives, but that's about it.

There are 9 highest-level branches of Austronesian in Taiwan, and a tenth one outside Taiwan: the Malayo-Polynesian languages, all the rest of the Austronesian ones.

 Proto-Austronesian language
 Proto-Malayo-Polynesian language
 Proto-Oceanic language
 Proto-Polynesian language

The northern Philippines were colonized around 2200 BCE, and the rest of the Malayo-Polynesian domain after that. Malayo-Polynesian has one big subfamily, Oceanic, and lots of small ones with disputed relations between them. Those ones are almost all west or northwest of New Guinea, and they include nearly all Philippine and Indonesian languages.

One of these small families is the Barito family, named after some of its speakers living near the Barito River in southern Borneo. I say "some", because one Barito language is spoken far away: Malagasy in Madagascar. So some southern Borneans traveled a *long* way to find some land to colonize, and they found some such land in Madagascar, reaching that island around 500 CE.

The great-circle distance is about 4500 mi / 7300 km, and the distance along the shorelines is around 9500 mi / 13400 km.

Turning to Oceanic, the speakers of Proto-Oceanic likely lived in the Bismarck Archipelago NE of New Guinea around 1600 BCE. Their remains are likely the Lapita archeological culture. Their descendants spread northward and eastward to much of Micronesia (northward), much of Melanesia, and Polynesia (eastward).

Proto-Polynesian was likely spoken in Samoa and Tonga around 800 - 900 BCE. Polynesians spread eastward and then northeastward, southeastward, and southwestward. They reached Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands around 700 CE, Hawai'i around 900 CE, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) around 1000 - 1200 CE, and Aotearoa (New Zealand) around 1200 CE.

So the archeology agrees fairly well with what one can infer about the higher-level linguistic relationships.
 

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Back to Indo-European,  Indo-European vocabulary is a big list. Its table of contents:
1 Notes
2 Kinship
3 People
4 Pronouns, particles
5 Numbers
6 Body parts
7 Animals
8 Agriculture
9 Bodily functions and states
10 Mental functions and states
11 Natural features
12 Directions
13 Basic adjectives
14 Construction, fabrication
15 Self-motion, rest
16 Object motion
17 Time
18 References
19 External links

Most of these reconstructed words are for rather commonplace sorts of things. For example, one can reconstruct a word for clothing in PIE, but it is a generic sort of word. Words for kinds of clothing vary widely in the dialects, with similarities often due to borrowing, so it may be difficult to reconstruct PIE words for different kinds of clothing.

An indicator of climate is a shared word for snow. English snow, German Schnee, Swedish snö, Latin nix, niv-, Greek niph-, Russian sneg, etc. have a common ancestor: *sneigwh-

This means temperate or polar and not subtropical or tropical, something consistent with the steppe-zone hypothesis for the PIE homeland. However, it is not a very precise match, and it is consistent with most other PIE homeland hypotheses that have been proposed.
 

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The Numbers List at zompist.com -- 1 to 10
 List of numbers in various languages -- 1 to 10 and sometimes to 20
 Proto-Indo-European numerals

The "primary" ones are 1 to 10, 100, and 1000. 20 is listed as 2-10, 30 as 3-10, etc. The word for 10 is *dekm, and the word for 100 is *kmtom, suggesting that the word for 100 was originally *dkmtom, sort of "super 10".

 Indo-European migrations - illustrates spread from the PIE homeland in the steppe zone north of the Black and Caspian Seas. What's now South European Russia and nearby.


Wiktionary, the free dictionary - if you want to track down the ancestors of present-day word forms, this is a good place -- it includes plenty of etymologies going as far back as mainstream linguists consider reliable.
 

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Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database: Main
Each language in our database has around 210 words associated with it. These words correspond to basic items of vocabulary, such as simple verbs like 'to walk', or 'to fly', the names of body parts like hand or mouth, colors like red, numbers (1, 2, 3, 4) and kinship terms such as Mother, Father and Person. The full list is here.

Language Phylogenies Reveal Expansion Pulses and Pauses in Pacific Settlement | Science
Debates about human prehistory often center on the role that population expansions play in shaping biological and cultural diversity. Hypotheses on the origin of the Austronesian settlers of the Pacific are divided between a recent “pulse-pause” expansion from Taiwan and an older “slow-boat” diffusion from Wallacea. We used lexical data and Bayesian phylogenetic methods to construct a phylogeny of 400 languages. In agreement with the pulse-pause scenario, the language trees place the Austronesian origin in Taiwan approximately 5230 years ago and reveal a series of settlement pauses and expansion pulses linked to technological and social innovations. These results are robust to assumptions about the rooting and calibration of the trees and demonstrate the combined power of linguistic scholarship, database technologies, and computational phylogenetic methods for resolving questions about human prehistory.
From the paper:
Our results place the Formosan languages of Taiwan at the base of the trees immediately after the outgroups (Fig. 1). Following these are the languages of the Philippines, Borneo/Sulawesi, Central Malayo-Polynesia, South Halmahera/West New Guinea, and the Oceanic languages. This chained topology is precisely the structure predicted by the pulse-pause scenario.
As to technological and social innovations,
The first pause between the settlement of Taiwan and the Philippines may have been due to the difficulties in crossing the 350-km Bashi channel between Taiwan and the Philippines (4, 6). The invention of the outrigger canoe and its sail may have enabled the Austronesians to move across this channel before spreading rapidly over the 7000 km from the Philippines to Polynesia (4). This is supported by linguistic reconstructions showing that the terminology associated with the outrigger canoe complex can only be traced back to Proto-Malayo-Polynesian and not Proto-Austronesian (41).

One possible reason for the second long pause in Western Polynesia is that the final pulse into the far-flung islands of Eastern Polynesia required further technological advances. These might have included the ability to estimate latitude from the stars, the ability to sail across the prevailing easterly tradewinds, and the use of double-hulled canoes with greater stability and carrying capacity (4, 42). Alternatively, the vast distances between these islands might have required the development of new social strategies for dealing with the greater isolation found in Eastern Polynesia (42). These technological and social advances in Eastern Polynesia may also underlie the fourth pulse into Micronesia.
Awfully impressive work for people with Neolithic technology. Sort of like the big cities and empires of the pre-Columbian Americas.
 

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Now to substrate languages. Conquest is often imperfect, with the conquered peoples' place names often surviving and with the conquerors often borrowing words from the people that they conquered.

This is evident in the contiguous United States, where its northeast and southeast parts have clearly different substrate languages.

In the northeast, one finds place names like Massachusetts, Connecticut, Narragansett, Susquehanna, and Rappahannock, and borrowed words like "skunk" and "raccoon" and "opossum".

In the southwest, one finds place names like Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara, and borrowed words like "arroyo" and "canyon".


The most discussed substrate may be the Pre-Greek one:  Pre-Greek substrate. We find place names like Korinthos (Corinth) and Knossos, and words like kuparissos "cypress tree", terminthos "terebinth tree", erebínthos "chickpea". After a while, one notices -nthos -ssos suffixes, and one infers that the Pre-Greek language had them.

Popular Controversies in World History: 1. Prehistory and Early Civilizations book page 87 (PDF 106 of 348) has another list.

An interesting additional suffix is -nx for noisemakers: larunx "voice box", pharunx "throat", surinx "flute", salpinx "trumpet", phorminx "lyre".
 

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More Pre-Greek:
The Pre-Greek substrate and its origins - The Pre-Greek substrate and its origins.pdf
Brill Introductions to Indo-European Languages 2 - Robert S. P. Beekes, Stefan Norbruis-Pre-Greek_ Phonology, Morphology, Lexicon-Brill Academic Publishers (2014) | Vowel | Anatolia - paywalled
Pre-Greek: Phonology, Morphology, Lexicon - Robert Beekes - Google Books - Pre-Greek Lexicon snippet: several pages

Some Pre-Greek languages survived into Classical times, and there are some inscriptions in them: Eteocretan, Eteocypriot, Lemnian. These are difficult to interpret, though Lemnian is recognizably related to Etruscan, a pre-Latin language of Italy. An earlier Pre-Greek language was the Minoan Linear A language, and that is also difficult. I've found Minoan language blog where an amateur attempts to interpret it. Looks rather sober and careful by amateur standards.
 

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How does the uniqueness of clicks relate in African languages relate to pre-IE languages? One would think a connection between african languages and pre-Indo-European languages need be established first.

I'm still not clear on what we're trying to accomplish with this thread, maybe lpetrich can clarify. I took 'clue to prehistory' to mean 'what language tells us about our history prior to the written word'.

There should be a link between African languages and modern ones, but I I would assume that making a direct link with evidence isn't possible. AFAIK, the only evidence we have of language comes from surviving written word dating back to the past ~ 2 - 5 thousand years, as well as surviving prehistoric languages. This Khoisan language dates back possibly over 100k, and likely diverged with migrations out of Africa, where evidence is still spotty and incomplete.That leaves quite a wide chasm between the two forms.

But if we're looking for 'clues to prehistory' the syntax of Khoisan does a pretty good job of it. One can imagine what would be relevant to a pre-historic hunter gatherer, and further any other person in any society henceforth.
 

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How does the uniqueness of clicks relate in African languages relate to pre-IE languages? One would think a connection between african languages and pre-Indo-European languages need be established first.
That's right. A list like that 100-word list should be a good place to start - Khoisan word list
Here it is:
  1. I/me
  2. two/pair
  3. you (singular, informal)
  4. who/what
  5. tongue
  6. name
  7. eye
  8. heart
  9. tooth
  10. no/not
  11. nail (finger-nail)
  12. louse/nit
  13. tear/teardrop
  14. water
  15. dead
I'm still not clear on what we're trying to accomplish with this thread, maybe lpetrich can clarify. I took 'clue to prehistory' to mean 'what language tells us about our history prior to the written word'.
Yes, that is what I meant.
 

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How does the uniqueness of clicks relate in African languages relate to pre-IE languages? One would think a connection between african languages and pre-Indo-European languages need be established first.

I'm still not clear on what we're trying to accomplish with this thread, maybe lpetrich can clarify. I took 'clue to prehistory' to mean 'what language tells us about our history prior to the written word'.

That is something we can explore by comparing cognate word sets across daughter languages, but the traditional way of establishing relatedness between languages is by establishing regular sound correspondences across potential daughter languages. Since sounds in language change in similar ways across entire vocabularies (not just in individual words), there will be recognizable patterns that support the existence of a protolanguage. However, changes can be so radical that correspondences are increasingly difficult to recognize, the further back you go. There are lots of theories about how we can improve on the traditional sound correspondence method established in the 18th and 19th centuries, but evidence is really had to come by. Vocabulary lists that purport to show similarities are not of much use, since any two languages are likely to have a number of words that look similar across any two languages in the world, no matter how unrelated.

In the twentieth century, linguists discovered that language similarities are not just about genetic relations. Languages tend to fall into typological buckets that have nothing to do with a common ancestor. Rather, typological similarities relate to structural similarities. For example, languages in which the verb is normally close to the beginning of the sentence tend to have prepositions and prefixes, whereas as those in which the verb is normally at the end of the sentence tend to have post-positions and suffixes. (These are just tendencies, not absolute patterns.) For example, English and Hindi are both Indo-European, but Hindi, unlike English, tends to place verbs at the ends of clauses. Not surprisingly, Hindi has postpositions instead of prepositions. In that respect, it is like Japanese, which is a verb-last language that also has postpositions. There is no proven relationship between Japanese and Indo-European languages, but there seems to be a broad consensus now that Turkic languages and Japanese descend from a common ancestor. What linguists do nowadays is not just to look at patterns of sound correspondences, but also to use knowledge of how languages form patterns of change to discover relationships that go back a little deeper in time than we were able to in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

There should be a link between African languages and modern ones, but I I would assume that making a direct link with evidence isn't possible. AFAIK, the only evidence we have of language comes from surviving written word dating back to the past ~ 2 - 5 thousand years, as well as surviving prehistoric languages. This Khoisan language dates back possibly over 100k, and likely diverged with migrations out of Africa, where evidence is still spotty and incomplete.That leaves quite a wide chasm between the two forms.

But if we're looking for 'clues to prehistory' the syntax of Khoisan does a pretty good job of it. One can imagine what would be relevant to a pre-historic hunter gatherer, and further any other person in any society henceforth.

Remember that the picture is complicated by the existence of typological patterns that cut across ancestral relationships. There are limits to how languages can differ from each other, and the factors that might cause typological similarities are not well-established. See  linguistic typology.
 

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Remember that the picture is complicated by the existence of typological patterns that cut across ancestral relationships. There are limits to how languages can differ from each other, and the factors that might cause typological similarities are not well-established. See  linguistic typology.

I guess my point is less about relationships between and structures of languages, and more about the objects that have been symbolized in each language. In Khoisan, what I find interesting isn't it's evolution across time, but rather what people chose to symbolize one hundred thousand years ago. In that sense the scope of the language points to the life experience and concepts contained by those speaking it, or a part of our prehistory.

Beyond that, when you say 'there are limits to how languages can differ', that's interesting to me too, because it points to the fact that, regardless of time period, our fundamental experience as humans is relatively static. In theory there should be a finite set of objects and concepts to symbolize, and an even smaller set that are in every day use.
 

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There should be a link between African languages and modern ones, ...
Those African languages are as present-day as the "modern" ones, so they are equally distant from the common ancestor that they likely had.

There is also no reason to believe that they are especially conservative. They may preserve some features lost in other languages, but they may have lost some features that other languages preserve. it's hard to tell without detailed comparative work.

I suggest taking that African-language word list and extracting the Dolgopolsky 12-word list for each language and posting it here.
 

rousseau

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There should be a link between African languages and modern ones, ...
Those African languages are as present-day as the "modern" ones, so they are equally distant from the common ancestor that they likely had.

There is also no reason to believe that they are especially conservative. They may preserve some features lost in other languages, but they may have lost some features that other languages preserve. it's hard to tell without detailed comparative work.

I suggest taking that African-language word list and extracting the Dolgopolsky 12-word list for each language and posting it here.

Confining the conversation to symbolized objects, that would be true only once they came in contact with modern civilization, and to the degree that their lifestyle changed over that time-frame. So yes and no. If their lifestyle was basically unchanged for 100k years, the modern version would very closely resemble the original, for whenever that originated. At least in it's syntax, maybe not in it's structure.

That was along the lines of my original point way back when - language emerges to symbolize experience - if the experience is unchanged, so is the world the language represents. But you're right that they wouldn't be completely equivalent.
 

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Here's a table of English words that demonstrate the range of English stop-consonant sounds, with the same format as for the Proto-Indo-European one earlier:

pilltillkill
spillstillskill
billdillgill

Rows: voicing
Columns: articulation point

English fricatives:
thsshfh
dhzzhv-
th = voiceless th (thin)
dh = voiced th (then)

English affricates:
ch
j

English semivowels: y, w

English has some 10 vowel phonemes, at least for my dialect of American English. It also has 5 diphthongs (vowel-semivowel combinations), including two "long vowels": /ai/, /au/, /ei/, /oi/, /ou/
baht
bat
bot
bet
but
bote
bit
foot
beet
boot
 

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There should be a link between African languages and modern ones, ...
Those African languages are as present-day as the "modern" ones, so they are equally distant from the common ancestor that they likely had.

There is also no reason to believe that they are especially conservative. They may preserve some features lost in other languages, but they may have lost some features that other languages preserve. it's hard to tell without detailed comparative work.

I suggest taking that African-language word list and extracting the Dolgopolsky 12-word list for each language and posting it here.

Confining the conversation to symbolized objects, that would be true only once they came in contact with modern civilization, and to the degree that their lifestyle changed over that time-frame. So yes and no. If their lifestyle was basically unchanged for 100k years, the modern version would very closely resemble the original, for whenever that originated. At least in it's syntax, maybe not in it's structure.

And why would that be so? There isn't a good correlation between a group's languages syntactic typology and its mode of subsistence. Here's the distribution of languages by whether they have morphological case, https://wals.info/feature/49A#4/-11.87/143.57

You will note that there isn't much of a global pattern, and in some regions, e.g. Northern Australia our Southeast Europe you find everything from languages with no case marking to 10 or more cases right next to each other.
That was along the lines of my original point way back when - language emerges to symbolize experience - if the experience is unchanged, so is the world the language represents. But you're right that they wouldn't be completely equivalent.

Again, even if "experience is unchanged" (which it never is), that's no reason for language structure and syntax to evolve any slower.
 

rousseau

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Confining the conversation to symbolized objects, that would be true only once they came in contact with modern civilization, and to the degree that their lifestyle changed over that time-frame. So yes and no. If their lifestyle was basically unchanged for 100k years, the modern version would very closely resemble the original, for whenever that originated. At least in it's syntax, maybe not in it's structure.

And why would that be so? There isn't a good correlation between a group's languages syntactic typology and its mode of subsistence. Here's the distribution of languages by whether they have morphological case, https://wals.info/feature/49A#4/-11.87/143.57

You will note that there isn't much of a global pattern, and in some regions, e.g. Northern Australia our Southeast Europe you find everything from languages with no case marking to 10 or more cases right next to each other.
That was along the lines of my original point way back when - language emerges to symbolize experience - if the experience is unchanged, so is the world the language represents. But you're right that they wouldn't be completely equivalent.

Again, even if "experience is unchanged" (which it never is), that's no reason for language structure and syntax to evolve any slower.

I'm not referring to syntactic typology. If there is a term that I am referring to I don't know it because I've never formally studied linguistics. I'm talking about the scope of words that exist in the language, not the structure of how they're expressed.

I'm making the claim that the words which exist in a language come into common usage because they're relevant to the lifestyle of those speaking the language. Therefore, if hunter-gatherers have been living essentially the same static lifestyle for [x] period of time, then the evolution of the language is very slow, and it's likely that the modern one resembles the original one more closely than if more social evolution had occurred. I don't particularly care about structure, I'm discussing what's been symbolized.

Yes social changes have occurred in that time, but I think it'd still be true that the language San Bushmen were speaking in the 19th century would be a good indicator of what they were speaking many thousands of years ago (in prehistory), if not an exact replica.
 

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And why would that be so? There isn't a good correlation between a group's languages syntactic typology and its mode of subsistence. Here's the distribution of languages by whether they have morphological case, https://wals.info/feature/49A#4/-11.87/143.57

You will note that there isn't much of a global pattern, and in some regions, e.g. Northern Australia our Southeast Europe you find everything from languages with no case marking to 10 or more cases right next to each other.

Again, even if "experience is unchanged" (which it never is), that's no reason for language structure and syntax to evolve any slower.

I'm not referring to syntactic typology. If there is a term that I am referring to I don't know it because I've never formally studied linguistics. I'm talking about the scope of words that exist in the language, not the structure of how they're expressed.

I'm making the claim that the words which exist in a language come into common usage because they're relevant to the lifestyle of those speaking the language. Therefore, if hunter-gatherers have been living essentially the same static lifestyle for [x] period of time, then the evolution of the language is very slow, and it's likely that the modern one resembles the original one more closely than if more social evolution had occurred. I don't particularly care about structure, I'm discussing what's been symbolized.

Yes social changes have occurred in that time, but I think it'd still be true that the language San Bushmen were speaking in the 19th century would be a good indicator of what they were speaking many thousands of years ago (in prehistory), if not an exact replica.

And I'm telling you that it isn't..

You made a guess, and you guessed wrong, end of story.

Sometimes I really wish there was an analogue to a driving license before people get to spout claims about language pulled from thin air.
 

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And why would that be so? There isn't a good correlation between a group's languages syntactic typology and its mode of subsistence. Here's the distribution of languages by whether they have morphological case, https://wals.info/feature/49A#4/-11.87/143.57

You will note that there isn't much of a global pattern, and in some regions, e.g. Northern Australia our Southeast Europe you find everything from languages with no case marking to 10 or more cases right next to each other.

Again, even if "experience is unchanged" (which it never is), that's no reason for language structure and syntax to evolve any slower.

I'm not referring to syntactic typology. If there is a term that I am referring to I don't know it because I've never formally studied linguistics. I'm talking about the scope of words that exist in the language, not the structure of how they're expressed.

I'm making the claim that the words which exist in a language come into common usage because they're relevant to the lifestyle of those speaking the language. Therefore, if hunter-gatherers have been living essentially the same static lifestyle for [x] period of time, then the evolution of the language is very slow, and it's likely that the modern one resembles the original one more closely than if more social evolution had occurred. I don't particularly care about structure, I'm discussing what's been symbolized.

Yes social changes have occurred in that time, but I think it'd still be true that the language San Bushmen were speaking in the 19th century would be a good indicator of what they were speaking many thousands of years ago (in prehistory), if not an exact replica.

And I'm telling you that it isn't..

You made a guess, and you guessed wrong, end of story.

Sometimes I really wish there was an analogue to a driving license before people get to spout claims about language pulled from thin air.
Completely misinterpreting someone's argument and then telling them they're wrong without saying why is about just as credible as a guess.

If you're completely convinced that I'm wrong I'd love to hear why. Really.
 

lpetrich

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WALS Online - the World Atlas of Language Structures. It is exclusively of present-day languages, without any past ones or reconstructed ancestral ones.

Be careful of areal effects.  Standard Average European, Standard Average European describe several linguistic features shared by many European languages and rare outside of Europe. They use lots of linguistic jargon, though they do have some examples.

Euroversals - Are all European languages alike? - YouTube
Standard Average European: The European Sprachbund - YouTube

Dolgopolsky list with numbers in Swadesh-list versions for easy search: 100-word (Wikipedia), 207-word (Wiktionary), Khoisan 100-word
  1. I/me -- 1 -- 1 -- 1
  2. two/pair -- 12 -- 23 -- 9
  3. you (sg, inf) -- 2 -- 2 -- 2
  4. who/what -- 6, 7 -- 11, 12 -- 4, 5
  5. tongue -- 44 -- 78 -- 81
  6. name -- 100 -- 207 -- 84
  7. eye -- 40 -- 74 -- 71
  8. heart -- 52 -- 90 -- 92
  9. tooth -- 43 -- 77 -- 88
  10. no/not -- 8 -- 16 -- X
  11. nail (fingernail) -- 45 -- 79 -- 71
  12. louse/nit -- 22 -- 48 -- 45
  13. tear/teardrop -- X -- X - X
  14. water -- 75 -- 150 -- 36
  15. dead -- 61 -- 109 -- 99
In that Khoisan list, these languages: !XOO JU|’HOA NKHOEKHOE KWADI SANDAWE HADZA
Wiktionary has 207-word Swadesh lists for ǃXóõ and Khoekhoe, and a big selection of others, including reconstructed Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Austronesian.
 

rousseau

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And I'm telling you that it isn't..

You made a guess, and you guessed wrong, end of story.

Sometimes I really wish there was an analogue to a driving license before people get to spout claims about language pulled from thin air.
Completely misinterpreting someone's argument and then telling them they're wrong without saying why is about just as credible as a guess.

If you're completely convinced that I'm wrong I'd love to hear why. Really.

I posed the question on the linguistics stack exchange: https://linguistics.stackexchange.c...n-hunter-gatherer-languages-a-good-indication

Short answer: the answer can't be tested and so is unknowable

But the long answer I got to the question is pretty good. I'd probably update the proposition to languages like Khoisan being the best we've got.
 

Copernicus

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Remember that the picture is complicated by the existence of typological patterns that cut across ancestral relationships. There are limits to how languages can differ from each other, and the factors that might cause typological similarities are not well-established. See  linguistic typology.

I guess my point is less about relationships between and structures of languages, and more about the objects that have been symbolized in each language. In Khoisan, what I find interesting isn't it's evolution across time, but rather what people chose to symbolize one hundred thousand years ago. In that sense the scope of the language points to the life experience and concepts contained by those speaking it, or a part of our prehistory.

That is what I understood you to be saying, but that shifts to question to one of anthropology and sociology, rather than linguistics. If you are just talking about the subject matter of what people talk about, then you aren't really talking about differences of language. Any language can adopt any vocabulary it needs, whether through borrowing or pure word coinage. A very good book that speaks directly to this question is George Lakoff's tour de force  Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. He went into some detail on how cultural concepts can shape linguistic behavior, not vice versa.

Beyond that, when you say 'there are limits to how languages can differ', that's interesting to me too, because it points to the fact that, regardless of time period, our fundamental experience as humans is relatively static. In theory there should be a finite set of objects and concepts to symbolize, and an even smaller set that are in every day use.

I would prefer to say that human experience has a range limited by our biology. Lakoff called his philosophical approach "experientialism".
 

Jokodo

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Sorry for the flippant quick answer above, hoping to get more back on topic with this post.

And why would that be so? There isn't a good correlation between a group's languages syntactic typology and its mode of subsistence. Here's the distribution of languages by whether they have morphological case, https://wals.info/feature/49A#4/-11.87/143.57

You will note that there isn't much of a global pattern, and in some regions, e.g. Northern Australia our Southeast Europe you find everything from languages with no case marking to 10 or more cases right next to each other.

Again, even if "experience is unchanged" (which it never is), that's no reason for language structure and syntax to evolve any slower.

I'm not referring to syntactic typology. If there is a term that I am referring to I don't know it because I've never formally studied linguistics. I'm talking about the scope of words that exist in the language, not the structure of how they're expressed.

It sounds like you are referring to the vocabulary of a language, is that correct? Which concepts are expressed at all, or which are expressed by separate words vs. grouped together with similar concepts? Things like the fact that Latin had, and Arabic has, one word for maternal uncle (avunculus, khaal) and a different one for paternal uncle (patruus, 'amm) because, in a strictly patrilineal society where your mother's relatives aren't properly considered family, the two concepts are different enough to warrant a terminological distinction, while in English, Spanish and Inuit the two are collapsed?

As the example already shows (Latin splitting, modern Romance languages lumping), this kind of thing is neither well-correlated with genealogical families nor stable on timescales as centuries or (low single digit) millennia.

I'm making the claim that the words which exist in a language come into common usage because they're relevant to the lifestyle of those speaking the language.

Sure, but how is that relevant to Khoisan languages being any more representative of what languages people may have spoken in deep prehistory than other extant languages?

Therefore, if hunter-gatherers have been living essentially the same static lifestyle for [x] period of time, then the evolution of the language is very slow, and it's likely that the modern one resembles the original one more closely than if more social evolution had occurred. I don't particularly care about structure, I'm discussing what's been symbolized.

That if clause, at least when applied to Khoisan languages, seems to contain several unspoken assumptions that are either demonstrably false or not known to be true. It is not only false but logically impossible that the San have been living the same static lifestyle for anywhere near the 50k years you were talking about - if nothing else, because the climate in the larger Kalahari region has been constantly changing becoming dryer or wetter and thus more or less abundant on timescales much shorter. As of today, in Southern Africa and elsewhere, hunter-gatherers are largely confined to marginal lands, but this wasn't always so, and the hospitability of a land directly affects group size, the viability of amassing possessions and the importance of clear inheritance rules and a host of other variables known to correlate with social structure. This is not merely theoretical, there are actual ethnographic records (e.g. from the Northwest USA and British Columbia Pacific Coast macroregion in the 19th century) showing that hunter-gatherers too will form complex stratified societies where the environment supports it. Assuming that a hunter-gatherer group living on what's now a scarce desert area will have "essentially the same static lifestyle" as their ancestors when the area was lush grassland a mere 2000 years ago is nonsense even in the absence of migration and contact (again not true, more on that below).

Even letting that fly, the timescale's just wrong. No serious linguistic reconstruction can go back more than, maybe, with a lot of conjecturing, 3000 years before the attested language stages under the best of circumstances - because languages change, period. Not "if there is a radical shift in lifestyle", not "when there is extensive contact with outsiders", it's just a thing language does

Yes social changes have occurred in that time, but I think it'd still be true that the language San Bushmen were speaking in the 19th century would be a good indicator of what they were speaking many thousands of years ago (in prehistory), if not an exact replica.

First, you were talking about Khoisan as a whole, not specifically about the San (Bushmen). The Khoisan are not one tribe speaking one language, they are a group of diverse people with diverse lifestyles, speaking a set of vaguely similar languages falling into three well-established families some of which may not even actually be related - and most of them were pastoralists herding sheep and cattle (both originally domesticated in Eurasia millennia earlier) when they were first encountered by Europeans, or for that matter by the Bantu. Even the "San" are not a monolithic group with a common language. A number of languages of hunter-gatherers classified as San by ethnography are actually closer to the languages of Khoekhoe pastoralists than to those of other San groups - and indeed some groups may be descended from pastoralists who gave up lifestock breeding when the climate deteriorated.

The history of Southern Africa in the two thousand years before the Europeans appeared on the scene is *much* more nuanced than you appear to believe. From my reading, the most plausible scenario is that a group of (probably, at least in a loose sense) Khoisan speakers in what's today Zambia or even Southern Tanzania picked up pastoralism from neighbouring Bantu (or possibly Kushitic) people around the year 500 BC or earlier and ran this new technology all the way to the Cape in quick succession, up to a millennium before Bantu farmers colonized Eastern South Africa. What appears less clear is if these people largely supplanted the previous inhabitants or whether it was more a case of cultural diffusion, where local foragers adopted the practice from their neighbours. If it is the former, most modern Khoisan as far west as Namibia actually trace most of their ancestry to this group. The jury, I gather, is still out on which is more plausible, though some researchers have argued that the existence of cognate terms for "cattle" and "sheep" among many Khoisan languages suggests the former, though there are other approaches (a fine example of language giving clues to prehistory, by the way, but not the way you seem to imagine). Interestingly, cognate forms for lifestock also appear in hunter-gatherer languages, suggesting at least that there ancestors knew about/where in contact with pastoralists prior to language diversification.

Here's some of my reading: Southern African ancient genomes estimate modern human divergence to 350,000 to 260,000 years ago - don't let the title fool you, while they do report a genetic component that appears to be unique to Southern African Khoisan people and splitting from the rest at a very early age, they also estimate that "all modern-day Khoe-San groups have been influenced by 9 to 30% genetic admixture from East Africans/Eurasians" deriving from this pastoralist expanstion and/or the later Bantu (farmer) expansion.

Fine-Scale Human Population Structure in Southern Africa Reflects Ecogeographic Boundaries - suggesting neither language affiliation nor mode of subsistence are all that well correlated with genomic data, suggesting that both spread predominantly through diffusion rather than supplanting previous populations.

The early livestock-raisers of southern Africa - heavy on comparative linguistic data and discussing possible implication as to whether cattle and sheep arrived as one complex or in two waves (sheep first).

Tracing Pastoralist Migrations to Southern Africa with Lactase Persistence Alleles - providing data for positive selection for lactase persistence among Khoisan groups, by quantifying the overabundance of the corresponding (East African derived) alleles relative to the overall share of East African ancestry. An interesting marginal finding of theirs is evidence for selection among to forage groups which can be construed as an indication that they've shifted to foraging from an earlier pastoralist lifestyle.

Was there an interchange between Cushitic pastoralists and Khoisan speakers in the prehistory of Southern Africa and how can this be detected? - Slightly different topic, but what I found interesting was the observation that South African Bantu languages (such as Zulu and Xhosa) actually have Khoisan loans for sheep and cattle, suggesting that the earliest Bantu cultivators reaching the region only brought goats and were familiarized with cattle and sheep by their non-Bantu neighbours.
 

lpetrich

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I'll make some Dolgopolsky lists.

I/me, two/pair, you (sg/inf) / who/what, tongue, name / eye, heart, tooth / no/not, nail (finger-nail), louse/nit / tear/teardrop, water, dead.
Wiktionary 1, 23, 2 / 11, 78, 207 / 74, 90, 77 / 16, 79, 48 / X, 150, 109

Proto-Indo-European:
*egH- *me-, *dwoH, *tuH- *te- / *kwis, *dngwh-, Hnomn / Hokw-, kerd-, Hdont- gombh- / ne-, Hnegh-, konid- lewH- / -, Hekw- wodr-, mer- dhew-

I suggest going to Appendix:Swadesh lists - Wiktionary and copying out some more. I can't do everything, and this is the sort of research that one must do if one is to be a good comparative linguist.
 

Jokodo

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Sorry for the flippant quick answer above, hoping to get more back on topic with this post.



It sounds like you are referring to the vocabulary of a language, is that correct? Which concepts are expressed at all, or which are expressed by separate words vs. grouped together with similar concepts? Things like the fact that Latin had, and Arabic has, one word for maternal uncle (avunculus, khaal) and a different one for paternal uncle (patruus, 'amm) because, in a strictly patrilineal society where your mother's relatives aren't properly considered family, the two concepts are different enough to warrant a terminological distinction, while in English, Spanish and Inuit the two are collapsed?

As the example already shows (Latin splitting, modern Romance languages lumping), this kind of thing is neither well-correlated with genealogical families nor stable on timescales as centuries or (low single digit) millennia.

I'm making the claim that the words which exist in a language come into common usage because they're relevant to the lifestyle of those speaking the language.

Sure, but how is that relevant to Khoisan languages being any more representative of what languages people may have spoken in deep prehistory than other extant languages?

Therefore, if hunter-gatherers have been living essentially the same static lifestyle for [x] period of time, then the evolution of the language is very slow, and it's likely that the modern one resembles the original one more closely than if more social evolution had occurred. I don't particularly care about structure, I'm discussing what's been symbolized.

That if clause, at least when applied to Khoisan languages, seems to contain several unspoken assumptions that are either demonstrably false or not known to be true. It is not only false but logically impossible that the San have been living the same static lifestyle for anywhere near the 50k years you were talking about - if nothing else, because the climate in the larger Kalahari region has been constantly changing becoming dryer or wetter and thus more or less abundant on timescales much shorter. As of today, in Southern Africa and elsewhere, hunter-gatherers are largely confined to marginal lands, but this wasn't always so, and the hospitability of a land directly affects group size, the viability of amassing possessions and the importance of clear inheritance rules and a host of other variables known to correlate with social structure. This is not merely theoretical, there are actual ethnographic records (e.g. from the Northwest USA and British Columbia Pacific Coast macroregion in the 19th century) showing that hunter-gatherers too will form complex stratified societies where the environment supports it. Assuming that a hunter-gatherer group living on what's now a scarce desert area will have "essentially the same static lifestyle" as their ancestors when the area was lush grassland a mere 2000 years ago is nonsense even in the absence of migration and contact (again not true, more on that below).

Even letting that fly, the timescale's just wrong. No serious linguistic reconstruction can go back more than, maybe, with a lot of conjecturing, 3000 years before the attested language stages under the best of circumstances - because languages change, period. Not "if there is a radical shift in lifestyle", not "when there is extensive contact with outsiders", it's just a thing language does

Yes social changes have occurred in that time, but I think it'd still be true that the language San Bushmen were speaking in the 19th century would be a good indicator of what they were speaking many thousands of years ago (in prehistory), if not an exact replica.

First, you were talking about Khoisan as a whole, not specifically about the San (Bushmen). The Khoisan are not one tribe speaking one language, they are a group of diverse people with diverse lifestyles, speaking a set of vaguely similar languages falling into three well-established families some of which may not even actually be related - and most of them were pastoralists herding sheep and cattle (both originally domesticated in Eurasia millennia earlier) when they were first encountered by Europeans, or for that matter by the Bantu. Even the "San" are not a monolithic group with a common language. A number of languages of hunter-gatherers classified as San by ethnography are actually closer to the languages of Khoekhoe pastoralists than to those of other San groups - and indeed some groups may be descended from pastoralists who gave up lifestock breeding when the climate deteriorated.

The history of Southern Africa in the two thousand years before the Europeans appeared on the scene is *much* more nuanced than you appear to believe. From my reading, the most plausible scenario is that a group of (probably, at least in a loose sense) Khoisan speakers in what's today Zambia or even Southern Tanzania picked up pastoralism from neighbouring Bantu (or possibly Kushitic) people around the year 500 BC or earlier and ran this new technology all the way to the Cape in quick succession, up to a millennium before Bantu farmers colonized Eastern South Africa. What appears less clear is if these people largely supplanted the previous inhabitants or whether it was more a case of cultural diffusion, where local foragers adopted the practice from their neighbours. If it is the former, most modern Khoisan as far west as Namibia actually trace most of their ancestry to this group. The jury, I gather, is still out on which is more plausible, though some researchers have argued that the existence of cognate terms for "cattle" and "sheep" among many Khoisan languages suggests the former, though there are other approaches (a fine example of language giving clues to prehistory, by the way, but not the way you seem to imagine). Interestingly, cognate forms for lifestock also appear in hunter-gatherer languages, suggesting at least that there ancestors knew about/where in contact with pastoralists prior to language diversification.

Here's some of my reading: Southern African ancient genomes estimate modern human divergence to 350,000 to 260,000 years ago - don't let the title fool you, while they do report a genetic component that appears to be unique to Southern African Khoisan people and splitting from the rest at a very early age, they also estimate that "all modern-day Khoe-San groups have been influenced by 9 to 30% genetic admixture from East Africans/Eurasians" deriving from this pastoralist expanstion and/or the later Bantu (farmer) expansion.

Fine-Scale Human Population Structure in Southern Africa Reflects Ecogeographic Boundaries - suggesting neither language affiliation nor mode of subsistence are all that well correlated with genomic data, suggesting that both spread predominantly through diffusion rather than supplanting previous populations.

The early livestock-raisers of southern Africa - heavy on comparative linguistic data and discussing possible implication as to whether cattle and sheep arrived as one complex or in two waves (sheep first).

Tracing Pastoralist Migrations to Southern Africa with Lactase Persistence Alleles - providing data for positive selection for lactase persistence among Khoisan groups, by quantifying the overabundance of the corresponding (East African derived) alleles relative to the overall share of East African ancestry. An interesting marginal finding of theirs is evidence for selection among to forage groups which can be construed as an indication that they've shifted to foraging from an earlier pastoralist lifestyle.

Was there an interchange between Cushitic pastoralists and Khoisan speakers in the prehistory of Southern Africa and how can this be detected? - Slightly different topic, but what I found interesting was the observation that South African Bantu languages (such as Zulu and Xhosa) actually have Khoisan loans for sheep and cattle, suggesting that the earliest Bantu cultivators reaching the region only brought goats and were familiarized with cattle and sheep by their non-Bantu neighbours.

Tl;dr: speaking of the Khoisan people leading the Khoisan lifestyle and speaking the millennia old Khoisan language is not entirely unlike talking of the Indoeuropeans (to encompass among others Bengals, Canadians and Kurds) while insinuating they all live the lives of Icelandic whalers and speak Mycenian Greek.

Yes, it's that bad. Actually worse - Mycenian Greek is only 3000ish years old, while you're claiming stasis for an order if magnitude or two longer.
 

Swammerdami

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Interesting thread! A few miscellaneous comments:

* The P-I-E Homeland was certainly Yamnaya (Pit Grave) and its predecessors in the East European steppes. The Yamnaya culture may not have invented the wheeled cart, but they benefited enormously from it because of flat terrain and pastoral economy. The wheeled cart allowed them to become more productive semi-nomads; it also let them serve as a conduit between metal-workers and ore sources. The 2nd-earliest known branch-off from P.I.E. was Afanasievo (ancestral to Tocharian) and digs there have produced ceramic wagon toys. (Actual wooden wagons do not survive well.) The earliest branch-off (Anatolian/Hittite) left the steppes before the invention of the wheeled cart and, sure enough, the Hittite words for wheel and axle are borrowed.

The reconstructed word for 'beech tree' was a stumbling-block for this theory: Beech doesn't grow in the East European steppes. But (this amazes me slightly) scientists have recovered ancient beech pollen from steppe soil. Beech trees did grow there at the time of Yamnaya!

A Yamnaya origin for I-E fits the facts like a glove fits a hand. Even Atkinson-Gray will concede this privately.

* The use of new words like 'dog' or 'perro' for canines shouldn't be surprising, given the large difference in dog breeds. Invaders from a country with terriers might well use a new word (the local word or even slang) to describe the spaniels they encounter in their new home. Although it looks back only 400 years, Shakespeare's writing is a fun way to look at historical English. The Bard often uses 'hound' in favorable or neutral contexts, but 'dog' (or 'whoreson dog' or 'coward dogs') is often negative.
"Where death and danger dogs the heels of worth."
"... In killing creatures vile, as cats and dogs, of no esteem."
"Die men like dogs!"
"Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war"​

* Numbers are interesting. 'Seven' (or rather its P-I-E ancestor) appears to be borrowed from Semitic. How ancient is the Semitic special veneration of that number (cf. seven-day week)? Vigesimal numbering (present even in English: "Fourscore and seven years ago") was adopted by languages along Europe's western coasts, and may trace back to Africa's western coasts.

That 'five' and 'cinq' are cognates, tracing back to P-I-E 'penkwe' by different sound changes, seems to me a splendid example!

* Long-range genetic connections between languages or language families is an extremely controversial topic. As a non-expert I can only look on and form an opinion based on combinatorial arguments, debaters' emotions and common-sense. The hypothesis of  Amerind_languages encompassing in one macro-family the pre-Columbian languages of South, Central and parts of North America seems almost certain to be true, yet attracts strident opposition from academics who have built their careers on studying just one of Amerindian's many subfamilies. And (speaking of languages with vigesimal counting) even more controversial is a theory linking Basque, Burushaski, the Northwest Caucasian family and even perhaps Sumerian! Might this macro-family, supported by many cognates, reflect genetic links among the earliest farmers, with Basque arriving in Western Europe via the Cardial Ware expansion?
 

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Yes, there are some Proto-Indo-European words that are related to some Semitic words, likely by borrowing.

*sweks "six", *septm "seven", *(s)tauros "bull", *ker-n- "horn", etc.

Another curiosity is that the word for "eight" *oktô has a dual ending, a plural for two of something, like "two" itself: *dwô But the PIE word for "four" was *kwetwores , not anything that could give *oktô .

Bjørn-2017-Foreign-elements-in-the-Proto-Indo-European-vocabulary.pdf

*bha-bh/k- "bean", Lat. faba -- likely Neolithic European, multiple borrowings

*gonu- "knee", Lat. genu, Gk. gonu -- Uralic: Finno-Ugric *kinä "elbow" -- likely inherited from some common ancestor of IE and Uralic

*ghaid-o- "goat", Lat. haedus "young goat" -- likely a European regionalism -- Semitic *gadi-, NE Caucasian: Proto-Nakh *gazha -- likely some Neolithic-Europe language family

*H3neH3-mn- "name" (H3 is likely "khw"), Lat. nômen, nômin- Gr. onoma(t-), Russ. imya, imyen- -- Uralic, Yukaghir *nime -- likely from an IE-Uralic ancestor

*linom "linen", Lat. lînum, Gk linon -- NE Caucasian *thlwin'i "flax seed" -- likely another Neolithic-European word

*(s)tauros "bull", Lat. tauros, Gk. tauros, Eng. steer -- Semitic *ttawr-, NE Caucasian *stw- -- likely an early borrowing

*wed-r "water", Lat. unda "wave", Greek hudôr, Russ. voda -- Uralic *wetä -- likely inherited from some IE-Uralic ancestor

*(w)rugh- "rye" -- Uralic FU *ruchV, *NE Caucasian *recchV -- likely another Neolithic-European word
 
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