• Welcome to the new Internet Infidels Discussion Board, formerly Talk Freethought.

Language as a Clue to Prehistory

lpetrich

Contributor
Joined
Jul 28, 2000
Messages
20,712
Location
Eugene, OR
Gender
Male
Basic Beliefs
Atheist
Then Sino-Caucasian: North Caucasian, Yeniseian, and Sino-Tibetan. Sometimes extended with Basque, Burushaski, and Na-Dene, giving Dene-Caucasian. Of these, the original homelands of Yeniseian, Central Siberia, and Na-Dene, Beringia, are very unsuitable for agriculture. But Proto-Sino-Tibetan has some agricultural vocabulary and Proto-North-Caucasian a lot of it. But the agricultural vocabulary of Sino-Caucasian is very weak and doubtful.

The most success is with Basque and North Caucasian (Euskaro-Caucasian). It's hard to find much, but some correspondences are phonetically and semantically very good. There is also a lot of non-Indo-European substrate vocabulary in the Indo-European languages of Europe, and some of it seems to be related to Basque and North Caucasian. This suggests that the expansion of farmers into Europe in the early Holocene was of speakers of some Euskaro-Caucasian language, with Indo-European a later overlay.

Then discussing Afro-Asiatic (or Afroasiatic).

The deepest split in it is between (Semitic, Egyptian, Berber, Chadic) and (Cushitic, Omotic). The first part is North African and Middle Eastern, and the second part East African; Somali is a Cushitic language.

There isn't much evidence of agriculture-related cognates across Afro-Asiatic, meaning that the Proto-Afro-Asiatic speakers were unfamiliar with it.  Afroasiatic homeland - mentions a proposed homeland in eastern Ethiopia about 10,000 years ago. That's far from the Middle East. An offshoot moved northward to Egypt, then an offshoot of that one to the Levant and became the speakers of Proto-Semitic. So what happened to Europe also happened to the Middle East - an original population of farmers became conquered by people from their peripheries.
As an interesting curio, it could be instructive to mention a recent study (Agmon & Bloch 2013) that used statistical methods to ascertain that various terms reflecting hunting and foraging activities in Semitic tend to be shorter, i.e. are more frequently represented by archaic biconsonantal roots than agricultural terms, which, conversely, tend to be almost always represented by longer, triconsonantal roots. If this study checks out through detailed etymological research, this could be a serious argument in favor of a relatively late origin of agricultural terminology for ancestors of Proto-Semitic. For now, we simply have to accept the fact that a lot of research on various subgroups of Afroasiatic is still necessary in order to properly resolve the issue – and that, for the moment, strong evidence for agriculture in Proto-Afroasiatic is non-existent.
So we conclude that early Semitic speakers started out with lots of two-consonant roots and then extended many of them to form three-consonant ones. Something like Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Slavic speakers inventing verb-aspect systems.
 

Swammerdami

Squadron Leader
Staff member
Joined
Dec 16, 2017
Messages
3,286
Location
Land of Smiles
Basic Beliefs
pseudo-deism
Unfortunately, all these protolanguages split up at most by 5 - 6 thousand years ago, far too recent for agriculture.

The languages of the first farmers might have disappeared long ago, with their only surviving evidence being contributed agricultural vocabulary.

So we must turn to less well-established language families, families that go much farther back in time, like Nostratic and Afro-Asiatic.

Indo-European is the only well-established language family as old as 5000-6000 years old. It has been pushed back so far only due to evidence far greater than for any other language family: a plethora of descendant languages, and written texts that are much more than 3000 years old.

In addition to some of the ancient languages lpetrich mentions, Basque, North Caucasian and Burushaski may have had a common ancestor. Here is an excerpt from
This excerpt shows words associated with farming. Other word lists in this or other Bengtson papers show cognates for domesticated animals.

• Basque *gari / *gal- ‘wheat’80 = Cauc: Tindi q’:eru, Lezgi q:ül ‘wheat’, etc.81
• Basque *(gara-)ga ‘barley’82 = Cauc: Rutul q’ir ‘winter wheat’, Agul q’ir ~ q’ur ‘grain’83 = Burushaski *gur ‘wheat’.
• Basque: *bihi ‘grain, seed, kernel’84 = Cauc: Godoberi beč’in ‘rye’, Tindi beč’in ‘barley’, etc.85
• Basque *sikirio ‘rye’86 = Cauc: Rutul sɨk’ɨl ‘rye’, Khinalug sɨlg-li ‘rye’, etc.87
• Basque *olho ‘oats’, *alho ‘wild oats’88 = Cauc: Kabardian xₙə ‘millet’ < PWC *λₙə id.89
• Basque *arto ‘maize’ (earlier ‘millet’) = Cauc: Avar ro: ‘wheat’, Agul jerg ‘oats’, etc.90
• Basque *ilha- ‘vetch, peas, beans’91 = Cauc: Tsez hil ‘pea(s)’, Avar holó ‘bean(s)’, etc.92

Most impressive, in my opinion, is a whole suite of Basque agricultural terms, involving soil tilling and preparation, harvesting, threshing, sifting, and grinding, that have close Caucasian and Burushaski counterparts:
• Basque *laia ‘two-pronged fork (used for loosening and turning soil)’ 93 = Cauc: Bezhta ƛaχ-dami ‘rake’, etc.94
• Basque *haincu ‘hoe, spade’95 = Cauc: Chechen ästa ‘hoe, mattock’, Akhwakh ʕerc:e ‘wooden plow’, etc.96 = Burushaski *harṣ ‘plow’
• Basque *arhe ‘harrow’97 = Cauc: Avar ʁár-ize ‘to harrow’, Lezgi ʁar ‘harrow’, etc.98
• Basque *laain ‘threshing floor’99 = Cauc: Archi ƛorom ‘threshing board’, Andi loli ‘threshing, threshing floor’, etc. 100 = Burushaski *daltán- ‘to thresh’ < *rVŁV-n-.
• Basque *bahe ‘sieve’101 = Cauc: Tsakhur wex:ʷa ‘sieve’, Lak =ihi- ‘to filter’, etc.102
• Basque *eiho ‘to grind’ / *eihera ‘mill’103 = Cauc: Chechen aħ- ‘grind’ / ħer ‘mill’, Ingush ħajra ‘mill’, Lak ha=a- ‘grind’ / hara-qalu ‘mill’, etc. 104 = Burushaski *-hor- ‘to grind’.

The linguistic evidence presented here indicates that the western Dene-Caucasian speakers of ca. 7500 years ago (linguistic ancestors of the present-day Basques, North Caucasians, and Burushos) had a well-developed Neolithic pastoral-agricultural culture, including the husbandry of large and small cattle and the cultivation and milling of cereal grains and some other crops such as pulses.
How do we know that the Basques did not simply adopt these Dene-Caucasian Neolithic terms as loanwords, while retaining the rest of their original language intact? In fact the Neolithic terms have the same phonology and morphology as the most basic parts of the Basque lexicon.
For example, in Basque *olho ‘oats’ = PNC *λwʔwV ‘millet’ we see the same correspondence of Basque aspirated lateral (*lh) to PNC lateral fricative (*λ) as in Basque *e-lhu- ‘snow’105 = PEC *jĭwλV / *λĭwV ‘snow’, and ‘snow’ can hardly be considered a cultural word that is easily borrowed.106 Likewise, the phonological relationship between Basque *behi ‘cow’ and Andi buc’:ir ‘cattle’ is parallel to that of Basque *minhi ‘tongue’ = Andi mic’:i ‘tongue’,107 one of the most basic words in any language. Morphologically, the relationship between Basque *eiho ‘to grind’ (verb) and *eihera ‘mill’ (noun) is the same as that between Ingush aħ- ‘to grind’ and ħajra ‘mill’. The Basque allomorphs seen in *ahari / *ahal- ‘ram’ and *gari / *gal- ‘wheat’ are entirely parallel to those of the basic *heugari / *heugal- ‘abundant,
copious’ / to increase, multiply’ (cf. Tsez =eχora ‘long’, Akushi χala-l ‘big’, etc. < PNC *HāχułV / *HālχV ‘long, big’), and so on. In other words, there is no linguistic reason to suppose that Basque words for domestic animals, cultivated plants, and food-processing belong to a different or later layer than the most basic words (e.g., words for ‘blood, bone, tongue, tooth, horn’, etc.)
discussed above (page 161).

It is, IMO, a misconception that Basque is the residue of an old hunter-gatherer language of West Europe. Farmers arrived in Spain shortly after 6000 BC and the pre-Neolithic languages were long gone by the time of Julius Caesar. Basque arrived from the Eastern Mediterranean, probably via the Impressed Ware/Cardial Ware expansion. This expansion was driven by sea-faring adventurers, rather than mainly cultural diffusion. One can see remnants of Y-haplogroup G-PF3177 in isolated places like Sardinia. (Note that this is a DIFFERENT clade from the large majority of G's in Western Europe today (G-PF3345), who arrived with the Alan tribes during the decline of the Roman Empire.)

This links the early Neolithic language of Western Europe — proto-Basque — to an early Neolithic language in the Fertile Crescent. (Later arrivals like Hittite, Iranian, Semitic drove the early farming language sibling to proto-Basque into the Caucusus mountains.)

Burushaski — an isolate found only near the mountainous Hindu Kush — is also linked to this Basque-Caucasian family! The language of the Harappan civilization is unknown, but Burushaski has been proposed as a possibility; migration from the Tigris River area seems plausible.
 

lpetrich

Contributor
Joined
Jul 28, 2000
Messages
20,712
Location
Eugene, OR
Gender
Male
Basic Beliefs
Atheist
Yes indeed - Notes on some Pre-Greek words in relation to Euskaro-Caucasian (North Caucasian + Basque)

Working from Beekes - The Pre-Greek loans in Greek
Noting lots of phonological features that are atypical of Indo-European.
 Pre-Greek substrate - good place to start. Here's a fun one: words for noisemakers that end with -nx, -ngg-

salpinx: trumpet / syrinx: panpipes, flute / phorrminx: lyre / larynx: voice box, throat / pharynx: throat

Category:Greek terms derived from Pre-Greek - Wiktionary - Wiktionary is a remarkably comprehensive resource

-

 Germanic substrate hypothesis
Non-Indo-European root nouns in Germanic: evidence in support of the Agricultural Substrate Hypothesis - sust266_kroonen.pdf
Category: Proto-Germanic terms derived from substrate languages - Wiktionary
Germanic words of non-Indo-European origin - Linguistics - Eupedia

 Goidelic substrate hypothesis - for the Gaelic languages
The substratum in Insular Celtic


Category:Terms derived from substrate languages - Wiktionary - look under the Proto- ones
 
Last edited:

lpetrich

Contributor
Joined
Jul 28, 2000
Messages
20,712
Location
Eugene, OR
Gender
Male
Basic Beliefs
Atheist
The pre-Indo-European substrate languages of Europe had a feature that shows up in a lot of substrate words: variations in initials, like a- being present only some of the time.

John Bengton and Camilla Leschber conclude that they are fossilized noun-class prefixes, and that Basque also has them.

The North Caucasian languages have various systems of noun-class prefixes, and the language of the first Anatolian and European farmers thus likely also had such prefixes.

 Northeast Caucasian languages and N-D Noun Class lectures - N-D Noun Class lectures.pdf
Noun classes have agreement not only with adjectives and verbs, but also with adverbs and various function words.

The number of noun classes varies from 2 to 8.
  • Tabasaran (northern): 2 (human vs. non-human)
  • Avar, Dargwa, and most Andic languages: 3 (male rational, female rational, non-human)
  • Lak, Tsez, Hinukh, the Lezgic languages with noun classes: 4
    • Lak: male rational; (mature) female rational; animate; inanimate
    • Archi: male rational; female rational; complex division for remaining nouns
    • Tsez: male rational; female rational + inanimates; animates & inanimates; inanimates
  • Chamalal, Hunzib, Khwarshi: 5
    • Hunzib: male rational; female rational; animates and inanimates spread across other three classes (Forker 2014)
  • Chechen, Ingush: (traditionally) 6
  • Batsbi (Tsova-Tush): (traditionally) 8
But three of the Batsbi classes, VI to VIII, have only 20 words among them. Table of Batsbi (Tsova-Tush) classes:
ClassSingularPlural
Iv-b-Mostly male: stak' 'man', dad 'father', mar 'husband', ...
IIy-d-Mostly female: nan 'mother,' pst'u 'wife', johh 'daughter', ...
IIId-d-Largest class: bader 'child', dok' 'heart', ...
IVy-y-2nd largest class: tsark' 'tooth', q'ar 'rain', ...
Vb-d-phhu 'dog', cha 'bear', matkh 'Sun', ...
VIb-y-bak 'fish', b\ark 'eye', kok' 'leg', ...
VIId-y-bat'r 'lip', lark' 'ear', t'ot' 'hand', ...
VIIIb-b-borag 'knit slipper', kakam 'wool cut in fall', ...
 
Last edited:

lpetrich

Contributor
Joined
Jul 28, 2000
Messages
20,712
Location
Eugene, OR
Gender
Male
Basic Beliefs
Atheist
Usually fewer plural noun classes than singular ones. For instance:
  • Godobery: (male, female), (nonhuman)
  • Hinukh: (male, female), (animals, inanimate I, inanimate II)
  • Bezhta (Tliadal dialect): (male, female), (amimals+inanimate, inanimate I), (inanimate II)
Proto-Nakh-Daghestanian (Northeast Caucasian) (Johanna Nichols):
  • v/() - male human
  • j/r - female human
  • b - many animates
  • d/r - inanimates (chiefly)
  • j - various nonhuman

Tsez:
ClassSingularPluralWhat's in it
I()-b-Male: human, divine
IIy-r-Female: human, divine; some inanimates
IIIb-r-Animals, some inanimates
IVr-r-Other inanimates
So Tsez has only two plural classes: sentient male and everything else.

The paper then considered how nouns for inanimates are assigned to classes II, III, and IV. For instance, vehicles are often in class III, so that class may mean "mobile entities". But abstract nouns are in all three, with those ending in -tli and -ni in IV.
 

lpetrich

Contributor
Joined
Jul 28, 2000
Messages
20,712
Location
Eugene, OR
Gender
Male
Basic Beliefs
Atheist
To add to my previous post, inanimate nouns beginning with y-, b-, and r- are in noun classes II, III, and IV.

Gender Affixation on Caucasian verbs - An_Overview_of_Gender_Agreement_Affixes_in_the_Caucasus.pdf
Genders in the Caucasus are usually marked on verbs and adjectives by affixation

Almost all the languages differentiate masculine and feminine (except e.g. Tabasaran (Babaliyeva 2013)), and they also make a disctinction between human and non-human. The core of both the NEC and NWC systems is therefore:

– Masculine (Class I, in the noun class tradition)
– Feminine (Class II)
– Non-human (Class III)
– + Various inanimate genders

The largest NEC systems have up to six genders, i.e. Chechen, Ingush and Andi (Nichols 1994; Nichols 2011; Salimov 2010).
Two NEC languages' gender systems:

Dargwa (Daghestanian)
ClassSingularPluralWhat's in it
Iw-b-Male human
IIr-b-Female human
IIIb-d-Nonhuman
Chechen (Nakh):
ClassSingularPluralWhat's in it
Iv-b-Male Human
IIy-b-Female Human
IIIb-b-Nonhuman I
IVb-d-Nonhuman II
Vd-d-Nonhuman III
VIy-y-Nonhuman IV
 

lpetrich

Contributor
Joined
Jul 28, 2000
Messages
20,712
Location
Eugene, OR
Gender
Male
Basic Beliefs
Atheist
Turning to Northwest Caucasian languages, they have very similar gender systems. Here, the verb prefixes vary by person.
Class2nd3rd abs3rd ergWhat's in it
Iw-d-y-Male human singular
IIb-d-l-Female human singular
IIIw-y-a/n-Nonhuman singular
I, II, IIIshw-y-r/d-Plural
abs = absolutive case (subjects of intransitive verbs), erg = ergative case (subjects of transitive verbs)

The rest of the article was mainly about trying to find patterns, like b- being very common, y- and r- being common feminine markers, w/v- being common masculine markers, and d- being a common inanimate marker.
 
Top Bottom