On the PIE watch: in the New York Times

Just now, a posting here on recent research about Proto-Indo-European and its homeland. Also in the media, back on February 24th, the Science Times piece “The Tangled Roots of English” by Nicholas Wade. Which begins:

The peoples of India, Iran and Europe speak a Babel of tongues, but most — English included — are descended from an ancient language known as proto-Indo-European. Scholars have argued for two centuries about the identity and homeland of those who spoke this parent language, but a surprisingly sudden resolution of this longstanding issue may be at hand.

Many origins have been proposed for the birthplace of the Indo-European languages, but only two serious candidates are now under discussion, one of which assumes they were spread by the sword [from the Russian steppes], the other by the plow [from Anatolia].

The recent research supports the Steppe proposal (which is generally favored by historical linguistics, but Wade spends a lot of the article on the Anatolia proposal (which he is on record as favoring). In any case, it’s hard to make sense of Wade’s exposition, which unloads a lot of technical detail in a way that even I found hard to follow.

Here are the references for the recent research, from Asya Peraltsvaig’s Languages of the World site:

Three of them deserve a special mention. The first is “The Indo-European Homeland from Linguistic and Archaeological Perspectives”, written by archeologist David W. Anthony and historical linguist Don Ringe and published in Annual Review of Linguistics. The second is “Ancestry-Constrained Phylogenetic Analysis Supports the Indo-European Steppe Hypothesis”, written by a team led by historical linguist Andrew Garrett; it is to be published in Language, the flagship journal of the Linguistic Society of America (the preprint is available online). The third is “Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe”, written by a large team of geneticists and archeologists (including David W. Anthony, one of the strongest advocates of the Steppe theory) and published in Biorxiv online. Notably, all three articles support the Steppe theory, which links Proto-Indo-European (PIE), the ancestor of all Indo-European languages, to the pastoralist inhabitants of the Pontic Steppes in southern Russia some 5,500 years ago.

Peraltsvaig goes on to savage Wade’s NYT piece.

Note: Wade includes a “newly revised family tree of Indo-European languages”, from the Language article, but without an explanation of what the diagram represents. Ordinary readers will be baffled by the tree, which is very heavy on Indic and Romance languages; is sparing on Germanic (no Dutch, Danish, or Swedish) and Celtic (Scots Gaelic and Irish, but no Welsh, Breton, Manx, or Cornish); has Old Church Slavic but nothing else from the Slavic and Baltic languages; and has Avestan but nothing else from the Iranian languages (no Persian, Pashto, Kurdish, etc.)

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