Skip to main content

View Diary: Let Them Eat Metaphors, Part 1: The Indo-European Hypothesis (69 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  There's PIE and then there's PIE (7+ / 0-)

    It is important to differentiate between the reconstruction of PIE developed by scholars, which is an abstraction, and the actual language once spoken by a rather small group of people.  One theory (Colin Renfrew) puts this at 8000 or so years, the dawn of agriculture, and in Eastern Turkey.  Considerable genetic evidence points to the same origin.(L. Cavalli-Sforsa)

    All we can know about this real language is that it did exist and was used by real people to express themselves in an understandable (and pronouncable) way.  The abstraction, a product of deduction, sometimes lacks these qualities, but it is intended to represent the actual PIE only symbolically.

    Canem Praeteri, Cave Modo Hominem. (Never mind the dog, just watch out for the human)

    by T C Gibian on Mon Apr 29, 2013 at 01:35:09 PM PDT

    •  I don't know... (6+ / 0-)

      that we actually can know this:

      All we can know about this real language is that it did exist
      You are right that there is compelling archaeological evidence to suggest that there were people in what are hypothesized to be the right places at what is hypothesized to be the right time for there to have been an actual PIE, but I think the jury is still pretty far out on whether there really was an actual language spoken by actual people at what would have to have been an extremely concentrated moment in time, which is to say the jury is still out on whether there could have been that which PIE is theorized to have been (i.e., a super-parent language to what are now classified as I-E languages).

      Rather, the "abstraction, a product of deduction" that you describe as "intended to represent the actual PIE only symbolically" may in fact be all there is. There may not ever have been an actual language that was used in an actual place by actual speakers at an actual moment in time.

      Your date of 8,000 years ago, and mine of 5,000-7,000 years ago suggests that we are circling around a period of at least several centuries if not several millenia. I don't think the evidence yet points unequivocally to a time and place that is specific enough to support a claim that there really was a PIE, and even if that question were to be more or less settled, with no surviving linguistic data of any kind, there is only going to be so much that it will ever be possible to say with certainty about the actual language(s) spoken in that place at that time.

      What I think is more likely is that there were a lot of varieties, spoken across hundreds of miles (or more) and over hundreds if not thousands of years, and that some of those varieties were probably related in the way that linguists conceptualize language relatedness and that some were probably not, and that there was contact among speakers in the geographical and temporal vicinity. Maybe there was a brief moment in time in which there was a PIE that developed out of the linguistic and cultural and social conditions that existed at that moment, but even if that was ever actually the case, it would have been a very brief moment indeed but also probably not a very important one, and really probably a metaphorical one. What I think PIE really might have been was a lot of varieties that existed and evolved and came into contact with one another in a particular part of the world over a fairly long period of time.

      In other words, I think that PIE exists -- and has only ever existed -- as an abstraction.  

      Thanks for your comment!

      •  Hmmm, yes (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        alevei, PrahaPartizan

        It is interesting that your third to last paragraph would still make perfect sense if "Proto-Romance" was substituted for "PIE".  P-R is a reconstruction of Common (or Vulgar) Latin, a dialect which was widespread throughout the Empire but scarcely attested in written form.  The reconstruction points to a real language which certainly existed in regional varieties.  Thereby, it might be appropriate to consider it an abstraction.  The term "Modern English" might also have to be considered as pointing to an abstraction for the same reason.  I believe we have no disagreement here.

        Our perspectives are different, I think, largely because our timeframes differ.  I am aware Renfrew's theory of an earlier date for PIE is controversial, but it has tended to be confirmed by genetic data lately.  The 5-7K dates (Kurgan culture?) would represent a time when PIE had had a chance to spread and diversify, so your description would be completely valid.

        My differentiation between reconstructed PIE and the language it represents is based on several observations, one critical.  Rigorous application of pharyngeal theory to PIE words renders some of them almost unpronouncable.  *stH3tis for statis leaves the word with no vowel.  When I pointed this out to my Linguistics Proff (many years ago), the response was that the reconstruction was merely an abstraction and might have no strong connection with how the word was actually pronounced.  In all of the languages I am familiar with, the words are readily pronouncable.  Even though we have no written record of it, I have to assume that the same was true of PIE.

        It is such a pleasure to run across someone who actually knows something about Linguistics.  I look forward to your subsequent posts and promise to be less of a gadfly.

        Canem Praeteri, Cave Modo Hominem. (Never mind the dog, just watch out for the human)

        by T C Gibian on Tue Apr 30, 2013 at 09:18:23 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  PIE As a Collection of Dialects (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          alevei
          "...P-R is a reconstruction of Common (or Vulgar) Latin, a dialect which was widespread throughout the Empire but scarcely attested in written form.  The reconstruction points to a real language which certainly existed in regional varieties.  Thereby, it might be appropriate to consider it an abstraction..."
          I suspect that one should probably look at PIE as a collection of dialects which were mutually intelligible but which had their own particular flavor.  If one suspects that PIE had as its focus the Pontic region, along with the maritime commerce which would have possible along its littoral, then sufficient contact would have been maintained to allow mutual intelligibility while also allowing the creation of distinctive dialects.  Once the populations with each dialect departed the Pontic region and could maintain contact less regularly, the drift from their sibling dialects would have increased until proto-languages emerged.  Without writing, it becomes difficult to establish any language definitively.  Just look at the problems we have when we do have an orthography.

          "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

          by PrahaPartizan on Tue Apr 30, 2013 at 11:53:47 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site