indo–european origins: the linguistic evidence

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  • INDO-EUROPEAN ORIGINS: THE LINGUISTICEVIDENCE

    STUDENTS OF THE EARLY HISTORY OF EUROPE AND THE NEAR EAST MAYbe excused a certain irritation with the Indo-Europeans. Everyoneaccepts that an important group of peoples, speaking dialects of thesame language,1 did disperse from some region to the north of thecivilized world of the Near East and the Levant about the end of thethird millennium B.C., and the mipact of some of its offshoots onNear Eastern states is a matter of history. But after a century ofresearch there is still no agreement about the location of the regionout of which it dispersed or about the details and chronology of themigrations which brought peoples speaking Indo-European languagesto the lands which their descendants occupied in historical times.Nor do we seem close to an agreed solution of these problems.The most that can be said is that the area within which serious scholarswould now consider putting the "Indo-European homeland" hasbeen somewhat reduced. Scandinavia on the one hand, and India,Central Asia and most of Asia Minor on the other are no longerproposed.

    It is hardly necessary to recapitulate the history of Indo-Europeanstudies here,2 but it may be as well to re-emphasise that the idea of anIndo-European "race", though it has justified itself as a workinghypothesis for the historian, does rest primarily on linguisticphenomena: similarities in inflexion, word-formation and vocabularybetween the Celtic, Italic, Germanic, Baltic and Slavonic languages,Greek and Albanian in Europe; and Armenian, the Iranian languagesand Sanskrit and its cognates and derivatives further east. Theonly plausible explanation of the currency of languages so similarover so large an area at the beginning of historical periods is thatthey derive from dialects of a fairly homogeneous prehistoric languagewhich had been disseminated by migrations out of a smaller region.The Indo-Europeans are hypothetical in so far as they are notmentioned or described in any contemporary or later ancientdocument, and no early literature in an Indo-European languagecontains a definite tradition about migration into the land in whichit was composed or written down. However, what is known ofthe movements of Indo-European peoples in early historical times,the Iranian conquest of Mesopotamia in the seventh and sixthcenturies, for example, does point to an area of origin somewhere

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    to the north of the Near East and the Mediterranean region, andwhen an Indo-European language is known to have been in use inthose parts at an earlier date, it is reasonable to conclude that it hadbeen introduced from a northerly direction. In the absence ofcontemporary accounts and useful later traditions, the location ofthe "homeland", the region which the Indo-Europeans occupiedimmediately before their dispersal, and the course of their migrationsout of it can only be deduced from archaeological discoveries andlinguistic research other than study of early literature as historicalsource-material. Archaeology might seem to offer the most promisingapproach. Theoretically it should be possible to identify a culturewith approximately the characteristics to be attributed to that of theIndo-Europeans within the area in which their "homeland" musthave lain, and trace migrations out of it by the spread of characteristicartefacts, destruction or re-occupation of settlements in other culturalareas, and similar indications. In fact, the difficulty of equatingpeoples mentioned in documentary sources, or groups using aparticular language, with cultures postulated on archaeologicalgrounds, has become steadily more apparent, and leading archaeol-ogists are at pains to point it out. Only collaboration betweenlinguists and archaeologists is likely to bring a satisfactory solutionto the problem of Indo-European origins, but it may be best foreach discipline to investigate the problems in its own field thoroughlybefore synthesis with the results reached by the other is attempted.If archaeological research in a particular area is too much influencedby linguistic theories, or linguistic investigations by historical,a priori conclusions are apt to be drawn.

    During the nineteenth century progress in Indo-European com-parative linguistics lay largely in recognition of the Indo-Europeancharacter of additional known languages, and utilisation of equationsinvolving words or morphemes3 in them to fill out or modify thereconstruction of Indo-European previously accepted. WhenArmenian and Albanian had been shown to be independent membersof the Indo-European language-family, it seemed that the canonwas closed and that Indo-European studies might reach anequilibrium. Since 1890 the position has been changed by thediscovery of a number of lost Indo-European languages, notablyHittite and Tocharian, both now known from extensive material,and by the decipherment of Greek documents of the Mycenaeanperiod and the so-called "Hittite hieroglyphs". It may be usefulto review the new material at this point.

    The language generally termed "Tocharian" was rediscovered in

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  • 18 PAST AND PRESENT

    documents brought back by Sven Hedin's expedition from ChineseTurkestan. It was apparently in use there about A.D. 700, in twodialects, referred to as "A" and "B" or "Agnean" and "Kuchean",and it is an independent member of the Indo-European family.It has not yet been used extensively in comparative studies. Thescript is complicated enough to be an obstacle to those who do notspecialise in it, it had clearly changed considerably since losingcontact with other Indo-European idioms, and the subject matter ofthe documents extant in it, mainly Buddhist and Hindu religioustexts and monastery accounts, is not particularly attractive to thosemainly interested in the ancient Near East or prehistoric Europe.Hittite was recovered when what proved to be the site of Hattusas,the capital of the preclassical state of Hatti, at Bogazkoy near Sungurluin central Turkey, was excavated by the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaftin 1906-1912. Large numbers of clay tablets were found there,mostly damaged or fragmentary, in a variety of cuneiform littledifferent from that used at Babylon under Hammurapi. Theypresented no serious problem of transcription, and two main groupswere soon recognized, one in Akkadian,4 which could be read atonce and identified the site, the other in the language which hascome to be known at "Hittite",6 clearly the principal native idiomin the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C. when the extanttablets were written. Bedrich Hrozny saw that this had Indo-European characteristics, and he and others succeeded by the earlytwenties in translating it, to a degree to be expected in an ancientlanguage which had gone completely out of use.

    Hittite was only one among a number of related Indo-Europeanidioms in use in Anatolia in the second millennium. The materialfrom Bogazkoy includes a few citations and mainly fragmentarytexts in two others, Luwian and Palaic,6 but they are too short andobscure to be of much use in comparative work. A third relatedidiom is the language of the "hieroglyphic Hittite" inscriptions,mostly monuments set up in the small Neo-Hittite states of N. Syria,S. Cappadocia and E. Cilicia which survived the destruction of theoriginal Hittite kingdom of central Anatolia in c. 1200 B.C. Consider-able progress has been made in deciphering these documents,first by combinatory study and recently with the help of the bilingualinscription found at Karatepe in Ceyhan province (Cilicia) in 1946.Translation of the hieroglyphic texts is still too uncertain for muchuse to be made of them for historical or comparative linguisticpurposes, but it is clear that the language in which those of theNeo-Hittite period are written is quite homogeneous, and that it is

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  • INDO-EUROPEAN ORIGINS: THE LINGUISTIC EVIDENCE 19

    related to Hittite, but not simply a later form of it.7 Lycian, knownfrom inscriptions of the late fifth and fourth centuries B.C., has pointsof similarity to Luwian, and may well derive from it. Lydian hassome comparable features, but it seems likely that the Indo-Europeanelement among the people who spoke it was only a small one.8Some Indo-Europeanists regard Hittite and its close cognatesas not related to the languages recognized as Indo-European beforeits discovery as these are to each other, but as derived from thedialect of a group of Indo-European tribes which lost contact withthe majority before any general dispersal began. This questionwill be discussed later.

    The Hittite, Luwian and Palaic texts come from levels to be datedc. 1425-1200 B.C., though a few of the Hittite are copies of royaledicts composed in the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries, and one,the "Anittas Text", is concerned with kings who ruled c. 1850 or1800.' The introduction into central Anatolia of the idiom fromwhich Hittite as we know it evolved can now be put back as far as1900 B.C. on philological evidence. Before the formation of theunited kingdom of Hatti, Assyrian traders maintained stationsbeside important native settlements in Cappadocia for a period oftwo or three generations c. 1850 B.C., and their commercial documents,in Akkadian, contain among other native names a number withIndo-European elements: (e.g. Taksanuman, whose stem taks-re-appears in Hittite in a verb meaning "to fit together", cognatewith Greek tekton and Sanskrit takian, "carpenter"10).

    Besides Lycian and other possible members of the "Anatol

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