PIE vs. Proto-World (Out of Africa)

X99Lynx at aol.com X99Lynx at aol.com
Wed Aug 11 19:45:57 UTC 1999

[To the Moderator: I wrote this message earlier but did not send it.  In
light of some recent posts on this list, perhaps it has some use.]

In a message dated 8/7/99 8:50:50 PM, rmccalli at sunmuw1.MUW.Edu wrote:

<<Distinct in the sense that, according to what I read in New
Scientist, Scientific American, etc., non-African [modern human]
populations began leaving Africa about 100,000 BP. If language was
developed before 100,000 BP --and my understanding is that this is the
consensus, then these languages would seem to have a common origin in

One might see some direct relevance to IE in all this.  After all, whatever
yardstick separates say Albanian from say English - either in terms of
comparative linguistics or historical time - is nothing compared to 100,000

If we extrapolate the degree of dissimilarity between IE languages after say
9000 years (some would say 5500 years), how much dissimilarity would there be
between languages separated by 10 or 20 times that time frame.  Should we
expect any commonality at all?

in terms of Glottochronology, what should we expect - when languages
separated by a few thousand years can yield 'kaput', 'penn', 'sarah-' and
'golova' for an item as basic as a head?

In terms of morphology, can we really expect that inflective forms could
survive, distinguishing inanimate versus animate or even present versus past,
when the common human memory offers no clear remembrance of a something as
big as an ice age?

Some stuff re the science on this matter:

1. Scientific American Aug 1999 p 13 "IS OUT OF AFRICA OUT THE DOOR?"
summarizes the growing evidence that the premise is not in sync with the
bones (especially in the Far East.)  Remember also that the original theory
based on mtDNA backdating the African 'Eve" is now considered flawed and too
recent - and that she was even then dated to 200,000BP -  so that language
separations set at 100,000 might as well arbitrarily start back with her or
her children.  Then, like an exodus out of New Guinea, we could have a 500
languages leaving Africa at one time.

2. Scientific American March 1998 Review of Ian Tattersall's 'Evolution and
Human uniqueness' summarizes some of the arguments that Neanderthals had
language.  This would significantly backdate the appearance of human language
by 100's of 1000's of years.  And there's nothing to say that modern humans
could not have learned language from Neanderthals.

3. From an AP story (2/15/99) quoting a paper appearing in the same week in
the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by a team at Berkeley
challenging a Duke study positing Neanderthal speech capabilities based on
the size of the hypoglossal canal (jaw nerves):

"Researchers have long believed that the ability to make modern human speech
sounds did not develop until about 40,000 years ago."  (This I believe
revolved around the time of the appearance of Cro-Magnon.)

Finally, I suspect the big problem here is in the use of the word "language".

All of this goes to the distinction I think Sassure originally made between
"the act of speaking" and a "language system."  Birds and apes and prairie
dogs "signal" each other with sounds that will follow regular and complex
conventions - some of them quite local and apparently group-learned.  And
apes, though not physically equipped for human speech, have acquired non-oral
vocabularies of 100's of words - nouns and verbs.  This is 'language' in the
broad sense, the way paleonthologists and biologists use the word.

On this list, one becomes accustomed to thinking of language in a stricter
sense.  Language systems are much more intricate things than the ability to
communicate by making sounds.

Coming out of Africa, humans may have made common noises that were very
effective signals within respective groups.  But did any of those "local"
signaling systems equate to a "language system?"   And given the distance (in
form or time) between *PIE and modern English, what would be the distance in
time between *PIE and one of those simple signaling systems?

<<Another consideration is that it is indeed possible that language
was invented BEFORE modern humans arose, in which case, monogenesis would be
the only obvious conclusion.>>

Don't think that follows anymore than that the use of clothing or boats had
to be monogenetic - they apparently were not.

The wonderful concept of "Zeit Geist" should not be forgotten here.  Unless
monopolized - kept a secret or otherwise controlled - human capabilities tend
to spread and create the medium for new capabilities.  Spoken language
(unlike written language) is very hard to monopolize and easy to imitate.
Once the capability arrived, languages may have been a product of the Zeit

I recall reading - at first with shock - Stephen J. Gould suggest that life
may have originated more than once.  Now it seems to make some sense.

Steve Long

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