The UPenn IE Tree

Sean Crist kurisuto at
Fri Aug 13 05:24:56 UTC 1999

On Thu, 12 Aug 1999 X99Lynx at wrote:

> I simply must ask some questions about what this means.

> 1. I assume the branching off in this 'Stammbaum' carries the inference of
> being chronological in the sense of earlier or later separations.  (Rather
> than for example the degree of linguistic difference between languages.)
> This may go without saying, but I'm just checking.

Yes, that is correct.  Note that this rooted phylogeny includes no
intrinsic claim about the _absolute_ dating of the branchings; it is only
a set of claims about the relative dating.

However, given that the latest possible date for the PIE unity is c. 4000
B.C.E. (pace Renfrew), and that Hittite and Sanskrit are both attested by
the middle of the second millenium B.C.E., then all of this branching must
have happened in the space of around two or three millenia.

> So here at this first juncture:

>                                     PIE
>                                    /   \
>                                   /   Anatolian

> Does this mean that PIE co-exists with Anatolian?  It would have to wouldn't
> it?

This is a question of terminology.  In strict terms, we could call this
something like proto-Tocharo-Italo-Celtico-Greco-Armenian-Balto-Slavic-
Germanic-Indo-Iranian.  When we're talking about this many
undifferentiated branches, such terminology is obviously unwieldy.  In
more usable terms, we would talk about "the innovations shared by all the
IE branches except Anatolian", etc.

Ringe does, however, frequently use such terms as "Proto-Italo-Celtic" or
"Proto-Greco-Armenian".  He sometimes uses the term "core languages" to
mean Greco-Armenian plus Indo-Balto-Germanic.

> Then where along that left side diagonal does PIE cease to exist?

> I've addressed this issue in exchanges with Miguel Carrasquer Vidal awhile
> ago and I don't know where they ended up.  (I think I lost hold of it when I
> asked whether PIE could have been a lingua franca of sorts or a Latin.)

> This question of when PIE ends strikes me as an important question, for a
> number of reasons.  First, reconstruction always seems to proceed as if *PIE
> were a static language - but coexistence could have meant centuries of
> potential change within PIE itself.  Second, it means that languages
> coexisting with PIE could have been influenced by or influenced PIE after
> splitting off.  And third it would mean that PIE could have been influenced
> by non-PIE influences between splittings.

Yes; I think Ringe would agree with everything you've just said (altho I
think that he would reject particular explanations in terms of influence
by unattested non-IE languages as unsupported by evidence; but
otherwise, I think he'd agree).

In particular, I've heard Ringe say things like, "such-and-such verbal
system was just starting to get off the ground when Tocharian branched
off", and discuss how that verbal system further developed along the left
spine of the tree.  I'd have to go back to my class notes to get the
details; I'm in over my head at this point (Germanic phonology is my main
area; IE is a background interest).

> And logically either PIE either coexisted with some of these branch-offs. Or
> they all branched off at one time and PIE evaporated.  OR PIE never
> diappeared but turned directly into one or a few of these languages, which
> would be direct rather than indirect descendents.

That's just a question of terminology.  PIE ultimately gave rise to all of
the attested PIE languages.  We can quibble over what the labels should be
for the intermediate nodes in the tree, but that's just a matter of
nomenclature.  What the branchings _mean_, however, are that there were
innovations in each branch not shared with the other.

> I think those are all the choices.  There are no others, but each one should
> result in completely different reconstructions of *PIE.

No, it wouldn't; no.

> 2. You wrote: <<... Indo-Iranian, Greek, and Armenian are in a single
> sub-branch of the IE family together, but Balto-Slavic and Germanic are in
> this branch as well.>>

> If that's the case, then what did that whole subbranch split off from?  At
> the point of the split of Greek Armenian, the left line is still there.
> Above are the Italo-Celtic, Tocharian, Anatolian branches.  Presumably they
> are distinguishable from whatever it is that is out there that might be
> called Proto-BS-Germanic-Indo-Iranian.

> What does this mean for reconstruction of *PIE?  What if it was
> Proto-GrAr-BSGer-IIr that was the branch off and Italo-Celtic was the true
> remainder of the PIE 'trunk'?  (I don't think you can favor one or the other
> branch - why should one be seen as more lineal to PIE than the other?)  In
> that case, Italo-Celtic would preserve PIE best and the other branch would be
> the split-off, innovating away from the core.  And misleading us as to what
> PIE was like.

Once again, this is merely a matter of terminology.  There is no sense in
which one branch is the "main" branch, unless it means that there is a
greater number of later branchings within that branch.

> 3. <<The team hypothesize that Germanic started out in life as a sister of
> Balto-Slavic, but that the pre-Germanic speakers came into the political
> orbit of the prehistoric Italo-Celtic peoples and absorbed loan words from
> them at some date prior to Grimm's Law.>>

> How does the team view the new reconstruction of the obstruent system
> (Hopper/Gamkrelidze/etc.) that suggests that Grimm's Law actually reflects
> archaism rather than innovation?

Ringe rejects that hypothesis in no uncertain terms.  He discusses this in
his monograph on the relative chronology of the Tocharian sound changes.

Here are the arguments in favor of the glottalic hypothesis, and the

1.  The phonological inventory of PIE as it is traditionally reconstructed
is not attested among the modern languages of the world, and therefore is
not a possible phonological inventory; the reconstruction must be wrong.
2.  Under the glottalic hypothesis, you can dispense with Grimm's Law;
Germanic and Armenian simply preserve a more archaic state of affairs.
Thus, the glottalic hypothesis is more economical.
3.  One dialect of Armenian "preserves" the glottalic system unchanged.
4.  Under the traditional reconstruction, the rarity of initial *b is
somewhat odd.  A constraint against *p' is pretty normal among
attested phonological systems similar to the proposed glottalic PIE
5.  The glottalic hypothesis gives a more natural account of the
constraints on what consonants can co-occur in a root.  (I'm not going to
go into this since I'd have to type two whole pages of my class notes, but
I'll just note that the argument has been made.)

Ringe gives half a point for #5.  For the others:
4.  *b is statistically uncommon in PIE, but not entirely prohibited.  An
inviolable constraint against *b might be odd, but the constraint (if any)
isn't inviolable.
3.  The dialect of Armenian in question is spoken smack up against
Georgian, which has a system like that of Armenian; it looks like a
case of a Sprachbund among apparently unrelated languages, which has
happened before elsewhere.
2.  It's true that the glottalic hypothesis doesn't need Grimm's Law for
Gmc and Armenian, but it _does_ need an anti-Grimm's Law for all the other
branches of PIE.  So the economy argument fails.
1.  Most importantly, the typological argument is wrong.  It's just plain
wrong.  There are attested languages in Indonesia with a consonant
inventory similar to that of traditionally reconstructed PIE.  It's
perhaps the most spectacular case ever of the field being led astray by
a typological argument.

There is at least one more subtle argument which I'm not going to try to
reproduce here; it is discussed in Ringe's monograph.

> With that view, would Balto-Slavic become a sister to Germanic that came
> under the influence of IIr, ditching that archaism like IIr?

> 4. Just hypothetically, if we were to assume that PIE was nothing but very
> early Greek, how would this diagram and the findings behind it change?  Would
> the tree look all that different?  Would it have Greek-Armenian at the bottom
> of the main stem?  Or would it?

The algorithm which the team used produces an unrooted phylogeny, i.e. it
does not compute what point in the phylogeny is the root.  If you picture
this flat phylogeny as a web made of string lying on a table, you could
pick the tree up at any node (including a leaf node) or at any point
between two nodes, and assign that point in the tree as the root.

I'd have to go back to the articles to give the exact arguments for
rooting the tree as the team have it; I'd rather say nothing than give
a misremembered argument.

> Does this diagram seem to put IIr in that last position (or IIr-BS-Gr) - does
> that possibly reflect a sampling artifact favoring Sanskrit, Germanic and
> Lithuanian/Slavic - the favored sources in many *PIE reconstructions?

It's simply a statement about characteristics which are shared by these
languages and not the others.  It doesn't mean that we like these
languages more than the others.

  \/ __ __    _\_     --Sean Crist  (kurisuto at
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