No Proto-Celtic?

Ante Aikio anaikio at
Fri Apr 27 05:49:12 UTC 2001

On Wed, 25 Apr 2001, Larry Trask wrote:

> The idea is that each branch of IE resulted from a somewhat different mixture
> of elements from these two or three earlier languages, and that therefore
> Slavic, Germanic, Celtic, and so forth, are all "mixed languages" in origin,
> with no single ancestor.

> I regard this view as perfectly crazy, but I'll be interested to hear any
> comments on it.  In any case, I had thought it was dead and buried.

> But I have recently discovered that a similar view is currently being
> actively defended, not for IE as a whole, but for Celtic.  Almost all the
> proponents appear to be archaeologists, though there is perhaps a Celticist
> or two among them.

This kind of idea seems to arise every once in a while in comparative
linguistics. The idea of Celtic as a mixed languages that arose from a
kind of lingua franca actually resembles very closely the linguistic
pseudoscience that has been advocated and actively publicized by certain
researchers in Finland and Estonia in the 90's (most notably Kalevi Wiik,
Kyösti Julku, Ago Künnap). This group has been dubbed as "the Anti-Uralic
school", and their new paradigm (which they characterize as "a
breakthrough in Uralistics" - even though a "breakdown" would be a more
appropriate description) can be summarized as follows:

- There was no uniform Proto-Uralic language, but instead a group of
unrelated languages which coalesced into a "Uralic lingua franca" (some
kind of pidgin or creole) some 10,000+ years ago. The speaking area of
this "lingua franca" would have been the whole periglacial zone from the
Urals to the Atlantic.

- There is no clear distinction between genetic inheritence and
contact-induced change (borrowing), and all languages are always mixed
languages. Such a starting point has led many of the members of the
Anti-Uralic school to extremely bizarre ideas, such as "Finnish is more
closely related to Swedish than it is to Mordvin", or that after Finland
served in the European Union, Finnish is increasingly rapidly becoming a
"Euro-language" and in the future linguists could reconstruct "Proto-Euro"
as the common parent language of Finnish, German, French etc.

These claims would of course deserve no attention from the scientific
community, were it not that Kalevi Wiik has actively publicized them in
the Finnish media, and also quite succesfully managed to market them as a
"linguistic breakthrough" to some archeologists, geneticists and
historians. Thus, in the recent years Uralists have been forced to mount
an attack against the "Anti-Uralists", and this may deceptivily look like
a serious scientific debate to non-linguists. I sure hope the situation
with Celtic isn't as bad.

Ante Aikio

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