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Nostratic Languages.… / The Urheimat of the Nostratic Languages

The Urheimat of the Nostratic Languages

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An investigation of possible kinship of languages belonging to the so-called Nostratic macro-family, was carried by graphic-analytical method, which essence is creating a graphical model of kinship of languages belonging to the same language family.

The term of Nostratic languages is used for the phylum of six large language families of the Old World: Altaic, Uralic, Dravidian, Indo-European, Kartvelian, and Semitic-Hamitic (Hamito-Semitic, or Afrasiatic) which seem to have a common parent language. The necessary data for the analysis were sourced from the work of the Ukrainian linguist V. Illich-Switych. He analyzed and systematized similarities in word structure, grammar and vocabulary of the Nostratic languages and gave a large volume of such matches between these languages in his book (ILLICH-SVITYCH V.M., 1971 ). The scholar assumed that these similarities can be interpreted only within the theory postulating genetic relationship of these languages i.e. that they are monophyletic and belong to one super-family (phylum) of the Nostratic languages.

New ideas are always perceived with difficulty. And, as always happens, over time, the attitude towards the Nostratic theory changed towards its recognition through the efforts of V. A. Dybo, who from the very beginning defended the idea of Illich-Switych. The main obstacle for the final recognition of the Nostratic theory is the assignment of Turkic languages ​​to the Altai language family. In general, the binary connections of languages ​​classified as Nostratic, still remain insufficiently studied. However, even a superficial comparison of the vocabulary of pairs of Nostratic languages ​​belonging to different linguistic families, gives reason to take the issue of the existence of Nostratic languages ​​enough seriously. If we talk, for example, about Turkic-Indo-European lexical correspondences, then in many cases they look very convincing. Indo-European-Finno-Ugric correspondences are no less convincing, but they are often interpreted as borrowings from Indo-European to Finno-Ugric, as it sometimes does, for example, after other researchers Kaisa Häkkinen in the etymological dictionary of modern Finnish (HĀKKINEN KAISA. 2007). To such borrowings, he refers the Finno-Ugric words with the meaning "bark" (Fin. kuori "bark, peel", Veps. kor' "bark", Erzya, Moksha kar' "bast shoe", Khanty hŏr "bark", Mansi kor- "tear bast"), "many, mach" (Fin. moni, Est. mõni, Udm. mynda) and some others. In other cases, Häkkinen refers similar Indo-European and Finno-Ugric words to some indefinite common language. (for example PIE *aĝ- and PFU. *aja- "drive") or explains by early contacts between the Indo-European and Uralic linguistic communities (for example PIE nomn- and PFU *nime – both "name"). Finnish linguist refers to the Nostratic only one word *kala "fish" (Fin. kala, Saam. guolli, Mari kol, Hung. hal a.o.) and don't refer to it even PFU *wete "water" (Fin. vesi, Mari wüt, Mord. ved' a.o.). It looks out like strange that the belonging of the Finno-Ugric languages to the Nostratic is determined only by one word and at the same time, borrowing into the Mansi and Khanty languages from Indo-European is allowed. Such borrowings can be considered possible when there is no idea about the location of the areas of distribution of those or other languages at prehistorical time. Without such idea, but with a rich imagination it can be explained in which way the Germanic word, presented, for example, in German as viel "much", got to the Nenets people with the meaning "thick, dense" (pal').

However, in order not to go deep into the scientific debates, let us analyze by the graphic-analytical method already collected, processed, and systematized research results by V. Illich-Switych. Some of them were taken from tables in his book (morphologic features and the vocabulary of 147 units) and 286 matches were found in the further text. After the comparison of this data with the research materials of another Russian scholar (ANDREYEV N.D., 1986), consistent with the results of Illich-Switych, they were supplemented with 27 words from the Uralic languages and 8 words from the Altaic languages. As a result, it is turned out that we determined 433 features in total. Thirty four of them were common for the whole phylum and the rest was composed by 255 units from the Altaic, 255 units from the Uralic, 253 units from the Indo-European, 240 units from the Semitic-Hamitic, 189 units from the Dravidian, and 139 units from the Kartvelian languages respectively. Then the number of mutual features in language pairs was calculated. The results of the calculation are given in table 1.

Table 1. Quantity of mutual features between language families.

Altaic – Uralic 167 Uralic – Kartvelian 66
Altaic – Indo-European 153 Indo-European – Semitic-Hamitic 147
Altaic – Semitic-Hamitic 149 Indo-European – Dravidian 108
Altaic – Dravidian 109 Indo-European – Kartvelian 70
Altaic – Kartvelian 84 Semitic-Hamitic – Dravidian 110
Uralic – Indo-European 151 Semitic-Hamitic – Kartvelian 86
Uralic – Semitic-Hamitic 136 Dravidian – Kartvelian 54
Uralic – Dravidian 134

The model of relationship of the Nostratic languages, built on the basis of these data, is shown in Fig. 3. Description of the process of construction is given in the section The Graphic-Analytical Method.

Fig. 3. The model of relationship of Nostratic languages.

As further study show, parent Turkic language does not belong to the Altaic language family, so the place in the scheme of the Altaic languages actually belongs exclusively for Turkic ones. The presence of unique data of the Altaic languages in Ilyich-Svitych' tables could not largely distort the scheme of relationship because their number is negligible comparing with the data of the Turkic languages. Altaic languages ​​were formed in a completely different place (see "Far East: The Relationship of the Altaic and Turkic languages"), and only ancestors of the Turks abode in Asia Minor. In order not to confuse the modern Turks to their ancestors, further the last will be called Türks.

The next step is to find the corresponding space for this model. As the region of the Fertile Crescent and Transcaucasia is central position to the resent-day lands of peoples of the Nostratic phylum, the model should be placed somewhere in this region. Analyzing the map in detail considering the obligatory availability of geographic boundaries there is nothing more suitable than the territory near three lakes Van, Sevan, and Urmia (Rezaiyeh) – see map on the figure 4.

Fig. 4. Map of the Nostratic habitats.

The fact that six (h.e. very significant!) modern independent states are situated in this region supports our opinion that these frontiers are very well expressed here. Three lakes form a regular triangle where the central part of our model can be perfectly placed. But as this triangle has regular shape, different variants of its arrangement are possible and immediately the problem of choice of the correct variant comes out.

It is evident that the Dravidian ancestry had to be settled somewhere to the South or to the East of the whole territory. Additional reason for the choice was, first, the fact that the present-day Kartvelians evidently live close to their old settlements and, second, the possibility of migration for the Indo-European, Türkic, and Uralic peoples to the north without obstacle must be considered. If we consider the reflexive variant, the Kartvelians were to inhabit the territory to the North from what is nowadays Azerbaijan on the slopes of the Greater Caucasus that should have made their contacts with the rest of Nostratic peoples impossible as they should have been separated by still existing large swamps near the Low Aras and Kura Rivers. Thus, accepting our model, the Kartvelian predecessors populated the territory of what is nowadays Georgia, to the south from the Greater Caucasus and partly Armenian highland in the Çoruh and the Upper Kura valley. The ancestry of the Türks abode near Lake Sevan on the south slopes of the Lesser Caucasus and probably at the other bank of the river Kura up to Aridag range and Mount Ararat. The Indo-Europeans dwelled to the East from Türkic people behind the Zangezur Mountains, probably at the territory of present-day Karabakh and at the right side of the Aras River up to the swamps on the east and the north. Uralic ancestors occupied the country near Lake Urmia and the Semitic-Hamitic peoples lived to the west from them near Lake Van. The Dravidian ancestry inhabited the region to the south from Semitic-Hamitic and Uralic people on the slopes of mountainous region Hakkari and Kurdistan chains in of the Tigris, Great Zab, and Little Zab valleys.

View Nostratic Urheimat in a larger map

The hypothesis of the first Urheimat of the Indo-Europeans in the Armenian Highland, according to V.A. Safronov, was put forward by Miller back in 1873 (SAFRONOV V.A., 1989: 23). In the opinion of T.V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov, the Indo-European community dwelt "within the Middle East, most likely in the areas of the northern periphery of the Near East, that is, south of Transcaucasia to Upper Mesopotamia" (GAMKRELIDZE T.V., IVANOV V.V. 1984: 890). It's strange that the authors dared to publish solid work with proofs of their idea of the Urheimat of Indo-Europeans in spite of obvious facts:

To place the ancestors of Indo-Europeans in Middle East was also impossible because their Urheimat, of course, occupied a common vast region of glotto- and ethnogenesis. Meanwhile, in the regions from the eastern regions of Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine to Western Iran (including Transcaucasia, the Armenian Highlands and, naturally, Mesopotamia), the aboriginal population belonged to various non-Indo-European language groups. This is well known by specific evidence cuneiform sources of III-I millennium BC. The same is said by results of modern studies of the early ethno-linguistic connections of various non-Indo-European groups within the indicated region: the links between the languages ​​of the Hurrian and Urartian languages ​​with the East Caucasian (Nakh-Daghestanian) languages, the Proto-Hattan languages ​​in the northeast of Asia Minor – with the North-Western Caucasian, the Elam language with a proto-Dravidian language (I.M. D'yakonov' works are of great importance in the development of these problems). Representatives of the Indo-European language family, penetrated into this region, belonged to its separate individual "branches" and they appeared here much later than the "Indo-European epoch". Thus, the main "Indo-Europeans" of these regions, known as Western Iranians and Armenians, replace the old local population in the historical epoch (also the most ancient local population of the east of the Iranian plateau, the south of Central Asia, the valleys of the Indus did not belong to the Indo-Europeans). But only in a number of regions of Asia Minor, separate groups of Indo-European tribes could dwell very early, but these areas adjoined to the Indo-European area of Europe. (BONGEAD-LEVIN G.M., GRANTOVSKIY E.A. 1983: 175).

Obviously, the Nostratic parent language was dismembered not on six languages. We have to take into account also the Caucasian languages whose relationship with any language family has not yet been defined (or rather, they have not "fit into the common system"). After the publication of my work, where the Urheimat of the Indo-Europeans in the area of the three lakes was first reported (STETSYUK VALENTYN, 1998), I carried a study of Caucasian languages by the graphic-analytical method on materials of the project The Tower of Babel . The resulting models of these languages suggest that they were formed in the valleys of the Main Caucasus Range, ie ancestors of modern speakers of the Abkhaz-Adyghe and Nakh-Dagestani language groups were aboriginal settlers of their present places. Their common language would be one of the oldest dialects of the Nostratic parent language whose speakers before all alienated from common Paleolithic Nostratic tribe and settled in the southern and northern slopes of the Greater Caucasus, while the speakers of other six Nostratic languages still leaves on three lakes area for a long time. With this assumption, we can think that by the time of the resettlement Nostratic groups in Europe the slopes of the North Caucasus and steppes of Caucasian plain were already inhabited by native of Caucasian languages. Therefore, while their migration to East Europe the Indo-European, Uralic, and Türkic tribes had to move further northward.

In the meantime, we try to determine the time when speakers of six Nostratic languages began to settle from their ancestral places. First, we remember that T.V. Gamkrelidze and V.V. Ivanov include the first dialectal division of Indo-European languages, when first dialects of the Anatolian languages arisen, not later than IV mill. (GAMKRELIDZE T.V., IVANOV V.V. 1984: 861). And then in their opinion, the Indo-Europeans have moved to Europe around the Caspian Sea, and somewhere during the way Indo-Iranian group was separated from them.

T.V. Gamkrelidze and V.V. Ivanov are considered as authoritative experts on Indo-Europeistics, despite thorough critique of their main work. Criticism has rather pungent in some cases (MAŃCZAK WITOLD. 1991: 38), what is obviously talking about apparent contradictions in their theory. But the main objections are as follows:

1. No archaeological evidence exist to support this movement through Central Asia or along the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea (SAFRONOV V.A. 1989: 26).

2. Separation of Indo-Iranian community from majority if Indo-Europeans already in Asia Minor is contradicted by close contacts of the Indo-Iranian and Finno-Ugric languages in the IV mill. BC as Finno-Urians could not settle in the area south of the Caspian Sea. This contradictory of the hypothesis of T.V. Gamkrelidze and V.V. Ivanov catches the eye immediately. According to E.E. Kuzmina:

T. Burrow, V.I. Abayev, J. Harmatta showed the remoteness not only of the Iranian, but Indo-Aryan connections to the Finno-Ugric languages. The attempt of T.V. Gamkrelidze and V.V. Ivanov give another interpretation of these facts was not supported by linguists (KUZMINA E.E. 1990: 33).

With proven presence the Indo-Iranian people in Eastern Europe Gamkrelidze and Ivanov's statement cannot be embedded in the chronological framework. Roamed from the Caucasus to Eastern Europe, they no doubt had to live here quite some time, and then the speakers, at least, of the Indo-Aryan language had to come to Hindustan, what would be impossible if the Indo-Europeans began to settle in Europe in the IV millennium BC. For those times this would be really crazy pace, as it is generally believed that the migration rate was equal to one kilometer per year (ZBENOVICH V.G. 1989: 183).

Further studies give us reason to believe that the Indo-Europeans, Türks and Uralian people appear in Eastern Europe at the beginning of V millennium BC. Thus, we can conclude that the speakers of the Nostratic languages were stayed in the Near East at the most until the end of VI millennium BC.

The contradiction in the views of Gamkrelidze and Ivanov does not mean that the Urheimat of the Indo-Europeans was somewhere outside of Asia Minor, as it is understood by some scholars. Right, though not in all, have those who speak about two Indo-European Urheimat. One is defined in the Near East, and the second in Eastern Europe:

The territory of the Northern Black Sea and the Volga region, including the Urals is considered as the second Urheimat of the Indo-European community, namely: of the tribes speaking ancient European dialects, came to this region together with the tribes of the Aryans as a result of a long wave migration from the region at the crossroads of Asia Minor and the Armenian Highland (DOVZHENKO N.D., RYCHKOV N.A. 1988: 37).

Ambiguity is superfluous – the Indo-Europeans, as well as other ethnic groups, have the one Urheimat – and it's an area where the Indo-European parent language began to take shape. The later speakers of this parent language could move to other places, but there was the Urheimat of their descendants. H.Birnbaum expressed this most accurately:

And probably, if the main spreading space of the Nostratic language – as intended – should be really identified with the South Caucasus, the eastern (and southern) Anatolia and upper course of the Tigris and Euphrates, it is natural to assume that the later areas of the spread of the Proto-Indo-European language was closer to the Black Sea – the Pontic steppe areas in northern and western Anatolia…(BIRNBAUN H. 1993: 16).

On the basis of the above, the beginning of the resettlement (or settlement) of the Indo-Europeans from Asia Minor should be referred to a much earlier time than imagined T. Gamkrelidze and V. Ivanov. Clarification of this time can be made after binding of the Indo-Europeans archaeological cultures, which were distributed on the territory of the later settlements.

Future archaeological research can clarify the places of settlements of the Nostratic peoples on their Urheimat. While the materials of Neolithic settlements in the South Caucasus were made by an international team of archaeologists (see. Map below)

At left: Distribution of sites attributed to the Šulaveri-Šomutepe Group of VI mil. BC in Siuthern Caucasus
According Svend Hansen, Guram Mirtschulava, Katrin Bastert-Lamprichs

1 Aruchlo I; 2 Šulaveri-Gora; 3 Imiris-Gora; 4 Gadachrilis-Gora; 5 Dangreuli-Gora; 6 Chramis Didi-Gora; 7 Mashaveras-Gora; 8 Šomutepe; 9 Toire Tepe; 10 Gargalar Tepesi; 11 Göytepe; 12 Artashen; 13 Aknashen- Khatunarkh (map: Vl. Ioseliani).

The map contains sites of the VI mill. BC. on the territory much smaller than that occupied by Nostratic people, so it is impossible to say exactly to what time you need to refer their resettlement from the Urheimat. Clarification of this time can be made after the binding of archaeological cultures of Transcaucasia, Middle East and Eastern Europe, that is, territories of later their settlements.

The stay of Nostratic peoples on their Urheimat is considered more detailed in the section Southwest Asia as a Neolithic Cultural Center

It should be noted that not all speakers of the Nostratic languages had left their ancestral home. Further results of the research, as well as historical facts suggest that while migration of peoples always some of their portion remains on old place having no serious reason to go on a long journey. Start of resettlement of the Nostratic tribes is reflected in the new diagram of relationships of their languages, built according to Sergey Starostin's data, presented in the project The Tower of Babel . When compiling the table for calculation of common words in pairs of the Nostratic languages, data for Türkic languages were selected from the so-called "Altaic" language, to which S. Starostin has included the Mongolian, Manchu-Tungus, Japanese, and Korean languages. Thus, a table was compiled on 1803 Nostratic roots. Of these, 195 were found common Nostratic having matchis in the Türkic, Uralic, Indo-European, Dravidian, Kartvelian, and Afrasiatic languages or the some five of them. The words of these roots are the oldest and their generality cannot give any imagination about spatial relationship between individual languages. We call them words of the first level.

The words of the second level were neologisms or loan-words in some Nostratic languages, which learning by the others depended on the distance between dwellings of their speakers, while absence of analogs for such words in other languages can say that another word was used for the same concept or their speakers have already left their native places. From the words of the second level were removed questionable cases which the compiler signed by question marks, and words of a very wide semantic field, words without precise values (indicated, for example, as a kind of some unknown plant or animal), words of too abstract concepts which could arise in the later period. They were few – 151 items. As a result, words of 1438 roots occurred for calculation, i.e. 90% of the total number of words of the second level. The results of calculation of the number of common words in pairs Nostratic languages are listed in the table below.

Languages Uralic Türkic Indo-Europ. Dravidian. Afroasiatic Kartvelian
Uralic 849
Türkic 440 845
Indo-European 363 365 731
Dravidian 333 321 254 633
Afrasiatic 242 258 243 246 483
Kartvelian 207 217 226 154 157 460

Number of common words in pairs of the Nostratic languages.

Based on the obtained results, a new graphic model of relationship of the Nostratic family was built as shown in the figure to the right.

The configuration of the new model is something different from the previous one, but the location of areas of languages has remained the same. The difference is caused by the tight cluster of Ural, Türkic, and Indo-European languages. Obviously S. Starostin included in the general list of words which refer to the period when the Uralic, Türkic, and Indo-European peoples populated Eastern Europe and remained in language contact for a long time.

Especially close location can be seen on the scheme for the areas of the Turkic and Uralic languages. In this regard, one must also take into account that these languages have much more common features in phonetics, morphology and syntax than between them and the Indo-European languages. In phonetics primarily, the Turkic and Uralic langusges bind vowel harmony, not clearly expressed in Indo-European. In the morphology, the distinguishing features of these are the lack of grammatical gender and the article, the declination using standard singlevalued affixes, possessive declention by persons using the possessive suffixes, availability of postpositions and absence of prepositions, no plural and dual number after numerals, and some other features. The syntax of these languages is different from the Indo-European that the definition stands just before defining words, possessive function is expressed in the forms of the verb "to be" rather than "to have" in Indo-European languages, the interrogative form of the sentence is reflected by a special particle, and others.

Such abundance of common features between the Turkic and Uralic languages suggests that the Indo-Europeans left their ancestral home as the first when the ancestors of the Turks and Uralians remained in the Caucasu for a long time being neighbors, and therefore kept together close language contact.

Another difference of the new model is the location of the Dravidian area closer to the center than it was in the first model, what reflects the increasingly close linguistic ties of the Dravidians with the parent Türkic and Uralic languages than connection of these languages with parent Afrasian. Obviously speakers of this language first left their ancestral home, moving through the valley of the river Murat the Euphrates and further to the Arabian Peninsula, and, perhaps to Anatolia.


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