The Urheimat of the Nostratic Languages
The first investigation of possible kinship of the Nostratic languages by graphic-analytical method was made 20 years ago and in more as ten years after its elaboration and description in a scientific paper [STETSYUK VALENTYN. 1998]. The essence of the method is creating a graphical model of kinship of languages belonging to the same language family on base of lexical-statistical data.
The term of Nostratic languages is used for the set of six large language families of the Old World: Altaic, Uralic, Dravidian, Indo-European, Kartvelian, and Semitic-Hamitic (or Afrasiatic). Data for their study were collected by the Ukrainian linguist Vladislav Illich-Switych developing the Nostratic theory based on the hypothesis of Holger Pedersen and Alfredo Trombetti. He analyzed and systematized similarities in word structure, grammar and vocabulary of the Nostratic languages and gave a large volume of such matches between them 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 macrofamily (phylum) called Nostratic languages.
No unanimity exists among scientists regarding the reality of such a macrofamily, but the arguments of opponents of its existence were particularly categorical in the first years after the publication of V.M. Illich-Svitych. Türkologists Gerard Clauson, Gerhard Doerfer, and Aleksander Shcherbak were the first numerous his critics. Here is one of the avaluation of the work of Illich-Switych:
From the very beginning, all his efforts were focused on proving the Nostratic hypothesis, and concrete languages were perceived through the prism of previously formulated correspondences [SHCHERBAK A.M. 1984: 35].
It should be noted that the sharpness of the avaluations was restrained by the ethical side of the question, which Sir G. Clauson noted specifically:
“It is always unpleasant to criticize the work of a scientist who has spent years of intensive work on its implementation, and it is doubly unpleasant when he is no longer there to protect himself. The enormous diligence and enthusiasm of V. M. Illich-Svitych evoke the deepest respect for him. It is a tragedy that they were spent on proving the truth of the situation, which probably cannot be true” [Quoted after: SHCHERBAK A.M. 1984: 30]
V.M. Illich-Svitych was an unforgettable person and boldly took up work for which few would have repressed. For this, he had both knowledge and character:
V.M. Illich-Svitych possessed an outstanding talent of a researcher, the abilities of a polyglot, an extraordinary working capacity and the ability to soberly evaluate the results of his work. I can say with confidence that he took up the solution of the most difficult task of modern linguistics not from frivolity. It was organically alien to its nature. Illich-Svitych knew what awaited him, but he "was not afraid of deep water." Illich-Svitych began to seek an answer to the Nostratic hypothesis lonely. Only later were he joined by several capable students. [Bernshteyn S.B. 1986: 39).
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 in Finno-Ugric. Sometimes this is done, for example, following other researchers, by 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 which have matches in the Indo-European languages. 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 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 is strange that the belonging of the Finno-Ugric languages to Nostratic is determined only by one word and no attention is paid to the possibility of other examples, some of which are obvious. Let's say the similarity of the O.I. uda, Goth. watō, Slav. woda "water" and Fin. vesi, Mari wüt, Mok. ved' "the same" cannot be accidental, but more complex evidences of ancient kinship relations are possible too. One such evidence may be an etymological complex with the meanings of "pine", "fir", "galipot, soft rezin", "pitch" (Lat. picea, Alb. pishå, Mok. pichi, Erz. piche "pine-tree", Ger. Fichte "fir-tree", Lat. picis, Gr. πισσα Fin. pihka, Est., Veps. pihk "soft rezin", Rus., Ukr. peklo "hell" a.o.).
At the same time, for example, the similarity of the Mansi and Khanty words with German ones is explained by borrowing. Such borrowings can be considered possible at full absence of definite understanding of the distribution areas of these or other languages in prehistory times.
When the first attempt of researching the possible kinship of the Nostratic languages was made, some data for this purpose were taken out of mentioned Illich-Svitych’ book. These were tables (Nostratic morphologic features and the vocabulary of 147 units) and 286 matches of other features were found in the further text. After the comparison of these data with the research materials of the Russian scholar [ANDREYEV N.D., 1986] 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 Nostratic 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. Then the number of mutual features in language pairs was calculated. The results of the calculation are given in the table 1.
Table 1. Quantity of mutual features between language families.
|Altaic – Uralic
||Uralic – Kartvelian
|Altaic – Indo-European
|| Indo-European – Semitic-Hamitic
|Altaic – Semitic-Hamitic
||Indo-European – Dravidian
|Altaic – Dravidian
||Indo-European – Kartvelian
|Altaic – Kartvelian
||Semitic-Hamitic – Dravidian
|Uralic – Indo-European
||Semitic-Hamitic – Kartvelian
|Uralic – Semitic-Hamitic
||Dravidian – Kartvelian
|Uralic – Dravidian
The graphical model of relationship of the Nostratic languages, built on the basis of these data, is shown in Fig. 1. The process of construction of the model was described earlier [STETSYUK VALENTYN. 1998: 28-30] (sea also The Graphic-Analytical Method).
Fig. 1. 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 among 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 exist 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 be 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 occupied space near Lake Sevan on the south slopes of the Lesser Caucasus and probably at the other bank of the Kura River 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 dwelled 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 idea of localizing the Urheimat of the Indo-Europeans in these places is not new, but it did not take into account the particular knowledge of the glotto- and ethnogenesis of the Indo-Europeans. Many researchers believed that the splitting of the Indo-European language took place even on the ancestral home of its speakers and this made it difficult to find it, since the comparison of different data led to mutually exclusive results. In this regard, it was suggested that the formation of distinct languages took place far from the ancestral homeland in a place that can be called the second ancestral homeland of Indo-Europeans. 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 this 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 exists 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 contradiction of the hypothesis of T.V. Gamkrelidze and V.V. Ivanov catches the eye immediately. According to E.E. Kuzmina:
T. Barrow, V.I. Abaev, J. Harmatta showed the antiquity of not only Iranian, but also Indo-Aryan connections of Finno-Ugric languages. The attempt of T.V. Gamkrelidze and V.V. Ivanov to 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 region and the Volga region, including the Ural region, is regarded as the second ancestral home of the Indo-European community, namely: tribal carriers of ancient European dialects that came to this region with the Aryan tribes as a result of long wave migrations from the region at the junction of Asia Minor and the Armenian Highlands (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 ancestral home 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…(BIRNBAUM H. 1993: 16).
Future archaeological research can clarify the places of settlements of the Nostratic peoples on their Urheimat. For the present, the materials of Neolithic settlements in the South Caucasus were collected 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 Southern 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 the 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 their later habitats.
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 them 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 for 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.
Words of the second level are new formations or borrowings in some Nostratic languages, the assimilation of which by other languages depends on the distance between the habitats of their speakers. Namely these distances determine the configuration of the graphic model of kinship. On the other hand, the lack of analogs to these words in other languages may indicate on two opportunities. One of them may say that another word to defining the same concept appeared in the language, and the second one is evidence that its speakers have already left their former habitat. In the latter case, such words should not be taken into account when constructing the model, but it is impossible to isolate them, therefore, the model constructed using them will not correspond to the true relationship between languages for the time when their speakers dwelled in close proximity. This will need to be borne in mind when considering the constructed model.
In preparing the material for the construction of the model, some words of the second level were removed. These were doubtful cases, which the compiler himself designated by question marks, as well as words of a very wide semantic field, words with no precise meaning (indicated, for example, as a kind of some unknown plant or animal ), words of abstract concepts which could arise in a later period. It turned out 151such words. As a result, words of 1438 roots remained for a representative sample that is, 90% of the total number of second-level words. This was more than enough to identify consistent patterns in the data set. The results of calculations of the number of common words in pairs of Nostratic languages are given in the table 2.
Table 2. Number of common words in pairs of the Nostratic languages.
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.
Fig. 4. The model of relationship of the Nostratic languages of later time.
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 the Uralic, Türkic, and Indo-European languages. Obviously S. Starostin included in the general list words which refer to the period when the Uralic, Türkic, and Indo-European peoples populated Eastern Europe and remained there in language contact for a long time. This is evident already from the fact that the number of words of these languages in the table significantly exceeds the number of words of other Nostratic languages, which could not be at the same level of culture of their speakers.
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.