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Peter J. Claus pclaus at
Tue Dec 17 15:43:25 UTC 1996

Date: December 17, 1996 
Indology List
indology at
Dear Members,
Since the recent discussion (re-hash) of the Indigenous
Aryan theories was stimulated by some macro-comments
(new word?) I had made about English language signs in
modern Indian cities, I would like to add a few more
1.    Reconstruction of proto-languages decreases in
     utility the further back we try to go. This is
     partly a matter of probability (chance occurrence
     of similar sounds having similar meaning in two
     languages) and partly a matter of a decreasing
     possibility of having corroborating evidence
     (literature, material culture and other
     archeological data, environmental sciences,
     cultural institutions, etc.) Yet it is only on the
     basis of corroborating evidence that we can decide
     the likelihood of a given linguistic
     reconstruction over another.
2.    Reconstruction of linguistic continuities and
     discontinuities (via cognates, loan words,
     phonemes) decreases in utility the more liberally
     we accept a claim of similarity. Statistics, again.
3.    There is no a priori connection between language
     and a population's genetics (race) or culture.  
     While arguments might be made along these lines
     (most fruitful being between language and certain
     cultural institutions and cognitive patterns such
     as marriage patterns and kinship terminology) it
     is another matter to attribute any greater
     significance to this connection.  And again, the
     further back in time, the less reliable the
     connection and the significance might be. 
4.    Reconstructions of linguistic trees (on the
     metaphor of family descent lines) address only one
     dimension of any linguistic reality and speech
     communities are not much like individual
     (ancestors, descendants) speakers. 

5.    Reconstructions have an infinite number of
     possible explanations, and the number of likely
     explanations would be especially large as the
     complexity of the situation increases. (Eg. -but
     not to be taken seriously-  one household of
     Indo-Aryan speaking animal herders and traders who
     stayed on during one of their trade ventures from
     the northwest and settled in the cosmopolitan city
     of Mahenjo Daro and obtained some horses one year
     when some others of their group came on a trading
     visit.  The horses, raised for a few generations,
     were considered oddities, and didn't sell well and
     the household went back to the cattle and goat
     business.  The family eventually ceased being
     either ethnically or linguistically distinct. The
     horses were sold and eaten: only a few bones
     remained in the trash heap.) 

6.    Given the above, what is remarkable is the fervor
     with which arguments are made and by whom and with
     what presumed discreetness of the cultures and
     speech communities and populations involved!  And
     what is interesting in it all is perhaps less the
     theories than the politics (if one can call it
     that, given even the recent, 20th century, history
     of such arguments) of the proponents and those who
     so readily accept one or another theory.  In this
     I laud Edwin Bryant's perspective (which focuses
     on the reasons for the rise in IA argument,
     right?) on the matter. While it is fun -- and
     academically necessary -- to speculate on these
     matters, one has to keep in mind that it IS, by
     its nature, VERY speculative.  And the more one
     sticks to what we KNOW to be the increasingly
     complex realities (economic, ecological, social,
     etc.) of Eurasia from the 5th millennium onward
     the less likely any one descent group is going to
     be able to claim any satisfaction out of a
Peter J. Claus                        
fax: (510) 704-9636
pclaus at

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