Indo-Aryan invasion

Edwin Bryant ebryant at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Mon Mar 2 16:50:30 UTC 1998

On Sun, 1 Mar 1998, Lars Martin Fosse wrote:

> Let us look at time depth: The Indo-Iranian languages are very close to each
> other, Vedic skt. and Awestan may have split at any time between 300 - 800
> years before they come into the light of history.

Unfortunately, determining the time when these languages entered the light
of history is not so easy.  It is based, to a great extent, on negative
evidence such as the earliest appearance of iron in the archaeological
record (which was post-Harappan). But Shaffer, for example, has argued
that iron ore was recognized and utilized in S. Afghanistan and was
manipulated to produce iron artifacts in the late 3rd millennium BCE,
leading him to suppose that Harappan complexes had access to, and
knowledge of, an iron technology.

But looking at the other
> IE languages - Hittite, Greek etc. - we know that they were present in their
> respective areas in the second millenium BCE, and they must have had a long
> history before that. That would make a split somewhere around 4500 BCE
> likely. In other words, since 4500 BCE Indo-Europeans were present in India,
> but did not develop any other languages than Skt. and Iranian. Such a model
> is counter-intuitive and at variance with the situations we can observe
> elsewhere. Just like the IE in Eurasia, we would expect the IE in India to
> develop a rich flora of languages,

This is an important point.  There was an early mouvement among certain
scholars to consider India as the homeland (since it appeared to have the
oldest language at the time).  THis was then modified, somewhat, by
scholars such as Muller who preferred "somewhere in Asia" and no more.
THe first serious attempt to propose an European homeland was in 1851 by
Robert Latham on the grounds outlined by Lars, above.  Using a biological
model, Latham argued that languages are akin to species which demonstrate
a greater variety of forms nearest their geographical center of origin.
Europe was more heterogeneous, therefore nearest the homeland, and Indo-Ir
more homogeneous, therefore peripheral to it. A similar principal was
articulated more recently by Dyen who noted that it is less likely that a
large number of different languages migrated from an area as a collection
of distinct groups.  The area of the most diverse collection of languages,
then, is prima facie evidence for supposing the origin of those languages
to be in that very area.

Mallory, in his Ph.D dissertation criticizes "such facile inferences from
such a superficial and questionable methodology".  Linguists such as
Dolgoposky point out that such evidence completely contradicts other
evidence such as loan words.  Diebold notes that some languages simply do
not stay put, and their migratory routes may be little affected by such
neat principals.  THe only INdian linguist of whom I am aware who has
addressed this point, argues that the languages are more heterogeneous in
Europe precisely because they were intruders there and had to impose
themselves on non-IE substrata thereby accounting for the greater variety
in Europe and explaining the greater homogeneity in INdia.  As it happens,
this is also a model explaining language innovation and preservation that
is acceptable, and has been demonstrated, in linguistics.

Personally, the more I study all these arguments and consider counter
examples, the less easily I find myself able to draw ready conclusions.

> There is the fact that no
> languages outside India show any trace of specifically Indian features,
> neither in vocabulary nor in grammar.

THese arguments are also old ones, going back to the time of Muller, at
least.  Muller noted that if the IE's left Asia and settling in the
West, they would not be likely to preserve the names for uniquely Asian
animals in their vocabularies once the referents of these names had
disappeared from their purview (except in the cases where such names are
transferred onto other referents).  So the names of fauna and flora
unique to India would not be expected to appear in other languages and
vice-versa.  Several Indian scholars have noted the problem utilizing
such assumptions to try and locate the homeland.  Anyway, if such
assumptions do have any value, then read Gramkrelidze and Ivanov's recent
book.  THey find reason to support a more exotic homeland adjacent to
the Near East with monkeys, elephants and lions (which do exist in South
Asia).  While some of their etymologizing has been challenged, this all
goes to show that one must be wary of basing too far reaching assumptions
on this type of evidence.
Regards, Edwin Bryant (and I am never going to be able to keep up with
this kind of pace in this discussion).

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