Paired Horse and PIE breakup

Miguel Carrasquer Vidal mcv at WXS.NL
Tue Nov 10 08:59:37 UTC 1998

"N. Ganesan" <naga_ganesan at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:

>   The rate of language change in preliterate societies is
>   usually high, rather than "extremely slowly".
>   In subsaharan Africa, thousands of  nonliterary languages/dialects
>   in the Bantu family exist because they did not develop writing.
>   Writing definitely has a conservative effect.

But only on the surface.  Underneath it, language keeps changing.
Writing did not stop English from udergoing the Big Vowel Shift...
Of course in those days, literacy figures were low.  I'm not sure
what the effect is/will be on rate of language change of modern
generalized literacy (in most parts of the world, anyway), but maybe
because of TV linguists won't have to worry too much about that.

The existence of a writing standard certainly does tend to exaggerate
the "punctuated equilibrium" aspect of language change.  Look at
Latin and the Romance languages.  For centuries, Classical Latin was
the official language of the Roman Empire, and although one can see
the language slowly developing during that time, the changes were
relatively minor.  Even after the fall of the Roman Empire Latin
remained in use unchanged as the written standard.  But when the
first Romance texts appear in the period 900-1200, the changes [from
Latin and between one Romance variety and another] are major and
abrupt.  How much of this sudden change is apparent only, and how
much of it is real?   Had the changes slowly accumulated, masked by
the existence of a conservative writing standard for a thousand
years, or did the rate of change really increase after the fall of
the Roman Empire?  Probably both.  Language change isn't always
gradual, but it isn't always as abrupt as the change from one writing
standard to another appears to show.

>   Could Hittite, being an IE language, innovated faster in a
>   1000 years or so? Then a 3000-2500 B.C. PIE breakup from
>   Pontic-Caspian would certainly become possible.

Certainly.  [I think that Hittite is actually the more archaic
language, and that it were the others that innovated].

Still, the differences between Hittite/Anatolian and the other IE
languages are very considerable.  Hittite shows no sign of feminine
gender, only animate/inanimate, no dual, no special declension for
the o-stems, a genitive that in Luwian is still adjectival in
character, a simple dative/locative case in -i, an allative case in
-a, an instrumental in -it, no special forms for the dat/loc., ins. &
abl. cases in the plural (no sign of the *-bh- and *-m- suffixes we
see elsewhere), a pronominal gentive in -l, a pronominal infix -eda-
(vs. -sm- in Sanskrit and other lgs.), a simple verbal system with
only present and past tenses, with no sign at all of aspect/tenses
like the imperfect, aorist, perfect, pluperfect, future, or of moods
like the optative and conjunctive.  No distinction between thematic
and athematic conjugations, but instead a fundamental difference
between active (-mi) and stative/deponent (-hi, -ha) verbs, mirroring
the animate/inanimate distinction in the nominal system.

Those are pretty big differences, and I find them almost impossible
to reconcile with an IE breakup between 3000-2500, considering that
we already have Hittite and Mycenaean Greek texts a millennium later,
c. 1500 ~ 1000 BC (and that the Rgveda was probably composed
somewhere in that same period).

*Almost* impossible, of course.  Language change *is* unpredictable.
But if you ask me for an estimate (give or take a thousand years) of
how long Greek and Hittite had been diverging at the time of our
first records (say 1500 BC), I have to say that 3 ~ 4000 years seems
more likely than 1 ~ 2000 years.  I'd say the latter figure (1 ~ 2000
years) fits the divergence between Mycenaean Greek and Vedic Sanskrit

Miguel Carrasquer Vidal
mcv at

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