Dravidians and Sergent

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Tue Jul 6 06:56:24 UTC 1999

I do not think many are interested in the following, but in view of:

the recent simple, surface level, look-alike comparisons of Dravidian, W.
African and Tocharian by Winters, IE and Dravidian by  Keerthi Kumar,
Austronesian-Mon-Khmer-Munda (Austric) and Sanskrit by Manasala in their
web sites (about all of which separately when I get time),

it is important to point out that there is, after all,  a well-tested
method for comparative linguistics: not just in Indo-European but also in
Semitic, Austronesian, Bantu, etc. to name but a few obvious cases.

The same method can be applied to a comparison of these families (since,
after all, ultimately, we all came out of Africa...) However, Lars wrote:

At 12:22 +0200 7/3/99, Lars Martin Fosse wrote:

> When we start comparing reconstructions of proto-languages with other
>reconstructions of >proto-languages, the error potentiality becomes

That really still is up for grabs, as so few people have tried
*systematically*,  and even less with the strict methods of traditional
comparative linguistics (sound laws and comparison of grammatical
elements). Until recently, we just got one-to-one comparisons of the kind
mentioned by Lars : >Dyen 's  criticism of the Austronesian-Indo-European
One can always make fun of such attempts, for, as we say, any 50 words in
any language can be compared with any 50 other in any other language. Thus
we had, Altaic and Quechua, IE and Korean, Hungarian and Tibetan/ Maori, to
name but a few...

>Admittedly, some languages contain extremely conservative elements -
>Lithuanian "sunus"  <<Latin sunus, Rgveda suunus> >

Correct, but that is not what I said or meant. Some sounds in many
languages are more stable than others.  Which leads to results such as
sunus (and Engl. sun), or German Jahr / Avestan yaar-... as I said:
Resonants and sibilants often are  more stable. Coincidence, certainly,
Avest & Germ.  developed in the same direction (aa), but  y- and -r are
stable (unlike in Scandinavian, of course, where y- has long gone the way
of all sounds, > zero).

> comparing languages that presumably split up 8-10,000 years ago simply
>makes no sense, ... If there are similarities, they are most likely due to

This prescisely is Ruhlen's "IE myth". It is just as unproven as a
*general* theory, as a theory of a Eurasiatic common language at c. 10,000
BCE plus. Not to speak of Eve's language. The footwork  has still to be
done for *all* theories mentioned just now.

But I do not think  that this is impossible: one just has to use the
standard methods of comp. ling. and pay attemtion not only to sound
correspondences but also to some UNIQUE forms in grammar.
The most obvious case, in Nostratic, perhaps is the acc. -m in IE,
Finno-Ugrian (-m), Altaic (Mong. -b), Japanese (-w) etc. (Same sound
correspondences in other words, such as in "I/me"), or the possessive
genetive in -n- in the same languages.  Just for starters. ---
Such grammatical elements, *if* they fit established sound laws, can be as
little due to chance as the same correspondences of these forms *within* IE.
Similar sentinent by one of the long range comparativists, I. Peiros,  in
the Shevoroshkin festschrift  (ed. I. Hegedus, et al. , JIES 22, 1997)

Another one of  Lars' topics: Sergent's attempt to show "La genese de l'Inde"

Lars is of course entirely right as far as Sergent's attempt to be
inclusive and all-comprehensive is concerned. A definite improvement.  Also
his lengthy inclusion of Munda ("East Asian") mythology, so far treated
only (?) by H. Berger in 1953.  Unfortunately, Sergent's book is available
only in French.

However, since Sergent got into the subject as an non-specialist, his
statements about languages (above: W. Africa) and also about archaeology
are off the wall several times:

How and why should there be a close comparison between the Bactria-Margiana
culture and Mycene? The similaraties may as well be due to a common IE
origin. And even that is not clear: for, contrary to well known accounts
(Parpola),  where the  BMAC is IIr or IA speaking ,- it has donkeys &
camels, -- but no horses!

Or, as far as Sergent's mythology is concerned, one would have to
distinguish between stray correspondences, whether IE-Vedic, Vedic-Drav.,
or Vedic-Munda and the underlying, much more widespread, pan-Eurasian

Cooperation between various fields is of the essence. Yet, maybe, I should
not criticize Sergent, as I am finalizing a similar undertaking, a
re-combination of old and new articles on the subject...

Michael Witzel                          Elect. Journ. of Vedic Studies
Harvard University                  www1.shore.net/~india/ejvs
my direct line (also for messages) :  617- 496 2990
home page:     www.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/mwpage.htm

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