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Spreading the Word, Scattering the Seeds

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  • Ian Pitchford
    Science Volume 294, Number 5544, Issue of 2 Nov 2001, pp. 988-989. ARCHAEOLOGY: Spreading the Word, Scattering the Seeds Ben Shouse CAMBRIDGE, U.K.--According
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 2, 2001
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      Science
      Volume 294, Number 5544, Issue of 2 Nov 2001, pp. 988-989.

      ARCHAEOLOGY:
      Spreading the Word, Scattering the Seeds
      Ben Shouse

      CAMBRIDGE, U.K.--According to the "farming-language dispersal hypothesis,"
      throngs of farmers, armed with seeds, genes, and language, swept across the
      land beginning 100 centuries ago, pushing aside indigenous hunter-gatherers.
      But many scholars were suspicious of the grand aspirations of the
      farming-language hypothesis and of its archaeologist proponents, who they say
      tend to ignore unfavorable linguistic data. Now at a recent conference here,
      new studies presented from India and Southeast Asia further threatened the
      hypothesis, weakening the case for cereal crops as engines of linguistic
      dispersal.

      http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/294/5544/988
    • Larry Trask
      ... Well, the farming-language dispersal hypothesis exists in several versions, of course. But by far the most prominent version is the one developed by the
      Message 2 of 2 , Nov 5, 2001
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        > Science
        > Volume 294, Number 5544, Issue of 2 Nov 2001, pp. 988-989.
        >
        > ARCHAEOLOGY:
        > Spreading the Word, Scattering the Seeds
        > Ben Shouse
        >
        > CAMBRIDGE, U.K.--According to the "farming-language dispersal hypothesis,"
        > throngs of farmers, armed with seeds, genes, and language, swept across
        > the land beginning 100 centuries ago, pushing aside indigenous
        > hunter-gatherers.

        Well, the farming-language dispersal hypothesis exists in several versions,
        of course. But by far the most prominent version is the one developed by
        the archaeologist Colin Renfrew of Cambridge University -- and Renfrew's
        version is not quite as described here.

        In Renfrew's view, farming spread across the landscape together with
        languages, but there was little associated movement of peoples or genes.
        In other words, hunter-gatherers accepted farming from their farmer
        neighbors, and at the same time accepted the languages of those farmers,
        but few people moved, and there were no massive displacements of
        populations. All that spread was farming and languages.

        It is true, though, that linguists have problems with this fascinating
        scenario. Most obviously, Renfrew's interpretation requires the
        Indo-European languages to have begun spreading across Europe, from the
        Near East, about 9-10,000 years ago -- in line with the archaeological
        evidence for the spread of farming. But this is too early for us
        linguists. All the linguistic evience points strongly to the conclusion
        that the ancestor of the Indo-European languages -- Proto-Indo-European --
        must still have been spoken as a unified and localized language
        approximately 6000 years ago, and that its descendants could only have
        started spreading out -- by whatever means -- after that date, by which
        time farming had already long been established in much of the territory
        which is historically Indo-European-speaking. Pushing the spread of the IE
        languages several thousand years further back into the past requires that
        these languages should have spread out over a wide area and then not
        changed at all for 3000 years or more -- a linguistic impossibility.


        Larry Trask
        COGS
        University of Sussex
        Brighton BN1 9QH
        UK

        larryt@...

        Tel: (01273)-678693 (from UK); +44-1273-678693 (from abroad)
        Fax: (01273)-671320 (from UK); +44-1273-671320 (from abroad)
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