Fallacies of Proto-Indo-European
There was a P(roto)I(ndo-)E(uropean) language 10.000 years ago. Its reconstruction is impossible now despite enormous efforts by fanciful scholars. The closest extant language is (old) Sanskrit.
1. I do not belong to the small circle of sanskritists, classicists and others, who reject the existence of PIE. Admittedly there is no hard evidence for this language – no texts, no fragments anywhere. But the astonishing similarities that unmistakably exist between Sanskrit, Old Greek, Latin and other languages cannot be dismissed as chance events or borrowing or wave-influences. The languages involved starting in the East and moving westward are chiefly these: Sanskrit (or Vedic or Old Indic), Avestan (or Iranian in Ancient Persia/Iran), Tocharian (in Central Asia), Armenian, Hittite (Luvian, Palaic and few others in what is today Turkey), Slavic (branches in Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Czechoslovakia, Poland and few other areas), Albanian, Greek, Latin (and few other dialects in today’s Italy, Spain, France and Rumania), Celtic (Old Irish/Welsh), Germanic (the largest family with Gothic, Old High German, Old Icelandic, etc.) and Baltic (=Latvian, Lithuanian and Old Prussian).
From these ancient languages various scholars have over almost two centuries now, starting around 1800, “reconstructed”, so they claim, the ancient PIE. I shall not cite any of these reconstructions, except on rare occasions as absurd examples, because they are all imaginary, having no true basis in reality, since no trace of PIE itself has survived. Some laws of change and interrelation between (some of) the extant languages are valid, since they are based on actual lexemes (=forms of words). But as soon as one moves out of these few oases of rationality, one wallows in uncertainty and conjecture.
2. Let me start by giving some examples of close similarities. I leave out Avestan (or Iranian) because in most case the lexeme is very similar to Sanskrit. But I deal with some Indo-Iranian affinities in §8, below.
belly: S(anskrit) udara , Gk hoderos, L(atin) (venter?) uterus, B(altic) vēderas .
flesh : S māṃsa, Toch(arian) misa, Arm(enian) mis, Sl(avic) mesa, Alb(anian) mish, G(er)m(anic) mimz/mensā, B mesa.
knee: S jānu , Gk gonu , L genu , Gm kniw.
molar (tooth): S jamba, Toch keme, Sl zebn, Alb(anian) dhëmb, Gk gomphos.
Some human relations.
father: S pitṛ/pitar , Gk patēr, L pater, C athir (Celtic lost |p| almost everywhere), Gm fadar .
mother: is found in various forms in all except H(ittite)
son: S sūnu , Toch soy, Sl synǔ, Gk hui-, Gm sunu(s), B sūnus.
dawn: S uṣās , Gk ēōs, L au[s]rora, Gm eostre, B aušra.
fire: S agni , H agnis, Sl ognǔ, L ignis , B ugnis.
rainwater: S abhra, Arm amb, Gk ombro, L imber.
star: S star- , Toch śreñ/ścirye, Arm astl-, Gk astēr , L stella , C sterenn , Gm stairnō .
awl: S ārā , Gm al/āla , Old Prussian ylo , B yla .
butter: S sarpis , Toch sälyp-e, Alb gjalp, Gk helpos, Gm salba.
house: S dhāma, Sl domǔ, Gk dom-a/-o, L domus.
wheel: S cakra , Toch kukäl, Gk kuklo-, Gm hwēol.
be: S asti, Gk esti, Gm ist etc etc.
beget: S jan-, Gk gen-, Lt gen-, C gen-a/i.
grab: S grabh, H karp, Sl grabi-, Gm gre(i)pan, B grābt.
put: S dhā- , Toch täs/tēs, H dai, Sl dĕ-ti, Gk ti-thē-, C do-di, B détí.
think: S man, Sl mǐnĕ-, Gk mna-/main-, L me-min-, C de-moin-, Gm mun, B many.
There are hundreds more. But enough examples have been given to show that far too many lexemes have close resemblance to assume anything other than a genetic relation. That is to say, the languages mentioned descended from one original mother tongue and each retained many or few aspects according to the influences it received once they had split, when groups of people speaking the original PIE began to diverge and move to different distant areas.
3.Apart from lexemes there are similarities in the declension of nouns and conjugation of verbs and in syntax. Moreover, there are similarities in themes and motifs in mythology and in several customs, laws and social practices.
Below are the 1st Sing, 1st and 3rd Plural persons of the verb to be:
Except for the Gothic sijum ‘we are’, the resemblances are so close as to need no further comment.
I shall close this section with one of the many mythologems that are common to three or more IE cultures. Versions of this are found in the Sanskrit, Greek, Celtic and Germanic (Scandinavian) cultures.
In the Vedic literature, we find Saraṇyu, daughter of creator god Tvaṣṭṛ, marrying the Sungod Vivasvat. But soon afterwards, she disappeared leaving behind her a shadowy likeness and assumed the form of a mare. Vivasvat located her, assumed the form of a stallion and mated with her. As a result, the twin horse deities Aśvins were born.
In Greece, goddess Demeter disappeared to escape the sexual harassment of seagod Poseidon. She assumed the form of a mare. Poseidon located her with the aid of Sungod, became a stallion and mated with her. As a result was born a noble horse Areion and a girl. Then the goddess was worshipped in Arcadia as Demeter Erinus (=Saraṇyu: a sure cognation).
In Scandinavia, the gods asked a giant-mason to build for them a huge wall within a certain date and would win a goddess as reward. With the help of his horse Svadilfari, the mason worked very fast and would win the bet with the gods. So they sought the help of Loki, god of tricks and transformations. He became a mare and kept distracting the mason’s horse. Thus the gods won their bet as the mason was unable to finish on time. The mare became pregnant and bore the eight-legged horse Sleipnir, the fastest ever. This was given to kinggod Odin.
Again the similarities are quite extraordinary, when one considers how far apart the three traditions were and how none of the intermediate IE or non-IE cultures had this legend. But the element of sex with a mare is found in other legends and the Irish should be mentioned here. In one tribe in Ulster, the future king had to mount a white mare before his coronation. Then the mare was slaughtered and cooked and all people involved in the ritual partook of the mare’s meat.
In some IE countries, bestiality was forbidden, except for mares and in some cases cows. Wherever Christianity was established all bestiality was prohibited.
4. It is an established fact that we scholars love conjectures, models, suppositions, theories, about all subjects. When the similar IE languages were discovered and explored in the 19th century, the desire arose naturally to find the mother tongue PIE. This was not forthcoming and it is unlikely that it will be discovered. So linguists specialising in this area, comparativists, began to contrive this PIE on the basis of the facts in these extant languages. They thought then, and now many of them are certain, that PIE could be “reconstructed”. The early attempts in the 20th century were not very satisfactory and one generation after another “improved”, as they thought, on the work of the previous. By the 1990’s, they felt confident that their methods had been refined and become very exact and scientific. And soon thereafter followed several studies presenting the last word on comparative IE philology and the reconstructed mother tongue PIE. (E.g. B. Fortson 2004, N. Ritt 2004, J. Clackson 2006.)
The first fallacy is that the comparative method is “scientific” and can offer predictions. And the comparativists are very proud of their “science” – although there are some few, who dissent and consider all this a waste of time (e.g. Leach 1990; Angela Marcantonio 2009, 2013).
There are in fact no predictions outside observable phenomena in the fairly rich documentation of comparatively early languages like Sanskrit, Avestan, Greek and Latin. For instance, Sanskrit |ś| appears in Greek most frequently as |k|, as in S daśa = Gk deka for the number 10, and S śăta = Gk he-kato for the number 100. But S /ś/ appears in Greek as |p| also, as in S aśva = Gk hippos for horse. When Mycenaean Greek was deciphered in mid-20th century, it was discovered that it had iqo-/iqe- for horse. So the equation S |ś| = Gk |k| held true if |k| = |q|.
This discovery is, of course, no prediction at all. Because the other Greek dialects do not conform to this rule and the causes for the disparity are totally unknown.
In any event, the scientific predictions and reconstructions should concern the PIE itself. But this cannot be verified. Thus, we are asked to accept the results of a “scientific” method that can in no way be verified. And this proposition comes from scholars who are regarded as mature, serious and well-educated. Yet they disregard one of the most basic conditions of scientific investigation: the results must be amenable to independent verification.
5. Closely related to the previous fallacy, is the fallacy that PIE can be reconstructed.
It cannot. Apart from the impossibility of verifying the reconstructions, since we have no genuine, original PIE linguistic facts, the data available from the various IE extant tongues contain many variations and contradictions. It is acknowledged by the more sober, older scholars that the extant languages descend not from the PIE itself, but from dialects that had descended from it.
- Burrow who wrote a study of Sanskrit (1955, revised 1973), which still remains a standard text, wrote: “In the case of Indo-European, it is certain that there was no such unitary language, which can be reached by means of comparison… In fact detailed comparison makes it clear that the Indo-European that we can reach… was already deeply split up into a series of varying dialects” (11: 1973).
- Szemerényi, an eminent comparativist in his day, but now out of favour and fashion, writes on one page that “the first task of the Indo-Euroepanist is … the fullest possible reconstruction of the Indo-European” to be used as “a starting-point for the interpretation of the system and its prehistory”, but on another page writes that we need the reconstructed forms for easier reference (one form rather that the many in the diverse IE tongues) and elsewhere cites other scholars, who assert that “complete forms cannot be reconstructed at all” (1996: 33)!
Like Szemerényi and others, I think all indoeuropeanists comparativists are aware of the absurd side of the matter, i.e. of reconstructing a language that cannot be verified, which is spoken by nobody and has no texts whatever! Don Ringe, also a respected contemporary comparativist, mentions the difficulties of reconstruction (2004: 1117). Yet the indoeuropeanists continue their “scientific” reconstructions degrading every sense of science and scientific investigation. In 2000, Calvert Watkins published The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots , while others publish textbooks for students!!!
It is customary to place an asterisk initially on every reconstructed lexeme (e.g. *deiwos = S devas ‘god’), but Watkins has put no stars on his roots: anɘ ‘breathe’ (PIE *h2en-?!!?) = S an; gnō ‘know’= S jñā; mē ‘measure’ = S mā; stā ‘stand’ = S sthā; yag ‘worship’ = S yaj ‘sacrifice’; etc. So readers uninformed in the subject may well think that these concoctions are actual roots of an actual language. This is a minor difficulty. Watkins indulges at length in misleading everybody by not providing adequate information or by providing only secondary inessential facts. E.g. root anɘ : he refers to L anima ‘soul’ and derivatives, to Gk anemo ‘wind’ and derivatives and the name ‘Enid’ from Welsh eneit ‘soul’. But he does not say that only S has the root (dhātu) itself √an and the conjugation of the verb ‘to breathe’!
The epidemic with proto-languages has also spread to linguistic studies of other groups of languages, like Afro-Asiatic, Dravidian, Finno-Ugric, Kurtvelian, etc. Even within IE family, the comparativists deal with Proto-Germanic, Proto-Celtic, Proto-Italic (i.e. Latin etc.) and so on. R. Woodward edited, with the help of numerous other comparativists, in 2004, the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Ancient Languages (Cambridge, Britain). Chapter 17, incidentally, describes briefly in 14 pages and in “scientific” terms, the IE Protolanguage admitting that it is not attested, but “reconstructed”.
However, the mentality behind this reconstructed PIE is not all that different from the belief, current in St Augustine’s time in the 4th cent CE that all languages descended from Hebrew. It was Joseph Scaliger (1540-1609) who first challenged this mainstream inane notion.
6. Another fallacy is very subtle: it is the tacit assumption that the reconstructed forms are actual and experts in this imaginary field discuss and argue among themselves as if they are realities.
If by some miracle a tablet should be discovered from say 10 000 BCE with a genuine (fragment of a) text of PIE, these experts would not recognise it as such because, I am sure, it would be vastly different from their reconstructions. I shall explain the reasons for my certitude below (§§ 7-11).
In an effort to convince others of the validity of the reconstructions, the IEnists use two analogies: one is the depiction of an animal, a drawing, in a biology textbook which is according to J. Clackson, “an idealised depiction”: the drawing corresponds to the creature (cat or caterpillar), but it is not the same as it (2013:270). Obviously, the learned comparativist does not see the frightful fallacy here. The cat or caterpillar is drawn from real life; they are existing entities and the artist, or photographer in our days, has actually seen the animal itself and has not “reconstructed” it from scattered pieces, here and there, as philologists do!
The second analogy is the “map” of the sky and “constellations” like the Orion. These are presented in two dimensions whereas the actual positions of stars differ in depth and distance in space: some lie further away from earth than others (Clackson 2013:271). Here too our comparativist falls into the same fallacy. Sky-maps and constellations are real objects seen and photographed, not a concoction of pieces from different constellations in different areas of heaven as seen by us. The PIE tongue is not seen or photographed from real PIE elements: it is a new formation “reconstructed” with entities from different languages and projected as “real”. What has actual existence are the extant languages; the PIE is an imaginary collage, a conjectural projection without any real existence except in the linguistic books!
7. The development of reconstruction has not been a straight line. At first Sanskrit was given prominence. Eventually a more “democratic” approach prevailed, but one that regards Hittite as an older and closer descendant of the PIE. And since Hittite has a sound that came to be designated “laryngeal”, i.e. |h̯|, gradually this sound and variants were introduced to fill many gaps and solve difficulties met in comparisons. At one time, these laryngeals were 10, now they have been reduced to 3. But they are wilfully introduced even in languages that do not have them, like Sanskrit and Avestan!
Sanskrit is not given the attention it deserves because it is regarded as more “modern” than Hittite, Iranian (=Avestan) etc.
This is due to the wretched AIT, the Aryan Invasion/Immigration Theory. This states that the Indoaryans (=ancient Indians/Aryans) came from Iran into N-W India c 1700 after spending some time in Iran with the Iranians and speaking a common Indo-Iranian protolanguage. They spread southward and eastward into the Gangetic plain driving the old natives south into the Dravidian area of India, or reducing them into the servile class.
This absurd Theory, like so many others, has become mainstream doctrine. It ignores glaring facts. The Avestan hymns say that the Iranians themselves wandered much before settling into South Iran and the first place they passed from was the Land of the Seven Rivers (in N-W India and Pakistan). A Sanskrit text, again, Baudhāyana’s Śrautasūtra (18.14) says that there was the Āmāvasa migration from Saptasindhu (Land of 7 rivers) westward and the Ṛgveda hymn 6.61.9-12 says that the 5 Aryan tribes spread beyond the seven sister-rivers!
However, I leave this fallacious theory as I have deconstructed it in my Vedic and Indo-European Studies (N. Delhi, 2015) and in numerous other publications.
According to my reading of anthropological, archaeological, genetic, linguistic and literary data, all expounded in detail in my two books (2009, 2015), the original IE homeland was in the larger area of Saptasindhu and covering Bactria. From there the various IE-speakers radiated to their northern and north-western and western migrations. The Avestan speakers are the last to leave and for this reason their tongue Old Iranian bears the greatest resemblance to Old Indic.
Baudhāyana’s ŚrautaSūtra 18.14 mentions two migrations: one eastward, the Āyava; one westward, the Āmāvasa producing the Gāndhāris, Parśus (=Persians) and Arāttas (=of Urartu and/or Ararat on the Caucausus).
8. Another fallacy is the notion of uniform phonological change in the selfsame environment.
This does sound most reasonable. In fact, it is quite otherwise in the actual world of the texts. I shall take only one example from Sanskrit and Avestan, since they are such close relatives and neighbours, the sonorant vowel |ṛ|, which is by full consensus held to be PIE.
Observe please that this |ṛ|, remains in fact in all the Sanskrit words, but changes variously in the corresponding Avestan!
|S||ṛṣṭi ‘spear’;||amṛta ‘immortal’;||vṛka ‘wolf’;||vṛkṣa ‘tree’;||ākṛti ‘form’|
|A||aršti ;||amǝša ;||vǝhrka ;||varǝša ;||ākǝrǝti|
There are, in fact, more variations in Avestan – ōrǝ , ar , ra …
Writing on Kurylowitz’s ‘laws of change’, Heinrich Hock, one of the most eminent IE comparativists stated – “a prediction of when a change will or must occur is impossible” (1991:211).
9. Another fallacy is the division into satem and centum languages: satem being Sanskrit, Avestan, Baltic, etc.; centum being Tocharian, Greek, Latin, etc. As is generally known, the distinction is due to the appearance of palatals in satem (from Avestan ‘one hundred’ = S śata) and of velars (gutturals) in the centum (from L ‘one hundred’). However, this distinction is not as absolute as one might think. Palatals are found in some places in centum tongues and velars in satem.
The Baltic languages are three: Old Prussian, Latvian and Lithuanian. Well, in Lithuanian we find god Perkunas (and variants = Sl Perenu), who is cognate with S Parjanya. Thus, S has the palatal |j| as is proper for satem, but Lithuanian has the velar |k| which is proper to centum languages.
10. The biggest fallacy and central to any discussion regarding the Protolanguage in IE studies is exposed by the presence of roots or more correctly dhātus ‘lexical seed-forms’ in Sanskrit. When all the paraphernalia of PIE reconstructions are laid aside the investigator finds that, in plain fact, only Sanskrit and Avestan (to a much lesser degree) have roots! The other IE languages have verbs and nouns etc. but not roots, as such, from which verbs and nouns etc. are derived. Even Sanskrit has many words that cannot be analysed or traced back to a dhātu (apart from borrowed words): e.g. kakud ‘peak’, nṛ/nara ‘man’, putra ‘child/son’, balakṣa ‘white’, śūdra ‘servile’ etc. But it has 2000 dhātus all told and about 700 fully active in the early language.
In his Dictionary, Walkins gives 5 roots ser, and of these he connects number 2 with S ̦√sṛ > sarati/sisarti ‘moves/flows/runs’ and then gets lost in the labyrinth of IE complexities. This |sṛ| is not found as an independent word noun or adjective, but is found in S as stem in sṛ-t ‘running’, sṛ-ta ‘having gone/passed’, sṛti ‘way’ etc. Then there are sara saraṇa, sarit, sāra, sārin etc. This is found also in a cognate form in Tocharian salate, in Gk hallomai and L salio, all meaning ‘leap/rush’, but only as verbs, not as roots and with very few derivatives. The most curious fact is that it’s derivative saras ‘eddy, whirl, wave, lake’ is in the name of the ancient river saras-vatī. This is cognate with Avestan haraxvaiti, also a river’s name; but there is no root nor other word connected with this harah in Iranian, so it stands alone! The mainstream theory, that wants the common Indo-Iranian tongue and culture in Iran, says that the Indoaryans went to Saptasindhu and there gave their version of the name to a river to remind them of their former country. This of course is utter, wilful nonsense, because saras has a rich family of lexemes and a dhātu, but the Iranian haraḥ is a lonely orphan! So the movement must have been the other way round and the Iranians just lost dhātu and derivatives retaining only the name and memory of the river in Saptasindhu. (See§7-8.) Otherwise, it is impossible that the Indoaryans left Iran with only harah/saras and once in their new habitat started developing other lexemes and the dhātu √sṛ.
11. Of the 700 dhātus in the early Vedic texts, 200 are found in the root-form as nouns or adjectives and also stems for verbs. Thus, Vedic has √īś (m) ‘lord’ and verb īś-e ‘I reign’; but also derivatives īśa, īśin, īśvara etc. Similarly √ruc > ruc (f) ‘lustre’ and á-ru-ruc-at ‘one shone’ (in a past tense, called reduplicated aorist); but also derivatives ruk-ma, ruca-ka, rucin, rocana etc. Similarly √sad > sad (adj) ‘sitting’ and verb á-sad-at (aorist) ‘one sat’. 200 such dhātus with their families of derivatives (nouns and verbs etc) form a very rich inheritance – considering that no other IE language has anything. Tatiana Elizarenkova, the renowned Russian vedicist, put it like this: “the verb-root [=dhātu] is basic to both inflexion and derivation…it is irrelevant that for some root as such nouns are not attested” (1995: 50). Sanskrit has organic coherence.
The most telling aspect for the antiquity and significance of Sanskrit is precisely this organic coherence arising from roots generating verbs, nouns etc. This functions with the regular use of suffixes, verbal and nominal. I shall give only two examples, but the instances are hundreds.
S has the stems pad/pād- (weak/strong) ‘foot’ and √pad > vb padyate ‘befalls, falls’. Since the foot is the bodily part that in movement constantly rises and “falls” we see semantic as well as phonetic agreement. Gk has pous (Gen podos) and L pes (Gen pedis); Armenian, Hittite and Tocharian have similar cognates for ‘foot’. But none has a cognate verb like S √pad- ! Gm does have ge-fetan ‘to fall’ (Old English) and has cognates fôt/fuoz ‘foot’. Slavic also has pada/pasti ‘falls’ but no other nominal cognates. Lithuanian has the verb peduoti, but its padas is ‘sandal, shoe’ (not foot).
The IE cognates for “daughter” present a similar case. S duhitṛ for daughter is the √duh and the suffixes i-tṛ, as in pitṛ ‘father’, aritṛ ‘rower’, aśitṛ ‘eater’ etc. The verb is duḥ- > dogdhi ‘extracts, milks’ (hence duhitṛ = milkmaid!). Gk thugatēr, Gmc tohter, Sl dušti and Oscan (old Italic) futir, have no other plausible cognates in their total diction. Surprisingly, neither Latin nor Hittite have any cognations for IE daughter! The others have the noun but, not the verb.
12. I could give dozens of more cases which show this organic coherence in Sanskrit, which is totally absent in other IE tongues (See my 2015: ch 2). In another paper, “Rigvedic All-comprehensiveness”, I show that most of the significant cultural and linguistic IE features common in the other IE cultures are found in the Ṛgveda. All other branches show enormous losses in all respects – except erosion.
Is this aspect known and studied in depth by IEean comparativists? Perhaps. But they do not draw the natural conclusion that Sanskrit alone should be the basis for PIE. The other languages are made up of highly eroded and fragmented materials. In my view all the mainstream academic publications on the subject of reconstructing PIE are worthless.
Edmund Leach, provost of King’s College Cambridge, wrote many years ago: “Because of their commitment to a unilateral segmentary history of language development that needed to be mapped onto the ground, the philologists took it for granted that proto-Indo-Iranian was a language that had originated outside India or Iran…. From this we derived the myth of the Aryan invasions”. But he went further: “Indo-European scholars should have scrapped their historical reconstructions and started again from scratch. But this is not what happened. Vested interests and academic posts were involved” (Leach 1990:238).
I am afraid that the edifice of IE linguistics and reconstructions continues to be based on those “vested interests”.
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