Eurasiatic languages

Eurasiatic languages

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Eurasiatic is a language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 macrofamily
Macrofamily
In historical linguistics, a macro-family, also called a superfamily or phylum, is defined as a proposed genetic relationship grouping together language families in a larger scale clasification.However, Campbell regards this term as superfluous, preferring language family for those clasifications...

 proposed by Joseph Greenberg
Joseph Greenberg
Joseph Harold Greenberg was a prominent and controversial American linguist, principally known for his work in two areas, linguistic typology and the genetic classification of languages.- Early life and career :...

 that includes many language families historically spoken in northern Eurasia
Eurasia
Eurasia is a continent or supercontinent comprising the traditional continents of Europe and Asia ; covering about 52,990,000 km2 or about 10.6% of the Earth's surface located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres...

. The eight branches of Eurasiatic are Etruscan, Indo-European, Uralic–Yukaghir, Altaic, Korean-Japanese-Ainu, Gilyak, Chukotian, and Eskimo–Aleut, spoken in northernmost North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

 and Greenland
Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

 with a toehold in easternmost Siberia.

Some proposals would group Eurasiatic with even larger macrofamilies such as Nostratic
Nostratic languages
Nostratic is a proposed language family that includes many of the indigenous language families of Eurasia, including the Indo-European, Uralic and Altaic as well as Kartvelian languages...

 or Borean
Borean languages
Borean is a hypothetical linguistic macrofamily that traces the possible genetic relationships of the various languages of Eurasia and adjacent regions with languages spoken in the Upper Paleolithic in the millennia following the Last Glacial Maximum. The name "Borean", based on Greek βορέας,...

, but neither they nor Eurasiatic itself have been widely accepted, since they are not seen by the linguistic profession as being based on valid methodologies. The mass comparison method used by Greenberg remains controversial. Merritt Ruhlen and other supporters of the Eurasiatic proposal have held that the language families it includes have a distinctive grammatical pattern involving the use of a -t suffix to form plurals and a -k suffix to form duals.

Reception


The Eurasiatic hypothesis is dismissed by many linguists, often on the ground that Greenberg relies in his research on mass comparison, a method he developed in the 1950s that remains extremely controversial and sometimes attracted considerable criticism (i.a. by Stefan Georg
Stefan Georg
Stefan Georg is currently Privatdozent at the University of Bonn in Bonn, Germany, for Altaic Linguistics and Culture Studies.- Background :...

 and Alexander Vovin
Alexander Vovin
Alexander V. Vovin is an American linguist and philologist in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, where he is a Professor of East Asian Languages and the acting chair of the department from August 1, 2009.Alexander Vovin earned his M.A...

). Others, citing the wide acceptance of his classification of African languages
African languages
There are over 2100 and by some counts over 3000 languages spoken natively in Africa in several major language families:*Afro-Asiatic spread throughout the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and parts of the Sahel...

 (cf. Nichols 1992:5), withhold judgment. Greenberg also has his supporters, among them the American linguists Merritt Ruhlen
Merritt Ruhlen
Merritt Ruhlen is an American linguist known for his work on the classification of languages and what this reveals about the origin and evolution of modern humans. Amongst other linguists, Ruhlen's work is recognized as standing outside the mainstream of comparative-historical linguistics...

 and Allan Bomhard
Allan R. Bomhard
Allan R. Bomhard is an American linguist.He was educated at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Hunter College, and the City University of New York, and served in the U.S. Army from 1964—1966. He currently resides in Charleston, SC...

 and the Dutch linguist Frederik Kortlandt
Frederik Kortlandt
Frederik Herman Henri Kortlandt is a professor of descriptive and comparative linguistics at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He is an expert on Baltic and Slavic languages, the Indo-European languages in general, and Proto-Indo-European, though he has also published studies of languages in...

.

Grammatical evidence


Merritt Ruhlen
Merritt Ruhlen
Merritt Ruhlen is an American linguist known for his work on the classification of languages and what this reveals about the origin and evolution of modern humans. Amongst other linguists, Ruhlen's work is recognized as standing outside the mainstream of comparative-historical linguistics...

 writes that Eurasiatic is supported by the existence of a grammatical pattern "whereby plurals of nouns are formed by suffixing -t to the noun root...whereas duals of nouns are formed by suffixing -k." Rasmus Rask noted this grammatical pattern in the groups now called Uralic and Eskimo–Aleut as early as 1818, but it can also be found in Altaic, Ainu, Gilyak, and Chukchi–Kamchatkan, all of which Greenberg placed in Eurasiatic. According to Ruhlen, this pattern is not found in language families or languages outside Eurasiatic.

Roots


Ruhlen presents the following roots for Eurasiatic: kʷi (what?), mi (what?), pälä (two), akʷā (water), tik (one or finger), konV (arm 1), bhāghu(s) (arm 2), bük(ä) (bend or knee), punče (hair), p'ut'V (vagina or vulva), snā (smell or nose), kamu (seize or squeeze), and parV (the verb to fly).

External classification


According to Greenberg, the language family that Eurasiatic is most closely connected to is Amerind
Amerind languages
Amerind is a higher-level language family proposed by Joseph Greenberg in 1960. Greenberg proposed that all of the indigenous languages of the Americas belong to one of three language families, the previously established Eskimo–Aleut and Na–Dene, and with everything else—almost universally believed...

. He states that "[t]he Eurasiatic-Amerind family represents a relatively recent expansion (circa 15,000 BP) into territory opened up by the melting of the Arctic ice cap" (2002:2). In contrast, "Eurasiatic-Amerind stands apart from the other families of the Old World, among which the differences are much greater and represent deeper chronological groupings" (ib.). Like Eurasiatic, Amerind is not a generally accepted proposal.

Eurasiatic and Nostratic
Nostratic languages
Nostratic is a proposed language family that includes many of the indigenous language families of Eurasia, including the Indo-European, Uralic and Altaic as well as Kartvelian languages...

 include many of the same language families. Vladislav Illich-Svitych
Vladislav Illich-Svitych
Vladislav Markovich Illich-Svitych was a Russian linguist and accentologist, also a founding father of comparative Nostratic linguistics.Of Ukrainian descent, he was born in Kiev but later moved to work in Moscow. He resuscitated the long-forgotten Nostratic hypothesis, originally expounded by...

's Nostratic dictionary did not include the smaller Siberian language families listed in Eurasiatic, but this was only because protolanguages had not been reconstructed for them; Nostraticists have not attempted to exclude these languages from Nostratic. Most recently, Nostraticists have accepted Eurasiatic as a subgroup within Nostratic (2005:331) with Afroasiatic, Kartvelian
South Caucasian languages
The Kartvelian languages are spoken primarily in Georgia, with a large group of ethnic Georgian speakers in Russia, the United States, the European Union, and northeastern parts of Turkey. There are approximately 5.2 million speakers of this language family worldwide.It is not known to be related...

, and Dravidian
Dravidian languages
The Dravidian language family includes approximately 85 genetically related languages, spoken by about 217 million people. They are mainly spoken in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and...

 forming the rest of Nostratic. There continues to be disagreement over details of classification. Murray Gell-Mann
Murray Gell-Mann
Murray Gell-Mann is an American physicist and linguist who received the 1969 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles...

, Ilia Peiros, and Georgiy Starostin
Georgiy Starostin
Georgiy Sergeevich Starostin is a Russian linguistics researcher at the Center of Comparative Studies at the Russian State University for the Humanities, and a participant at the Santa Fe Institute's Evolution of Human Languages project...

 (2009) group Chukotko-Kamchatkan
Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages
The Chukotko-Kamchatkan or Chukchi–Kamchatkan languages are a language family of extreme northeastern Siberia. Its speakers are indigenous hunter-gatherers and reindeer-herders....

 and Nivkh
Nivkh language
Nivkh or Gilyak is a language spoken in Outer Manchuria, in the basin of the Amgun , along the lower reaches of the Amur itself, and on the northern half of Sakhalin. 'Gilyak' is the Manchu appellation...

 with Almosan instead of Eurasiatic.

The Nostratic family is not endorsed by the mainstream of comparative linguistics
Comparative linguistics
Comparative linguistics is a branch of historical linguistics that is concerned with comparing languages to establish their historical relatedness....

.

Harold C. Fleming
Harold C. Fleming
Harold Crane Fleming is an American anthropologist and historical linguist, specializing in the cultures and languages of the Horn of Africa. As an adherent of the Four Field School of American anthropology, he stresses the integration of physical anthropology, linguistics, archaeology, and...

 includes Eurasiatic as a subgroup of the hypothetical Borean
Borean languages
Borean is a hypothetical linguistic macrofamily that traces the possible genetic relationships of the various languages of Eurasia and adjacent regions with languages spoken in the Upper Paleolithic in the millennia following the Last Glacial Maximum. The name "Borean", based on Greek βορέας,...

 family, but this group does not have widespread acceptance in scholarship.

Subdivision



As laid out by Greenberg (2000:279-81), the branches of Eurasiatic are:
  • Etruscan
    Etruscan language
    The Etruscan language was spoken and written by the Etruscan civilization, in what is present-day Italy, in the ancient region of Etruria and in parts of Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna...

  • Indo-European
    Indo-European languages
    The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

  • Uralic–Yukaghir
  • Altaic
    Altaic languages
    Altaic is a proposed language family that includes the Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, and Japonic language families and the Korean language isolate. These languages are spoken in a wide arc stretching from northeast Asia through Central Asia to Anatolia and eastern Europe...

  • Korean
    Korean language
    Korean is the official language of the country Korea, in both South and North. It is also one of the two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in People's Republic of China. There are about 78 million Korean speakers worldwide. In the 15th century, a national writing...

    -Japanese
    Japanese language
    is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

    -Ainu
    Ainu language
    Ainu is one of the Ainu languages, spoken by members of the Ainu ethnic group on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaidō....

  • Gilyak
    Nivkh language
    Nivkh or Gilyak is a language spoken in Outer Manchuria, in the basin of the Amgun , along the lower reaches of the Amur itself, and on the northern half of Sakhalin. 'Gilyak' is the Manchu appellation...

     (= Nivkh)
  • Chukotian
    Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages
    The Chukotko-Kamchatkan or Chukchi–Kamchatkan languages are a language family of extreme northeastern Siberia. Its speakers are indigenous hunter-gatherers and reindeer-herders....

     (= Chukotko-Kamchatkan)
  • Eskimo–Aleut


These groupings, except for the first two, are the native languages in various parts of northeast Asia. Eskimo–Aleut is spoken across the subarctic region from northeast Asia to Greenland, and the Uralic languages are also spoken westward as far as Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

 and Hungary
Hungary
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

.

Geographical distribution


Merritt Ruhlen suggests that the geographical distribution of Eurasiatic shows that it and the Dené–Caucasian family are the result of separate migrations. Dené–Caucasian is the older of the two groups, with the emergence of Eurasiatic being more recent. The Eurasiatic expansion overwhelmed Dené–Caucasian, leaving speakers of the latter restricted mainly to isolated pockets (the Basques
Basque people
The Basques as an ethnic group, primarily inhabit an area traditionally known as the Basque Country , a region that is located around the western end of the Pyrenees on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and straddles parts of north-central Spain and south-western France.The Basques are known in the...

 in the Pyrenees mountains, Caucasian peoples
Caucasian peoples
This article deals with the various ethnic groups inhabiting the Caucasus region. There are more than50 ethnic groups living in the region.-Peoples speaking Caucasian languages:...

 in the Caucasus mountains, and the Burushaski in the Hindu Kush mountains) surrounded by Eurasiatic speakers. Dené–Caucasian survived in these areas because they were difficult to access and therefore easy to defend; the reasons for its survival elsewhere are unclear. Ruhlen argues that Eurasiatic is supported by stronger and clearer evidence than Dené–Caucasian, and that this also indicates that the spread of Dené–Caucasian occurred before that of Eurasiatic.

The existence of a Dené–Caucasian family is disputed or rejected by some linguists, including Lyle Campbell
Lyle Campbell
Lyle Richard Campbell is a linguist and leading expert on indigenous American languages—especially those of Mesoamerica—and on historical linguistics in general. He also has expertise in Uralic languages. He is presently Professor of Linguistics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.-Life and...

, Ives Goddard
Ives Goddard
Robert Hale Ives Goddard, III is curator emeritus in the Department of Anthropology of the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution. He is widely considered the leading expert on the Algonquian languages and the larger Algic language family.-Early life and education:Ives...

, and Larry Trask
Larry Trask
Robert Lawrence "Larry" Trask was Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sussex and an authority on the Basque language and historical linguistics....

.

See also

  • Indo-Uralic languages
    Indo-Uralic languages
    Indo-Uralic is a proposed language family consisting of Indo-European and Uralic.A genetic relationship between Indo-European and Uralic was first proposed by the Danish linguist Vilhelm Thomsen in 1869 but was received with little enthusiasm...

  • Indo-Semitic languages
    Indo-Semitic languages
    Indo-Semitic is a theory that relates Indo-European and Semitic. This theory has never been widely accepted by linguists, though it has had some notable supporters....

  • Proto-Human language
    Proto-Human language
    The Proto-Human language is the hypothetical most recent common ancestor of all the world's languages.The concept of "Proto-Human" presupposes monogenesis of all recorded spoken human languages....

  • Ural–Altaic languages
  • Uralo-Siberian languages
    Uralo-Siberian languages
    Uralo-Siberian is a hypothetical language family consisting of Uralic, Yukaghir, Chukotko-Kamchatkan and Eskimo–Aleut. It was proposed in 1998 by Michael Fortescue, an expert in Eskimo–Aleut and Chukotko-Kamchatkan, in his book Language Relations across Bering Strait...


External links