A NEW MODEL OF LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
- David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri)
With the collapse of the Aryan invasion theory, a new explanation
has to be found for the affinity between Sanskrit and European
The Proto-Indo-European Model: The primary model used
today for explaining the close relationships that exist
between Indo-European languages is a migration theory.
It proposes a Proto-Indo-European people who spread their
language by a process of migration from an original primitive
According to this view, as the Indo-European people moved in different
directions their language changed in predictable ways that can be traced
back to their parent tongue, native culture and original environment.
The Proto-Indo-Europeans are usually defined racially
as a European ethnic type, though not all scholars accept
that they were of one race only. Their homeland which
is the subject of much debate is placed in various regions
including Eastern Europe, Anatolia, Central Asia and Western
China; in short, at almost every point in the Indo-European
world. (Except India, which has the longest record of
culture and literature.)
From there a migration is proposed over a period some
centuries, if not millennia, to the parts of the world
from India to Ireland where Indo-European languages
came to be spoken by the first millennium BCE. The beginning
of these migrations is proposed from as early as 7000-4000
BCE, reaching areas like India in 1500 BCE and Ireland
as late as 500 BCE.
These migrating Indo-Europeans are often popularly called Aryans.
However, we should recognize that this term does not reflect
the original Sanskrit meaning of Arya, which has no racial
or linguistic connotation but simply means noble or refined.
(See the article Origins of the Aryan-Dravidian Divide
in this issue.)
These so-called Aryans were said to have taken their language with them,
which explains the connections between Indo-European tongues like how
the trunk of a tree creates various branches. The theory proposes that
Indo-European languages share a substratum of common terms that reflect
the conditions their original homeland.
Linguists have endeavored to recreate the original Indo-European language
(PIE or Proto-Indo-European) spoken there. They find common words that
indicate a homeland in a northern region of birch trees and salmon, far
from any ocean. While it is impossible verify such a language, even dictionaries
of it have been created as if it were a real language that was once spoken.
We can call this a migration model of language, with the
migrants, at a later time militant invaders, bringing
their language with them and imposing it on existing populations.
in the Existing Model However, this migration model
suffers from many flaws, of which I will mention the principal
Ofcourse, many problems arise from the different opinions about the timing
or place of these migrations. The original homeland is proposed for diverse
places throughout the Indo-European world many thousands of miles apart.
The inability to find anything like a single homeland naturally makes
the entire theory highly questionable.
The date of the proposed migrations from it are also a matter of much
debate and vary by centuries, if not millennia. How linguists can be certain
about a language but not about its time or place or origin certainly casts
doubts on the theory. This means that the theory, though popular, is vague
in many respects and its details are either not clear or are unconfirmed.
The attempts to connect Proto-Indo-European with a single
race or ethnic group is particularly problematic given the
spread of such languages through diverse ethnic groups by
the first millennium BCE, particularly owing to the ethnic
diversity of eastern Europe and Central Asia that are the
main proposed homelands. However, I would like to raise
more fundamental objections about the theory, including
its linguistic basis.
First,in the primitive state of civilization, the
rule is one of language diversity not of language uniformity,
with languages changing quickly from region to region, often
over quite short distances. For some examples, the languages
of the Native Americans and Native Africans are quite diverse
and change every few miles.
This is particularly true of nomadic peoples. Such Proto-Indo-Europeans
would not have been different. Their language would have changed every
few miles and could not have had the consistency required of it to endure
even at its place of origin.
Second,in the primitive state of language, languages change quickly
over time as well, lacking a sophisticated culture, formal
grammar rules or written traditions to sustain it. This
process of time change would be faster for primitive groups
that are migrating, whose travel exposes them to new cultural
and environmental influences that require changes of vocabulary
and brings them into contact with other language groups.
How such a Proto-Indo-European language could have maintained its continuity
through the long time and vast migrations required is hard to explain.
(In addition, its supposed offshoot Sanskrit has the most developed, the
strictest and the longest lasting grammar of any language.)
This is particularly true when we consider that the Indo-Europeans are credited
with spreading their language to many cultures that were both more sophisticated
in civilization and larger in population, especially their spread to the
subcontinent of India.
Such primitive migrants usually lose their language into the existing
more developed culture, under the general rule that more advanced cultures
will maintain their language over primitive groups that come into contact
with them. This is what occurred historically in India where many different
invaders have been absorbed into the indigenous culture throughout the
Why it should have been different in the second millennium BCE, the proposed
time of the Aryan migration into India, after India had a long indigenous
tradition and large population, does not make sense.
Infact, throughout the ancient world, whether in Europe,
the Middle East or India, we naturally find considerable
linguistic diversity such as the more primitive state
of culture and communication would require.
India was not the only region in which the Indo-European speakers existed
along with those of other linguistic groups. It happened everywhere in
the Indo-European world, including in the proposed Indo-European homeland
in Central Asia. In Europe we find groups like the Basques, Etruscans
and Finns that did not speak Indo-European tongues.
In Central Asia there were many Turkish and Mongolian tribes as well as
Europeans and Iranians. Mesopotamia shows Semitic, Indo-European, Caucasian
and other language groups like the Sumerians. India has its Dravidian
and Munda speakers.
We do not find the Indo-European language groups existing alone without
other language groups anywhere. We do not find a pure Indo-European region
from which there was a spread to regions of different language groups.
We find mixed linguistic regions everywhere and from the earliest period.
With an interaction with diverse peoples and language groups, primitive
Indo-Europeans would have witnessed a quick deterioration of their original
pure tongue, whatever it might have been, unless they had some powerful
culture to sustain it.
Specifically, the region of Central Asia and Eastern Europe of the proposed Proto-Indo-European
homeland is a transitional area a kind of way station containing various
populations, races and cultures on the move and constantly interacting
with one another.
Historically, it has witnessed the movements of
Mongols, Turks, Huns, Germans, Slavs, Celts, Scythians,
Hungarians, and other peoples, both Indo-European in language
and not. The development of a stable linguistic culture
in such a borderless region is difficult to explain, much
less maintaining its purity through its spread beyond
There have been various attempts to identify the Proto-Indo-Europeans
with archaeological remains, like the Kurgan culture.
It is impossible to identify the
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a people speak by their ruins or by their artifacts.The
movement of such populations west and south has also been
highlighted as a movement of the Indo-Europeans. That people
move through and out of Central Asia to the west and south
has occurred many times historically with different groups.
This reflects the instability and difficult circumstances
of life in the dry and cold region of Central Asia, as
compared to the warmer and wetter climates of the south
and west. Trying to identify one such group as the Indo-Europeans
because of such a geographical spread proves nothing.
There are many other factors against this migration
theory as well, to highlight a few. There is no genetic
influence of such a migration into India, the land that
has the oldest continuous Indo-European language and culture.
There is no real archaeological evidence of such a migration
into India, where no ruins or artifacts of the migrating/invading
Indo-Europeans has been found apart from the existing
The coming of the Indo-Europeans is also difficult to
trace in Europe and the Middle East, where the date of
their entry is being continually pushed back.
Another major problem with the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European is that primitive
languages are usually not specific in their terminology. For example,
primitive people may have a word for fish or tree, but it may not always
mean a salmon or a birch. The word mriga, which in Sanskrit means a deer,
in closely related Persian means a bird, as the original meaning of the
term is a fast moving animal.
Even the Vedic word vrika, which means a wolf, in other Vedic contexts
means a plow, or something that tears things up. Such an adjectival, general
or descriptive use of words precedes the existence of specific nouns.
The kind of specific reconstructions that are used to identify the PIE
homeland reflect a later stage of language than what such primitive people
would have spoken anyway!
Yet the main objection to this Proto-Indo-European model is our first point
it is contrary to the main trends of language development. Languages spread
more by culture than by migration. Linguistic uniformity increases with
the development of civilization, while linguistic diversity characterizes
the primitive state of culture.
Cultural Elite Dominance: The main way that languages have spread historically is through a process
of what I would call Cultural Elite Dominance or cultural diffusion. We
can see how the English language is spreading throughout the world today,
even in regions where the number of English ancestry people is small.
This Anglicization of languages reflects the dominance of American and
British cultural influences, particularly in science, technology and communication.
Even here the American influence is far greater than the British, because
of the influence of American science and technology rather than English
Many of the connections between Indo-European languages in Europe reflect
a process of Latinization, the effect of the dominant Roman culture in
ancient times. The Romance family of languages (French, Spanish, Italian
and Romanian) arose through this Roman cultural influence, not by the
migration of a primitive Roman race.
Even Romania, which was only under Roman rule for a short period, had
its language Latinized. This process of Latinization strongly affected
English and had its influence on German as well.
In India this process of cultural diffusion is called
Sanskritization, from Sanskrit meaning what is
cultured or refined. It involves new populations taking
up Hindu culture, in the process acquiring the elite language
of Sanskrit that is its basis.
The process of Sanskritization is evident not only in the languages of
North India that appear to derive from it, but also in the many Sanskrit
loan words found in Dravidian languages, including Tamil. It is apparent
also in the languages of Southeast Asia.
Based on this model I would propose an original dominant Indo-European
culture and elite that spread the language more by diffusion than migration.
One notes that Indo-European peoples share many cultural traits including
religious and political traits.
They have the same basic gods, the same basic tripartite social system
and common concepts of kingship. Their connections are not simply limited
to primitive traits or familial relations. There should some dominant
culture behind the Indo-European languages to explain these broader and
more sophisticated connections.
Moreover,the first noticeable Indo-European groups that occur in the Middle East,
like the Hittites, Mittani and Kassites appear as ruling elites, not as
primitive nomads. Early Greeks, Hindus, Persians and Celts have a strong
concept of nobility, often expressed as the term Arya. We could, therefore,
also call this process of Sanskritization as Aryanization. Early Indo-Europeans
were conscious of a great culture beyond them and an elite status for
Such elite predominance occurs in other language families like the diffusion
of Mandarin in China or Arabic in the Islamic world. An early and sustained
elite dominance of an Indo-European culture is necessary to explain the
Indo-European family of languages. Given the spiritual nature of ancient
and of Vedic culture, it would not have simply been a military elite but
more a religious elite.
Alternative: Galactic Model of Language.In
addition I would propose a model of language development that resembles
the formation of a galaxy, reflecting an organic development from a primal
field. By this view there was an original primordial cloud of language
potentials in humanity, with different groups making expressions based
upon various internal and external factors from the shape of their faces
to the influences of their food or climate.
This cloud of sound-expressions gradually coalesced into certain centers
or islands that emerged over time as specific languages, just as the stars
arose out the primordial nebula. As these language centers emerged the
stronger ones, by a kind of gravitational pull influenced and absorbed
the weaker ones, just as the Sun pulled planets to revolve around it.
The more that culture and civilization developed the larger these centers
became. This resulted in certain large islands or even continents of language
being formed that over time became language families.
Eventually many of the languages that served as intermediates between
these different language groups disappeared, making them appear separate
or unique. This means that the linguistic uniformity that we find arose
only at a later stage of language development and a larger stage of history.
This is what we see in history: linguistic uniformity is primarily a product
of civilization and superior communication that it brings. Civilization
along with communication, trade, urbanization and religion requires a
standardization of language. This restrains the basic human tendency towards
linguistic diversity and results in the formation of set languages and
This is the basic point to note in history; the human
tendency is towards linguistic diversity, not uniformity.
A strong civilization is necessary to bring about linguistic
uniformity. This uniformity is often only an upper crust
as with Greek in the Eastern Roman Empire and English
in India, while a multitude of vernaculars were used by
the common people.
Even in the Islamic world, Arabic has not succeeded in replacing existing
languages from Berber in North Africa to Bengali in Bangladesh or Malay
and Indinesian dialects in Southeast Asia. People for the most part continue
speaking the languages they always did, modified according to needs and
This process of elite dominance has occurred many times with
different waves of civilization. In this regard there
have been many waves of Indo-European linguistic dominance.
There have been many periods in which Indo-European language
groups have exerted a strong and extensive cultural sway.
English, Spanish, Portuguese and French languages have
done this in the colonial and modern eras. In the late
ancient period and Middle Ages in Europe a process of
Latinization went on, as did a diffusion of Greek through
Greek culture at an earlier period.
Greek was used widely in the Mediterranean world, and
even the New Testament was written originally in Greek.This
is no longer the case. The Persians spread their language
as well. An older wave of Indo-European peoples in the
second millennium BC occurred with the Hittites, Kassites
and Mittani. Perhaps yet earlier waves existed as well.
In some instances Aryan groups were re-aryanized..(Contd.)