MUSKOGEAN AND LAMB’S-QUARTERS.

While trying to figure out if Muskogean (the language family to which Choctaw and Chickasaw, among others, belong) is considered to be part of any larger grouping (apparently some people take it for granted it’s part of the “Hokan-Siouxan” group while others treat it as independent, Wikipedia calls Hokan itself “a hypothetical grouping of a dozen small language families spoken in California and Mexico” and says “few linguists today expect Hokan as a whole to prove to be valid,” and I’m certainly not qualified to even have a thought about the matter), I ran across an interesting paper (pdf file; abstract here) by Prof. George Aaron Broadwell called “Reconstructing Proto-Muskogean Language and Prehistory: Preliminary results” that’s chock-full of the kind of detailed lexical comparisons and reconstructions I so enjoy. One thing that makes it exotic from the point of view of someone trained in Indo-European (where the inherited vocabulary includes terms for ‘beech,’ ‘birch,’ ‘wolf,’ and ‘salmon’) is the list of “Reconstructable Proto-Muskogean terms,” which includes words for chestnut, chicken snake, chickenhawk, chigger, chinquapin, chipmunk, civet cat (?), clam/spoon, copperhead, corn, cotton, and crawfish, to take only the c‘s (the full list is on pages 15-16 of the paper). But what impelled me to post about it is the point he makes about a common problem in historical linguistics:

How can we reconcile the presence of a word for corn
with the generally accepted archaeological position that corn was not present in the southeast until considerably later, ca. A.D. 700?…
A common approach in dismissing linguistic evidence that does not correlate with the archaeological results is to suggest that the reference of the words has changed through time (cf. Renfrew 1988). For example, the word for corn might have originally referred to some other grain. When corn was introduced to the southeast the word for the older grain might have been applied to the new-comer.
However, it seems unlikely that speakers of all the different languages in the family would have coincidentally decided to call the new grain the same thing. Once a language has split into two mutually unintelligable daughter languages, the speakers do not consult with each other about naming new phenomena.
The unlikeliness of this hypothesis increases when we realise that we must also assume that the words for shucking corn and corn riddle originally applied other actions and objects, and that once again widely separated people have
coincidentally chosen the same words for actions and objects associated with the new grain.
I therefore conclude that presence of a word for corn in Proto-Muskogean constitutes a genuine conflict between the linguistic and archaeological data.

I wish all historical linguists were so forthright about the difficulties involved in trying to correlate linguistic and archeological evidence.
Oh, and I learned a new word, lamb’s-quarters (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, the copyeditor’s bible, hyphenates it; the AHD does not), the common name for Chenopodium album, a kind of goosefoot that M-W says is “sometimes used as greens” but AHD simply, and unkindly, calls a “weed”; it’s taahwa in Creek and taani’ in Chickasaw. You can get a USDA “plant profile” here, see some more pictures here, and get ideas about collecting and eating it here [link dead as of 2012]. I’d still like to know how it got its striking name, though.

Comments

  1. I was smiling right through that excerpt; I only realised when I was fifteen or so that the “Corn” in “Corn Flakes” implied a specific grain, the old usage having stayed around on the east coast of the Atlantic.
    Of course the development of the meaning in English doesn’t have anything to do with the development of the word for Maize in Muskogean, but using ambiguous language [well, yes, it's not, really, because it's clear Broadwell is using American English--still some part of me is aware of the possible confusion] to describe ambiguous data is the sort of approach to saying nothing at all that I would laugh at from Flann O’Brien.

  2. Michael Farris says:

    Is this the same paper where he discusses the problems of branches of Muskogean? I think it’s interesting how the four or seven languages of Muskogean are classified in more ways ways by different linguists than you might think possible for such a relatively small and transparently related family.

  3. Yes, it’s the same paper.

  4. Lamb’s-quarters: One theory says that the mature leaf looks like a cut of lamb’s meat––the quarter. An article at http://www.rawfoodinfo.com/articles/art_LambsQuarTreasury.html says another common name for it is “mutton tops”, which supports the looking like a cut of meat theory. Not sure how that fits in with looking like a goosefoot (Linneaus)or with its zillions of other common names: baconweed, cenizo blanco, dirtweed, dirty dick, fat hen, frost blite, hélunjóli, hvidmelet gåsefod, jauhosavikka …

  5. “However, it seems unlikely that speakers of all the different languages in the family would have coincidentally decided to call the new grain the same thing. Once a language has split into two mutually unintelligable daughter languages, the speakers do not consult with each other about naming new phenomena.”
    Not necessarily, cf the problems with the word for ‘whiskey’ in Iroquois languages (all ‘cognate’ compounds meaning ‘fire-water’). Basically the diferent groups decided on the same word, a compound of ‘fire’ and ‘water’, which were both terms cognate between the different languages. That way you get a nice set of regular correspondences of an item that obviously post-dates the breakup of the family. The same is true for “washing machine” in Yolngu.

  6. Does he happen to mention the Dravidian-origins theory?

  7. OED: 1773 J. HAWKESWORTH Voy. III. 442 We also once or twice met with a plant like what the country people in England call *Lamb’s quarters, or Fat-hen. Evelyn (1699) does not mention it (or any of its other common names).
    The meaning, I would guess, comes not from the part of the garden where the lambs hang out, but from some no longer obvious visual similarity between the leaf and the hindquarters of a lamb either living or dead.
    On preview (long lunch), I see Janet has already brought up this theory. To lamb’s quarters, goosefoot, and fat hen, add pigweed for 4 domestic animal common names.

  8. Also, I would take all the archeological dates for corn reaching a particular latitude with a considerable amount of salt.

  9. Yes, corn could have been known before it was widely grown.
    The linguistic time depth estimate is based on Swadesh’s standard rate of change, but I think I’ve heard of cases where this is known to give a very wrong estimate. Also, Johanna Nichols suggests languages with head-marking typology may destroy cognate evidence faster than dependent-marking languages that make up most of the familiar large Old World families.

  10. Chenopodium/goose foot was actually a domesticated plant in the eastern US. It is now a common weed, but 2kya it was domesticated for larger seeds and was used extensively along with marsh elder and others as a major cereal until maize became important.
    Archaeologists only have a few direct data points for the introduction of maize into Eastern US and it is very possible this date may change as new finds get dated. The best evidence is that it arrives circa AD 700, but it could have arrived earlier. At the beginning, it was used as as a minor food crop. Despite its unimportance as food early on, it appears to be ceremonially very important and is found in some interesting ritual contexts. This might be the clue to unravelling the linguistic mystery.
    BTW, our best evidence is that betwen 1000-1200 AD maize becomes an important staple crop and begins to be used for 30-80% of the caloric intake. Our evidence for this comes from carbon isotpe analysis of skeletal remains and it is pretty unambiguous.

  11. Patrick, are those dates just for the South-East US or for elsewhere too?

  12. Edward Sapir, in the 1920′s, connected the Muskogean Indian languages most closely with Hokan-Siouan. Other linguists since then have felt that Sapir’s assesment was premature and have suggested Algonquin and even Mayan as closer relatives instead. I’m partial to Algonquin myself but still, nobody really knows.

  13. Where an item or technology diffuses gradually from one group to the next, it seems quite plausible that the ones to whom it is new will calque the term used by those from whom they have acquired it, since it is very likely that they will understand their neighbors’ language. This process will lead to pseudo-cognates whose actual time-depth is less than it appears to be.
    Also, a comment on Hokan, which is a group that I have studied. Nobody but the most extreme long-rangers takes Hokan-Siouan or any form of Macro-Hokan seriously anymore. There just isn’t decent evidence for them. Even core Hokan is considered unproven, and very likely not a family. Some of the “core Hokan” languages probably are related, but others are doubtful. In particular, it is fairly widely thought that Chumashan does not belong with the rest.
    This is an interesting case in that there has never been any good evidence for Hokan. Hokan was cobbled together with tiny bits of evidence, almost all of it nothing but words that vaguely resemble each other. The sets of putative cognates were mostly tiny, regular sound correspondances non-existant. Hokan is to a large extent a relic of a period of unfettered speculation.

  14. Thanks, Bill — I love hearing from people who are actually au courant with subjects where I have to depend on whatever snippets I happen upon.

  15. Clarie – Those dates are definiely for the southeast, which I know best, and for much of the eastern U.S at least as far north as Ohio and Maryland. It would have been later for the northen part (New England, Great Lakes area) because maize required some genetic changes to adapt to the shorter summers.

  16. Marianne Mithun in The Languages of Native North America (which is a fun book, Hat, you should consider getting a copy) doesn’t mention Hokan-Siouan at all, let alone any relationship between it and Muskogean. Hokan, Macro-Siouan (including Caddoan and Iroquoian) and Gulf (which hypothetically includes Muskogean together with various other Southeastern languages) are listed as “stocks”, in the sense of hypothetical related groups above the level of the family. Mithun is skeptical of all of them, particularly Gulf. Of Hokan she says

    Evaluation of the Hokan hypotheses remains problematic. The antiquity of Hokan would be at least as great as that of Indo-European, if not much greater, but documentation of the languages is considerably more limited. Many of the languages are spoken in contiguous areas, [...] The prolonged contact among speakers of many of the languages makes it difficult to distinguish true cognates from early loans. Furthermore, some languages proposed as Hokan seem to share more features with languages considered outside of Hokan than with others within Hokan (Haas 1964b). Hypotheses of a Hokan stock as a genetic unit continue to play an important role in prompting investigation of the historical relationships between these languages, but it should be recognized that Hokan is not yet considered a demonstrated genetic entity.

  17. My mummy told me when I was little that they were called ‘lamb’s quarters’ because they were soft like little lambs. Folk etymology is grand! Lamb’s quarters were called ‘melde’ in Saxon, which is thought to be the root of such place names as Milden and Melbourn (Cambridgeshire). The plant was a staple food in Europe since prehistoric times – according to my well thumbed copy of Richard Mabey’s -Food for Free-, ‘. . . the seeds formed part of the last, ritual gruel fed to Tollund Man.’ The young leaves are quite tasty, rather like spinach.

  18. David Costa says:

    Long ago Mary Haas connected Algonquian to Muskogean in a grouping she called ‘Macro-Algonquian’ (funnily, it wasn’t called ‘Macro-Muskogean’). No one takes this grouping seriously anymore, especially not Algonquianists. The two families are NOTHING alike typologically, save for being head-marking.
    I thought there were basically TWO theorized groupings of Muskogean — one that has Chickasaw/Choctaw as the first branching, as opposed to the other that has Creek/Seminole as the first branch. Everyone seems to agree that these are the two ‘ends’ of the family, with Koasati/Alabama and Mikasuki intermediate between them.
    The presence of a reconstructible word for corn in Proto-Muskogean doesn’t surprise me much. If archaeology has corn present in the southeast at AD 700, it probably was known a few centuries before that. At 500 AD the Muskogean languages probably weren’t that different yet, and they were probably still geographically pretty close together, so it seems entirely possible that some Muskogean dialect borrowed the word and passed it to all the others. If none of the dialects had undergone any of the relevant diagnostic sound changes yet, this borrowing would be indistinguishable from an inherited Proto-Muskogean etymon.
    A similar analog from Algonquian is that Proto-Algonquian has a cleanly reconstructible word for ‘seal’, as in the animal. However, most people are rather uncomfortable locating the Proto-Algonquians anywhere where there were seals — the only candidate locations would be Hudson Bay, Lake Ontario, or the Maritimes, none of which work well for various reasons. So the compromise position now is that most researchers think the word arose at a later time after PA had broken up (but not by too much), and that the word was simply passed around among different sister dialects/languages.

  19. David: Koasati and Mikasuki at opposite ends of the spectrum? From my readings, Koasati is closest to Alibamu, then Appalachee, and then Mikasuki. Mikasuki is often described as a language descended from Hitchiti. This passage at Access Geneology says http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes/creek/creekhist.htm
    “The people speaking the cognate Hitchiti and Koasati were contemptuously designated as “Stincards” by the dominant Muscogee. The Koasati seem to have included the ancient Alibamu of central Alabama, while the Hitchiti, on lower Chattahoochee river, appear to have been the remnant of the ancient people of southeast Georgia, and claimed to be of more ancient occupancy than the Muscogee.”
    A former student of Mvskoke, I have had a soft spot for Koasati for decades. It’s one of the most robust of Native American languages – 98% of the tribe in Louisiana still speak it. Hope they weren’t hit too bad by the latest Hurricanes.
    Also,there were outlying languages like Natchez which are classified as tentatively within Muskogean. Natchez was spoken into the 1940s by the Sam family, with whom Mary Haas worked. Watt Sam’s son, Archie Sam, a noted Creek traditionalist and keeper of the flame for Natchez identity, continued searching for speakers of Natchez until his death in 1996.
    Here is a comparative vocabulary of Atakapa, Tunica, Natchez and Chitimacha: http://www.native-languages.org/famgul_words.htm
    Compare to Muskogean: http://www.native-languages.org/fammus_words.htm

  20. Oops! Sorry David, I misread your post concerning Koasati / Mikasuki. Apologies. And my sources equating Natchez with Muskogean are out of date… that’s the problem of living 1000 kilometers from the nearest decent English language library.

  21. David Costa says:

    As for Muskogean, what I meant was that the greatest distance in the family is clearly between Chickasaw/Choctaw on one hand, and Creek/Seminole on the other. Koasati/Alabama and Hitchiti/Mikasuki are intermediate between them, and share several isoglosses with both.
    Natchez MIGHT be very distantly related to Muskogean, but it’s not ‘a Muskogean language’. It’s typologically rather similar to Muskogean, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It’s very hard to find convincing cognates between Natchez and Muskogean. I personally think Natchez is just an isolate.
    There’s a very nice sketch of Natchez by Geoff Kimball (speaking of Koasati) just published earlier this year in the Scancarelli/Hardy volume ‘Native Languages of the Southeastern United States’. Considering he worked entirely off fieldnotes from seventy years ago, he managed to figure out quite a lot.

  22. Epazote is a Mexican chenepodium closely related to goosefoot/lambsquarters. It’s traditionally added to beans as a pot herb, where it’s believed to be an anti-flatulent.
    If you’ve got a decent mercado in the area, you should be able to pick up some dried epazote year-round. (I’ve always found it in one of those cellophane packets hanging near the dried whole chilis.) Try adding it to a big pot of pinto beans. It’s got kind of a funky/musty taste that’s off-putting at first, and then you start to want more. “Oh, that’s strange,” you’ll say. “I don’t think I like it. Maybe one more taste….”

  23. Yeah, I used to eat epazote when I lived in Astoria, Queens, with its booming Mexican population. Ever had huitlacoche? Sounds so much better than “corn smut”! Tastes good, too, and not like anything else I’ve ever eaten.

  24. Going Dotty in Kansas says:

    Hmmm. So far the comments haven’t mentioned the *other* lambs-quarters, Trillium erectum, also known colloquially as bethroot, birthroot, wakerobin, Indian balm, Indian shamrock, squaw root, and ground lily. That such an intriguing common name would be applied to two such distinct plants demonstrates the usual failing of common names. Alas, all my sources are silent as to the origin/association with lambs and quarters.

  25. Gene Fellner says:

    Unrelated languages in the New World? What happened to the paradigm of three waves of migration that was published with such fanfare ca. 1983?
    Amerind, Na-Dene and Eskimo-Aleut. (Or was one of those Athabascan?) Blood types, dental patterns, and linguistics aided by computer analysis was said to have made sense out of it and archeologists pinned down the last two migrations to 2000BCE and 4000BCE although the first might be any of several times before 12000BCE. And they all originated in practically the same neighborhood in what is now northwestern China.
    The second wave settled west of the Rockies and the third wave got stuck in the Arctic because the first wave was already well established everywhere else. And Kennewick Man couldn’t possibly be an ancestor of the Indians who live in Washington now because their ancestors didn’t arrive until 5,000 years after he died.
    This was all starting to make nice neat sense, and now you say that there are languages in North America that don’t seem to be related to any others? What happened to the three-migration model?

  26. Gene Fellner says:

    BTW, you can grow your own epazote and save a fortune. Talk about a weed. If you can’t get the seeds online, buy the freshest stalks you can find and stick them in pots with Rootone. We live surrounded by redwoods with only a few hours of direct sunlight per day in the summer and the epazote practically took over our greenhouse.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    GF: What happened to the paradigm of three waves of migration that was published with such fanfare ca. 1983?
    It made a splash among non-linguists, but is still as bad as before as concerns linguistics.
    Nobody contests the two, later Northen waves (Eskimo-Aleur and “Na-Dene”), which involve very obvious, very distinctive language families which have long been identified as such (except that hardly anyone still includes Haida under Na-Dene), but the people of the “first” migration from Asia (which probably occurred in “bursts” over a long period) were probably already diverse linguistically if not so much genetically: there are still many unrelated languages in China, there were probably many more of them in the past, and most of the migrants were probably not “Chinese”, although intermarriage through millennia would have blurred genetic distinctiveness.
    The “evidence” for “Amerind” presented by Greenberg and Ruhlen is so full of errors of both data and methodology that the results cannot be taken seriously by competent persons. My own feeling is that the currently accepted classification of the languages of the Americas into about 120 separate language families (including Eskimo-Aleut and the reduced Na-Dene) is probably wrong, and that the number of superfamilies comparable to Indo-European will turn out to be much smaller, with “Amerind” split into a number of smaller units. But there is still a lot of work to be done before these results become established on a firm basis.

  28. So much work, so little time, nobody wants to do it, and the main source of data perishes every day. There will come a time when we not only don’t know what went on, we won’t be able to know what went on.
    ~~ gloom, despair, excessive misery ~~

  29. Etienne says:

    John Cowan: it’s worse than you think. A peculiarity of the field of North American native linguistics which repeatedly struck me is that a disturbing amount of data on various languages is never published because it doesn’t fit into gate-keepers’ presuppositions and theoretical orientation.
    Or, of course, because nobody cares: a senior scholar in the field told me that there exists a reconstruction of the proto-language of an (accepted) North American language family, arrived at during a series of workshops some decades ago, which was never published because no academic press was interested. As a result, copies of the reconstruction were (when I was told this story, which was about three years ago) only in the hands of the three workshop organizers, one of whom was suffering from Alzheimer’s, one of whom was in prison, and the last of whom had mysteriously disappeared soon after his retirement.
    Combine the above with the extreme hostility felt by many speakers of these languages regarding any claim that their languages “came” from anywhere, the racial identity politics and associated games that come with the topic, and you have a disturbingly warped field.
    I heartily recommend a blog, “That moniyaw linguist” (moniyawlinguist.wordpress.com) if you (or anyone reading this: I suspect Marie-Lucie would like it) want to get a better idea as to what the field is like. Its author is an American in Canada who specializes in Plains Cree: if you go through the archives of you not only will learn a great deal about Plains Cree and other Algonquian languages, you will also learn a lot about some of the not-so-pleasant aspects of Academia and race relations in the Canadian West(and yes, I’m the Etienne who comments there).

  30. ~~ if it weren’t for bad luch, I’d have no luck at all ~~
    M-L, a Hokan question. In a soft, impressionistic way langauges like Chimariko and Atsugewi feel like their structures are like Caddoan and Iroquoian, and considering the distnaces, that makes you wonder. Maybe languages have kind of a structual trajectory that carries them in the same general direction even after they separate. And those two Cali languages feel pretty different from Miwokan, well, South Sierra Miwok at least, which have an almost SAE feel.
    I remember and old paper, maybe by Mary Haas or one of her first generation students, that compared verbal manner prefixes between Caddoan, and Siouan, as well as pronouns. Maybe it included Iroquoian. Long time ago. There is oral history to the effect that the Caddoans and the Iroquoians had a common ancestry, as some kind of entity.

  31. Trond Engen says:

    Etienne: I like that blog. Thanks!

  32. marie-lucie says:

    Jim, I am sorry but I know next to nothing about Hokan, except that “Hokan-Penutian” has always referred to a geographical not genetic grouping (the two groups have many representatives in Califonia). Miwokan is one of the Penutian families, and the Indo-European-like structures of some of these families were noticed by Sapir. I think that Caddoan and Siouan are often considered related, but I don’t know about Iroquoian. Mithun’s book would probably mention these controversies (Iroquoian is her major specialty).

  33. SFReader says:

    —My own feeling is that the currently accepted classification of the languages of the Americas into about 120 separate language families (including Eskimo-Aleut and the reduced Na-Dene) is probably wrong, and that the number of superfamilies comparable to Indo-European will turn out to be much smaller, with “Amerind” split into a number of smaller units. But there is still a lot of work to be done before these results become established on a firm basis.
    I am quite sure that Greenberg never claimed that Amerind was comparable to Indo-European in age.
    Given Amerind’s dating to 14000 BP (or even earlier, if we include time in Beringia), it’s actually more than twice as old as Indo-European and should be compared with something more ancient, like proposed Nostratic or Eurasiatic.
    *I don’t believe Amerind theory, but on different grounds – it seems apparent that there were two waves of advance into prehistoric America. One, represented by Clovis hunters from Beringia and second, a bit earlier, from coastal hunter-gatherers. The second group appears related to the Pacific coastal peoples similar to Ainus or ancient inhabitants of Philippines and Southeast Asia.
    If at least some Indian language families are descended from the latter, their divergence from the other Amerindian groups could be measured in tens of thousands of years.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: a disturbing amount of data on various languages is never published because it doesn’t fit into gate-keepers’ presuppositions and theoretical orientation.
    One problem is that most journals want to publish articles that will support particular theories, especially the fashionable ones deriving directly or indirectly from Chomsky’s work. Graduate students are also encouraged to publish this sort of thing. “Raw” or almost raw data can seldom be made to fit into the theoretical straitjacket, and therefore they are of no interest to the journals, for which the ideal format is a lot of theoretical discussion with a sprinkling of supportive data for some facet of the theory.

  35. If at least some Indian language families are descended from the latter, their divergence from the other Amerindian groups could be measured in tens of thousands of years.
    And any relationship would now be irrecoverable.

  36. marie-lucie says:

    SFReader: I am quite sure that Greenberg never claimed that Amerind was comparable to Indo-European in age.
    I am not talking about age. Most of the established families included among the ones constituting “Amerind” are of the order of Romance or Slavic. Larger subgroupings (which would be of the order of Indo-European) are not generally accepted (rightly or wrongly) but Greenberg used them uncritically.
    Given Amerind’s dating to 14000 BP (or even earlier, if we include time in Beringia), it’s actually more than twice as old as Indo-European and should be compared with something more ancient, like proposed Nostratic or Eurasiatic.
    This recommendation might be true IF “Amerind” was a valid construct and the starred forms given by Greenberg or Ruhlen represented genuine reconstructions based on solid data and methodology. None of these assumptions can be entertained given the huge number of errors and the lack of a solid basis for the starred forms, which G and R say are NOT means as reconstructions (but in that case, one wonders what they are meant to represent). The Nostraticists (whatever one thinks of their work) do accept Indo-European classifications and Proto-Indo-European reconstructions and the methodology that led to them, and do not attempt to classify the Nostratic languages and to reconstruct Proto-Nostratic from a haphazard collection of modern forms similar to each other in most of the languages of Eurasia, without regard to phonological correspondences or to things like the strong possibility of borrowings.
    As for “dating” the non-existent “Amerind” (even you admit you don’t believe in it) I don’t think for a moment that migration into the Americas stopped for ever (or would still be impossible if it had not been for Columbus) after the land bridge was flooded over about 14,000 years ago. The Asian coast of the Pacific is full of peninsulas and islands, which would have allowed people with even simple boats to follow the coastline, encountering very few long stretches of open water. The major North Pacific current also curves from Japan along the Aleutians towards Alaska, British Columbia and California, and brings all sorts of flotsam to North America, occasionally including wrecked fishing boats from Asia. There have been fishing cultures with boats for millennia along the Asian coast, and during that period there have been climate fluctuations, the warmer times affording relatively safe and pleasant conditions for sea travel. If the indigenous inhabitants of Taiwan were able to use their boats to go South and ultimately (over a few thousand years) spread all over the Pacific Ocean, is it totally unlikely that some of them might have followed the coast and the currents North and East and entered the Americas, only a few millennia ago? And other peoples could have done the same at different times.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    oops: … the starred forms, which G and R say are NOT meant as reconstructions…

  38. SFReader says:

    Regarding pre-Columbian contact post-separation. There are two accepted cases – Eskimo expansion circa 1000 AD throughout Arctic Canada all way to Greenland(from Bering sea area, but probably from American side. But they came there from Siberia another millenium earlier)
    And Na-Dene expansion, which is much older, 6000-5000 BC, probably.
    I wouldn’t exclude possibility of others, but so far haven’t seen any evidence

  39. SFReader says:

    –The Asian coast of the Pacific is full of peninsulas and islands, which would have allowed people with even simple boats to follow the coastline, encountering very few long stretches of open water.
    The problem is that the Aleutian islands were inhabitted continously for 9000 years (and current Aleuts appear to be their direct descendants).
    This would make very hard for any incoming tribes to use this 2000 km long island chain to cross from Asia to America.
    In 18th century, it took about 50 years for Russians who had firearms, artillery and European sailing ships to conquer the archipelago.
    Hard to see how any Stone Age tribal group could have done anything like this

  40. marie-lucie says:

    SFR, Why do you need to involve conquest? We are not talking about armies, but more likely small groups of people. A hunting or farming people needs land to provide its livelihood, and existing occupants can be in the way, but a fishing people only needs a small allotment of land as a base from which to go to sea, in a region where fish and shellfish are abundant enough to be more than sufficient for the local population. For examle, for centuries people from Western Europe went to Newfoundland every year to fish for cod, yet the fishers themselves were not the ones to impose governments on the native people, nor did they make war with the natives or with each other for access to the fishing grounds, which in those days seemed inexhaustible. Even in the modern period, the arrival of a few Europeans in Africa or Asia or the Pacific Northwest did not necessarily lead to conquest (at least at first): like the Phoenicians and Greeks in the Mediterranean, the newcomers first established trading posts, some of which later evolved into cities, but they did not try to conquer the hinterland: peaceful relations were essential to commercial success.
    As an example (at a later period) of Polynesians travelling to America, there is the case of the Polynesian-type Chumash canoe, on islands near Los Angeles. An archeologist (Terry Jones) and a linguist specializing in the Chumash language (Kathryn Klar) have established that the distinctive canoe-building technique used in one of the islands, together with a few associated words, must have come from Polynesia. According to them, a single Polynesian individual could have been sufficient to introduce the Chumash to the technique and the words, although that seems less likely than one or more boatloads of travellers. The boatbuilder(s) would have had to live among the Chumash for some time (and to learn the language) in order to have such an impact, but there is no evidence that the interaction was not peaceful. Going back to the Aleutians, a group of Asian migrants could have stayed in a small section of the first island, later moving to the next island, etc, without “conquering” the island chain, instead moving East from time to time until they reached a place on the mainland where they could settle permanently. I don’t mean that one small group would have eventually peopled the continent (where humans were already established), since others could have followed the same route from time to time.

  41. SFReader says:

    —Why do you need to involve conquest? We are not talking about armies, but more likely small groups of people. A hunting or farming people needs land to provide its livelihood, and existing occupants can be in the way, but a fishing people only needs a small allotment of land as a base from which to go to sea, in a region where fish and shellfish are abundant enough to be more than sufficient for the local population.
    I’ve read enough 17-18-19th centuries accounts of peoples of far Northeast Siberia, Alaska, Aleutian islands, Pacific Northwest, etc to understand sheer imposibility for these warlike peoples to engage in a benevolent behaviour of the sort you describe.
    Any small group of people arriving to these waters would have been immediately killed or enslaved (or perhaps even worse if some contemporary accounts of ritual cannibalism are believed)

  42. marie-lucie says:

    SFR, we are talking about hundreds, possiblly thousands of years ago, in places which were mostly sparsely populated. Why do you think there are so many small pockets of unrelated languages along the West Coast, in places where there are few possibilities for settlement because the coast is so rugged? Those warlike people you are talking about also traded with each other and intermarried, in addition to fighting. Fighting was suspended during the fishing season, sometimes allowing several tribes to use the same fishing grounds (whether freely or in return for some payment). And new slaves with valuable skills making them indispensable can survive in a new environment, eventually blending with the population (perhaps that was the Chumash case). Also, a single fishing boat drifting away from home would indeed be vulnerable, but (like the Polynesian ancestors) deliberate migrants probably travelled in groups, including families, and carried weapons as well as food and other supplies, so instead of being killed by the inhabitants of a new place, migrants arriving at, say, a small cove might themselves have killed the few people they found there, and claimed the place for themselves.

  43. I’ve read enough 17-18-19th centuries accounts of peoples of far Northeast Siberia, Alaska, Aleutian islands, Pacific Northwest, etc to understand sheer imposibility for these warlike peoples to engage in a benevolent behaviour of the sort you describe.
    Come on. Those peoples became “warlike” at least in part because of the behavior of the Russians they encountered, who immediately tried to kill or enslave them. As m-l says, we know nothing about the behavior of the indigenous populations millennia before the Russian conquest, and it is ludicrous to extrapolate from much later historical accounts.

  44. Etienne, I apologize, but I accidentally deleted your comment — please repost it.

  45. Etienne says:

    Jim: I believe Bill Poser once left a comment on a thread here at Casa Hat to the effect that scholars no longer believe in Hokan as a language family, and regard what (non-coincidental) similarities there are as being due to language contact.
    As for Caddoan, Siouan and Iroquoian: all three have been suspected of being related. Based on what data I have seen (I am a historical linguist, but not an Americanist, so take this with a (modest) grain of salt) the case for a Caddoan-Iroquoian genetic relationship seems stronger than the case for either being related to Siouan.
    SFReader: the Aleutian Islands may indeed have been inhabited for 9000 years or thereabouts, but the very fact that a single language, Aleut, itself part of a larger family (Eskimo-Aleutian), was spoken throughout the Aleutians shows very clearly that the inhabitants of those islands did not remain in “splendid isolation” for 9000 years, and for all we know they may have shifted languages repeatedly. For all we know perhaps they spoke a Penutian language before shifting to Proto-Aleut (I mention this possibility because the distribution of Penutian languages does suggest a maritime spread).
    Marie-Lucie: of course, the migrations which brought Eskimo-Aleutian and Na-Dene to the New World needn’t have been the only later migrations to the New World. But such migrations might not have left new languages or language families: after all, no Polynesian language was durably transplanted to the New World, but this is no argument against the claim of Polynesian-Chumash contact.

  46. Polynesian-type Chumash canoe
    I actually read “Chuvash” for “Chumash” here and was thoroughly croggled. The Chuvash speak a highly aberrant Turkish language and live in Central Russia!
    The Nostraticists (whatever one thinks of their work)
    Nostraticists are probably wrong; Greenbergians are not even wrong. This is, as Mark Twain said in a different context, the difference between lightning and the lightning bug

  47. SFReader says:

    -the Aleutian Islands may indeed have been inhabited for 9000 years or thereabouts, but the very fact that a single language, Aleut, itself part of a larger family (Eskimo-Aleutian), was spoken throughout the Aleutians shows very clearly that the inhabitants of those islands did not remain in “splendid isolation” for 9000 years, and for all we know they may have shifted languages repeatedly.
    I wonder about mechanism of language change in such remote era.
    Russians conquered Aleuts, reducing their population severalfold in the process, enslaved the men and had sex with their women (so thoroughly that modern Aleut “Y-chromosomes were characterized to haplogroups of mostly Russian, Scandinavian and Western European origin (approximately 85%), which is in stark contrast to the 3.6% of Aleut mtDNA lineages identified as non-Native American, and thus indicating a large degree of asymmetrical gene flow between European men and Aleut women.”)
    And despite all this, Aleuts did not switch to Russian language (though if Russian rule continued for another century, they might have done this)
    So I ask again, how the tribal group speaking proto-Aleut language managed to force their language on aboriginals? Was their conquest even more drastic?

  48. SFReader says:

    — Those peoples became “warlike” at least in part because of the behavior of the Russians they encountered, who immediately tried to kill or enslave them.
    I disagree strongly. We have plenty of suggestive info about pre-contact indigenous societies – fortified villages, interclan and intertribal warfare (including acts of genocide), competition over hunting, fishing or grazing (in case of reindeer tribes of arctic Siberia) grounds, widespread slavery (and in the Pacific Northwest even something resembling a slave-based class society)
    All this happening without any Russian or European influence.
    —-As m-l says, we know nothing about the behavior of the indigenous populations millennia before the Russian conquest, and it is ludicrous to extrapolate from much later historical accounts.
    That’s true. But I think the opposite assumption
    is even further from truth.

  49. SFReader says:

    Marie-Lucie:
    All examples you list would not result in transfer of whole languages from Asia to Americas.
    The last one (armed band killing another local small group and settling there) looks possible, but not on the scale necessary (five thousand kilometers of island and coast hopping from Asia to America killing locals on the way – sounds scary, but unrealistic)

  50. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: For all we know perhaps they [the Aleuts] spoke a Penutian language before shifting to Proto-Aleut (I mention this possibility because the distribution of Penutian languages does suggest a maritime spread).
    I totally agree about the Penutian languages, since most of them are strongly correlated with rivers emptying into the Pacific. (“Penutian” is not generally considered a genetically homogenous group, although I believe it will eventually be recognized as such).
    … no Polynesian language was durably transplanted to the New World, but this is no argument against the claim of Polynesian-Chumash contact.
    Polynesian languages are spoken in the Pacific, practically all of them on small islands. They are part of the very large Austronesian family, the cradle of which has been determined to be Taiwan, on which around 15 different (but related) languages are attested. It was from Taiwan that the ancestors of the Polynesians departed in boats, starting several thousand years ago and eventually colonizing most of the lands found there. All the maps of the Austronesian expansion show sea routes leading South from Taiwan, but it is unlikely that no Taiwan aborigines ever ventured into other directions, specifically North and Northeast, at least at times of favourable climactic conditions. If any of these Northerners made it to America and left some kind of linguistic legacy, one would expect this legacy to come from Northern and Northeastern languages rather than from the ancestor of the Polynesian languages, which was presumably in the South of Taiwan.
    The Polynesian-Chumash contact which I mentioned above is not thought to have involved more than a very few men (even just one man has been potulated, but I think this is unlikely), and the only traces of their passage (thus far) are the “Chumash canoe” (which is not typical of all of the Chumash populations, most of which use a different craft) and a handful of words. This contact must have been relatively recent (a few centuries at most) for the Polynesian words to still be recognizable.
    [The book I cited is "Polynesians in America: Pre-Columbian contacts with the New World", ed. by Terry Jones and others, Altamira Press, 2011. There are 12 contributors, mostly archeologists, and the contacts documented are mostly from South America, plus the Chumash case. The editors deliberately chose to concentrate on factual evidence (archeological and linguistic) of specifically Polynesian contact, and not to discuss more controversial topics.]
    SFR: All examples you list would not result in transfer of whole languages from Asia to Americas.
    A small community migrating (not necessarily all at once), bringing advantages of some kind (technology, stronger social organization, etc) at a time of favourable climactic conditions, could prosper and therefore attract natives to itself. Their language, learned by others, would become altered, but there would still be (at least for a time) traces of its origin. If conditions in the country of origin were such that emigration from one area was common at certain times, there could have been periods of one-way travel bringing more and more migrants along the same route.
    The last one (armed band killing another local small group and settling there) looks possible, but not on the scale necessary (five thousand kilometers of island and coast hopping from Asia to America killing locals on the way – sounds scary, but unrealistic)
    I don’t mean that one small group of newcomers would systematically kill natives along their way (the local population would certainly resist), only that this possibility might have existed in some cases and at least some of the migrants would have come prepared for hostile encounters. Of course, a single small group would not have covered thousands of miles at one go, or subsisted with their language intact for very long, but if there was a succession of small-scale migrations including families (or at least women) coming from the same Asian region, there could have been eventually a large enough core population that they would have extended their territory, and their language could have survived and even spread, although influenced by the local language(s).

  51. Indeed. Consider all the speakers of the Taishan dialect of Cantonese in all the Chinatowns of the world: the result of “small-scale migrations” that “have extended their territory, and their language [has] survived.”

  52. SFReader says:

    Another curious case of language survival
    The village settled by only two ethnic Russian males who came with their Eskimo/Aleut wives and mixed children. And the entire village ended up becoming native Russian-speakers (until 1950s, anyway).
    But I suspect their experience was uniquely 19-20th century – literacy, school, Russian Orthodox Church, etc.

  53. Etienne says:

    Jim (sorry, I should have written this in my earlier comment): I smiled at your reference to Miwok as being almost SAE. You will be pleased to hear that none other than Edward Sapir himself, in sketching out the main features of Penutian (to which Miwok belongs), pointed out that Penutian was oddly similar, typologically, to… Indo-European.
    SFReader: language shift in far northern locations is by no means rare. Yakut, in Siberia, spread (quite recently) because its speakers had mastered the art of breeding horses in this cold climate, which gave them a major advantage over speakers of other Siberian languages. Evenki, at an earlier date, had spread throughout Siberia because of its speakers’ mastery of reindeer breeding/riding.
    Social organization can be the driving force too: the expansion of Proto-Cree throughout Northern Canada (from the Rocky Mountains to Labrador: one of the most geographically extensive cases of pre-modern language spread) after 500 AD or so (meaning that Proto-Cree expanded over territory that had been inhabited for millennia) has been argued (I’ve a reference, should anyone want it) to be linked with Proto-Cree speakers’ extensive family/social network, which facilitated long-distance trade: hence Proto-Cree-speakers’ neighbors were quite anxious to marry/have their children marry these newcomers (Proto-Cree speakers) or their children in order to gain access to this trade.
    It would have taken just a few generations for Cree to replace the earlier languages under such circumstances. Especially since Proto-Cree would have been the only common language for all these local groups wishing to trade via the extended trade network created by these Proto-Cree-speaking newcomers…
    And indeed this is how language shift takes place most of the time: not with a group of armed and hated invaders suddenly showing up on your doorstep some unfortunate morning, but with some new group you come into contact/start trading with. Knowledge of these newcomers’ language becomes desirable if not vital for some reason(s) or other, leading adults to ensure that their children acquire it, with the next generation taking the new language and the advantages deriving from its knowledge for granted, leading the next generation to think of the “new” language as theirs, which in turn leads to the next generation having this “new” language as their first language, eventually leading to the original language being forgotten.
    More broadly, “extreme” environments (tundra, desert…) are ones where language shift/spread frequently occurs. I think this is because in such environments establishing/maintaining long-distance trade can be a life-or-death matter, because the local ecology is so limited.
    Hence the spread of Yakut and Evenki in Siberia, of Eskimo-Aleut in the far North of the Americas, of Tuareg Berber in the Sahara, of Uto-Aztecan over the American Southwest/Sonora desert, of Iranian and later Turkic over Central Asia, of Tibetan over the vast Tibetan Plateau…
    Conversely, it is telling that extreme linguistic diversity (indicating that there hasn’t been any language spread in a long while) is found in places like (pre-modern) California, New Guinea, the Caucasus: that is to say, areas with very rich local biological resources. Local groups could and did deal/trade with their neighbors, of course, but tellingly, it never was a life-or-death matter: a small tribe in any of the above environments didn’t *need* outside trade as a matter of survival.

  54. A very interesting analysis; I’ve never thought of it like that.

  55. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne, excellently put.

  56. SFReader says:

    —some new group you come into contact/start trading with. Knowledge of these newcomers’ language becomes desirable if not vital for some reason(s) or other, leading adults to ensure that their children acquire it
    Do you really need to learn a foreign language for trade?
    Those 18-19th century accounts tell me that no, successful trading is quite possible with both parties speaking not a word in language of a partner.
    Sometimes a trade jargon would develop if contacts were long-lasting (see Chinook jargon), but in most remote places people wouldn’t even need that.
    Now, long-term tribal alliances involving extensive intermarriage – that would create a need to learn another language!
    But I suppose this requires a full tribe suddenly showing up, not small groups of people.

  57. I thought Etienne was describing the spread of English!

  58. And they all originated in practically the same neighborhood in what is now northwestern China.
    This year there was news that the ancestral home of the Native Americans was traced to the Altai Mountains.

  59. Maybe this is a better article.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    SFR: a full tribe suddenly showing up, not small groups of people.
    In Polynesia there were exploratory voyages by small numbers of people, who returned home to report, and those early voyages were followed by larger-scale voyages by families bringing with them food, supplies and even animals such as dogs and chickens. Although current thinking about voyaging in the North Pacific tends to imagine only very small-scale, usually involuntary trips, some of the voyages must have involved much larger numbers.

  61. Etienne says:

    Bathrobe: from what I understand the Altai Mountains aren’t so much the homeland of the ancestors of the first Natives of the Americas as an area whose genetic commonalities with Natives of the Americas is due to both being “peripheral”, geographically, from an Eastern Siberian perspective. In effect both preserve, genetically, what must have been (12 000 or so years ago) the “typical” Siberian genetic profile.
    SfReader: a common language is indeed required if a *long-term trading relationship” is what you are after: extensive negociation and trust-building are rather difficult enterprises without a common language.
    Incidentally, I strongly suspect that the spread of Indo-European followed a dynamic much like what I sketched above. For some reason people believe that, if Indo-European was the language of the first humans who domesticated the horse (which seems likely), it follows that Indo-European spread as the language of a horse-riding warrior elite.
    This always struck me as dubious: in the Americas groups such as the (post-contact) Mapuche or Sioux became first-rate horse-riding warrior cultures, and ultimately succumbed to European expansion because horses were the least of the advantages Europeans enjoyed.
    By contrast, we are expected to believe that Proto-Indo-European was spoken by a warrior culture whose sole advantage over its neighbors was its domestication of the horse. And that it overran everything in Eurasia from Ireland to India, without anyone on this vast territory learning anything about horse domestication before it was too late. The examples of the Sioux and the Mapuche seem to indicate that this is a rather unlikely scenario.
    It seems to me that the spread of Indo-European is better explained if we consider that horses, combined with wagons/wheeled vehicles generally, would have caused an economic revolution wherever they were first introduced, allowing trade on a large scale between groups which would previously have remained comparatively isolated from one another. And in the context of this massive expansion of trade Proto-Indo-European would have been the obvious lingua franca.

  62. Wagons and chariots both, judging from Greek and Irish epic.

  63. Wagons and chariots both, judging from Greek and Irish epic.

  64. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: I like your interpretation of the IE spread. According to what I have read (I don’t remember where), domestication of the horse for drawing vehicles preceded its use for riding, especially riding for military purposes. (Occasional riding, eg by children, must have occurred, but that is different from training horses – and riders – specifically for those purposes).
    The reconstructed vocabulary of PIE has words not only for horse but for cow, sheep, pig, goose, animals which have much more limited mobility than horses. Warriors on horses can travel far and fast, cows can travel far but not fast (witness the pastoral nomad cultures of Africa), and pigs and domestic geese don’t like to travel at all. Mounted warriors could not possibly have taken any of those animals with them, but horses drawing wagons could have walked along with people and cows, and carried pigs and geese on long trips, as well as less mobile people (children, elders, etc) and whatever was intended for trade.
    The ancient Greeks and Irish had both wagons and chariots, but that was long after the breakup of Indo-European.

  65. Marie-Lucie: Nevertheless, words for wheeled vehicles and their parts are reconstructible to PIE; they tend to be about chariots in Greek and Celtic and wagons in the other branches.

  66. Marie-Lucie, John Cowan: just to be clear I am not denying that Indo-European may indeed have been the language of a horse-riding warrior culture (perhaps making use of war-chariots). What I am saying is that this is irrelevant to the dynamics of the spread of Indo-European which I proposed above. That is to say, the introduction of horse-drawn wagons would have triggered an economic revolution which would have favored the spread of Indo-European.
    If my guess is right, then whether Proto-Indo-European was originally the language of a warrior culture or not is unrelated to the history/dynamics of its spread.

  67. Etienne: Oh, I agree. But economics, we might say, is the continuation of war by other means.

  68. The other Polynesian-American contact that’s now pretty much beyond doubt is the sweet potato, which spread from the Americas as far west as New Zealand. It used to be thought that this was natural transmission, but sweet potato seeds don’t survive immersion in salt water, and DNA work shows that the Polynesian varieties descend from the cultivated plant, not from one of its wild relatives. What is more, the Polynesian name kumara (in Pascuan and Maori, ‘uala in Hawai’ian), is suspiciously close to Quechua k’umar(a). (However, the sweet potatoes of the Philippines and other non-Polynesian areas were brought there by Europeans.)

    Nature news item.

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