How old is English?


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[1] Colin Renfrew: 'Anatolian Hypothesis'.
[2] Gimbutas : 'Kurgan Hypothesis'.
















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Spread of agriculture


spread of agriculture

The advent of agriculture ( 7000-4000 BC) changed little in the relations between people. Agriculture came as a new technology probably from the Middle East and spread slowly over Europe from east to west. PIE creolized into Germanic in the yellow zone; Occitan-Romance (Latin) in the orange zone. PIE creolized into Brythonic in Lusitania (Portugal). We think that the farmers who would induce Brythonic came straight from the original PIE zone around the Black Sea in boats.

The creolisation of PIE


PIE = proto-Indo-European language. Some linguists say that PIE is 9000 years old [1], others believe it is only 5000 years old [2]. PIE is the supposed ancestor of all modern European languages, except Basque, Hungarian and Finnish. Other PIE languages include Farsi (Iran), Pashtun (Afghanistan / Pakistan), Hindi and many more, 75 in total. Many historical linguists are trying to reconstruct the original PIE language, upon the assumption that all Indo-European languages evolved directly from this single language. This hypothesis is represented by a language tree: PIE evolved first in a number of major branches (e.g. Germanic, Brythonic, Occitan-Romance, Tocharian, etc. ) and each branch evolved further into the modern languages (e.g. for Germanic: German, English, Dutch, Danish, etc.).

However, we feel that the estimated age of PIE, even some 9000 years, is way too short to make this evolutionary hypothesis plausible. Modern Greek is traceable to the first ancient Greek texts ever found, a distance in time of some 3600 years. Surprisingly, it was already very much Greek in 1600 BC. This means that proto-Greek is even older (1000 years?). Coptic (original Egyptian language and non-PIE) was spoken in Egypt between at least 3200 BC (earliest hieroglyphs) and 1800 AD, or some 5000 years. Of course, both languages evolved over time, and considerably, but they didn't change into a radically different language. Their core remained. Our conclusion is that languages evolved very slowly and that the spectacular diversification of PIE can not have happened within a few thousand years.

How can one explain that 75 languages evolved and diversified within a few thousand years? Given the attested age of ancient Greek (since 1600 BC), this supposes that PIE fell apart between 7000 BC and 1600 BC or some 5400 years. Assuming that proto-Greek is older, this reduces the period of evolution to maybe 4500 years. That is to be compared with the known age of the Greek language: 3600 years or with the known age of non-PIE Coptic: 5000 years. The classic evolutionary hypothesis also implies that PIE was present in all the mentioned regions before it began to evolve. Thus, once upon a time, all of Europe spoke an identical language: classic PIE. Linguists also state that PIE most likely spread slowly during maybe 2000 years. This shortens even more the time of evolution and subsequent diversification. It supposes that PIE fell apart in 75 languages within 3400 or 2400 years (the latter taking in account proto-Greek). Here we have a clear contradiction: linguists know that Greek remained Greek for 3600 years, yet they suppose a stormy evolution during a period of 2400 up to 3400 years, during which PIE fell apart in 75 languages, of which many were mutually no longer intelligible!

We propose a radically different scenario. We think that such a pace of evolution is too fast, given the attested fact that once the languages were there, their subsequent evolution slowed down to a near standstill. We propose creolisation as the main mechanism to explain how PIE could fall apart is so many and so much different languages.


Birth of the main western languages


Each language passed first a stage of local creolisation. In a later stage, the obtained new language 'ripens'. This means that it develops its own new internal logic and becomes more consistent. Together with agriculture, the language spreads itself, bringing new words and word innovations back to the original core language regions. These cores can shift to other regions. Soon, the new language develops regional dialects. Eventually some regions or kingdoms become very powerful and important and so their dialect becomes the standard language for the whole language zone.

Germanic : this PIE variant creolized in west Hungary. From there it followed the Danube to its source and further on they followed the Rhine to the north. Austria and Bavaria would remain the core regions. Germanic eventually spread up the south Poland (Krakow region), Czech republic, Slovakia, spread back to parts of Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia, Romania, and northeast Italy. After this expansion it was chased by Occitan-Romance in Italy and Slavonic in the east. The Slavs reached almost south Denmark in the early Middle Ages. The Low Lands and east Britain originally spoke a different foragers language than mainland Germany and so, a second creolisation of the Germanic language took place in the Low Lands. From there, Britain was colonized.

Occitan-Romance : the variant creolized first in west Croatia and in later Italy. Both Germanic and Occitan-Romance are close. Albanian is probably the offspring of an early creolisation of Occitan. Definite creolisation and ripening, however, happened in Italy. Remember that Latin was initially just one of the many Italian dialects. The farmers followed the coastline to the west, colonizing it up to Malaga in south Spain.

Brythonic creolized in Portugal. It were farmers who came from the Black Sea neighbourhood. As most of the Mediterranean coasts was already claimed, they sailed on to Portugal. We think that their boats proved to be unsuited for the Atlantic Ocean. Hence their involuntary stop in Portugal which was called Lusitania in Roman times. There the language ripened and after a while, they had found a system (new boat type?) to travel further north. They continued to colonize the whole Atlantic coast, except the regions around the North Sea, land that had already been claimed by proto-Germanic farmers. So, we can say that they were too late to find land around the Mediterranean Sea and that they were too late to colonize the east of Britain and the Low Lands.



Time table


8000-7000 BC : PIE tribes in northwest Anatolia adopt agriculture, but as they are strong and well organised, they did not take over the language of the Syrian farmers. The new PIE farmers migrate to Greece and spread over the Greek east coast. The technology spreads to the northwest, following the Black Sea coastline. The population in that region speaks a similar language (PIE), so the acceptance of agriculture happens without problems. The PIE language itself becomes more uniform.

7000-5800 BC : spread to the west; most of the Balkan, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia accept agriculture and the new PIE language. Each new farmer generation follows the Danube upstream in search of new land. They bring PIE to populations situated to the west of the Hungarian plain. There PIE and agriculture is adopted without hindrance and quickly evolves into proto-German. In Romania, Bosnia, Croatia and Albania, the precursor of Occitan develops. Proto-German and proto-Occitan are at that stage new but strong dialects of PIE. Both populations can still understand each other with some difficulty.

5800-4800 BC : using the Danube/Rhine axis the farmers arrived in the Moselle valley in 5000 BC and a bit later on the shores of the North Sea. Germany preceded France in adopting agriculture by 1000 years. The east coasts of Italy, Spain and the southeast of France also discovered agriculture around 5000 BC. This spread happened probably by boat. Farmers in boats came from a certain spot on the east Adriatic coast where a sort of proto-Albanian was spoken (in white on the map). Mixed with local languages, this gave birth to the Occitan-Romance languages in the west Mediterranean region.

4800-1800 BC : West Spain, France, Britain, Scandinavia eventually followed. Although its origin is still mysterious, Brythonic developed probably in Portugal where PIE imposed itself upon an unknown language. This local language influenced Brythonic and gave it its typical sounds. Farmers, always looking for new land, exported the language while sailing north, following the Atlantic coast, eventually ending in west Britain. Once settled on these coasts, Brythonic began slowly to diversify into Breton, Cornish, Welsh, Gaelic, etc.

Around 4050 BC Germanic speaking farmers crossed the English Channel to invade southeast Britain. It took them about 150 years to reach the Cotswolds. Then the complete east of Britain was colonized within a few decades.

In eastern Europe, the Slavonic PIE variant spread to the north (Poland) and on the Pontic steppe (Ukraine and south Russia). Much later the Slavonic language would also fan out to the west, into Serbia and the Balkan region. The Germanic-like languages in the Balkan gradually disappeared.
Around 4000 BC, the horse is domesticated in the Pontic steppe. The horse, cart and wheel brought a great wealth. This horse folk is called today 'Kurgan people' and expanded around 3000 BC in all directions, eventually up to northern Pakistan and northern India. They brought with them a variant of proto-Slavonic.

europe

Undifferentiated language picture of around 1000 BC

The slow progress of agriculture is surprising. Archaeologists found foragers who lived in the immediate vicinity of farmers and who resisted farming for some 300 years! A comparative bones study of that period and region (ref.: "The Horse and the Wheel", David Anthony) revealed that the foragers were in a better condition than the farmers. Apparently, agriculture was not always a gift. The expansion of agriculture itself was due to the practised method: overcropping. The slash-and–burn method meant that the farmers required constantly new and fresh land. The indigenous population of hunters-gatherers had plenty of time to merge with the new farmers. Local foragers took over the technology and renewed their ancestral pre-PIE language in northwest Europe, but many original, local words subsisted in the new language as substrate-words. Typical are words for trees such as oak, birch, etc.

Even primitive farming can feed at least ten times more people than hunting and gathering. The local hunter-gatherers who had become farmers, rapidly overwhelmed in numbers the remaining hunter-gatherers in their neighbourhood. One can call this a snowball effect. When agriculture reached Middle-Europe, the eastern genes (genes of the original PIE people) had almost completely faded out and had been replaced by local genes. Not so much farmers, but farming technology moved steadily westwards, continuously absorbing and incorporating local populations. The passing on of farming technology happened through the age-old tribal relationships. The result is that local genes remained very much local.

The spread of agriculture bears some similarities with the spread of the Christian and Islamic religion. Both religions did not displace people, but converted them.

Some populations on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea had learned how to practice agriculture from farmers who had chosen to emigrate from their homeland by boat. Because some tribes on the receiving end were well organised and their teachers were few, they only took over the technology of farming, not the language. So, they kept their original non-PIE language. We know of two such languages: Basque and Etruscan (Tuscany, Italy), but the existence in the past of more non-PIE languages is very probable.

The conjecture that agriculture hardly displaced humans explains why, for instance, there is a proven genetic difference between Englishmen and Welshmen and why Welsh genetic characteristics resembles those of southwest France and northern Spain. Their respective genes were there before the agricultural age.
A limited number of farmers in boats coming mainly from Bretagne (Brittany, Armorica) colonized west Britain and Ireland. At the same time, on the southeast coast (Kent), agriculture was introduced by farmers in boats who came from (proto-Flemish) Belgium. Once established in Britain, both farming populations grew towards each other and met somewhere in the middle of the British mainland. A likely place is on the watershed. In north England, the watershed is situated in the Pennines.

Everywhere in Europe language borders moved, absorbing some remaining minor non-PIE languages.

languages in Gaul
Proposed language situation in Gaul around 100 BC.
Note that the language borders are vague and the zones are highly approximate.
This vision of Gaul is a conjecture.

On the map above:
Germanic = 100% Germanic - Coastal Germanic in the north - a few Gaulish loanwords.
Gaulish-Germanic = mixed Germanic + Gaulish transition language. Difficult to say what language base dominates where.
Mixed Gaulish = the main Gaulish language, Gaulish base, Germanic words, many Occitan words / tendency in the south to adopt Occitan.
Pure Gaulish = what is also called Celtic = Brythonic - closely related to British Brythonic.
Half mixed Gaulish = in between Mixed Gaulish and Pure Gaulish / transition language.
Basque = probably with strong Gaulish and Occitan influences.
Occitan-Roman = with an important remaining Gaulish influence.
Unknown = we suspect that some Mediterranean non-PIE languages survive in the mountains.

This map gives a totally different idea of how Gaul looked like at the time of Caesar.