Archive for Language and genetics

Slaves and clients; Arabic Mamluks and mawlas: a fishy Turkic tail

From my 10th grade high school world history class in 1959, I was intrigued by the evocative, mysterious Mamluks.  I was impressed by their achievements in statecraft, art, architecture, and many other fields.  Thus Mamluk is a word that is very well known in English, even to a rural highschooler in Osnaburg Township of Stark County in northeastern Ohio, but I never imagined that their name meant "slave".  Rather, I thought of the mighty Mamluks as military forces who were like knights, and in some cases were  even rulers who founded states of their own.  That they were, but I didn't realize they were of slave origin.

Mamluk (Arabic: مملوك mamlūk (singular), مماليك mamālīk (plural), translated literally as "thing possessed", meaning "slave", also transliterated as Mameluke, mamluq, mamluke, mameluk, mameluke, mamaluke, or marmeluke) is a term most commonly referring to non-Arab, ethnically diverse (mostly Turkic, Caucasian, Eastern and Southeastern European) slave-soldiers and freed slaves to which were assigned military and administrative duties, serving the ruling Arab dynasties in the Muslim world.

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Genetic evidence for the peopling of Eastern Central Asia during the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age

Summary article on the genetics of the Tarim Basin and Dzungarian Basin and surrounding areas:

"Ancient Xinjiang mitogenomes reveal intense admixture with high genetic diversity"

Wenjun Wang, Manyu Ding, Jacob D. Gardner, Yongqiang Wang, Bo Miao, Wu Guo, Xinhua Wu, Qiurong Ruan, Jianjun Yu, Xingjun Hu, Bo Wang, Xiaohong Wu, Zihua Tang, Alipujiang Niyazi, Jie Zhang, Xien Chang, Yunpeng Tang, Meng Ren, Peng Cao, Feng Liu, Qingyan Dai, Xiaotian Feng, Ruowei Yang, Ming Zhang, Tianyi Wang, Wanjing Ping, Weihong Hou, Wenying Li, Jian Ma, Vikas Kumar, and Qiaomei Fu

Science Advances  31 Mar 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 14, eabd6690sss
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd6690

"Xinjiang", a contentious political designation, may geographically be better situated by referring to it as "Eastern Central Asia" (ECA).

Because I have been primarily interested in the initial settling of the Bronze Age peoples and their languages, the quotations below focus on that aspect of the article, though the article as a whole takes into account the Iron Age and Historical Era as well.

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The "genetic singularity" of the Basque people

Linguistically, Basque is generally thought of as an isolate with a very deep history.  Consequently, Basque people are also often presumed to have been genetically singular for thousands of years as well.  A new study, however, calls this presumption into question:

"Basque 'genetic singularity' confirmed in largest-ever study:  The new research shows that this difference only began to emerge 2,500 years ago as a result of centuries of isolation", by Manuel Ansede, El Pais (English) (4/1/21)

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Ethnogenesis of the Mongolian people and their language

The late 13th and 14th c. portraits of the Mongol khans and their wives often show them with rather light (hazel or greenish) eyes.  For example, the 14th c. portrait of Ögedei Khan (1186-1241) clearly depicts him as having greenish blue eyes and a reddish (definitely light colored) mustache and beard.


(National Palace Museum)

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Lactase and language: the spread of the Yamnaya

[This is a guest post by Doug Hitch]

I have had a theory for a number of years about the success of the IE (now Yamnaya) people in populating the world. Here I would like to survey some of the basic reasons for their demographic spread.

Populations in all species prosper when there is adequate food. If there is a surplus of food, the population will grow to meet it. When there is a shortage, populations shrink. There are well known population cycles for lemmings and rabbits. A peak in hare population is followed by a peak in fox population. Then, with more predation, the hares diminish, followed by a decline in fox numbers. In northwestern North America the Athabaskan populations were always small, often facing starvation. One group went south and adopted corn and beans, and later sheep. There are now more Navajo than all the other Athabaskans combined.

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The geographical, archeological, genetic, and linguistic origins of Tocharian

[The following is a guest post by Douglas Adams.]

Key words:  Eastern Central Asia (ECA); Tarim Basin; Dzungarian Basin; Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) Anatolian; Proto-Indo-European; “standard average Indo-European” (“SAIE”); Hittite; Iranian; Sogdian; Khotanese; Bactrian; Avestan; Saka; Indo-Aryan; Mitanni; Assyrian; Indo-Hittite; Fertile Crescent: Yamnaya; Sintashta; Andronovo; Afanasievo; Minusinsk Basin; Qäwrighul; genetics; Yanqi Basin; Ili Valley; Yuezhi; Xiongnu; Turfan Basin; stockbreeding; barley cultivation; millet; irrigation technology; donkey; camel; brick; arrow; irrigation technology; Russian; Kazakhstan; Indo-Iranian; Sanskrit; Massagetae

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Below is a host of questions, implied questions, and questionable statements. I’m trying to get my head around the prehistoric interrelations of pre-Proto-Iranians and pre-Proto-Tocharians based on different “age-levels” of linguistic borrowing and match them with some plausible geographical / archaeological contexts. There are some conundrums here: (1) how did early borrowings from the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) folks get so quickly, by so round about a way, into Tocharian, and (2) why does Tocharian B have an irrigation vocabulary so reminiscent of Central Iranian languages (Sogdian/Avestan; not Saka), borrowed (on phonological grounds) a thousand years (at least) after Tocharians were already knowledgeable about irrigation.

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A museum for the languages of Taiwan

Language Log readers will be aware that "Chinese", i.e., "Mandarin" (Guóyǔ 國語), is not the only language on the island.  Indeed, it is a Johnny-come-lately, having become the official language of the Republic of China on Taiwan in 1945, and was strongly enforced as such after 1949 when the retreating mainland KMT armies of Chiang Kai-shek occupied the island.

The earliest indigenous languages of Taiwan (Formosa) were Austronesian.  And we should not forget that there was a period of partial Dutch rule (1624-1662), especially in the south, and Spanish Formosa (Formosa Española) was a small colony of the Spanish Empire established in the northern part of the island from 1626 to 1642.  Consequently, both Dutch and Spanish had an impact on the linguistic development of Taiwan during the 17th century.  The first Europeans to take notice of Taiwan, however, were the Portuguese who, passing Taiwan in 1544, recorded in a ship's log the name of the island as Ilha Formosa ("Beautiful Island").

Taiwan was a dependency of Japan from 1895 to 1945, during which period Japanese was the official language.  As such, it was important for the development of language on the island, and its significance lasts till today.

The influence of English in Taiwan has been enormous during the last two centuries.

See "Languages of Taiwan".

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The geo-, socio-, ethno-, and politicolinguistics of Taiwan

I've had guests from Taiwan for the past few days.  Two of them are mother and daughter, both primary school teachers.  The mother is a nationally known teacher of Taiwanese language who received special awards from two presidents, Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian.  She is very proud of the beauty of the Taiwanese language and is honored to be able to teach it to her students.  She refers to Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) as "Huáyǔ 華語", as is done in Singapore and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, and refuses to call it 國語 ("National Language"), because, as she says, "It is not the language of our nation".

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Genetic evidence for the spread of Indo-Aryan languages

My own investigations on the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age peoples of Eastern Central Asia (ECA) began essentially as a genetics cum linguistics project back in the early 90s.  That was not long after the extraction of mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) from ancient human tissues and its amplification by means of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) became possible.

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