Early Indo-Europeans in Xinjiang

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Some quotes from Victor Mair are featured in the NYT today ("The Dead Tell a Tale China Doesn't Care to Listen To", 11/18/2008), with respect to the 3,800-year-old mummies found in the Tarim Basin.

Mr. Mair has disputed any suggestion that the mummies were from East Asia. He believes that East Asian migrants did not appear in the Tarim Basin until much later than the Loulan Beauty and her people.

The oldest mummies, he says, were probably Tocharians, herders who traveled eastward across the Central Asian steppes and whose language belonged to the Indo-European family. A second wave of migrants came from what is now Iran.

As explained in more detail in the Wikipedia article, the idea that the mummies are Indo-Europeans conflicts with two different nationalist narratives, the official Chinese view that Xinjiang has always been "an inalienable part of the territory of China", and the view of many Uyghur separatists that their ancestors were the original inhabitants of the region.

[Update: Victor was interviewed on All Things Considered today.]


  1. Jesus Sanchis said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 8:54 am

    Identifying human remains with a given language is a highly speculative task. Traditional historical linguistics has based its conclusions on the study of written texts (e.g. the ones that have remained in Tocharian) and on a traditional view of (pre)history as a series of 'catastrophic' events: invasions, massive migrations, etc. From my point of view, based on the Continuity/Hybridization Model, it makes no sense to say things like "we have this evidence, these texts, and these mummies, so I'm going to propose a theory, because there's nothing better that I can say about it". I think that it takes other tools, and a completely new, multidisciplinary approach, to be able to understand the languages and societies of prehistory.

    About the political issue, I'm not surprised that, given the current state of historical linguistics, (nationalist) politicians try to give their own opinion and use the information in their own interest. Many things that are commonly accepted about the Indo-Europeans need to be revised. They belong to a dated view of history, language and human society.

  2. Anonymous said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 9:44 am

    Could you give those of us not as well-informed as you an idea of what the current state of historical linguistics is?

  3. Robert F said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 9:51 am

    Why say something is dated, when you can instead say something stronger, that it is wrong?

  4. Jesus Sanchis said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 10:22 am

    It is difficult to summarize in a post comment what I think about the state of historical linguistics at the moment. Let's think of Indo-European (IE) studies. They used to be very popular, or interesting, one hundred of fifty years ago. But, who remembers them now? How many universities offer Indo-European studies? Historical linguistics is not only Indo-European, but I think that the historical studies of other languages are also in this kind of position: with little to say apart from the typical genealogical-tree type of explanation, etc. This is my opinion, of course. And there have been recent developments that seem interesting, e.g. Dixon's ideas about language change, but on the whole there are some old, no longer tenable concepts which are still accepted with little criticism, especially in IE studies (the main topic of my previous comment). I have written about this in my blog. If you want to take a look, this the link: http://www.languagecontinuity.blogspot.com

    Another inetersting place to visit is: http://www.continuitas.com/, the web-site of the Paleolithic Continuity Theory (PCT) workgroup.

  5. John D said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 10:51 am

    Link appears to be broken. Looks like they tweaked the date to …/11/19/… This link works for me, at least today…

  6. John Cowan said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 11:27 am

    As a matter of pragmatics, "dated" is stronger than just "wrong", for it also carries the meanings "old" and "obsolete". Anyone can be wrong for a time, but to be dated means you are a superannuated old fuddy-duddy whose intellectual redemption is beyond hope.

    And for nationalist purposes, whether imperialist or anti-imperialist, it matters not if you just look (something) like a Slurvian, speak the (or a) Slurvian language, exhibit "typically Slurvian" cultural traits, or actually have the sacred blood of the Slurvians in your veins — the Slurvians will treat you as one of their own (or not, if that happens to be what serves them at the moment).

  7. Kellen said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

    the common interpretation of the party line supports all sorts of fun views of history. kublai khan (and genghis too) were chinese. the yuan and qing dynasties were chinese dynasties, not ones of foreign invaders. the american army invaded china at the end of the 19th century and japan never said sorry for nanjing.

    the view in china is that paying tribute to your somewhat powerful and expansionist neighbour is somehow the same thing as being an inseparable part of their country. it astounds me that they even recognise the mummies' existence.

  8. David Eddyshaw said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

    Given that much more often than not, one learns one's culture(s) and language(s) from one's relatives, it's neither stupid nor wrong to suppose that language, culture and genetics frequently correlate.

    It only becomes stupid once you start proclaiming that they must necessarily correlate, and worse than stupid once you start thinking there is a mystical virtue in your own particular "necessary" correlation of genetics, language and culture.

    The whole issue has become toxic because of the modern nationalist notion that ethnicity is the only legitimate basis of statehood. This indeed seems to be the PRC's view in practice if not theory, to the grief of Tibetans, Uyghurs …

  9. Mark Liberman said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 1:06 pm

    Readers should take the comments of Mr. Sanchis with a grain or two of salt — he's entitled to his opinions, which you can read about at length on his blog, but they don't represent the consensus among linguists, historical or otherwise.

    In particular, the so-called "Paleolithic Continuity Theory", which he champions, is (to say the least) controversial. It posits that at the end of the last Ice Age — some 13 thousand years ago — the Indo-European languages were already divided into the ancestors of the Germanic, Celtic, Italic, Slavic, Baltic etc. subgroups, whose speakers were the first humans to repopulate Europe after the ice retreated, occupying roughly the same territories where they live today.

    This places the differentiation of Indo-European 1.5 to 2.5 times farther in the past than other approaches do, and appears inconsistent with other evidence as well.

    The PCT deserves fuller discussion than can be given to it in a few weblog comments. But as far as I can see, it has not made many converts among scholars who are knowledgeable about the facts that it deals with, whether they are "traditional" or "interdisciplinary" or whatever.

    Anyhow, none of this has much do with the various theories about what culture the Tarim basin mummies came from, what languages they might have spoken, how they were connected historically to other groups that we know from archeological, genetic or linguistic evidence, and so on. If you're interested in the facts, and in various theories based on them, you could look at J.P. Mallory and Victor Mair, The Tarim Mummies; or Elizabeth Barber, The Mummies of Ürümchi.

  10. Jesse Whidden said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 1:53 pm

    Going a bit off-topic here, but hopefully this will add a bit of context.

    One of the strongest pieces of evidence to support the Paleolithic Continuity Theory is the dominance of Y-DNA haplogroup R1b in the Pyrenees, an area known to be an Ice Age refugium for other European biota. Early studies of European Y-DNA found greater phylogenetic diversity within Iberian R1b than elsewhere, which led to the belief that the male-line ancestors of most western Europeans emerged from there at the end the last ice age.

    In the last few years, however, it's become much more difficult to support this theory. Additional studies (including some amateur efforts) strongly indicate that R1b is most diverse in the various areas posited as the Indo-European homeland. Recent estimates suggest that Western European R1b coalesces to a common ancestor around 4,000 years ago. Finally, there's the casual observation that the distribution of haplogroup R as a whole correlates strongly with IE-speaking areas (with R1b being more common in centum areas and R1a being more common in satum areas). This leaves the PCT with very little evidence remaining to support it.

  11. Mark Liberman said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 2:14 pm

    Anonymous: Could you give those of us not as well-informed as you an idea of what the current state of historical linguistics is?

    For a glimpse of the ideas and arguments regarding IE social and linguistic history that are typical of the current mainstream of research in historical linguistics, an approachable source is Andrew Garrett's "Convergence in the formation of Indo-European subgroups: Phylogeny and chronology".

    In particular, you might be interested in Garrett's discussion of the difference between the "first agriculturalists" model, which posits a date of 5000-6000 BC for PIE, and the "secondary products" model, which suggests a date more like 3500-4000 BC. He calls the "first agriculturalists" model into question, on the grounds that it suggests "two typologically incomparable periods, each three or four millennia long: a period marked by less phonological or inflectional change than is observed in any documented language, followed by a period when all IE languages were transformed by accumulating waves of phonological and morphological change", requiring the "unscientific assumption that linguistic change in the period for which we have no direct evidence was radically different from change we can study directly."

    In comparison, as I understand it, the "Paleolithic Continuity" model — which Andrew did not bring into his discussion at all, and which I mention because Mr. Sanchis has featured it in a couple of comments above — would entail a date for proto-Indo-European of more like 10,000 BC, making the period of implausible stasis about 8,000 years long.

  12. dr pepper said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 4:52 pm

    The attitude of the chinese government seems strangely paranoid. The manderin language and the han ethnicity are more than well established. Tocarians (or whoever those mummies were) are about as threatening to the current situation in China as the anastazi are to the US.

  13. Jesus Sanchis said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 5:13 pm

    Thank you for your comments, Mr Liberman. They are quite balanced and reasonable. It is obvious that in my comments and in my blog I express my personal opinions, and that I am in favour of the Paleolithic Continuity Theory (PCT), which I find quite interesting, but I don't see it as the ultimate truth or the key to all issues in historical linguistics. The PCT is controversial but also very recent, that is, some of its proposals need to be developed or tested. The problem is that, in general, it has received little or no attention from the linguistic 'establishment', which won't easily accept such a challenging proposal. I think that the PCT deserves attention, and that it opens new horizons in historical linguistics. Maybe it's just a question of time.

    Does it make sense to talk about the PCT in this post about the Tamsin basin? Is it relevant here? Let's see.

    The traditional view in historical linguistics usually requires a type of explanation where a given population migrates from one area to another bringing along their language and causing a process of language substitution by which the language of the original inhabitants of the new territory virtually disappears. This type of explanation is the standard one. In the Tarim basin, therefore, there is a 'logical necessity' for a given people who went there, for some unknown reason, sometime between 3,000 or 1,000 BC. Following the traditional view, it was these people who brought Indo-European there. Now, is there an alternative to this type of explanation? Indeed there is. Maybe Indo-European language were spoken in that area ten millennia before the appearence of the people who left us the mummies. Why not? This alternative approach has been applied (quite successfully) to the study of Uralic languages. It has also been applied, with surprising and really coherent results, to the languages of Europe, as you can see by reading the main texts of the PCT, written by Alinei, Costa, Benozzo, Ballester and other authors. This theory is against some of the most 'sacred' principles of Indo-European studies, but it seems to work, and to be coherent and reasonable. As far as I know, it has not yet been applied to the languages of Asia, and it would be a good idea if this kind of research were carried out, because maybe then it would become clear that the debate about the Tarim mummies is based on wrong assumptions, and that, therefore, the arguments presented by the politicians are even more ridiculous than they seem now.

  14. Jesus Sanchis said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 5:27 pm

    Mr Whidden, in your comment you write the following:

    "One of the strongest pieces of evidence to support the Paleolithic Continuity Theory is the dominance of Y-DNA haplogroup R1b in the Pyrenees".

    I don't know where you have read this information but it is completely wrong. There is nothing in the main proposals of the PCT suggesting that a given gene or a given haplogroup is a basic element in the theory. Not at all.

  15. Jesus Sanchis said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

    As for Mr Liberman's second comment, in which he expresses his doubts about the PCT, I can only refer to the current bibliography, and also to some Internet sources like the ones I mentioned earlier.

  16. Kellen said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 9:25 pm

    @dr pepper: they seem to see a threat in it. i suppose any contrast to their historical narrative would be. actually, haven spoken to a lot of people, you can find plenty of 40 and 50 year olds who don't buy it but keep their heads down for obvious reasons. the strong sentiments of nationalism tend to occur most among the youth. i've heard it said before that the party doesn't buy their own line and knows better, but keeps it up all the same for territorial integrity etc.

    paranoia is a pretty accurate way to describe it, i'd say. of course, i still like the place and continue to reside there, so it can't be all bad.

  17. john riemann soong said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

    "The attitude of the chinese government seems strangely paranoid. The manderin language and the han ethnicity are more than well established. Tocarians (or whoever those mummies were) are about as threatening to the current situation in China as the anastazi are to the US."

    The PRC buffoonery does not deserve to be called "the Chinese government". The *real* Chinese government still legally lies with the Republic of China.

    But that side, it's not just strangely paranoid, it's outrageous. I had not known that scholarship in this area had been so slow and obscure because of the Pan-Chinese bigotry so often exhibited elsewhere by my elders' generation. As a youth of Chinese ethnicity myself, I will say that the Chinese ultraconservative elderly are some of the worst racists on this planet, and they all get away with it under some idealised banner of "unity of Chinese culture".

    This type of attitude also exists outside of the PRC. It still reigns very strongly in Singapore — led by who? — the Chinese-dominated gerontocracy. I am quite familiar with the type of attitude that would cause opposition to Tocharian scholarship, because the specialness, unity and homogeneity of the "Chinese culture" is such dogmatic sacred cow among the Chinese elderly who feel the need to preserve the purity of "Chinese culture" or something. The sacred cow is so ingrained that the other night it took me an hour to convince a fellow Singaporean Chinese (an Echols Scholar, might I add) at my school how the Chinese writing system and the Chinese languageS were separable and divorcible concepts. I should also add that the study of linguistics doesn't seem particularly popular among people of my ethnicity.

    It angers me extensively too, because most scholars of "Chinese culture" — at least those who belong to my "ethnicity" — won't even entertain the idea that "Chinese culture" as "we" know it is probably composed of countless ultimately non-Han substrata that have been mingling even in the Central Plains for thousands of the years, and ones that have never been investigated because of the same ultraconservative bigotry of the Chinese elderly. (The Chinese elderly, at least in Singapore, are also the type that will refuse to get into a lift with people of other non-Caucasian races.) To my parent's generation, applying the comparative method to the Chinese languages probably tramples all over what they had been taught about the special esoteric uniqueness of the Chinese culture as children. (Although it probably tramples all over a lot of white people's ideas about culture too — I have a surprising amount of white peers who still get surprised at the idea that Hindi and English are part of the same language family. But I posit that per capita, white people in general tend to be more acceptive of the comparative method compared to those of "Chinese" ethnicity.) If you need to find opponents to universal grammar, you will find it most easily among the Chinese elderly — not because they subscribe to Sapir-Whorf or whatever — but because they think their precious "Chinese language" (sic) is somehow fundamentally different in mechanics (and cognitively) from all the other languages in the world.

  18. john riemann soong said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 10:47 pm

    One of my fascinations has been the historical non-Han influence on "Han" culture. In fact, if you took a broad survey of the Han population (just faces!), you can easily see that the "Han" probably had very hetereogenous genetic roots. In fact at times some of the fundamental facial structures among some of the ethnic Chinese so remind me of other Caucasian friends I had from childhood that my instinctive reaction upon coming across them (in the bus, or whatever) is to think I somehow found my long lost friends from New England elementary school, and then to realise, "wait a minute, how did I make that mistake — they're Asian!" I suspect that there has been some fairly significant non-Han gene flow from the West in history, and not just because of colonialism or whatever. To me, "Han" is a very young ethnicity, politically-created, and one that is probably more social construct than not.

    Nevertheless, it has been difficult to explore diversity in Chinese history; most Sinological scholarship (or at least the history you get taught about in school, West or East) never seem to hint that all those "Chinese" historical figures with rather Mandarin looking names might have looked rather differently from the mainstream conception of the Han. (Modern actors playing historical figures in Chinese historical drama shows don't help either). But the cultural ultraconservatives can't seem to understand what kind of hindrance their purity crusade poses to true understanding of Chinese culture; it's kind of shameful when foreign scholars are willing to explore these issues but not my own ethnicity.

    On genetic tests on the Tocharians — I wonder if there isn't some sort of sensible middle ground where having East Asian gene diffusion (whatever "East Asian" genes are supposed to be defined as) isn't mutually exclusive with the Indo-European observation. There are a couple of papers in the Sino-Platonic Papers that suggest Indo-European lexical diffusion into some very fundamental portions of the Chinese languages (it almost suggets to me creolisation). This interaction must then have taken place quite early in Chinese history. The Spring and Autumn Period is described as a 100 states speaking a 100 different languages (and probably not all of them Sino-Tibetan). Furthermore, with the extent of the "Indo-European migrations", I doubt that the spread of the Indo-European languages, even with the exclusion of the later post-Columbus colonialism, were propagated by people of one ethnicity who originated from somewhere near the Black Sea. Most likely there must have been remarkable gene flow involved, so why do Tocharian speakers have to be purely Caucasian?

  19. dr pepper said,

    November 20, 2008 @ 5:28 am

    Well the general assumption seems to be that originally language and ethnicity had closer ties simply because there was less mobility of individuals so most people lived and died near people they were closely related to and had no reason to learn a language other than the local one. When a people migrated, their language went with them. When new people moved in to a settled area enclaves were formed and some words were exchanged but it was mainly traders and government officials who needed fluency. Otherwise you had a default tribal conservatism.

    It was only later that political policies were developed that stressed linguistic uniformity. And it was only after the development of literacy that it was possible to address whole populations. Thus, in later centuries things changed, with imperial imposition of preferred languages on whole populations as well as elite languages maintained for international communication.

    So yeah, there could have been some orientals among the tocarian speakers. Or maybe just non ie caucasians. But the assumption is that those were just outriders acquired along the way, the overwhelming majority of the population was descended from a relatively small number who left the theoretical ie starting area and moved east over the generations. Is it a correct assumption? I suspect it's at least a good basis for starting investigations. And so long as the chinese government doesn't actually shut things down, it can be examined, challenged, and modified or discarded.

    As for the han ethnicity being "artificial", that's an interesting concept. Still. once you mix a population enough, it becomes a single gen pool, that is "pure blooded" = "equally mongrelized". Whatever the truth about the past, in the present most of us have no recognizable tribes, our nationalities have become coalitions, and our races are becoming less relevant with each generation. This is a good thing.

  20. Stephen Jones said,

    November 20, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

    Sanchis's arguments in favour of the PCT are bizarre at the least. First of all he claims DNA evidence for linguistic theory, even though there is no reason that language and DNA should have more than a tentative relationship. Latin didn't spread throughout Western Europe because of the ethnic cleansing of the region, and English is not the main lanuage of the US because most of its inhabitants have English genes.

  21. Jesus Sanchis said,

    November 20, 2008 @ 4:26 pm

    Stephen Jones, you have no doubt misunderstood the whole thing completely. You're absolutely wrong in what you say about the PCT in connection to DNA. Maybe you have been misled by some previous comment in this post, definitely not mine. I'm very sorry that some people may have a wrong idea about the PCT, because it is not in the least as you have described it. If you take a look at my fourth comment (see above) you will see that I have already tried to make this point clear.

  22. DYSPEPSIA GENERATION » Blog Archive » Early Indo-Europeans in Xinjiang said,

    November 20, 2008 @ 9:30 pm

    […] Read it. […]

  23. john riemann soong said,

    November 21, 2008 @ 2:53 am

    "As for the han ethnicity being "artificial", that's an interesting concept. Still. once you mix a population enough, it becomes a single gen pool, that is "pure blooded" = "equally mongrelized"."

    Superficially the resemblances among the Han can be compared to the superficial resemblances between the Japanese and the Han; well the latter is greater and the variation among the Han is probably smaller. There probably has been a lot of interbreeding since the hypothetical mixing as well, but there are geographic patterns observable among Han Chinese — cue the most stereotyped one about North and South Chinese. (All stereotypes start from some basis in truth.) I would warrant that statistically, there are features significantly found more commonly among Southern Chinese than Northern Chinese; this is noticeable enough to me where given that the ancestors of most Singaporean Chinese migrated from the historically poorer southern coasts of China, people of Northern descent considerably look more "foreign" and "exotic" to me, despite supposedly being of the same Han ethnicity or whatever. Recognising that I could be making some very mistaken hypotheses, I conjecture that the North-South "facial change continuum" isn't that surprising, given that North and South China have historically absorbed very different substrata (Central Asian nomads versus Yue/Chu/Assam/Khmer groups etc.). And I mean, gee, when you look at the Southern Chinese languages versus the Northern Chinese languages — just even a cursory survey — various sprachbunds dividing up the Chinese language family become apparent. It seems so obvious that there was some fairly significant genetic, cultural and linguistic diffusion in China from groups outside the "Han", a Han "ethnicity" whose differing origins which can still be seen dividing the population today, but it's like "The Great Unified Homogeneous Chinese Culture" dogma is so strong that there is hardly any (prominent) scholarship on this subject.

  24. john riemann soong said,

    November 21, 2008 @ 3:55 am

    "Well the general assumption seems to be that originally language and ethnicity had closer ties simply because there was less mobility of individuals so most people lived and died near people they were closely related to and had no reason to learn a language other than the local one. When a people migrated, their language went with them. When new people moved in to a settled area enclaves were formed and some words were exchanged but it was mainly traders and government officials who needed fluency. Otherwise you had a default tribal conservatism.

    It was only later that political policies were developed that stressed linguistic uniformity. And it was only after the development of literacy that it was possible to address whole populations."

    Political policies on language are repressive and destructive. (In matters of linguistic policy, there seems no reason why laissez faire and the invisible hand should be the accepted rules.) But most of all, political policies tend to enforce sharp changes in language use rather than natural gradual ones, probably do not form gradual dialect continua, probably repress linguistic diffusion rather than promote it. We also note considerable interbreeding and sprachbund effects with the Indo-European families of Indo-Iranian and Indo-Aryan. It is problematic I think, to assume that pure "political policy," as opposed to cultural pressures, caused the diffusion.

    Given many years (if not hundreds) of migration events, gradual but significant gene flow and diffusion over time seems to me, sensible. And how else does one explain the findings of some of the Sino-Platonic Papers where it is argued that Indo-European cognates can be found in Old Chinese? With the Malay-Indonesian language, Sanskrit cognates ended up replacing the entire language's number system, along with much of its core vocabulary — though the grammar is quintessentially non-Indo-European (this sort of change sort of reminds me of creolisation processes). Given how naturally creolisation occurs, and in a wide range of contexts, even in sign language formation processes, and how spontaneous it is, I really have to contest the idea that diffusion only took place by means of "traders and government officials" before the era of colonialism.

    After all, the post-1789 French policies against Occitan, Catalan, and other French dialect-languages did not result in creolisation between Occitan and Metropolitan French, nor significant diffusion between dialect-languages, etc. To me, the spontaneous and amazing process of creolisation is very striking, and it seems funny to rule out the possibility of frequent (undocumented) creolisation in history. Creolisation spontaneously occurs in environments where the "imperial imposition of preferred language" concept doesn't make sense (yes, there was the officially taught predecessor of Nicaraguan Sign Language, but more often than not deaf children pooled their home sign). Qin Shihuangi's "unification policy" only had effects on *orthography* and writing systems. It is very problematic I think, to argue that linguistic diffusion existed in such a limited state before colonialism and imperialism, especially if you look at how Southern China was settled by the "ethnic Han". It was not a case I think, of soldiers from Zhou/Han/whatever was the "hegemony group" then, forcing everyone in Yue, Chu and whatnot to start speaking "Chinese" through political coercion.
    Mass literacy wasn't even achieved in China until after 1949, and significant yet linguistic diffusion between the Chinese languages and other substrata must have clearly occurred. Then of course, we have the Romance languages, where it is very unlikely that a fallen Roman Empire somehow imposed its political authority and forced all the Goths and Franks to start speaking a language based on Latin … and how else to explain Romanian's membership as part of the Balkan Sprachbund?

    So what about the Tocharians themselves then? It seems quite reasonable, given all the other examples in history, and given that almost certain linguistic/cultural interaction between the ancestors of the Chinese languages and neighbouring groups, that the Tocharians could have gone on to interact with the ancestors of the Chinese in some way — or at least some kind of (pre-Alexander) Indo-European people. (Indeed, I am again inclined to support this because of several fascinating papers in the Sino-Platonic Papers that I have read.) Furthermore, given how long it takes to make a long overland trek across Asia, the absorption of non-Indo-European groups along the way seems quite plausible. And one must also remember to ask, where did the ancestors of the Han come from anyway? I quite suspect that the ancestors of the so-called Han Chinese (if the core of the "Han Chinese" ethnicity was at all formed by then) were relatively new arrivals on the Central Plains, compared to say, how relatively long the Austro-Asiatic languages had been in existence by then? Clearly, the ancestors of the Han must have had their own migrations too (and perhaps as I suspect, the Han are the product of the convergence of several different migrations). Certainly, the Han civilisation as popularly conceived, dressed like Liu Bei, reciting Confucian proverbs and the like, arrived on the Tocharian Basin way too late. But must it be the /Han/ Han civilisation, rather than some previous genetic ancestor? We must not forget later attestment of the Yuezhi and the Ta-Yuan as well, and historical evidence suggests they were Caucasian (or at least quite white compared to the other ethnic groups) or Indo-European of some sort, given description of their stature and their complexion. And yet, given how Chinese historians were prone to confuse or conflate them with other nomadic groups, it seems quite plausible that considerably genetic and linguistic diffusion had already taken place, especially since the Yuezhi were even closer to the Central Plains than the Tocharians were.

  25. Arnold Zwicky said,

    November 21, 2008 @ 3:03 pm

    dr pepper: "Well the general assumption seems to be that originally language and ethnicity had closer ties simply because there was less mobility of individuals so most people lived and died near people they were closely related to and had no reason to learn a language other than the local one."

    This might be the general assumption, but there are good reasons for doubting it. Trading relationships, sometimes over very long distances, go back far in time: all around the Mediterranean, between the Balkans and the Baltic, between ancient Greece and India, for instance. All such relationships brought different languages and different ethnicities in contact.

    So did the wanderings of people who were not settled agriculturalists.

  26. D Bachmann said,

    December 3, 2008 @ 9:46 am

    To Mr. Sanchis, who appears to have done me the courtesy of disabling comments following his reply at his blog: the "PCT" is a non-starter. It is a fringe theory that lives on blogs and on continuitas.com. Its only merit is that it is "new" as opposed to the "same old axioms" (others would say, time-honoured established results) of historical linguistics.

    The history of the relevant Wikipedia talkpage is rather instructive. I used to be open to bona fide evidence of the "theory"'s coherence, sanity or notability. It has turned out again and again that there simply isn't anything to be said for it that doesn't fly in the face of historical linguistics. Which is pretty bad for a theory trying to explain the origin of the Indo-European languages (as opposed to the European genome, prehistoric artefact types or the like)

    Worse, it appears to have a strange appeal to crypto-fascists of various descriptions. Make no mistake, I am not accusing any PCT proponents of such tendencies, it just so happens that the "PCT" is warmly welcomed by racial mysticists looking for a Nordish race connecting Europeans with the Paleolithic as directly as possible. This doesn't improve the topic's overall savour. It has turned out that for the purposes of Wikipedia, which can be edited by literally anyone, this appeal accounts for a good fraction of activity surrounding PCT.

  27. Jesus Sanchis said,

    December 3, 2008 @ 4:12 pm

    Just a quick comment. Maybe I'll write something more later, but now just this:

    Mr Bachmann: I have not 'disabled' comments in my blog. Not at all! Maybe you had some technical problems about it, I don't know. You can post your comments in my blog, just try again. In fact I'm interested in your comments, and in readers' comments in general. I'm sorry if there's been a misunderstanding about this, it was not my intention.

  28. Jesus Sanchis said,

    December 3, 2008 @ 4:49 pm

    Mr Bachmann, anyone who reads these Wikipedia comments will realise that there is a great degree of hostility about this issue in that discussion, and I really don't understand it. Some people, including you, seem to be on the alert against anyone suggesting anything positive about the PCT. Why don't you just relax a little?

    I understand you wrote this comment here (the wrong place) because you thought you couldn't post comments in my blog (in which you are wrong). It's obvious that any discussion about the PCT should be held in the right places. Just a couple of comments here:

    – You say that the PCT is "a theory trying to explain the origin of the Indo-European languages". Actually, it's not only that.

    – You say something about the PCT and some "racial mysticists" in Northern Europe… What is this, science fiction? What does it have to do with the PCT? Why are you suggesting, even mentioning, these absurd things? Don't you think people, or linguistis, are intelligent enough to draw their conclusions from what they read? There are books, blogs, articles; ideas are born, developed, refuted, rescheduled. The members of the PCT workgroup are university professors from various areas, they are serious in their work, they have seen something interesting in the PCT and are in favour of applying this approach in their own research. I'm sorry that Mr Bachmann, and maybe also other people, has wrong assumptions about the PCT. If they're so interested in this issue, maybe they should start by trying to understand it better.

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