alan little's weblog

indo-european languages update

11th February 2004 permanent link

In December I wrote about a paper on the origin of the Indo-European languages by Russell Gray and Quentin Atkinson of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. The paper used statistical techniques derived from evolutionary biology and applied them to Indo-European vocabulary to come up with a date for proto-Indo-European that was about two thousand years older than linguists generally believe. And linguists were, shall we say, sceptical.

It looks as though Russell Gray, to his great credit, is serious about explaining and defending what he has done. He now has the full text [pdf] of the original paper up on his website (must read it and see if I understand any of it!), together with a response [Word document] to criticims of the paper by Larry Trask, a leading historical linguist. Gray says he and Atkinson are preparing a more detailed (book chapter) explanation of their method.

Another observation regarding linguists’ responses to the original paper – I re-read the abstract in the course of some email correspondence on the subject with Michael Jennings, and it does not say that Gray & Atkinson believe anything in their findings points towards Anatolia – just that their date ties in with others (i.e. Renfrew?) who have suggested an Anatolian origin in the same timeframe.

I am alarmed to see that my weblog entry from December is the number two hit for a google search for “gray atkinson indo european”. (At least the abstract of the original paper is number one). Goodness knows what anybody who actually knows anything about this stuff (i.e. actual real linguists or statisticians) would think about that.

Update: linguists are still sceptical - here is the latest discussion on sci.lang.

related entries: Language Yoga

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