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Review of  Language Contacts in Prehistory

Reviewer: Marc L. Greenberg
Book Title: Language Contacts in Prehistory
Book Author: Henning Andersen
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Language Family(ies): Australian
Japanese Family
Issue Number: 14.2178

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Date: Fri, 15 Aug 2003 08:08:26 -0500
From: Marc L Greenberg
Subject: Language Contacts in Prehistory: Studies in Stratigraphy

Andersen, Henning, ed. (2003) Language Contacts in Prehistory: Studies
in Stratigraphy (Papers from the Workshop on Linguistic Stratigraphy
and Prehistory at the Fifteenth International Conference on Historical
Linguistics, Melbourne, 17 August 2001), John Benjamins Publishing
Company, Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 239.

Marc L. Greenberg, University of Kansas


The book under review presents papers from a workshop on linguistic
stratigraphy as part of the Fifteenth International Conference on
Historical Linguistics in Melbourne in 2001. The term "stratigraphy"
and related terms (substratum, adstratum, etc.) are metaphors
originally corresponding to geological referents, also used in
archaeology. Here they refer to the layering of linguistic material
whether developed through internal innovation or acquired in contact
situations in the prehistoric past. The case is made that this
linguistic evidence is often more eloquent than archaeological data for
the same time frame, even when the two can be correlated with one
another. Specific problems and advances in understanding both
individual language situations and broader theoretical issues are
discussed in conjunction with the examination of material from Indo-
European, African, Southeast Asian, Australian, Oceanic, Japanese, and
Meso- American languages.


A brief Preface (v - vi) mentions the circumstances under which Henning
Andersen and Christopher Ehret developed the idea to hold a workshop on
the theme of linguistic stratigraphy at the 15th ICHL.

The chapter Introduction (1 - 10) by Henning Andersen begins with a
discussion of the metaphors surrounding "stratigraphy" (from geology,
and, priorly, metallurgy and chemistry) as employed in language
reconstruction -- stratum, substratum, and superstratum. The tentative
nature of the application of stratigraphic metaphors in linguistic
reconstruction is suggested by Andersen's comments on the lack of
standard diagrams: "Some historical linguists who work with dialect
data make more schematic time-- space diagrams informally for teaching
purpose. But they do not often occur in print [...] and are not
described in standard handbooks of dialectology, which generally limit
themselves to surface maps showing signatures and/or isolines [...]."
The second part of the chapter is devoted to Language Contact in
Prehistory, which discusses in some depth the notions "borrowing" and
"intrusion" (like borrowing but not pragmatically motivated), as well
as "transfer" and "interference" as two types of intrusion. In a
section on Typologies of Contact Changes Andersen takes issue with the
formulation of Thomason's 1997 typology of "mechanisms" and "processes"
of "interference" features. Rather than seeing "code-switching" and
"code-alternation" as "mechanisms," Andersen describes them as
bilingual and diglossic settings in which borrowing, transfer, and
interference may occur. Andersen proposes "metadialogue" corresponding
to Thomason's "negotiation," which he describes using the metaphor of
legislation: speakers in linguistic community entertain a motion and
decide whether the motion (accession, innovation) is carried
(actualized) or rejected in the community's norms. Crucially for
stratigraphy, Andersen points out that whether or not in the aftermath
it is possible to determine the nature of an accession -- borrowing,
transfer, interference -- the distinctions among the types still hold.


In Stratum and Shadow: A Genealogy of Stratigraphy Theories from the
Indo-European West (11 - 44), Bernard Mees treats the particular
burdens of European linguistic prehistory, in which nineteenth-century
(or earlier) preconceived notions of race and the knowledge of names of
earlier populations are found to have driven some theories of
substrata. Ironically, (invariably imperfect) historical documentation
is seen by non-Indo- Europeanists as a tacit advantage over doing
prehistorical reconstruction on non-literate traditions (cf. McConvell
and Smith on the prehistory of the indigenous languages of Australia,
p. 183). Mees identifies the break with nineteenth-century historicism,
which saw in the genealogical approach a past to a present system, in
the work of the WÃrter-und- Sachen theorists, who view the linguistic
past as past systems. Prior to the WÃrter-und- Sachen theorists,
however, stratigraphic approaches were seen in ethnic and cultural,
rather than linguistic, terms and, according to Mees, much of the
thinking about substratal issues in Western Europe goes back to the
work of the French Celticist Henri de Jubainville (1827 - 1910), the
originator of the notion of the Gaulish substratum to French. Many of
these theories, he asserts, have "little claim to a proper empirical
basis today as they were first proposed in light of analyses of the
now-outdated philological record available in the late nineteenth
century" (13). For example, the fronting of Latin /u/ to /ü/ and
lenition of voiceless stops are traditionally attributed to the Gaulish
substratum. Yet, fronting of /u/ is unattested in Continental Celtic
and Gaulish Latin; moreover, lenition in Gaulish is known to have been
partial and what earlier scholars had adduced as evidence of lenition
is ambiguous, attributable in part to the imprecision of Latin writing
practice. Mees convincingly shows these and other changes to be
ascribable more complex processes, in some cases to Sprachbund effects.
Regarding shadows, Mees treats some of the more tenuous attempts --
often confidently asserted, repeated and continued even in some
present-day work -- at identifying linkages between names of ancient
peoples (Ligurians, Venetes, Illyrians) and the extremely parsimonious
evidence available about "their" erstwhile languages. Moreover, these
ethnically motivated theories had some of their darkest days on both
sides of Nazi- era racial theory. (A good review of corresponding
Eastern-European linguistic- and archaeology-based ethnogenetic
theories may be found in Curta 2002.)

Henning Andersen's Slavic and the Indo- European Migrations (45 - 76)
first presents a disciplined though brief account of the multifarious
lexical accessions in Baltic and Slavic. The author proceeds from the
model of the relationship between Baltic and Slavic elaborated in
Andersen 1996, in which, though these Indo-European dialects may have
diverged at first, they later constituted a geographical continuum
subsequently obscured by the partial shift towards Slavic at the
expense of Baltic. The meat of the paper is in Andersen's attempt to
sort out five enduring and recalcitrant issues of Baltic and Slavic
historical phonology, each connected with an as yet inadequately
explained set of discrepancies in the reflexes: (i) Baltic st for
Proto-Indo- European (PIE) *k'; (ii) Slavic and Baltic velar stops for
PIE *k', *g'(h); (iii) Slavic and Baltic uR diphthongs for PIE syllable
*r; (iv) Slavic and Baltic e- for PIE *h2e- and *h3e-; (v) Slavic k-
for PIE *h2-, *h3-. Andersen wrings out of the fragmentary evidence
more than had been previously by relating the issues to one another, as
well as to other, better understood changes affecting related
phonological domains, a technique characteristic of several of his
earlier works. He concludes that the data suggest successive waves of
Indo-European settlers: (ii - v) may be attributable to centum contact,
(v) is possibly due to contact with pre-IE; (ii) and (iii) may include
centum and pre-satem dialect contact, a distinction that may be
irrelevant to (iv, v). The relative chronology of accessions are from
the most recent (i) to the earliest (v).

Bridget Drinka's paper, The Development of the Perfect in Indo-
European: Stratigraphic Evidence of Prehistoric Areal Influence (77 -
105), deals not with language contact but with issues of stratification
of linguistic innovation in Indo-European, including contact between
related dialects. The author illustrates this issue on basis of the
development of the perfect, its stratigraphic layering and areal
diffusion as in index to the geographical place of dialects emerging
from the proto-language. Through a close examination of Greek and
Sanskrit evidence, as well as a look at developments elsewhere, she
makes the case for a dynamic innovative area of contact between pre-
Indo-Iranian and pre-Greek in the east in the last stage of the
development of PIE. The overarching implication of the paper is that
PIE was not a uniform proto-language, but one that had already
developed dialect differentiation before its geographic dissolution.


Two articles on African problems are introduced by Christopher Ehret's
comments in Stratigraphy in African Historical Linguistics (107 - 114),
including the same author's article on Nilo-Saharan (see below). These
two articles present topics of the greatest complexity in the volume
both with respect to the multifaceted and numerous language contacts as
well as the lengthy time depths concerned. Ehret points out that these
stratigraphic studies indicate the more advanced state of the art in
east- as opposed to west-African historical linguistics.

Stratigraphy and Prehistory: Bantu Zone F (115 - 134) by B.F.Y.P.
Masele and Derek Nurse deals with the enormous complexity of
establishing genetic relationships among a subgroup of Bantu languages
that had migrated into an area of east-central Africa and undergone
millennia of contacts with non- Bantu languages and each other. The
complexity is compounded by the lack of reliable data on many of the
languages and dialects, a shortcoming that has only recently begun to
be ameliorated. Using lexicostatistics and detailed analysis of key
phonological processes, the authors establish a core genetic grouping
for Bantu Zone F, consisting of five or, possibly, six of the languages
and exclude some others. The analysis supports, by and large, the
scenario sketched in an earlier work by Ehret 1998.

In Language Contacts in Nilo-Saharan Prehistory (135 - 157) Christopher
Ehret examines the contacts of the Rub languages, a subset of Nilo-
Saharan languages once spoken in southern Sudan, northeastern Uganda,
and parts of Kenya and Tanzania, over a period of five to six
millennia. Parallel to the problems inherent in the Bantu problem of
the previous chapter, part of the difficulty here is in teasing out the
various strains of Nilo- Saharan in contact with the Rub subgroup. The
author summarizes the results of a complex, but relatively clear (as
compared to those in the Bantu problem) set of interrelated sound
changes in the relevant language groups in a Stammbaum-like diagram of
the relationships (a diagram mislabeled as "Figure 1" but referred to
in the text as "Figure 5" [pp. 150 - 151]).

Southeast Asia

Anthony Diller's paper on Evidence for Austroasiatic Strata in Thai
(159 - 175) investigates the interaction between Mon Khmer and other
Austroasiatic languages with Thai in an attempt to stratify these
contacts. Because of the protracted periods of contact it is difficult
to distinguish between direct contact and Sprachbund phenomena. For
this reason, the paper attempts to establish an eclectic and
probabilistic methodological approach to Thai stratigraphy. The author
relies upon available inscriptional and lexicographical resources to
develop distributional hypotheses for further testing. As in several
other papers in the collection, the testing involves correlation with
extra-linguistic evidence.


In Patrick McConvell and Michael Smith's paper, Millers and Mullers:
The Archaeo- Linguistic Stratigraphy of Technological Change in
Holocene Australia (177 - 200), the authors argue for a tight
interdisciplinary cooperation between archaeology and linguistics in
tackling language reconstruction of preliterate society at several
thousand years before the present. In doing so they highlight recent
work that they have done on both the archaeology (Smith) and
linguistics (McConvell) of seed-grinding technology as this technology
improved and diffused throughout the native population of Australia.


Hans Schmidt's Loanword Strata in Rotuman (201 - 240) studies the
stratification of loans into Rotuman, a Central Pacific language of
Oceanic, which, owing to its complex morphophonology and peculiar
sociolinguistic situation poses special challenges to historical
reconstruction. Through close analysis of phonology, morphology, and
historical (including mythological) information, the author builds a
stratigraphy of loans into Rotuman from the thirteenth century to the
present, associating the various source languages with the semantic
fields that they contributed and the era relevant to the contact (e.g.,
Eastern U'vean corresponding to social stratification vocabulary,
chiefly language and titles, dating to the Tongan empire, from the
sixteenth to the beginning of the nineteenth century).


J. Marshall Unger's paper, Substratum and Adstratum in Prehistoric
Japanese (241 - 258), discusses the position of Japanese with respect
to Korean, which has implications also for a potential widening of the
Altaic family or an even larger grouping. Unger argues for a careful
and patient bottom-up approach to grouping (characteristic of his own
and Samuel E. Martin's view of the relationship of Korean and Japanese)
and against top-down theories (such as those of Roy Andrew Miller and
Joseph H. Greenberg). Unger points out that the main problem with
positing a Japanese-Korean common starting point is that the two
languages have fewer cognates than would be expected for a relatively
short 2,300-year separation. The author's solution is an adstratum
hypothesis. He proposes that Proto-Korean-Japanese (his proto-Samhan-
Wa) entered the southern Korean peninsula and Northern Kyushu around
the third century B.C., perhaps from the Chinese coast between the
mouth of the Yangzi and the Shandong peninsula. This population
linguistically assimilated the previous populations of the two areas as
they spread southward in the peninsula and the island, respectively. In
the Korean peninsula the languages of the Koguryo and Puyo (who
established the kingdom of Paekche), which have affinity with Tungusic,
were influential both in Korea and, as newcomers, in Japan. Prestige
lexical items from the language of the newcomers displaced much native
vocabulary in Japan, but not in Korea, parallel to the partial
displacement by French of Anglo-Saxon lexis. For this reason, many
proto-Korean-Japanese words that were preserved in Korean are displaced
in Japanese. The stratigraphic evidence for this scenario is found in
the matching of etyma in the following way: a special set of Korean-
Japanese etymologies involve an Old Japanese word with a limited
distribution or semantic range lacking a cognate in Korean. These etyma
match words known from vestigial evidence of the languages of Koguryo
or Paekche on the one hand, or Tungusic languages on the other.


In Uto-Aztecan in the Linguistic Stratigraphy of Mesoamerican
Prehistory (259 - 288), Karen Dakin uses linguistic stratigraphic
methods to tease out evidence for whether or not Uto- Aztecan,
especially Nahuatl, was relatively early or late arrival into Meso-
America. In particular, the author examines the special features of
Nahuatl word-formation, especially compounding, as the words were
borrowed or calqued into Meso-American languages. It is found that the
presence of early or even pre-Nahuatl forms, preceding known sound
changes within the language, points to earlier contact than had been
suspected by archaeologists and ethnohistorians.

A Language Index (289 - 292) is provided at the end.


The volume presents excellent contributions examining several major
world areas, affording a glimpse into the problems, tasks, and relative
successes in applying stratigraphic techniques to language contact
situations in prehistory. The contributions demonstrate that linguistic
stratigraphic techniques can be successfully integrated with
archaeological and other extra- linguistic to maximize the robustness
of explanation, though in virtually all the papers the linguistic
approach is shown to be superior. It strikes this reviewer that the
relative dearth of historical textual evidence in non-Indo-European
families ratchets up the level of ingenuity brought to bear on the
problem of prehistoric contact. Researchers of linguistic prehistory
will find this volume very useful to glean not only the commonalities
and best-practices used to extract the most explanation out of complex
and often recalcitrant prehistorical linguistic data, but also learn a
few new tricks by looking over the fence at what researchers in
specialized areas have developed to deal with the particular (arguably,
unique) complexities in their own backyards.


Andersen, Henning. 1996. Reconstructing Prehistorical Dialects. Initial
Vowels in Slavic and Baltic (= Trends in Linguistics, Studies and
Monographs 91). Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Curta, Florin, 2002. From Kossina to Bromley: Ethnogenesis in Slavic
Archaeology. Andrew Gillett, ed. On Barbarian Identity. Critical
Approaches to Ethnicity in the Early Middle Ages (= Studies in the
Early Middle Ages, v. 4): 201 - 218. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols.

Ehret, Christopher. 1998. An African Classical Age. Charlottesville:
University Press of Virginia.

Thomason, Sarah G. 1997. On Mechanisms of Interference. Language and
its Ecology. Essays in Memory of Einar Haugen. Stig Eliasson & Ernst
Hakon Jahr, eds: 181 - 208. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Marc L. Greenberg (UCLA Ph.D., 1990), Professor and Chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Kansas, specializes in Slavic historical linguistics and dialectology. He is a co-founding editor of Slovenski jezik / Slovene Linguistic Studies. His book, A Historical Phonology of the Slovene Language (2000) in the Carl Winter series, was recently translated into Slovene and published by Aristej Publishing Co., Maribor.