LINGUIST List 29.3486

Tue Sep 11 2018

Confs: Historical Linguistics/Australia

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Date: 10-Sep-2018
From: Alexander Savelyev <>
Subject: Agriculture-driven Language Spread in Northeast Asia
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Agriculture-driven Language Spread in Northeast Asia

Date: 01-Jul-2019 - 05-Jul-2019
Location: Canberra, ACT, Australia
Contact: Martine Robbeets
Contact Email: < click here to access email >

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics

Meeting Description:

This panel adresses the linguistic prehistory of North and East Asia, integrating results from the disciplines of archaeology and genetics with linguistic evidence. Northeast Asia encompasses Mongolia, Northeast China, the Russian Far East, the Korean peninsula and the Japanese Islands. It is home to a variety of different language families, such as Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Yukaghiric, Amuric (Nivkh), Ainuic and Transeurasian. The Transeurasian languages are a group of geographically adjacent, structurally homogeneous and --in some linguists' view (Starostin et al. 2003, Robbeets 2005, 2015)-- genealogically related languages including Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, Koreanic and Japanic languages. Ainu and Nivkh have been regarded as ''marginal'' pockets of earlier structural types whose lineages became isolated before the large-scale language spreads in Eurasia (Fortescue 2013, Bickel et al. 2016, Nichols 2011)

Our key objective is to understand the wide-spread distribution of the Transeurasian languages as opposed to other language families in North and East Asia and to investigate to what extent agriculture impacted the spread of these languages. To this end, we welcome linguistic research into the classification of these language families, their cultural reconstruction, the location of their original homelands, the estimation of their timedepth, the motivation of their break-up, the reconstruction of their dispersal routes and the identification of early contacts among neighboring families. We further hope to bring together experts in linguistics with archaeologists and geneticists and motivate them to leave the comfort zone of their own discipline in order to enhance interdisciplinary collaboration.
In the panel description (see the program), we propose six basic papers, but we hope that other colleagues will be inspired to submit abstracts and join our panel. All presentations are to be submitted through the general ICHL paper submission process ( For general inquiries about conference, send email to the ICHL24 organizers at:


1. The speakers of Transeurasian: pastoralists or farmers?
Martine Robbeets
The Farming Language Dispersal Hypothesis posits that many of the world's major language families owe their present-day distribution to the adoption of agriculture by their early speakers. Especially for regions such as Northern Asia, where farming is only marginally viable, this claim has been seriously called into question. This paper investigates to what extent agriculture impacted the early dispersals of the Transeurasian language family. It challenges the traditional ''Pastoralist Hypothesis'' that identifies the primary dispersals of the Transeurasian languages with nomadic expansions starting around 2000 BC in the eastern Steppe (Menges 1977, Miller 1990, Dybo 2013) and argues that they were rather driven by agriculture. Integrating, archaeology, genetics and linguistics in a single approach, this presentation serves as an introduction to our panel and sets the scope of the papers to be presented.

2. Agricultural vocabulary in Turkic: contact vs. inheritance
Alexander Savelyev
The Turkic languages display extensive pastoralist vocabularies, which reflect the predominantly nomadic lifestyle of the Turkic-speaking peoples in the last two thousand years. Agriculture-related terms are less abundant in the Turkic languages but still numerous, including terms for cereals and other crops as well as agricultural tools and basic agricultural techniques. This paper will address agriculture-related lexical items that can be reconstructed to the Proto-Turkic stage and focus on the distinction between the effects of borrowing and inheritance. Some agricultural terms will be identified as Wanderwörter reflecting ancient language contact relations in the Central Asian region while others show no signs of foreign or otherwise secondary origin and a few can be traced to an earlier proto-Altaic - and, further, proto-Transeurasian - stage.

3. A Bayesian perspective on the manner of dispersal of the Transeurasian languages
Nataliia Neshcheret
Although the genealogcal relatedness of the Transeurasian languages is gradually gaining acceptance in the field, there is no consensus on the internal structure of the unity under the assumption that these languages share the genealogical affiliation. By applying Bayesian tree-sampling techniques and phylogenetic comparative methods to 228 abstract structural features coded for 45 Transeurasian languages, I derive the internal structure of the unity and investigate the manner of the dispersal of the Transeurasian languages. The resulting topology suggests that the Japono-Koreanic and Altaic (Tungusic, Mongolic, Turkic) languages separated as two branches first, followed by the split of the Tungusic languages from the Altaic ancestor. The amount of conflicting signal in the data indicates that the initial dispersal was relatively rapid and that languages stayed in contact after the divergence.

4. Genetic perspective on the Neolithic populations in Northeast Asia
Ning Chao
Eastern Asia is home to many different language families as well as to the world's most important crops, including rice, soybean and millet, and therefore yields an interesting area for population genetic studies. Both linguistic and archaeological evidence suggests population contact between different populations within this region. This paper will focus on the population prehistory of Northeast Asia. It will present sequenced genomes of ancient samples from the West Liao River Valley, a probable homeland of millet farming, and integrate them with ancient DNA samples from Korea, Japan as well as that from Russia Far East. By aligning the genetic evidence with linguistic and archaeological findings, this paper will show that the introduction of millet-farming technologies and the alleged dispersal of the Transeurasian languages was combined with genetic exchange.

5. From the West Liao River valley to the Korean Peninsula: Neolithic contacts examined by archaeological, genetic and linguistic evidence
Tao Li
This paper investigates the evidence for Neolithic contacts between the West Liao River valley, a center of origin of millet agriculture and the Korean Peninsula. From the archaeological perspective, it examines correlations between subsistence strategies, ritual and ideology, non-food production activities among both regions in the period between 8000 and 3000 BP. From the genetic perspective, it reviews evidence from ancient human DNA for links between the West Liao River valley and the Korean Peninusla. From the linguistic perspective, it integrates recent views on the location and time-depth of proto-Korean and on its separation from Japano-Koreanic. Integrating the different lines of evidence, this paper suggests a possible route for dispersal for millet from the West Liao River valley to the Korean Penisula and proposes that the introduction of millet may be linked to linguistic spread and genetic exchange.

6. ''Farming Avoidance Language Dispersals'', with special reference to Transeurasian
Mark Hudson
This paper suggests an extension of the farming/language dispersals hypothesis based on the common tendency for farmers in Bronze Age and later state societies to developing subsistence strategies which avoided or reduced excessive state control and taxation. This argument will be developed using examples from the Transeurasian language family. Although Transeurasian-speaking groups are characterized by a wide diversity of subsistence economies, it will be argued that many of these economies share a concern with escaping the state. Farming avoidance language dispersals are posited to be a widespread phenomenon in the post-Neolithic world.

Page Updated: 11-Sep-2018