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INDO-EUROPEAN LANGUAGES

At 60 the systems crossed, and 60 was a very characteristic element in Assyrian numeration, whence come our minutes and seconds and many other units.[1]

Even before Latham a Belgian geologist, d’Omalius d’Halloy, in 1848 had raised objections to the theory of the Asiatic origin of the Indo-Europeans, but his views remained unheeded. In 1864 he brought three questions before the Société d’anthropologie of Paris: (1) What are the proofs of the Asiatic origin of Europeans? (2) Have not inflectional languages passed from Europe to Asia rather than from Asia to Europe? (3) Are not the speakers of Celtic languages the descendants of the autochthonous peoples of Western Europe? (Reinach, op. cit. p. 38). Broca in replying to d’Omalius emphasized the fact which has been too often forgotten in this controversy, that race and language are not necessarily identical. In 1868 Professor Benfey of Göttingen argued for the south-east of Europe as the original home, while Ludwig Geiger in 1871 placed it in Germany, a view which in later times has had not a few supporters.

Truth to tell, however, we are not yet ready to fix the site of the original home. Before this can be done, many factors as yet imperfectly known must be more completely ascertained. The prehistoric conditions of Northern, Western, Central and South-eastern Europe have been carefully investigated, but important new discoveries are still continually being made. Investigation of other parts of Europe is less complete, and prehistoric conditions in Asia are at present very imperfectly known. In Western Europe two prehistoric races are known, the palaeolithic and the neolithic. The former, distinguished by their great skill in drawing figures of animals, especially the horse, the reindeer, and the mammoth, preceded the period of the Great Ice Age which rendered Northern Europe to the latitude of London and Berlin uninhabitable for a period, the length of which, as of all geological ages, cannot definitely be ascertained. For the present purpose, however, this is of less importance, because it is not claimed that the Indo-European stock is of so great antiquity. But when the ice again retreated it must have been long before Northern Europe could have maintained a population of human beings. The disappearance of the surface ice must have been followed by a long period when ice still remained underground, and the surface was occupied by swamps and barren tundras, as Northern Siberia is now. When a human population once more occupied Northern Europe it is impossible to estimate in years.

The problem may be attacked from the opposite direction. How long would it have taken for the Indo-European stock to spread from its original home to its modern areas of occupation? Some recent writers say that it is unnecessary to carry the stock back farther than 2500 B.C.—a period when the civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia were already ancient. Wherever the original home was situated, this date is probably fixed too low. The discussion, moreover, is in danger not only of moving in one vicious circle but in two. (a) The term “Indo-European stock” necessarily implies race, but why might not the language have been from the earliest times at which we can trace it the language of a mixed race? (b) It is usual to assume that the Indo-European stock was tall and blond, in fact much as the classical writers describe the early Germans. But the truth of this hypothesis is much more difficult to demonstrate. In most countries known to the ancients where blond hair prevailed, at the present day dark or brown hair is much more in evidence. Moreover the colour of fair hair often varies from childhood to middle life, and the flaxen hair of youth is very frequently replaced by a much darker shade in the adult. It has been often pointed out that many of Homer’s heroes are xanthoi, and it is frequently argued that ξανθός means blond. This, however, is anything but certain, even when Vacher de Lapouge has collected all the passages in ancient writers which bear upon the subject. When Diodorus (v. 32) wishes to describe the children of the Galatae, by whom apparently he means the Germans, he says that their hair as children is generally white, but as they grow up it is assimilated to the colour of their fathers. The ethnological argument as to long-headed and short-headed races (dolichocephalic and brachycephalic) seems untrustworthy, because in countries described as dolichocephalic short skulls abound and vice versa. Moreover this classification, to which much more attention has been devoted than its inventor Retzius ever intended, is in itself unsatisfactory. The relation between the length and breadth of the head without consideration of the total size is clearly an unsatisfactory criterion. It is true that to the mathematician ¾ or 68 or 912 are of identical value, but, if it be also generally true that mental and physical energy are dependent on the size and weight of the brain, then the mere mathematical relation between length and breadth is of less importance than the size of the quantities. Anthropologists appear now to recognize this themselves.

The argument from physical geography seems more important. But here also no certain answer can be obtained till more is known of the conditions, in early times, of the eastern part of the area. According to Ratzel[2] the Caspian was once very much larger than it is now, and to the north of it there extended a great area of swamp, which made it practically impossible for the Indo-European race to have crossed north of the Caspian from either continent to the other. At an early period the Caspian and Black Sea were connected, and the Sea of Marmora and the Dardanelles were represented by a river which entered the Aegean at a point near the island of Andros. While the northern Aegean was still land divided only by a river, it is clear that migration from south-eastern Europe to Asia Minor, or reversely, might have taken place with ease. Even in much later times the Dardanelles have formed no serious barrier to migration in either direction. At the dawn of history, Thracian tribes crossed it and founded, it seems, the Phrygian and Armenian stock in Asia Minor; the Gauls at a later time followed the same road, as did Alexander the Great a generation earlier. At the end of the middle ages, Asia sent by way of the Dardanelles the invading Turks into Europe. The Greeks, a nation of seafarers, on the other hand reached Asia directly across the Aegean, using the islands, as it were, as stepping-stones.

Though much more attention has been devoted to the subject by recent writers than was earlier the practice, it is doubtful whether migration by sea has even now been assigned its full importance. The most mysterious people of antiquity, the Pelasgians, do not seem to be in all cases the same stock, as their name appears merely to mean “the people of the sea,” Πελασγοἰ representing an earlier πελαγς-κοι, where πελαγς is the weak form of the stem of πέλαγος, “sea,” and -κοι the ending so frequent in the names of peoples. A parallel to the sound changes may be seen in μίσγω, for *μίγ-σκω, by the side of μίγ-νυμι. As time goes on, evidence seems more and more to tend to confirm the truth of the great migrations by sea, recorded by Herodotus, of Lydians to Etruria, of Eteocretans both to east and west. An argument in favour of the original Indo-Europeans being seated in north-western Germany has been developed by G. Kossinna (Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 1902, pp. 161-222) from the forms and ornamentation of ancient pottery. It has certainly not been generally received with favour, and as Kossinna himself affirms that the classification of prehistoric pottery is still an undeveloped science, his theory is clearly at present unequal to the weight of such a superstructure as he would build upon it. As the allied sciences are not prepared with an answer, it is necessary to fall back upon the Indo-European languages themselves. The attempt has often been made to ascertain both the position of the original home and the stage of civilization which the original community had reached from a consideration of the vocabulary for plants and animals common to the various languages of the Indo-European family. But the experience of recent centuries warns us to be wary in the application of this argument. If we cut off all past history and regard the language of the present day as we have perforce to regard our earliest records, two of the words most widely disseminated amongst the Indo-European people of Europe are tobacco and potato. Without historical records it would be impossible for us to discover that these words in their earliest European form had been borrowed from the Caribbean Indians. Most languages tend to adopt with an imported product the name given to it by its producers, though frequently misunderstanding arises, as in the case of the two words mentioned, the potato being properly the yam, and tobacco being properly the pipe, while petum or petun (cp. petunia) was the plant.[3]

The first treatise in which an attempt was made to work out the primitive Indo-European civilisation in detail was Adolphe Pictet’s Les Origines indo-européennes ou les Aryas primitifs (1859-1863). The idyllic conditions in which, according to Pictet, early Indo-European man subsisted were accepted and extended by many enthusiastic successors. The father, the protector of the family (pater from , protect), and the mother (mater from , to produce) were surrounded by their children (Skt. putra), whose name implied that they kept everything clean and neat. The daughter was the milkmaid (Skt. duhitā from duh, milk), while the brother (Skt. bhrātār), derived from the root of ferre, “bear,” was the natural protector of his sister, whose name, with some hesitation, is decided to mean “she who dwells with her brother,” the notion of brother and sister marriage being, however, summarily rejected (ii. p. 365). The uncle and aunt are a second father and mother to the family, and for this reason nepos, Skt. napāt, is both nephew and grandson. The life of such families was pastoral but not nomad; there was a farmstead where the women were busied with housewifery and butter-making, while the men drove their flocks afield. The ox, the horse, the sheep, the goat and the pig were domesticated as well as the dog and the farmyard fowls, but it was in oxen that their chief wealth consisted. Hence a cow was offered to an honoured guest, cows were the object of armed raids upon their neighbours, and when a member of the family died, a cow was killed to accompany him in the next world. Even the phenomena of nature to their

  1. For the history of the controversy see the excellent summary in Salomon Reinach’s L’Origine des Aryens: Historie d’une controverse (1892). Max Müller’s latest views are contained in his Biographies of Words and the Home of the Aryas (1888). See Schmidt’s Die Urheimat der Indogermanen und das europäische Zahlsystem (1890).
  2. “Geographische Prüfung der Tatsachen über den Ursprung der Völker Europas” (Berichte der k. sächsischen Ges. d. Wissenschaften, 1900, pp. 34 ff.).
  3. See the essay on “Evolution and the Science of Language,” in Darwin and Modern Science (1909), p. 524 f.