Journal : Alternate History

The Indo-European Homeland

Presentation of evidence for Indo-European homeland continues …


Erdosy speaks of the “disciplinary divide” between linguistics and archaeology. And it is Michael Witzel whom Erdosy pits against the archaeologists whose papers are included in the volume : “Placed against Witzel’s contribution, the paper by J.Shaffer and D. Lichtenstein will illustrate the gulf still separating archaeology and linguistics.”

Witzel’s papers in this particular volume might not represent the entire linguistic evidence but, since they do take on the archaeologist’s argument, let us examine what he presents. According to Erdosy, “M.  Witzel begins by stressing the quality of linguistic (and historical) data obtainable from the Rgveda, along with the potential of a study of linguistic stratification, contact and convergence.  Next, the evidence of place-names, above all hydronomy, is scrutinised, followed by an evaluation of some of the most frequently invoked models of language change in light of this analysis.”

We have already examined Witzel’s “models of language change” by which he seeks to explain away the lack of archaeological evidence.  We will now examine “the evidence of place-names, above all hydronomy”, on the basis of which Witzel apparently contests the claims of the archaeologists and proves the Aryan invasion.

Witzel does not have much to say about place-names.  He points out that most of the place-names in England (all names ending in -don, -chester, -ton, -ham, -ey, -wick, etc., like London, Winchester, Uppington, Downham, Westrey, Lerwick, etc.) and in America (like Massachussetts, Wachussetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Chicago, etc) are remnants of older languages which were spoken in these areas. But, far from finding similar evidence in respect of India, Witzel is compelled to admit : “In South Asia, relatively few pre-Indo-Aryan place-names survive in the North; however, many more in central and southern India.  Indo-Aryan place-names are generally not very old, since the towns themselves are relatively late.”

Witzel clearly evades the issue : he refers to “relatively few pre-Indo-Aryan place names” in the North, but judiciously refrains from actually naming them or specifying their count. He insinuates that there are “many more” pre-Indo-Aryan place-names in Central and South India, but this is clearly a misleading statement : by Central India, he obviously means the Austric-language speaking areas, and by South India, he definitely means the Dravidian-language speaking areas, and perhaps other areas close to these.  So, if these areas have Austric or Dravidian place-names respectively, does it prove anything ?

And, finally, he suggests that the paucity (or rather absence) of any “pre-Indo-Aryan” place-names in the North is because the towns concerned “are relatively late” (ie. came into being after the Aryan influx).  This excuse is rather strange : the Indus people, alleged to be “pre-Indo-Aryans” did have towns and cities, but no alleged earlier place-names have survived, while the American Indians (in the U.S.A.) did not have large towns and cities, but their place-names have survived in large numbers.

Witzel goes into more detail in respect of the hydronomes (i.e. names of rivers), but the results of his investigation, and even his own comments on them, are intriguing. According to Witzel : “A better case for the early linguistic and ethnic history of South Asia can be made by investigating the names of rivers.  In Europe river-names were found to reflect the languages spoken before the influx of Indo-European speaking populations.  They are thus older than c. 4500-2500 BC (depending on the date of the spread of Indo-European languages in various parts of Europe).  It would be fascinating to gain a similar vantage point for the prehistory of South Asia.”

It is indeed fascinating.  Witzel finds to his chagrin, that “in northern India, rivers in general have early Sanskrit names from the Vedic period, and names derived from the daughter languages of Sanskrit later on.”Witzel tries to introduce the non-Aryan element into the picture : “River names in northern India are thus principally Sanskrit, with few indications of Dravidian, MuNDa or Tibeto-Burmese names.  However, Kosala, with its uncharacteristic –s– after –o– may be Tibeto-Burmese (Sanskrit rules would demand KoSala or KoSala, a corrected form that is indeed adopted in the Epics).” Likewise, “there has been an almost complete Indo-Aryanisation in northern India; this has progressed much less in southern India and in the often inaccessible parts of central India.  In the northwest there are only a few exceptions, such as the names of the rivers GangA, SutudrI and perhaps KubhA (Mayrhofer, 1956-1976).”

Thus, there are four river-names which he tries to connect with “pre-Indo-Aryan” languages.  But three of them, Kosala, SutudrI and KubhA are clearly Indo-European names (the hairsplitting about the letter –s– in Kosala is a typical “linguistic” ploy), and only GaNgA is generally accepted as a possible non-Indo-European name.

But the answer to this is given by Witzel himself : “Rivers often carry different names, sometimes more than two, along their courses.  Even in a homogenous, monolingual country, such as Japan, this can be the case as names change as soon as the river passes through a major mountain range.  In South Asia, to quote one well-known example, the BhAgIrathI and AlaknandA become the GaNgA.  This increases the probability of multiple names from various languages for one and the same river of which only one may have survived in our sources.”It may be noted that the Rig Veda itself refers to the river as both GaNgA and JahnAvI.

Witzel cannot escape the “evidence of hydronomy” as he calls it, and he tries to explain it away by suggesting that “there has been an almost complete Indo-Aryanisation” of the river-names in northern India. But his explanation rings hollow : “The Indo-Aryan influence, whether due to actual settlement, acculturation, or, if one prefers, the substitution of Indo-Aryan names for local ones, was powerful enough from early on to replace local names, in spite of the well-known conservatism of river-names. This is especially surprising in the area once occupied by the Indus civilization, where one would have expected the survival of earlier names, as has been the case in Europe and the Near East.  At the least, one would expect a palimpsest, as found in New England, with the name of the State of Massachussetts next to the Charles River, formerly called the Massachussetts River, and such new adaptations as Stony Brook, Muddy Creek, Red River, etc. next to the adaptations of Indian names such as the Mississippi and the Missouri.  The failure to preserve old hydronomes even in the Indus Valley (with a few exceptions noted above) indicates the extent of the social and political collapse experienced by the local population.”

Apart from anything else, does this last bit at all harmonize with the claim made elsewhere in the same volume to explain the lack of archaeological-anthropological evidence of any invasion, that the “Indo-Aryanisation” of the northwest was a “gradual and complex” rather than a “cataclysmic” event ?

Witzel starts out with the intention of pitting the linguistic evidence of place-names and river-names against the evidence of archaeology; and he ends up having to try and argue against, or explain away, this linguistic evidence, since it only confirms the archaeological evidence.

The long and short of the evidence of place-names and river-names is as follows :

The place-names and river-names in Europe, to this day, represent pre-Indo-European languages spoken in Europe before 2500 BC.  The same is the case with Armenia : “among the numerous personal and place-names handed down to us from Armenia up to the end of the Assyrian age, there is absolutely nothing Indo-European.” And with Greece and Anatolia : “numerous place-names… show that Indo-Europeans did not originate in Greece. The same can be said for Italy and Anatolia.”

On the other hand, northern India is the only place where place-names and river-names are Indo-European right from the period of the Rigveda (a text which Max Müller refers to as “the first word spoken by the Aryan man”) with no traces of any alleged earlier non-Indo-European names.

Witzel’s cavalier attitude towards this evidence is typically how Western scholars react to inconvenient facts in respect of the original homeland of Indo-European : he notes that the evidence is negative, finds it “surprising” that it should be so, makes an offhand effort to explain it away, and then moves on.

And later on, in his second paper included in the volume, he actually refers complacently to the whole matter : “in view of the discussion of hydronomy and place-names in the previous paper, it is also interesting that the Indo-Aryans could not, apparently, pronounce local names.But, like it or not, the evidence of place-names and river-names is a very important factor in locating the Indo-European homeland in any particular area.  And India alone, meets the criteria to test any hypothesis in this regard.  

We shall next present the “Literary Evidence” …

through the next few posts in the series !

Please refer and links therein for previous adaptations from the most brilliant, insightful analysis ever undertaken …

by Shrikant G. Talageri available @


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