Concluding Part of the series of articles on Indo-European Homeland studies…
The second significant aspect of the study of the proto-language, on the basis of which an Indian homeland was rejected by the linguists, was that Sanskrit, in some respects, represents a phonetically highly evolved form of the original Proto-Indo-European : thus, to quote the most common factor cited, Sanskrit is a “Satem” language and in fact, alongwith Avestan, the most highly palatalised of the Satem languages.
The original Proto-Indo-European language, it is cited, was a “Kentum” language and the Satem branches evolved by a process of palatalization of original velars (k, g) into palatals (c, j) and into sibilants (s, S). The Kentum branches thus represent an older form of Indo-European, and all the Kentum branches are found only in Europe – or so it was thought until the discovery of Tokharian in Chinese Turkestan. But this discovery was quickly sought to be absorbed into the western homeland theory by postulating an early migration of the Tokharians from the west into the east.
However, the phenomenon of palatalization, as also various other phonetic evolutions from the Indo-European original, are now accepted as innovations which took place in the heartland of the Proto-Indo-European homeland after the migrations of early branches which retained the original features.
As Winn puts it: “Linguistic innovations that take place at the core may never find their way out to peripheral areas, hence dialects spoken on the fringe tend to preserve archaic features that have long since disappeared from the mainstream.” Therefore, the fact that Sanskrit represents a phonetically evolved form of the Proto-Indo-European language, far from being a negative factor in respect of the idea of an Indian homeland, is a positive one.
In fact, there are three factors, in respect of archaisms, which add up to make a strong case for an Indian homeland :
- 1. Various evolved phonetic features in Sanskrit, as we have seen, particularly in the matter of palatalization of original velars, definitely point towards India as the original homeland.
2. At the same time, in respect of vocabulary, Sanskrit is the most archaic or representative language in the entire Indo-European family. As Griffith puts it in the preface to his translation of the Rig Veda, “we see the roots and shoots of the languages of Greek and Latin, of Kelt, Teuton and Slavonian… the science of comparative philology could hardly have existed without the study of Sanskrit…”
The fact that Sanskrit has retained the largest number of Proto-Indo-European words, even when its phonetic and grammatical features continued to evolve, is strong evidence of an Indian homeland : the language of a migrating group may retain many of its original phonetic or grammatical features, even when these features are lost or evolved away in the language still spoken in the original area, but it is likely to lose or replace a substantial part of its original vocabulary (though it may retain many tell-a-tale archaic words) as compared to the language still spoken back home.
Warren Cowgill, in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, points out that this was the case with most of the ancient Indo-European languages: “In prehistoric times, most branches of Indo-European were carried into territories presumably or certainly occupied by speakers of non-Indo-European languages… it is reasonable to suppose that these languages had some effect on the speech of the newcomers. For the lexicon, this is indeed demonstrable in Hittite and Greek, at least. It is much less clear, however, that these non-Indo-European languages affected significantly the sounds and grammar of the Indo-European languages that replaced them.”
The same was the case with the modern languages : “When Indo-European languages have been carried within historical times into areas occupied by speakers of other languages, they have generally taken over a number of loan-words… however, there has been very little effect on sounds and grammar.”
- 3. Finally, and most significantly, we have the fact that within India itself certain isolated languages have retained archaisms already lost even in Vedic Sanskrit. There is no way in which the presence of these languages, which definitely represent remnants of extinct branches of Indo-European other than Indo-Aryan or even the hypothetical “Indo-Iranian”, can be incorporated into any theory of migration of the Indo- Aryans from South Russia to India.
There are two such languages, one of which is now accepted by the linguists as a remnant of an extinct Kentum branch of Indo-European languages, but in respect of the other, detailed research is necessary from a point of view hitherto unsuspected :
a. The BangANI language, spoken in Garhwal region of the western Himalayas was brought into dramatic highlight by Clans Peter Zoller, a German linguist, in 1987 when he announced the discovery of the remnants of an ancient Kentum language in the older layers of this language.
Zoller pointed out that BangANI contained three historical layers : “The youngest and most extensive layer is where BangANI shares many similarities with the Indo-Aryan languages of Himachal Pradesh and Garhwal. The second is an older layer of Sanskrit words where one can observe a strikingly large number of words that belongs to the oldest layer of Sanskrit, the Sanskrit of the Vedas. The third and the oldest layer in BangANI is formed by words that have no connection with Sanskrit but with the Kentum branch of Indo-European languages.”
By 1989, Zoller presented a full-fledged case, which created a furore in linguistic circles. An immediate reaction to it was a joint project to examine Zoller’s claims, led by an Indian linguist Suhnu Ram Sharma and a Dutch linguist George van Driem. According to these scholars, “Zoller’s BangANI findings not only had far-reaching implications for our understanding of the prehistoric migrations of ancient Indo-Europeans, they also appeared to violate much of what is received knowledge in historical linguistics.” Hence : “In 1994, we conducted fieldwork in order to verify these remarkable findings. The results of our investigation are presented here. On the basis of these results, it is our contention that no Kentum Indo-European remnants exist in the BangANI language.”
Not only did these linguists reject Zoller’s findings, but they also leveled serious allegations regarding Zoller’s professional integrity : “In view of our findings, and in view of the manner in which Zoller presented his, the question which remains for the reader to resolve in his own mind is whether Zoller has fallen prey to the wishful etymologizing of transcriptional errors or whether he has deliberately perpetrated a hoax upon the academic community. In other words, was the joke on Zoller, or was the joke on us ?”
The above is an example of the vicious reaction any serious scholarly study that supports the Indian homeland theory evokes among scholars inimical to the idea.
But the matter did not end there. Zoller took up the challenge and issued a strong and detailed rejoinder to the allegations of van Driem and Sharma. Even more significant was a detailed counter study by Anvita Abbi and Hans Hock which not only conclusively demolished their “refutation” of Zoller’s findings, and conclusively proved that BangANI does indeed contain the remnants of an extinct Kentum language, but also clearly showed that it was Suhnu Ram Sharma and George van Driem who had attempted to deliberately perpetrate a hoax on the academic community.
The long and short of it is that BangANI is now accepted by linguists all over the world as a language whose oldest layers contain remnants of an archaic Kentum language, a circumstance which is totally incongruous with any theory of Indo-Aryan immigrations into India.
b. The Sinhalese language of Sri Lanka is generally accepted as a regular, if long separated and isolated, member of the “Indo-Aryan” branch of Indo-European languages; and no linguist studying Sinhalese appears, so far, to have suggested any other status for the language.
However, apart from the fact that Sinhalese has been heavily influenced not only by Sanskrit and Pali, and by Dravidian and the near-extinct Vedda, the language contains many features which are not easily explainable on the basis of Indo-Aryan.
Wilhelm Geiger, in his study of Sinhalese, points out that the phonology of the language “is full of intricacies… We sometimes meet with a long vowel when we expect a short one and vice versa”, and further : “In morphology there are formations, chiefly in the verbal inflexion, which seem to be peculiar to Sinhalese and to have no parallels in other Indo-Aryan dialects… and I must frankly avow that I am unable to solve all the riddles arising out of the grammar of the Sinhalese language.”
However, not having any particular reason to suspect that Sinhalese could be anything but an “Indo-Aryan” language descended from Sanskrit, Geiger does not carry out any detailed research to ascertain whether or not Sinhalese is indeed in a class with the “other Indo-Aryan dialects”. In fact, referring to an attempt by an earlier scholar, Gnana Prakasar, to connect the Sinhalese word eLi (light) with the Greek hElios (sun), Geiger rejects the suggestion as “the old practice of comparing two or more words of the most distant languages merely on the basis of similar sounds, without any consideration for chronology, phonological principles or the historical development of words and forms…”
M.W.S. de Silva, in his detailed study of Sinhalese, points out that “Indo-Aryan (or Indic) research began with an effort devoted primarily to classifying Indian languages and tracing their phonological antecedents historically back to Vedic and Classical Sanskrit… Early Sinhalese studies have followed the same tradition.” However, Sinhalese “presents a linguistic make-up which, for various reasons, distinguishes itself from the related languages in North India… there are features in Sinhalese which are not known in any other Indo-Aryan language, but these features, which make the story of Sinhalese all the more exciting, have not received much attention in the earlier studies.”
He also points out : “Another area of uncertainty is the source of the small but high-frequency segment of the Sinhalese vocabulary, especially words for parts of human body and the like : oluva ‘head’, bella ‘neck’, kakula ‘leg’, kalava ‘thigh’, etc. which are neither Sanskritic nor Tamil in origin. The native grammarians of the past have recognized that there are three categories of words – (a) loan-words, (b) historically derived words and (c) indigenous words… No serious enquiry has been made into these so-called indigenous words”.
In his preface, de Silva notes that “there is a growing awareness of the significance of Sinhalese as a test case for prevailing linguistic theories; more than one linguist has commented on the oddities that Sinhalese presents and the fact… that Sinhalese is ‘unlike any language I have seen’.” He quotes Geiger : “It is extremely difficult, and perhaps impossible, to assign it a definite place among the modern Indo-Aryan dialects.”
But, it does not strike de Silva, any more than Geiger, that the reason for all this confusion among linguists could be their failure to recognize the possibility that Sinhalese is not an Indo-Aryan language at all but a descendant of another branch of Indo-European languages.
From historical point of view, “a vast body of material has been gathered together by way of lithic and other records to portray the continuous history of Sinhalese from as early as the third century BC.” in Sri Lanka, and “attempts have been made to trace the origins of the earliest Sinhalese people and their language either to the eastern parts of North India or to the western parts”.
But de Silva quotes Geiger as well as S. Paranavitana and agrees with their view that “the band of immigrants who gave their name Simhala to the composite people, their language and the island, seems to have come from north-western India… their original habitat was on the upper reaches of the Indus river… in what is now the borderland between Pakistan and Afghanistan”. He quotes Paranavitana’s summary of the evidence, and his conclusion : “All this evidence goes to establish that the original Sinhalese migrated to Gujarat from the lands of the Upper Indus, and were settled in LATa for some time before they colonised Ceylon.”
A thorough examination, with an open mind, of the vocabulary and grammar of Sinhalese, will establish that Sinhalese represents a remnant of an archaic branch of Indo-European languages.
The evidence of BangANI and Sinhalese (the one word watura itself) constitutes a strong case for an Indian homeland since it clashes sharply with any theory of Indo-Aryan migrations into India.
Basically, the confusion that we see in respect of Sinhalese studies is also found in the study of Indo-Aryan languages in general. And the root of all this confusion is the general theory which maintains that :
a. The “Indo-Iranians” represented a branch of Indo-Europeans who separated from the other branches in distant regions and migrated to Central Asia, and shared a joint “Indo-Iranian” phase there, before separating and migrating into India and Iran respectively.
b. The “Indo-Aryans” represented that section of the “Indo-Iranians” who entered India and composed the Rigveda during the earliest period of their sojourn in the northwestern parts of India, before expanding into the rest of India and giving birth to the ancestral forms of the present-day Indo-Aryan languages.
The linguistic evidence, even apart from the archaic evidence of BangANI and Sinhalese, totally fails to fit in with this theory :
- 1. Indo-Aryan” and Iranian do not constitute one branch, but at least two distinct branches :
Winn lists “ten ‘living branches’… Two branches, Indic (Indo-Aryan) and Iranian dominate the eastern cluster. Because of the close links between their classical forms – Sanskrit and Avestan respectively – these languages are often grouped together as a single Indo-Iranian branch”. And he notes that these close links came about due to “a period of close contact between Indic and Iranian people (which) brought about linguistic convergence, thus making the two languages appear misleadingly similar”.
As Meillet had long ago pointed out : “It remains quite clear, however, that Indic and Iranian developed from different Indo-European dialects, whose period of common development was not long enough to effect total fusion.”
The evidence of comparative mythology also disproves the common Indo-Iranian hypothesis. Rigvedic mythology is often the only connecting link between all other different Indo-European mythologies, while Avestan mythology appears to have no links with any other Indo-European mythology other than that of the Rig Veda itself.
The “period of common development” which brought about the “close links between… Sanskrit and Avestan” was of course the “period of close contact between Indic and Iranian people” in the Late Period of the Rig Veda, for which detailed evidence has already presented earlier on in this series.
- 2. The Iranian language shares at least one isogloss with Greek and Armenian :
It fits in with our classification of these three branches as constituting the Anu confederation of the Early Rigvedic Period. This isogloss is not shared by Sanskrit, which disproves the hypothesis that Indo-Iranian constitute a single branch of the IE family : “In three Indo-European languages, whose grouping is significant – Greek, Armenian and Iranian – the shift from s to h occured, not as in Brythonic at a relatively recent date, but before the date of the oldest texts. Moreover, in all three, the distribution pattern is exactly the same : h develops from initial *s before a vowel, from intervocalic *s and from some occurences of *s before and after sonants; *s remains before and after a stop.”
This shift, which is universal in the three branches, is not found in Sanskrit and a majority of the Indo-Aryan languages, although a similar shift took place “at a relatively recent date” in some modem Indo-Aryan dialects of northwest and west (Gujarati, etc.) and, significantly, in Sinhalese.
Another fact, a minor one, is that Greek, Armenian and Iranian share a common development, distinct from Sanskrit, as each have “those cases in which a morphological element ends with a dental consonant and the following element begins with a t”. All the three branches show ‘st’ while “Sanskrit regularly shows tt”.
- 3. There is one isogloss which is found only in the three branches referred to above (Greek, Armenian and Iranian) as well as in Sanskrit, and in some modern Indo-Aryan dialects of the north and north-west including Hindi, but not in the majority of modern Indo-Aryan languages : “the prohibitive negation *mE is attested only in Indo-Iranian (mA), Greek (mE) and Armenian (mI)” and is totally absent elsewhere. And this isogloss exists in Greek, Armenian and Persian irrespective of the stage of their development, ancient or modern.
But there is a difference in this respect between the ancient stage of Sanskrit and a majority of its language offshoots in the modem stage of what the linguists classify as the “Indo-Aryan” branch (except for modem Hindi spoken in western India : mat, etc.). This could be because most of the Indo-Aryan languages lost this word; but it could also be because most of the modern Indo-Aryan languages are descendants of Indo-European dialects which never had this word, and were not directly part of the common culture developed by the PUrus (the Vedic Aryans) and the Anus (Iranians, Armenians, Greeks), then located respectively in the north and north-western parts of North India, after the departure of the Druhyus. Their ancestral dialects were what we have called the “Inner Indo-European” dialects spoken in the interior of India.
- 4. This, it is clearly demonstrated in the development of Indo-European l in “Indo-Iranian” : “all of Indo-Iranian tended to confuse r and l …. Every IE “l” becomes “r” in Iranian. This same occurence is to be observed in the North-west of India and consequently in the Rig Veda, which is based on idioms of the Northwest.”
So, is this an “Indo-Iranian” phenomenon ? Apparently not : “On the other hand, initial and intervocalic “l” was present in Indic dialects of other regions. Numerous elements of these dialects were gradually introduced into the literary language, which became fixed in Classical Sanskrit. This explains the appearance of “l” in more recent parts of the Rig Veda and its subsequent rise in frequency.”
Meillet correctly observes that this is an instance of concordance of Iranian with Indic idioms spoken in Indo-Aryan regions closest to Iranian areas. There is clear Iranian discordance with Indic idioms common in regions further to the East. The concept of an “Indo-Iranian” branch is based on “the close links between their classical forms – Sanskrit and Avestan respectively”, which is the result of a “period of common development”. This period of common development took place in Indian North-west region before the Iranian people migrated further west and north, and separated from the Vedic people.
But this conversion of the original Indo-European “l” into “r” is a phenomenon pertaining to this period of common development, and it is not shared by the ancient “Indo-Aryan” dialects to the east of the Rigvedic region. These dialects in the east, therefore, represent a continuity from pre-“Indo-Iranian” phase of Indo-European, which is incompatible with any theory of an Indo-Iranian phase in Central Asia and Afghanistan before the separation of the Indo-Aryans and Iranians and consequent migration of Indo-Aryans into India.
It is also incompatible with any theory of the origin of the “Indo-Aryan” languages from the Vedic language which forms part of this joint “Indo-Iranian” phase. Therefore, while the word “Indo-Aryan” may be used in the sense of “Aryan or Indo-European languages historically native to India”, it cannot and should not be used in the sense in which it is generally used : that is. as languages descended from the Vedic Sanskrit language which, or whose proto-form, shared a joint “Indo-Iranian” phase with Proto-Iranian.
- 5. The theory that the Indo-Aryan languages are descended from Vedic Sanskrit is not really corroborated by linguistic factors. Well-known scholar, S.K. Chatterji, makes the following remarks about the Old, Middle and New phases of Indo-Aryan :
“The Aryan came to India, assuredly not as a single, uniform or standardised speech, but rather as a group or groups of dialects… only one of these dialects or dialect-groups has mainly been represented in the language of the Vedas – other dialects… (might) have been ultimately transformed into one or the other of the various New Indo-Aryan languages and dialects. The mutual relationship of these Old Indo-Aryan dialects, their individual traits and number as well as location, will perhaps never be settled… The true significance of the various Prakrits as preserved in literary and other records, their origin and interrelations, and their true connection with the modern languages, forms one of the most baffling problems of Indo-Aryan linguistics… and there has been admixture among the various dialects to an extent which has completely changed their original appearance, and which makes their affiliation to forms of Middle Indo-Aryan as in our records at times rather problematical.”
Thus S.K. Chatterji unwillingly admits, though within the framework of the invasion theory, that :
a. There were many different dialects, of which the language of the Rig Veda was only one, and that the modern Indo-Aryan languages may well be descended from these other non-Vedic dialects.
b. The relations within each chronological group : Old, Middle or New, as well as between different chronological groups among Old Indo-Aryan ( Rigvedic and Classical Sanskrit, as well as the “other” dialects or dialect groups), Middle Indo-Aryan (Prakrits) and the present-day New Indo-Aryan languages are “baffling” and “problematical” and “will perhaps never be settled”.
The problem will certainly “never be settled” if examined from the viewpoint of an Aryan invasion of India which treats the Indo-Aryan languages as descended from the languages of people who migrated into India from the north-west after an “Indo-Iranian” phase in Central Asia and an Indo-European phase in South Russia.
Our understanding harmonises however when begin to consider that Proto-Indo-European, and its earlier forms, developed in the interior of North India, in more central locations in present day states of Haryana, West Uttar Pradesh and North Rajasthan. In ancient times, it developed as various dialects, many of which expanded into the northwest and Afghanistan. The divisions of these dialects can be conveniently classified in Puranic terms, howsoever unpalatable it may sound to modern ears, with :
- extreme north-west region of Indian sub-continent being home to ancestral forms of most of the European languages, as well as Hittite and Tocharian, being the Druhyu dialects;
- the dialects further east, in north-west region of Indian sub-continent, were the ancestral forms of Iranian, as also Armenian and Greek, being the Anu dialects;
- and the dialects in the northern parts of North India (Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and nearby areas) being the PUru dialects (including Vedic).
- In the interior were other dialects which represented other Puranic groups : Yadus, TurvaSas, IkSvAkus, etc.
With the emigration of the Druhyus, and later the Anus, and the Rigvedic language came to occupy a predominant position with spread of Vedic culture all over India. It then incorporated all the religious systems of the land in course of time and itself became the elite layer of an all-inclusive Pan-Indian religious system in the sub-continent. Thence began the phase of Indian history which the linguists and historians have interpreted as the “Indo-Aryan”.
The Rigvedic language heavily influenced all the other languages of India including those descended from remnants of Outer Indo-Aryan dialects (Druhyu, Anu), from Inner dialects (Yadu, TurvaSa, IkSvAku, etc), and also the Dravidian and Austric languages in the South and East.
In turn, the literary forms which developed from Rigvedic language – the Epics and Classical Sanskrit – were heavily influenced by all the other languages (Indo-European, Dravidian and Austric). As Meillet, in a different context, puts it : “Numerous elements of these dialects were gradually introduced into the literary language which became fixed in Classical Sanskrit.”
And finally, as Chatterji correctly identifies : “there has been admixture among the various dialects to an extent which has completely changed their original appearance.”
To sum up the whole study we have of the Indo-European homeland :
- The evidence of archaeology completely disproves, or, at the very least, completely fails to prove, the non-Indian origin of the Indo-Europeans.
- The evidence of the oldest literary records ( the Rigveda and the Avesta ) proves the Indian homeland theory from three distinct angles :
a. The evidence of comparative mythology.
b. The evidence of internal chronology and geography of Rig Veda.
c. The direct evidence in the Rigveda about the emigration of identifiable Indo-European groups from India.
- The evidence of linguistics in some aspects is either ambiguous or neutral and, in some others, definitely confirms the evidence of the literary records that indicate India as original homeland of Proto Indo-Europeans.
It is of course natural that entrenched scholarship, both in India and in the West, will find it hard to swallow all this evidence and conclusions that inevitably and inexorably arise from it. It would especially gall such scholars who have spent all their lives in ridiculing and rejecting the Indian homeland theory, establishing or corroborating the theory of Aryan invasion and mass migration into India.
The body of experts with western pedigree in their scholarship find it particularly hard to swallow if the convincing analyses and proof of an alternate thesis, contrary to theirs, is presented by an Indian – who they very conveniently declare and dismiss as “Indian chauvinist” or “Hindu fundamentalist”.
The following tongue-in-cheek excerpt from Antoine de Saint-ExupEry’s well known children’s storybook, The Little Prince, illustrates the situation :
“…the planet from which the little prince came is the asteroid known as B-612. This asteroid has only once been seen through a telescope. That was by a Turkish astronomer, in 1909. On making his discovery, the astronomer had presented it to the International Astronomical Congress, in a great demonstration. But he was in Turkish costume, and so nobody would believe what he said. …Fortunately, however, for the reputation of Asteroid B-612, a Turkish dictator made a law that his subjects, under pain of death, should change to European costume. So in 1920 the astronomer gave his demonstration all over again, dressed with impressive style and elegance. And this time everybody accepted his report.”
The attitude satirised by Saint-ExupEry in this imaginary incident is very much a part of the academe. Anyone, Indian or Western, who writes anything howsoever logical in support of the Indian homeland theory, represents the “fundamentalist” in his Turkish costume or the odd Westerner who deserves only skepticism, ridicule and summary dismissal for his misguided infatuation for the outlandish. Conversely, anyone Western or Indian, who writes anything howsoever incredible or ridiculous in opposition to the Indian homeland theory represents the “objective scholar” dressed “with impressive style and elegance” in European costume, who deserves a sympathetic hearing and due support of the scholar community.
But the case for an Indian homeland is so strong, and the case for a non-Indian homeland so weak, that despite the academic fiat to abandon the Indian homeland theory without serious examination, or with only perfunctory and determinedly skeptical examination, the academic world will untimately be compelled to accept the viability of India being the original homeland of the Indo-European family of languages.