chapter  12
The community of Indo-European speakers
Pages 31

Treatment of the language and the early dialects should be the primary concern of Indo-European linguistics; but many Indo-Europeanists have also emphasized the importance of dealing with the speakers as well as with their languages. This aim was one of the major points made by Brugmann in his manifesto; he severely criticized Indo-European studies carried out before his time for dealing abstractly with languages rather than with languages in reference to the societies in which they were used. The last sentence in his second paragraph may well be recalled as pertinent for linguists also at other periods: “languages were indeed investigated most eagerly, but the person who speaks, much too little” (1878: iii). Moreover, Meillet in his Oslo lectures strongly stressed the necessity of

observing and describing dialects and languages to see how they function, and under conditions as varied as possible. “ . . . What interests the linguist is not the norms but the way in which the language is used” ([1925] 1967: 132-3). He goes on to point out with examples various different language communities and types of language use, and language spread. Among his examples is Algeria, which “is tending . . . to eliminate Berber” in favor of Arabic, but not replacing it with French even though accepting “certain . . . material elements” of European civilization (135). As one of his major principles “language exists only by virtue of society” (104). The selection of Arabic by the dominant society in Algeria presumably illustrates that principle. Comparable selections in the past, as of an Indo-European language, must have similarly been made by the societies in which the language was adopted. For such reasons, two of the outstanding IndoEuropeanists have urged that the society of speakers be investigated as well as their languages. Earlier as well, scholars dealt with the evidence for determining the

Grimm’s Geschichte der deutschen Sprache (1848), which has been cited above for its treatment of various everyday activities as well as the descrip­ tion of the language, to be sure in the Proto-Germanic not the Proto-IndoEuropean period. The cardinal work on the Indo-Europeans, Otto Schrader’s Sprachvergleichung und Urgeschichte, first published in 1883, cites Grimm’s account of the early Germanic speakers as a model. Published before Brugmann and Delbriick undertook their summary of the linguistic data, Schrader’s work on the culture and society of the speakers of Proto-Indo-European was well received, as demonstrated by the publi­ cation of three editions, the second of which appeared in an English translation (1890). Under the title Prehistoric Antiquities o f the Aryan Peoples: a Manual o f Comparative Philology and the Earliest Cultures, the work reviews previous scholarship before presenting what might be called an anthropological description of the Indo-Europeans. Schrader based his account on three sources: evidence from the lan­

guage, from archaeological findings and from texts supplemented by arti­ facts like pottery and sculptures. Procedures applied in the archaeology of the time were admittedly primitive; only in this century did archaeologists pay careful attention to strata. Yet some advances had been made; the German emperor, Wilhelm II, is said to have been amused by the deduc­ tions based on absence of overt evidence, such as the difference in soil of post-holes that permitted assumption of posts which had rotted and disap­ peared. However, it was not until Flinders Petrie carefully observed suc­ cessive strata that determination of the relative chronology of finds became a routine procedure. Archaeological evidence today is much more detailed than that of

Schrader’s day; moreover, various procedures like use of carbon-14 tests provide relatively accurate dates. Yet Schrader’s generation and that of his predecessors had the advantage of knowing thoroughly the pertinent texts, especially those of historians who wrote in Latin and Greek. Schrader’s work cannot then be dismissed; on reading it, one is struck by the data that have remained crucial for identifying the early sites of the speakers, such as the word for “bull, steer” - in his transliteration, Greek tauros, Semitic taura, or that for “vine, wine,” Greek oinos, Semitic wainu (Schrader 1890: 75; Gamkrelidze and Ivanov 1984: 519-21, 872, 968; 647-8, 881, 968, with somewhat different reconstructions). It may also be instructive to note his recollections of Kuhn’s statement in 1845 that “the Indo-Europeans . . . were not merely pastoral, they had already made the transition to agricul­ ture” (1890: 12). While archaeological and linguistic data have been greatly augmented, they have not provided the key to crucial issues, as the recent number of proposed “homelands” may indicate. Moreover, Schrader’s book has not been followed by an equally comprehensive work. If read with care, it still provides a useful introduction to many problems, besides including the bibliographical sources in which some characteristics of Indo-European society were illuminated.