Re: Indo-European Studies

Gerold Firl (
3 Aug 1995 13:11:11 -0700

In article <3vio54$> (R. Wallace) writes:
>Gerold Firl ( wrote:

>: Again, this is conjectural, but it seems plausible. Did you have any
>: alternatives in mind?

>If I may say so without giving offence, this comment seems to me to sum up
>what is wrong with a lot of discussions on this group. A plausible
>conjecture is just that, and no more. The fact that something could have
>happened is not evidence that it did. Looking at some other threads
>currently proceeding interminably should warn us that going beyond what can
>be supported by evidence leads to fantasy.

I'm not necessarily opposed to fantasy, but I agree that in a discussion
like this fantasy should be clearly labeled. But I'd like to take issue
with you over your opposition to the use of a "working hypothesis". This is
a very useful tool in any kind of investigation. The working hypothesis can
be used to generate predictions, which can then be compared to the data. A
sufficient level of inconsistancies result in the hypothesis being tossed
out, and a new one taking its place. Far from being "what is wrong with a
lot of discussions on this group", that is just what a group like this
should be good-at. Of course, a bunch of stupid hypotheses are a waste of
time; I wouldn't be posting my half-baked ideas if I didn't think that
there were some useful insights to be gained by discussing them. I
certainly want to hear why I'm wrong, if you think I am. But trying to
suggest that no hypotheses should be floated before the group seems overly
restrictive; stupid ones should be ignored, useful ones should be

>Alternatives? Well, I would start by observing that a linguistic community
>is not necessarily a cultural community; differing cultures may be linked
>linguistically by a process of convergence - look at English.
>I'm not saying that it is not the case that there was an original culture
>speaking PIE; why not? It's a possible explanation. But lets keep
>conjectures as conjectures.

My conjecture was presented purely as a conjecture, of course. But to get
back to the subject of PIE speakers, there is data to suggest that the
eurasian steppe comprised a single cultural unit; at the same time, given
the large distances involved, there are valid reasons to suppose that
multiple ethnic groups may have contributed to the formation of that
culture. It's an interesting question.

>One of the really useful things about this group is the constant
>illustrations of the kind of madness you can fall into when you choose to
>ignore simple historical methodology.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by that; what kinds of madness did you
have in mind?

An interesting parallel can be found in the great plains of n. america,
after the introduction of the horse. (Note: the horse appears to have been
domesticated on the eurasian steppe, though I'm not sure when - 4000 bc,
maybe?) When the horse became plentiful enough to allow mounted
bison-hunting as a viable indian lifestyle (roughly 1700 or so) it
revolutionized indian lifestyles, and brought about an interesting process
of cultural amalgamation. (This is from service, _profiles in ethnology_,
in the chapter on the cheyanne.) A large number of tribes, once very
distinct in culture, language, and lifeways, converged on a uniform
lifestyle. The only thing which remained constant was their language. The
famous sign language was developed as a lingua franca. All this happened in
the course of a century or so. Could a similar process have taken place
6000 years ago on the eurasian steppes? Could PIE have been born in the
aftermath of the horse-revolution? Or was the steppe a single, unitary
environment, occupied by a cultural unit, potentially dating back to the
time of the iceage mammoth hunters who showed a high degree of uniformity
in the artifacts they left from the big-game heyday of 10,000 - 20,000
years ago? I think that is a very interesting question, and I'm really not
concerned about the problem of falling into some kind of madness due to a
lack of proper historical methodology.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf