“Horses, Wheels, and Languages. Indo-European in the Ancient Near East.”
Tom Davies, Ormond College, University of Melbourne
November 7, 2022 · 12:00 pm—1:20 pm · 161 East Pyne and Zoom
Department of Classics
When comparative linguistics was born in the 19th century, scholars explained the distribution of Indo-European languages by population dispersal: as PIE-speakers migrated into different regions of Eurasia, they lost contact and their speech diverged, producing the various branches of the family. This model still underwrites an approach to Greek culture which explains its resemblances to other IE-speaking ancient cultures as inherited from an ancestral PIE speech community.
Today, we have more and better information about how languages spread, and the population-dispersal model of IE distribution looks less likely. I lay out some alternative scenarios which explain IE distribution in more typologically plausible terms. These models predict sustained interaction, including widespread multilingualism, between IE and non-IE languages in Bronze Age Southwest Eurasia. If this is right, comparative Indo-European philology and comparative work on Greece and the ancient Near East should be brought under the scope of one broader enterprise.