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Altaic and Related Languages?

By Martin W. Lewis | January 24, 2013 | 26 Comments

Today’s language-family maps take up the controversial issue of Altaic. Several decades ago, many linguists grouped the Altaic languages with the Uralic languages, but that thesis is no longer tenable. Now many linguists are expressing doubt about the Altaic family itself. Languages placed within this group have a number of common features, but such features seem to many experts to …

World Maps of Language Families, Continued

By Martin W. Lewis | January 23, 2013 |

Today’s post provides five more language family maps, based again on the Wikipedia “Human Language Families Map” found here. I must again warn that the boundaries here are approximate, and that many small areas characterized by languages in a given family have been ignored. Some areas simply defy linguistic mapping at this scale; the scattered Uralic languages found in the …

World Maps of Language Families

By Martin W. Lewis | January 20, 2013 | 17 Comments

For teaching a class on the history and geography of the world’s major language families, good linguistic maps are essential. Unfortunately, serviceable maps that depict only language families are difficult to find. Most images available online show a combination of families and sub-families, splitting Indo-European, for example, into its main divisions. Such a portrayal is of little use for demonstrating …

Ideological Agendas and Indo-European Origins: Master Race, Bloodthirsty Kurgans, or Proto-Hippies?

By Martin W. Lewis | November 6, 2012 | 83 Comments

This final contribution to the Indo-European series turns once again to the potential ideological agendas lurking behind theories of IE origin and expansion. As was noted previously, no other issue in human prehistory has been so ideologically fraught; the original IE speakers have been recruited to serve a variety of fantasies, ranging in temper from naively benign to unimaginably vile. For …

The Different Modes of Language Spread

By Martin W. Lewis | October 30, 2012 |

In this second-to-last post on Indo-European origins and expansion, we turn once again to language diffusion, a cornerstone of the model employed by Bouckaert et al. A previous post asked whether languages actually spread by diffusion, arguing that the much more rapid process of advection is often more important. As was then pointed out, physical geographical factors, such as impassible …

How Large Was the Area in Which Proto-Indo-European Was Spoken?

By Martin W. Lewis | October 27, 2012 | 48 Comments

As the current series on the origin and expansion of the Indo-European languages nears its completion, only a few remaining issues need to be discussed. Today’s post examines once again the mapping by Bouckaert et al. of the area likely occupied by the speakers of Proto-Indo-European (PIE). The focus here, however, is not on the location of this ancestral linguistic …

The Consistently Incorrect Mapping of Language Differentiation in Bouckaert et al.

By Martin W. Lewis | October 23, 2012 |

As mentioned in previous GeoCurrents posts, the animated map that accompanies the Science article of Bouckaert et al. depicts their model in action, showing the expansion and differentiation of the Indo-European languages in time and space. Earlier posts criticized the map’s contour shadings, which indicate high probabilities of IE languages being spoken in given areas at given times. Today’s post …

Linguistic Phylogenies Are Not the Same as Biological Phylogenies

By Martin W. Lewis | October 17, 2012 | 24 Comments

(Note: This post is jointly written by Martin Lewis and Asya Pereltsvaig)
A key assumption of Bouckaert et al. is that the diversification and spread of languages operates so similarly to the diversification and spread of biological organism that the two processes can successfully be modeled in the same manner. The parallels between organic and linguistic evolution are indeed pronounced. Both …

103 Errors in Mapping Indo-European Languages in Bouckaert et al. Concluded: Part V, Western Europe

By Martin W. Lewis | October 11, 2012 | 5 Comments

By now, all of the cartographic failings of Bouckaert et al. have become familiar. On the map of France and neighboring areas, for example, we see the unreasonable elevation of minor dialects to the status of discrete languages (three forms of Breton make the list), the replacement of a non-Indo-European language with an Indo-European languages (the Basque region is shown …

103 Errors in Mapping Indo-European Languages in Bouckaert et al., Part IV (Central Europe)

By Martin W. Lewis | October 10, 2012 | 12 Comments

(Continued) The main problems with the language map of eastern Central Europe in Bouckaert et al. have already been discussed; to whit, the depiction of “national” languages as coterminous with state boundaries. The authors do occasionally deviate from this norm, showing, for example, a tiny non-Romanian area in northwestern Romania. Note also that they show Latvian as failing to reach …

103 Errors in Mapping Indo-European Languages in Bouckaert et al., Part III: From Western Russia to the Balkan Peninsula

By Martin W. Lewis | October 9, 2012 |

(Continued) The most glaring error in the linguistic map of western Russia and environs by Bouckaert et al. concerns the labeling of Belarus. The number “22,” placed in the center of the country, is listed as signifying the “Czech E,” which presumably means “eastern Czech.” As the authors have correspondingly appended the label “Byelorussian” to a small area in the …

103 Errors in Mapping Indo-European Languages in Bouckaert et al., Part II: from Afghanistan to Anatolia

By Martin W. Lewis | October 5, 2012 |

(Continued) Moving westward, the linguistic mapping of Iran and environs by Bouckaert et al. contains roughly the same density of error as that of South Asia. As most of these mistakes are noted in map call-outs, and others have been discussed in previous posts, I will focus here on the authors’ misperceptions about the Persian language.
The authors have divided Persian …

103 Errors in Mapping Indo-European Languages in Bouckaert et al., Part I

By Martin W. Lewis | October 4, 2012 | 4 Comments

As our criticisms of Bouckaert et al. have been extremely harsh, we must justify them in some detail. I have accused the authors of erring “at every turn,” a charge that reeks of hyperbole. But even if that claim is exaggerated, it is still not too far from the mark. To demonstrate the extraordinary density of error in the Science …

The Misleading and Inconsistent Language Selection in Bouckaert et al.

By Martin W. Lewis | September 28, 2012 | 9 Comments

To successfully model the spread and divergence of a language family, one must select languages for one’s data set in a comprehensive, balanced, and consistent manner. Results will be skewed if large numbers of languages are excluded from analysis, if some regions and linguistic branches are covered much more thoroughly than others, or if both dialects and languages are selected …

Bavarian Separatism and the Franconian Issue

By Martin W. Lewis | | 6 Comments

Bavarian separatism, a long-standing if still rather minor political movement, is finally getting some attention in the global media, thanks to the recent publication of Bayern kann es auch allein (or Bavaria Can Also Go It Alone), a book described by Canada’s Maclean’s as a “191-page polemic covering a range of standard Bavarian complaints about the present German (and European) political order and a paean to the benefits and glories that await an unfettered Free State of Bavaria.”

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