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Articles in Historical Geography

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 …

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 …

On Mathematical Modeling and Inter-Disciplinary Work in Historical Linguistics: A Reply to Alexei Drummond—and a Friendly Critique of the Field

By Martin W. Lewis | September 17, 2012 | 5 Comments

We would like to thank everyone who has posted comments on our recent posts on Indo-European linguistics, whether favorable or critical. As we have been highly critical ourselves, we can only expect the same in return; such is the give-and-take of the scholarly endeavor. We  will post detail replies to critical comments next week, after Asya Pereltsvaig returns from her …

Why the Indo-European Debate Matters—And Matters Deeply

By Martin W. Lewis | September 13, 2012 | 41 Comments

As expected, we have received a few complaints from friends, acquaintances, and Facebook-followers in regard to the current Indo-European series. “Why get so exercised over a single article,” some ask, reminding us that science is a self-correcting endeavor that will eventually winnow away the chaff. Others question the entire enterprise, wondering why we would care so much about such an …

Quentin Atkinson’s Nonsensical Maps of Indo-European Expansion

By Martin W. Lewis | September 6, 2012 | 39 Comments

The website that accompanies “Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family” (August 24 Science), maintained by co-author Quentin D. Atkinson, proudly features several maps that allow the easy visualization of the patterns generated by the model. One is a conventional map that purports to show “language expansion in time and space,” depicting and dating the spread of …

Mismodeling Indo-European Origin and Expansion: Bouckaert, Atkinson, Wade and the Assault on Historical Linguistics

By Martin W. Lewis | September 4, 2012 | 91 Comments

Dear Readers,
As GeoCurrents passed through its August slowdown, plans were made for a series on the Summer Olympics. Thanks to the efforts of Chris Kremer, we have gathered statistics—and made maps—relating Olympic medal count by country to population and GDP, both overall and in regard to specific categories of competition. The series, however, has been put on hold by the …

Geographical Illiteracy in Civilization V

By Nicholas Baldo | August 29, 2012 | 7 Comments

Since 1991, the Civilization series of computer games has been the best product on offer for the historically or geographically inclined gamer. The latest incarnation of the game, Civilization V, features dozens of unique playable “civilizations” that include broad linguistic or ethnic groups like the Celts and Polynesians, long-gone empires like Babylonia and Carthage, and modern states like the Netherlands. …

Visualizing California’s Soggy Past

By Nicholas Baldo | June 29, 2012 |

A previous GeoNote highlighted a collaborative effort to map historical changes in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin RiverDelta. In a similar spirit, the fantasy satellite map shown at left, created by Central Valley geographer Mark Clark and noted by Frank Jacobs, imagines what the entire state might have looked like in 1851. Perhaps the map’s most salient feature is massive Tulare Lake, …

Robert Kaplan’s Problematic Theory of Pakistan’s Geographical Destiny

By Martin W. Lewis | June 27, 2012 | 5 Comments

In a recent Foreign Policy article, Robert Kaplan argues that Pakistan’s problems—and its destiny—are rooted in its physical landscape: “Pakistan’s present and future, for better or worse, are still best understood through its geography.” Kaplan’s article is important and insightful in many respects, and I would urge all interested parties to read it carefully. But as a geographer, I am …

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