Figure Large Language Families May Have Arisen Through Farming

The language/farming hypothesis holds that populations expanded from the regions where agriculture was invented, spreading their languages with them. If several languages were spoken within such a region, all could be exported from it. The Indo-European and Afroasiatic languages may have originated in the wheat center, according to the hypothesis, and perhaps Dravidian too. The Sino-Tibetan, Tai and Austroasiatic language families are proposed to have spread from the rice center, along with Austronesian, whose speakers reached Taiwan and from there expanded across the southern oceans.

These language expansions would have taken place up to 9,000 years ago (see arrows). The map of the world, however, shows the distribution of present day language families. People speaking an Indo-European language known as Tokharian expanded into northwest China but their language is now extinct.

Also shown is the Bantu expansion in Africa, labeled for Bantu's Niger-Congo language family, which occurred some 4,000 years ago. The proposal of the Fertile Crescent as a spawner of language families is ingenious, but the origin of each of the language families involved is a matter of dispute. In the case of Afroasiatic, linguists such as Christopher Ehret, of the University of California, Los Angeles, vigorously dispute

Bellwood and Diamond's proposal that the language family originated in the Near East.259

A second major homeland of language families, according to the Diamond-Bellwood thesis, was the region of the Yangtze and Yellow river basins where rice was first cultivated some 9,000 years ago. The rice region, in their view, was the origin of no fewer than four different language families. Speakers of Austroasiatic, a group of 150 languages that includes Vietnamese and Cambodian, spread out to southeast Asia. They were followed by a second wave of rice farmers, speaking the Tai family of languages, which includes Thai and Laotian. Third were the Sino-Tibetan speakers. Fourth were the Aus tronesians, who reached Taiwan before 5,000 years ago and then set sail across the Pacific, becoming the first inhabitants of Polynesia, and finally reaching New Zealand in around AD 1200.

The Maori colonization of New Zealand was, in a sense, the final step in a 50,000 year journey.

In Africa, the Bantu language family was spread by farmers who developed an agricultural system based at first on yams and later including millet and sorghum. Starting around 4,000 years ago, in their homeland in eastern Nigeria-western Cameroon, the Bantu speakers migrated southward in two migrations. One headed down the west coast, the other crossed to east Africa and then moved south down the east coast. The latter group of migrants mingled with Nilo-Saharan speakers around the Great Lakes region of east Africa, and displaced the Khoisan speakers. Bantu languages, though just one branch of the Niger-Congo superfamily, are now spoken across a broad zone of subequatorial Africa. Diamond and Bellwood list the Bantu expansion as being the least controversial of their 15 asserted cases of language/farming spread. But a major factor in the Bantu speakers' success, besides their farming practices, was their mastery of ironworking. Iron weapons were part of the package that made their advance through the length and breadth of Africa so irresistible, raising the possibility that warfare was also an agent of the Bantu expansion.

Warfare is a third major perturber of mosaic zones, whether by itself or combined with new agricultural techniques. During the first millennium BC, Nilotic-speaking peoples expanded southward from Ethiopia to the Great Lakes region of eastern Africa, overcoming Cushitic-speaking farmers in the Kenyan highlands. They were able to displace agricultural societies, Christopher Ehret believes, because of a superior military tradition based on assigning young men at adolescence to age sets, which served as military companies on a permanent war footing. "Over the long term of their history, most Nilotes had an institution and apparently an attitude toward war that recurrently gave them the advantage over all their neighbors, except for other Nilotic peoples, whenever conflict arose," Ehret writes.260 (These southern Nilotes included the Kalenjin of Kenya, now renowned for their more peaceful achievement of dominating world middle-distance running records.)

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