Nostratic refers to a hypothetical macro family of Eurasian and African languages. The term was coined by Holger Pedersen in 1903 and is derived from the Latin nostras , "from our country, native". In the early 1960s the nostratic idea was taken up again by the Russian linguists Wladislaw Illitsch-Switytsch and Aharon Dolgopolsky and given concrete content through intensive language comparisons.
The nostratic macro family
The exact composition of the nostratic macro family varies from author to author, but the common core is Indo-European , Kartvelian , Uralic and Altaic . Furthermore, the Dravidian and Afro-Asian is usually included.
The nostratic macro family according to Dolgopolsky 1998
Origin and modern revival
The nostratic hypothesis was put forward by the Danish linguist Holger Pedersen at the beginning of the 20th century , after relations between Indo-European on the one hand and Semitic on the other hand, Ural and Altaic had been suspected. Heinrich Koppelmann proposed a Eurasian language family in 1933 which, in addition to Indo-European, Ural and Altaic, should also include Niwchic (Giljak), Ainu and Sumerian . He compared mainly Indo-European and Korean, but excluded Japanese.
These hypotheses, however, went largely unnoticed until they were revived in the 1960s by Wladislav Markowitsch Illitsch-Switych and Aharon Dolgopolsky . Illitsch-Switytsch combined Indo-European , Afro-Asian , Kartwel , Ural (with Jukagir ), Dravidian and Altai to form the new unit Nostratic . This was essentially confirmed by Dolgopolsky. However, he initially ruled out Drawidian; he replaced Altaic with its subgroups Turkish , Mongolian and Tungus . Later attempts were made to also add Chukchi-Kamchadal (1972), Eskimo-Aleut (1984) and Niwchian . These approaches have not been able to gain general acceptance among nostratics. A more recent tendency is to see Afro-Asian no longer as a subgroup of nostratic, but rather as its parallel branch of equal rank.
Basic idea and problem
The Indo-European hypothesis was very successful in the 19th century, and so linguists tried to repeat the process by which the Indo-European original language was developed when analyzing other language groups. Large language families, similar to Indo-European, have been identified (e.g. Ural, Turkic, Mongolian, Tungusian, Dravidian and Afro-Asian). The question of whether the family tree could be traced back further into the past and whether the original languages of individual language families were related to one another was then examined .
There are two aspects to be distinguished: on the one hand, the potential fact of a relationship and, on the other hand, the possibility of proving this relationship today in view of the long period of separation from a common original language (at least 10,000 years for nostratics).
The evidence for such distant relationships is sparse and sometimes doubtful. Allan R. Bomhard , for example, adopts different sound laws than Aharon Dolgopolsky , which leads to different word equations and reduces trust in the nostratic hypothesis. Most linguists therefore do not accept the nostratic hypothesis; they consider it unrealistic to be able to reconstruct language relationships more than 10,000 years ago.
Relationship to the Eurasian Macro Family
Joseph Greenberg put forward a partially competing hypothesis in the form of the Eurasian macro family . This corresponds in particular to the Indo-European, Ural and Altaic ("Euraltaic") with the Nostratic, but excludes Afro-Asian, Dravidian and Kartwel. Today - after the inclusion of Chukchi-Kamchadal, Niwchian and Eskimo-Aleut into nostratics - many nostratics see the Eurasian Greenbergs as a sub-unit of nostratics, for example Allan Bomhard:
- Indo-European, Ural-Jukagir, Altaic, Korean-Japanese-Ainu, Niwchisch, Chukchi-K., Eskimo-Aleut
- Afro-Asian ( as probably the earliest split from the nostratic )
Example of a nostratic word equation
In the following a word equation is quoted as an example from Dolgopolsky 1998 in excerpts and in simplified phonetic notation. * Tap- “hit a target” is treated as nostratic root no. 34 . There are the following parallels:
- Indo-European * top- “to meet something; Place where you get ”> Greek τόπος tóp-os “ place ”, τοπάζω top-ázō “ aim , guess, guess ”; Latvian pa-tapt "reach", Lithuanian pri-tapti "encounter, experience"
- Afro-Asian * tbb "get to information, experience"> Syriac tab "receive information", similar to Arabic .
- Ural * tap "find"> Finnish tapaan "find, meet"
- Altaic * t'ap "hit a target"
- Turkish * tupa "to come to an agreement"
- Mongolian * taba "guess, solve a riddle"
- Dravidian * tapp “agreed time”> Tamil tappu “expected moment, agreed time”, malayalam tappu “appropriate time, good opportunity”.
This one example already shows the whole problem of nostratic word equations, since one obviously has to work with wide fields of meaning and generous phonetic agreement in order to find corresponding parallels. It is not unlikely that a variant of the presumed root * tap with a similar meaning can be found in the hundreds of languages of the subgroups of nostratic; so there is a significant risk of false positives .
- Allan R. Bomhard , John C. Kerns: The Nostratic Macrofamily. A Study in Distant Linguistic Relationship ; Mouton De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1994.
- Allan R. Bomhard : A Comprehensive Introduction to Nostratic Comparative Linguistics (3rd edition 2018), Vol.1 , Florence SC, 2018.
- Aharon Dolgopolsky : The Nostratic Macrofamily and Linguistic Palaeontology ; The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Oxford 1998.
- Joseph H. Greenberg : Indo-European and its Closest Relatives. The Eurasiatic Language Family ; Volume 1: Grammar; Volume 2: Lexicon; Stanford University Press, Stanford (Calif.) 2000 and 2002.
- Heinrich Koppelmann : The Eurasian language family ; Carl Winters University Bookstore, Heidelberg 1933.
- Holger Pedersen : The Indo-European-Semitic hypothesis and the Indo-European phonology ; Indo-European Research 22; 1908.
- Holger Pedersen: On the question of the original relationship between Indo-European and Finno-Ugric , MSFO 67; 1933.
Colin Renfrew , Daniel Nettle (Eds.): Nostratic: Examining a Linguistic Macrofamily , The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Oxford 1999.
(The book is a collection of detailed statements - from approving to critical to disapproving - on Dolgopolsky: The Nostratic Macrofamily , 1998. Authors include Colin Renfrew, Allan R. Bomhard, Vitaly Shevoroshkin, Christopher Ehret , Sergei Starostin , RL Trask, Lyle Campbell , Alexis M. Ramer, Bernard Comrie , David Appleyard, Rainer Voigt, Alan S. Kaye, Kamil V . Zvelebil and Alexander Vovin).
- Mother Tongue : Journal of the Association for the Study of Language in Prehistory (ASLIP) . Since 1995.
- Ernst Kausen, Eurasian, Nostratic and other macro families ( MS Word ; 71 kB)
- Nostratica: materials on nostratics (English)
- Aharon Dolgopolsky: The Nostratic Macrofamily and Linguistic Palaeontology. The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Oxford 1998.