Could some common PIE word roots be explained alternatively as evolution of the same morphology in the same natural environment?

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nizzebro

Senior Member
Russian
Just to clarify: I’m not trying to deny the PIE concept at all somehow; still I just got an impression that any common lexis tend to be explained exclusively as a transfer of, say, verbal codes between different communities. Still there’s other factors, at least words like ‘mama’ do not need to be explained by inter-social borrowing, as well as primary interjections are natural; vowels differ by spectra so 'a' is more rich and thus energetic than 'u', similarly to that red color looks more active compared to, say, blue. Sounds we utter are not initially equal in the same sense like number codes which a programmer could assign to any notions by their choice; any subconscious associativity, as a factor, to my opinion, could affect word formation more than we expect.

One thought doesn’t give me peace: imagine a mental experiment: there’s a rather large island divided by high impassable mountains into several valleys with the same climate, flora and fauna; we drop some babies of both gender into each valley and wait for one thousand years; will they speak completely different languages or not?
 
  • I'm replying as an amateur and not as a professional linguist or as an academic.

    I have long thought that the short family names are the result of universal baby talk and cannot be used as etymological evidence. Mama, Papa, Baba, Babu, Aba, Nana, Abu, Dada, Tada etc. are sounds that babies everywhere produce when they find their voices and start experimenting with them. Adults adopt them as part of the adult-child collusion process.

    As they develop, individual children often mangle words and phrases which, if uncorrected, could become an entirely new vocabulary. Here are some that mine produced as toddlers:

    Brar for car
    A wegg for an egg
    Twaim for train
    Dwimk for drink
    Sofe for shelf
    Faloon for seven (Don't ask - I still haven't worked that one out after nearly 40 years!) ....

    ... and that's without entering into the "pretend word" games that children play.

    Sometimes, funny-sounding words will catch on in a community just because they ... sound funny. Having once stuttered over pronouncing the end of the word "Recyclables", I replaced it with "Recyclebubbles", which my wife and a few friends also now use in jest.

    So, it's easy to see that many factors can influence a society's vocabulary and language. I suspect that chaos theory would have a lot to say about it too.

    As to the two groups of babies dropped onto a divided island, assuming that none of them spoke any received language to start with, I suspect that chaos (including the unique personalities of each and every one of them) would give you two completely different languages after only ten years, let alone a thousand!
     

    nizzebro

    Senior Member
    Russian
    As to the two groups of babies dropped onto a divided island, assuming that none of them spoke any received language to start with, I suspect that chaos (including the unique personalities of each and every one of them) would give you two completely different languages after only ten years, let alone a thousand!
    You know, now I see that you are right in the sense that we cannot even suggest what their culture and overall picture of the world would look like.
    But let's assume that we drop some large set of tools and other hand-made things into each of these valleys (the same collection for each community, and maybe we do it repeatedly). Something like hammers, knives, a mirror, the Bible - but with pictures only - that is, we make an impact on their culture somehow without providing anything directly related to a language.
     

    nizzebro

    Senior Member
    Russian
    As they develop, individual children often mangle words and phrases which, if uncorrected, could become an entirely new vocabulary.
    However I guess that if they were left alone and had to build a society, they would have to organize their vocabulary somehow, making it more rational...
    Let's take wh-questions (who, where etc.) These follow a common pattern. As far as I understand, from the PIE perspective, there was something original like 'kw', that later, due to sound shift or whatever, became qu- in Latin, k- in Slavic languages, wh- in English. Nonetheless, 1) why is that basic sound, that is associated with questioning, not originally, say, hissing like 'sh' or 'ss' (sibilant), and 2) why hasn't it become a hissing sound or anything else during the evolution? It has changed in different languages, but not so drastically.
     
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    Delvo

    Senior Member
    American English
    I’m not trying to deny the PIE concept at all somehow; still I just got an impression that any common lexis tend to be explained exclusively as a transfer of, say, verbal codes between different communities.
    I don't know what you mean. Saying that various languages descend from an older language is the opposite of explaining their similarities "exclusively" as transfers. And who do you have doing the explaining that way? Yourself? People who believe PIE was real? And whatever you mean by "lexis" and "verbal codes", why call them that instead of using plainer words for them?

    Let's take wh-questions (who, where etc.) These follow a common pattern. As far as I understand, from the PIE perspective, there was something original like 'kw', that later, due to sound shift or whatever, became qu- in Latin, k- in Slavic languages, wh- in English. Nonetheless, 1) why is that basic sound, that is associated with questioning, not originally, say, hissing like 'sh' or 'ss' (sibilant), and 2) why hasn't it become a hissing sound or anything else during the evolution? It has changed in different languages, but not so drastically.
    There's no particular reason for it to have been that sound in PIE. In other languages that were spoken at that time, it wasn't that sound. And it's only changed a limited amount since PIE because only a limited amount of time has passed since then. PIE was pretty recent compared to how long people have been speaking languages in general, and was only one of many languages on the planet at that time.
     

    nizzebro

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I don't know what you mean. Saying that various languages descend from an older language is the opposite of explaining their similarities "exclusively" as transfers.
    I'm sorry for being unclear or incorrect. What I was wondering is the following: there's a set of languages which have words with similar roots and are considered the indoeuropean family with one common ancestor, PIE. In this case, these words were handed down from one community to other, by conquests, marriage and whatever. My question is: could it be that communities developed similar word roots apart from each other- assuming they lived in the same environments?

    My point is that if there's species that have the same environments: climate and landscape, also have the same body and the same way of thinking, couldn't their language follow the same patterns?

    Imagine there are two populations, A and B. They live far away from each other and never meet each other. The people from A use 'hi' as a greeting and the B people say 'hey'. You could say that is because their languages have some common ancestor. Alternatively, I suppose that the reason is in the same evolution of their languages and, during that evolution, 'hi'-like sound developed on its own as the most suitable one.
     
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    Delvo

    Senior Member
    American English
    My question is: could it be that communities developed similar word roots apart from each other- assuming they lived in the same environments?

    My point is that if there's species that have the same environments: climate and landscape, also have the same body and the same way of thinking, couldn't their language follow the same patterns?
    That's already known not to be what happens in reality. Some of the other languages or language families that PIE-speakers interacted with are known, and their words for the same things are completely different. In India, they met speakers of Dravidian languages. Dravidian languages are still known and have completely different words from IE words for the same things. In Italy, they met Etruscans. The Etruscan language isn't spoken anymore, but we do have it in writing so we can at least sound it out, so we know it had completely different words from IE words for the same things. Closer to the PIE home, they could have interacted with speakers of Semitic, Turkic, Mongolic, and Uralic languages, and maybe some from the linguistic mess of the Caucasus mountains. Examples of all of those groups are still known and have completely different words from IE words for the same things. If this weren't the case, they wouldn't be separate language families.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    One thought doesn’t give me peace: imagine a mental experiment: there’s a rather large island divided by high impassable mountains into several valleys with the same climate, flora and fauna; we drop some babies of both gender into each valley and wait for one thousand years; will they speak completely different languages or not?
    Babies dropped on an uninhabited island would not survive on their own without a care from adults lasting at least until they were ten years old. The adults should be deaf and mute and use only a rudimentary sign language if your experiment should be feasible.
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    The adults should be deaf and mute and use only a rudimentary sign language if your experiment should be feasible.
    The babies would imitate that rudimentary sign language and make it their own. It would naturally evolve into a proper sign language. They would probably add sounds as well. I don't know how long it would take for this hybrid language to involve into an oral language with few signs.
     

    nizzebro

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Babies dropped on an uninhabited island would not survive on their own without a care from adults lasting at least until they were ten years old. The adults should be deaf and mute and use only a rudimentary sign language if your experiment should be feasible.
    It's a thought experiment so anything is possible as well as morals don't matter; you just repeat those landings until some population survives; provide some milk, use babysitters but forbid them any communication, use robots. Babies may even have some primary vocabulary already, but the same for everyone - the point is only about the further language development inside each group that is totally isolated from other groups, while each group faces absolutely the same things as others (suppose those valleys are almost perfect replicas of each other).
     
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