Essay on the Origin of Indo-European Languages
During the last few decades the trend of opinion has moved in favour of central or Eastern Europe being the original homeland of this language. Some scholars seem to be of the view that this homeland was somewhere near Scandinavia and the adjacent part of northern and central Germany. Most philologists seem to be of the view, however, that this homeland was somewhere around the Hungarian plains or the plains in and around Lithuania or southern Ukraine.
This view is based on a study of the Indo-European vocabulary. If certain vocabulary items were found to be common to all the branches, they were taken to be the vocabulary items of the parent Indo-European language. Similarly, if certain vocabulary items were found in a significant number of branches and if those branches were so widely removed from each other that there was little chance of mutual influence, those common items of vocabulary were also taken to be part of the parent language.
After retrieving the Indo-European vocabulary in this manner, conclusions were drawn on that basis regarding the original homeland of the Indo-European language. It was found, for example, that this language had no word for the sea and it was, therefore, concluded that its original homeland was not on or near a seacoast.
As this language had no word for a camel, it was concluded likewise that its homeland was not in or near a desert area. All the branches of this family had nearly the same word for winter and, similarly, all of them had a word for snow.
This was taken to mean that the original homeland of the Indo-European language was in an area, which was cold at least during a certain part of the year. The scholar who made a detailed study of the subject along these lines in his famous book Home of the Indo-Europeans was Bender (1922). The following observation made by him in this connection needs a careful consideration.
There are no anciently common Indo-European words for elephant, rhinoceros, camel, lion, tiger, monkey, crocodile, parrot, rice, banyan, bamboo, palm, but there are common words, more or less widely spread over Indo-European territory, for snow and freezing cold, for oak, beach, pine, birch, willow, bear, wolf, otter, beaver, polecat, marten, weasel, deer, rabbit, mouse, horse, ox, sheep, goat, pig, dog, eagle, hawk, owl, jay, wild goose, wild duck, partridge or pheasant, snake, tortoise, crab, ant, bee, etc.
Bender’s findings incorporated in this book certainly show a considerable amount of ingenuity. It may be pointed out here, nevertheless, that such findings can only provide a good basis for a hypothesis to be verified in the light of further evidence; they cannot be taken to be firmly established conclusions. A great deal of research needs to be done in this area and the findings based on the
Indo-European vocabulary need to be corroborated by findings in archaeology and other related fields before they can be accepted as proven truths. Barber (1964:98) has remarked that “one cannot help suspecting interested motives” in this kind of research. In his opinion “there is a certain insidious appeal in the suggestion that Indo-European was the invention of the so-called white races by whose intrinsic superiority it was spread over the world”.
It is possible to accuse Barber of unnecessarily suspecting interested motives where there may not be any. But no one can deny that we need more philological evidence and perhaps some supporting archaeological evidence before we can accept Bender’s findings regarding the original homeland of the Indo-European language as dependable conclusions.