|Europe, Asia except for the southeast, North and Northeast Africa, the Arctic|
|Linguistic classification||Hypothetical macrofamily|
The present day worldwide distribution of the Nostratic macrofamily of languages according to Sergei Starostin.
Nostratic is a hypothetical macrofamily, which includes many of the indigenous language families of Eurasia, although its exact composition and structure vary among proponents. It typically comprises Kartvelian, Indo-European and Uralic languages; some languages from the disputed Altaic family; the Afroasiatic languages spoken in North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Near East as well as the Dravidian languages of the Indian Subcontinent (sometimes also Elamo-Dravidian, which connects India and the Iranian Plateau).
The hypothetical ancestral language of the Nostratic family is called Proto-Nostratic. Proto-Nostratic would have been spoken between 15,000 and 12,000 BCE, in the Epipaleolithic period, close to the end of the last glacial period.
The Nostratic hypothesis originates with Holger Pedersen in the early 20th century. The name "Nostratic" is due to Pedersen (1903), derived from the Latin nostrates "fellow countrymen". The hypothesis was significantly expanded in the 1960s by Soviet linguists, notably Vladislav Illich-Svitych and Aharon Dolgopolsky, termed the "Moscovite school" by Allan Bomhard (2008, 2011, and 2014), and it has received renewed attention in English-speaking academia since the 1990s.
The hypothesis is controversial and has varying degrees of acceptance amongst linguists worldwide with most rejecting Nostratic and many other macrofamily hypotheses. In Russia, it is endorsed by a minority of linguists, such as Vladimir Dybo, but is not a generally accepted hypothesis. Some linguists take an agnostic view. Eurasiatic, a similar grouping, was proposed by Joseph Greenberg (2000) and endorsed by Merritt Ruhlen: it is taken as a subfamily of Nostratic by Bomhard (2008).
History of research
Origin of the Nostratic hypothesis
These proposals were taken much further in 1903 when Holger Pedersen proposed "Nostratic", a common ancestor for the Indo-European, Finno-Ugric, Samoyed, Turkish, Mongolian, Manchu, Yukaghir, Eskimo, Semitic, and Hamitic languages, with the door left open to the eventual inclusion of others.
The name Nostratic derives from the Latin word nostrās, meaning 'our fellow-countryman' (plural: nostrates) and has been defined, since Pedersen, as consisting of those language families that are related to Indo-European. Merritt Ruhlen notes that this definition is not properly taxonomic but amorphous, since there are broader and narrower degrees of relatedness, and moreover, some linguists who broadly accept the concept (such as Greenberg and Ruhlen himself) have criticised the name as reflecting the ethnocentrism frequent among Europeans at the time. Martin Bernal has described the term as distasteful because it implies that speakers of other language families are excluded from academic discussion. Even so, the concept arguably transcends ethnocentric associations. (Indeed, Pedersen's older contemporary Henry Sweet attributed some of the resistance by Indo-European specialists to hypotheses of wider genetic relationships as "prejudice against dethroning [Indo-European] from its proud isolation and affiliating it to the languages of yellow races".) Proposed alternative names such as Mitian, formed from the characteristic Nostratic first- and second-person pronouns mi 'I' and ti 'you' (exactly 'thee'), have not attained the same currency.
An early supporter was the French linguist Albert Cuny—better known for his role in the development of the laryngeal theory—who published his Recherches sur le vocalisme, le consonantisme et la formation des racines en « nostratique », ancêtre de l'indo-européen et du chamito-sémitique ('Researches on the Vocalism, Consonantism, and Formation of Roots in "Nostratic", Ancestor of Indo-European and Hamito-Semitic') in 1943. Although Cuny enjoyed a high reputation as a linguist, the work was coldly received.
Moscow School of Comparative Linguistics
While Pedersen's Nostratic hypothesis did not make much headway in the West, it became quite popular in what was then the Soviet Union. Working independently at first, Vladislav Illich-Svitych and Aharon Dolgopolsky elaborated the first version of the contemporary form of the hypothesis during the 1960s. They expanded it to include additional language families. Illich-Svitych also prepared the first dictionary of the hypothetical language.
A principal source for the items in Illich-Svitych's dictionary was the earlier work of Alfredo Trombetti (1866–1929), an Italian linguist who had developed a classification scheme for all the world's languages, widely reviled at the time and subsequently ignored by almost all linguists. In Trombetti's time, a widely held view on classifying languages was that similarity in inflections is the surest proof of genetic relationship. In the interim, the view had taken hold that the comparative method—previously used as a means of studying languages already known to be related and without any thought of classification—is the most effective means to establish genetic relationship, eventually hardening into the conviction that it is the only legitimate means to do so. This view was basic to the outlook of the new Nostraticists. Although Illich-Svitych adopted many of Trombetti's etymologies, he sought to validate them by a systematic comparison of the sound systems of the languages concerned.
The chief events in Nostratic studies in 2008 were the online publication of the latest version of Dolgopolsky's Nostratic Dictionary and the publication of Allan Bomhard's comprehensive treatment of the subject, Reconstructing Proto-Nostratic, in 2 volumes. 2008 also saw the opening of a website, Nostratica, devoted to providing important texts in Nostratic studies online, which is now offline. Also significant was Bomhard's partly critical review of Dolgopolsky's dictionary, in which he argued that only those Nostratic etymologies that are strongest should be included, in contrast to Dolgopolsky's more expansive approach, which includes many etymologies that are possible but not secure.
In early 2014, Allan Bomhard published his latest monograph on Nostratic, A Comprehensive Introduction to Nostratic Comparative Linguistics.
Constituent language families
The language families proposed for inclusion in Nostratic vary, but all Nostraticists agree on a common core of language families, with differences of opinion appearing over the inclusion of additional families.
The three groups universally accepted among Nostraticists are Indo-European, Uralic, and Altaic; the validity of the Altaic family, while itself controversial, is taken for granted by Nostraticists. Nearly all also include the Kartvelian and Dravidian language families.
Following Pedersen, Illich-Svitych, and Dolgopolsky, most advocates of the theory have included Afroasiatic, though criticisms by Joseph Greenberg and others from the late 1980s onward suggested a reassessment of this position.
- Altaic, or separately:
The Sumerian and Etruscan languages, usually regarded as language isolates, are thought by some to be Nostratic languages as well. Others, however, consider one or both to be members of another macrofamily called Dené–Caucasian. Another notional isolate, the Elamite language, also figures in a number of Nostratic classifications. It is frequently grouped with Dravidian as Elamo-Dravidian.
In 1987 Joseph Greenberg proposed a similar macrofamily which he called Eurasiatic. It included the same "Euraltaic" core (Indo-European, Uralic, and Altaic), but excluded some of the above-listed families, most notably Afroasiatic. At about this time Russian Nostraticists, notably Sergei Starostin, constructed a revised version of Nostratic which was slightly broader than Greenberg's grouping but which similarly left out Afroasiatic.
Beginning in the early 2000s, a consensus emerged among proponents of the Nostratic hypothesis. Greenberg basically agreed with the Nostratic concept, though he stressed a deep internal division between its northern 'tier' (his Eurasiatic) and a southern 'tier' (principally Afroasiatic and Dravidian). The American Nostraticist Allan Bomhard considers Eurasiatic a branch of Nostratic alongside other branches: Kartvelian, Afroasiatic, and Elamo-Dravidian. Similarly, Georgiy Starostin (2002) arrives at a tripartite overall grouping: he considers Afroasiatic, Nostratic and Elamite to be roughly equidistant and more closely related to each other than to anything else. Sergei Starostin's school has now re-included Afroasiatic in a broadly defined Nostratic, while reserving the term Eurasiatic to designate the narrower subgrouping which comprises the rest of the macrofamily. Recent proposals thus differ mainly on the precise placement of Kartvelian and Dravidian.
According to Greenberg, Eurasiatic and Amerind form a genetic node, being more closely related to each other than either is to "the other families of the Old World". There are a number of hypotheses incorporating Nostratic into an even broader linguistic 'mega-phylum', sometimes called Borean, which would also include at least the Dené–Caucasian and perhaps the Amerind and Austric superfamilies. The term SCAN has been used for a group that would include Sino-Caucasian, Amerind, and Nostratic.
Urheimat and differentiation
Allan Bomhard and Colin Renfrew are in broad agreement with the earlier conclusions of Illich-Svitych and Dolgopolsky in seeking the Nostratic Urheimat (original homeland) within the Mesolithic (or Epipaleolithic) in the Fertile Crescent, the stage which directly preceded the Neolithic and was transitional to it.
Looking at the cultural assemblages of this period, two sequences, in particular, stand out as possible archeological correlates of the earliest Nostratians or their immediate precursors. Both hypotheses place Proto-Nostratic within the Fertile Crescent at around the end of the last glacial period.
- The first of these is focused on the Levant. The Kebaran culture (20,000–17,000 BP) not only introduced the microlithic assemblage into the region, it also has African affinity specifically with the Ouchtata retouch technique associated with the microlithic Halfan culture of Egypt (20,000–17,000 BP) The Kebarans in their turn were directly ancestral to the succeeding Natufian culture (10,500–8500 BCE), which has enormous significance for prehistorians as the clearest evidence of hunters and gatherers in actual transition to Neolithic food production. Both cultures extended their influence outside the region into southern Anatolia. For example, in Cilicia the Belbaşı culture (13,000–10,000 BC) shows Kebaran influence, while the Beldibi culture (10,000–8500 BC) shows clear Natufian influence.
- The second possibility as a culture associated with the Nostratic family is the Zarzian (12,400–8500 BC) culture of the Zagros mountains, stretching northwards into Kohistan in the Caucasus and eastwards into Iran. In western Iran, the M'lefatian culture (10,500–9000 BC) was ancestral to the assemblages of Ali Tappah (9000–5000 BC) and Jeitun (6000–4000 BC). Still further east, the Hissar culture has been seen as the Mesolithic precursor to the Keltiminar culture (5500–3500 BC) of the Kyrgyz steppe.
It has been proposed that the broad spectrum revolution of Kent Flannery (1969), associated with microliths, the use of the bow and arrow, and the domestication of the dog, all of which are associated with these cultures, might have been the cultural "motor" that led to their expansion. Certainly, cultures which appeared at Franchthi Cave in the Aegean and Lepenski Vir in the Balkans, and the Murzak-Koba (9100–8000 BC) and Grebenki (8500–7000 BC) cultures of the Ukrainian steppe, all displayed these adaptations.
Bomhard (2008) suggests a differentiation of Proto-Nostratic by 8,000 BCE, the beginning of the Neolithic Revolution in the Levant, over a territory spanning the entire Fertile Crescent and beyond into the Caucasus (Proto-Kartvelian), Egypt and along the Red Sea to the Horn of Africa (Proto-Afroasiatic), the Iranian Plateau (Proto-Elamo-Dravidian) and into Central Asia (Proto-Eurasiatic, to be further subdivided by 5,000 BCE into Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Uralic and Proto-Altaic).
According to some scholarly opinion the Kebaran is derived from the Levantine Upper Palaeolithic in which the microlithic component originated, although microlithic cultures were earlier found in Africa.
Ouchtata retouch is also a characteristic of the Late Ahmarian Upper Palaeolithic culture of the Levant and may not indicate African influence.
Reconstruction of Proto-Nostratic
The following data is taken from Kaiser and Shevoroshkin (1988) and Bengtson (1998) and transcribed into the IPA.
The phonemes tabulated below are commonly reconstructed for the Proto-Nostratic language (Kaiser and Shevoroshkin 1988). Allan Bomhard (2008), who relies more heavily on Afroasiatic and Dravidian than on Uralic, as do members of the "Moscow School", reconstructs a different vowel system, with three pairs of vowels represented as: /a/~/ə/, /e/~/i/, /o/~/u/, as well as independent /i/, /o/, and /u/. In the first three pairs of vowels, Bomhard is attempting to specify the subphonemic variation involved, inasmuch as that variation led to some of the vowel gradation (ablaut) and vowel harmony patterning found in various daughter languages.
The reconstructed consonants of Nostratic are shown in the table below. Every distinction is supposed to be contrastive by the Nostraticists who reconstruct them.
|Bilabial||Alveolar or dental||Alveolo-
|Close||*/i/ • */y/||*/u/|
The following table is compiled from data given by Kaiser and Shevoroshkin (1988) and Starostin. They follow Illich-Svitych's correspondences in which Nostratic voiceless stops give (traditional) PIE voiced ones, and Nostratic glottalized stops give (traditional) PIE voiceless stops, in contradiction with the PIE glottalic theory, which makes traditional PIE voiced stops appear like glottalized ones. To correct this anomaly, linguists such as Manaster Ramer and Bomhard have proposed to correlate Nostratic voiceless and glottalized stops with PIE ones, so this is done in the table.
Because linguists working on Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Uralic, and Proto-Dravidian do not usually use the IPA, the transcriptions used in those fields are also given where the letters differ from the IPA symbols. The IPA symbols are between slashes because this is a phonemic transcription. The exact values of the phoneme "*p₁" in Proto-Afroasiatic and Proto-Dravidian are unknown. "∅" indicates disappearance without a trace. Hyphens indicate different developments at the beginning and in the interior of words; no consonants ever occurred at the ends of word roots. (Starostin's list of affricate and fricative correspondences does not mention Afroasiatic or Dravidian, and Kaiser and Shevoroshkin don't mention these sounds much; hence the holes in the table.)
Note that there are at present several different mutually incompatible reconstructions of Proto-Afroasiatic (see  for two recent reconstructions). The one used here has been said to be based too strongly on Proto-Semitic (Yakubovich 1998).
Similarly, the paper by Kaiser and Shevoroshkin is much older than the Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages (2003; see Altaic languages article) and therefore assumes a somewhat different phonological system for Proto-Altaic.
|/p/||/p/, /b/||/p/, /b/||/p/||/p/||"p₁"-, -/p/-, /v/-||"p₁"-, -/p/-, -/b/-|
|/pʼ/||/p/||/pʼ/-, /p/-||/p/-, -pp- -/pː/-, -/p/-||/pʰ/-, -/p/-, -/b/-||/b/-, -/p/-, -/v/-||/p/|
|/b/||bʰ /bʱ/||/b/||/p/-, -/w/-||/b/||/b/-, -/v/-, -/p/-||/b/|
|/w/||w/u̯ /w/||/w/, /u/||/w/, /u/||/b/-?, ∅-, -/b/-, -∅-, /u/||/v/-, ∅-, -/v/-||/w/, /u/|
|/t/||/d/||/t/||/t/||/d/||/d/-, -/t/-, -/d/-||/t/|
|/tʼ/||/t/||/tʼ/||/t/-, -tt- -/tː/-, -/t/-||/tʰ/-, -/t/-||/d/-, -/t/-, /d/-||/tʼ/, /t/|
|/d/||dʰ /dʱ/||/d/||/t/-, -ð- -/ð/-||/d/||/d/-, -ṭ- -/ʈ/-, -ḍ- -/ɖ/-||/d/|
|/ts/ (/tɕ/)||/sk/-, -/s/-||/ts/, /tɕ/||ć /tɕ/||/tʃʰ/, -/s/-||-/c/-||-/s/-|
|/tsʼ/ (/tɕʼ/)||/sk/-, -/s/-||/tsʼ/, /tɕʼ/||ć /tɕ/||/s/|
|/dz/ (/dʑ/)||/s/||/dz/, /dʑ/, /z/, /ʑ/||/s/, ś /ɕ/||/dʒ/||/z/-|
|/s/ (/ɕ/)||/s/||/s/, /ɕ/||/s/, ś /ɕ/||/s/||j /ɟ/||/s/|
|/n/||/n/||-/n/-||/n/||-/n/-||n- /n̪/-, -n- -/n̪/-, -ṉ- -/n̺/-||/n/|
|/nʲ/||y-/i̯- /j/-, /n/-||ń /nʲ/||/nʲ/-, -/n/-?||-ṇ-? -/ɳ/||/n/|
|/r/ (/rʲ/)||/r/||/r/||/r/||/l/-?, -/r/-, /rʲ/||/n̪/-, -/r/-, -ṟ- -/r̺/-, ṛ /ɻ/||/r/|
|/tɬ/||/s/-, -/l/-||/l/||j- /j/-||/tɬ/-, -/l/-|
|/ɬ/||/l/||/l/||-x-? -/ɬ/-||/l/||/d/, /ɭ/||/l/|
|/l/||/l/||/l/||/l/||/l/||n- /n̪/-, -/l/-||/l/|
|/lʲ/||/l/||/r/, /l/||lˈ /lʲ/||/lʲ/||ḷ /ɭ/||/l/|
|/tʃ/||/st/-, /s/-||/tʃ/||ć /tɕ/||/tʃʰ/|
|/tʃʼ/||/st/||/tʃʼ/||č, š /tʃ/, /ʃ/||/tʃʰ/-, -/s/-|
|/ʃ/||/s/||/ʃ/||š /ʃ/||/s/||/d/, /ɭ/|
|/j/||y/i̯ /j/||/j/||/j/-||/j/||y /j/||/j/|
|/k/||/ɡ/, ǵ /ɡʲ/, gʷ /ɡʷ/||/k/||/k/||/k/-, -/ɡ/-||/ɡ/-, -/k/-, -/ɡ/-||/k/|
|/kʼ/||/k/, ḱ /kʲ/, kʷ /kʷ/||/kʼ/||/k/-, -kk- -/kː/-, -/k/-||/kʰ/-, -/k/-||/ɡ/-, -/k/-, -/ɡ/-||/kʼ/|
|/ɡ/||gʰ /ɡʱ/, ǵʰ /ɡʲʱ/, gʰʷ /ɡʷʱ/||/ɡ/||/k/-, -x- -/ʁ/-||/ɡ/||/ɡ/-, -∅-||/ɡ/|
|/ŋ/||-/n/-||-/m/-?||/ŋ/||-/nʲ/-||n- /n̪/-, -ṉ- -/n̺/-, -/t/-||-/n/-|
|/q/||h₂ /χ/||/q/||∅-, -/k/-||∅-, -/k/-, -/ɡ/-||∅-, -/ɡ/-||/χ/|
|/qʼ/||/k/, ḱ /kʲ/, kʷ /kʷ/||/qʼ/-, -/kʼ/-||/k/-, -kk- -/kː/-||/kʰ/-, -/k/-||/ɡ/-, -/k/-, -/ɡ/-||/kʼ/|
|/ɢ/||h₃ /ʁ/||/ʁ/||-x- ∅-, -/ʁ/-||∅-, -/ɡ/-||∅||/ʁ/|
|/χ/||h₂ /χ/||/χ/||∅-, -x- -/ʁ/-?||∅-||∅-||/ħ/|
|/ʁ/||h₃ /ʁ/||/ʁ/||∅-, -x- -/ʁ/-?||∅-||∅-||/ʕ/|
|/ħ/||h₁ /h/||/h/ > ∅||∅-, -x- -/ʁ/-?||∅-||∅-||/ħ/|
|/ʕ/||h₁ /h/||/h/ > ∅||∅-, -x- -/ʁ/-?||∅-||∅-||/ʕ/|
|/ʔ/||h₁ /ʔ/||/h/ > ∅||∅||∅||∅||/ʔ/|
|/h/||h₂? /χ/||/h/ > ∅||∅-, -x- -/ʁ/-?||∅-||∅-||/h/|
|/a/||/e/, /a/||/e/||/a/||/a/||/a/||/a/ ?|
|/e/||/e/, ∅||/e/, ∅||/e/||/e/||/e/, /i/|
|/i/||/ai̯/, /e/, /ei̯/, /i/, ∅||/e/, /i/, ∅||/i/||/i/||/i/||/i/ ?|
|/o/||/e/, /o/||/we/ ~ /wa/||/o/||/o/||/o/, /a/|
|/u/||/au̯/, /e/, /eu̯/, /u/||/u/ ~ /wa/||/u/||/u/||/u/, /o/||/u/ ?|
|/æ/||/e/||/e/, /a/, /aː/||/æ/||ä /æ/||/a/|
|/y/||/e/||/u/||/y/, /ø/||ü /y/||/u/|
Because grammar is less easily borrowed than words, grammar is usually considered stronger evidence for language relationships than vocabulary. The following correspondences (slightly modified to account for the reconstruction of Proto-Altaic by Starostin et al. ) have been suggested by Kaiser and Shevoroshkin (1988). /N/ could be any nasal consonant. /V/ could be any vowel. (The above cautionary notes on Afroasiatic and Dravidian apply.)
|/na/ "originally a locative particle"||/en/ 'in'||/nu/, /n/||-/na/||-/na/||-/n/|
|/Na/ or /Næ/ "animate plural"||-/(e)n/||-/NV/²||-/aːn/|
|-/tʼV/ "inanimate plural"||||-/t/-||-/t/||-/tʰ/-||-/æt/|
|-/kʼa/ "diminutive"||-/k/-||-/akʼ/-, -/ikʼ/||-kka -/kːa/, -kkä -/kːæ/||-/ka/|||
|/s(V)/ "causative-desiderative"||-/se/-||-/su/, -/sa/||-ij -/iɟ/-||/ʃV/-, -/ʃ/-|
|/tʼV/- "causative-reflexive"||-t(t)- -/t(ː)/-||-/t/-||-/t/-||/tV/-|
|/mæ/ "prohibitive"||mē /meː/||/maː/, /moː/||/mæ/, /bæ/||/ma/-||/m(j)/|
|/kʼo/ "intensifying and copulative"||-/kʷe/ 'and'||/kwe/||-/ka/, -kä -/kæ/||-/ka/||/k(w)/|
In addition, Kaiser and Shevoroshkin write the following about Proto-Nostratic grammar (two asterisks are used for reconstructions based on reconstructions; citation format changed):
The verb stood at the end of the sentence (SV and SOV type). The 1st p[er]s[on] was formed by adding the 1st ps. pronoun **mi to the verb; similarly, the 2nd ps. was formed by adding **ti. There were no endings for the 3rd ps. present [or at least none can be reconstructed], while the 3rd ps. preterit ending was **-di (Illich-Svitych 1971, pp. 218–19). Verbs could be active and passive, causative, desiderative, and reflective; and there were special markers for most of these categories. Nouns could be animate or inanimate, and plural markers differed for each category. There were subject and object markers, locative and lative enclitic particles, etc. Pronouns distinguished direct and oblique forms, animate and inanimate categories, notions of the type 'near':'far', inclusive:exclusive [...], etc. Apparently there were no prefixes. Nostratic words were either equal to roots or built by adding endings or suffixes. There are some cases of word composition...
According to Dolgopolsky, Proto-Nostratic language had analytic structure, which he argues by diverging of post- and prepositions of auxiliary words in descendant languages. Dolgopolsky states three lexical categories to be in the Proto-Nostratic language:
- Lexical words
- Auxiliary words
Word order was subject–object–verb when the subject was a noun, and object–verb–subject when it was a pronoun. Attributive (expressed by a lexical word) preceded its head. Pronominal attributive ('my', 'this') might follow the noun. Auxiliary words are considered to be postpositions.
Personal pronouns are seldom borrowed between languages. Therefore the many correspondences between Nostratic pronouns are rather strong evidence for the existence of a Proto-Nostratic language. The difficulty of finding Afroasiatic cognates is, however, taken by some as evidence that Nostratic has two or three branches, Afroasiatic and Eurasiatic (and possibly Dravidian), and that most or all of the pronouns in the following table can only be traced to Proto-Eurasiatic.
Nivkh is a living (if moribund) language with an orthography, which is given here. /V/ means that it is not clear which vowel should be reconstructed.
For space reasons, Etruscan is not included, but the fact that it had /mi/ 'I' and /mini/ 'me' seems to fit the pattern reconstructed for Proto-Nostratic ideally, leading some to argue that the Aegean or Tyrsenian languages were yet another Nostratic branch.
|/mi/||/bi/||/me/, /mi/||/met/||ни /ni/||[note 1]||/wi/ ˈIˈ, -/ˈˈˈmˈˈˈkət/ ˈI [act on] theeˈ||/mi/,[note 2] -/mi/[note 3]|
|'me' ~ 'mine'
|/minV/||/mene/[note 4]||/minV/-||/mine/-||/men/-||[note 1]|
|ti ~ tū
/ti/ ~ /tuː/
|[note 5]||/tet/||тъи, чи
|'thee' (oblique)||/tʼinV/ and/or
|te- /te/-||tū- /tuː/-||/tʰin/-
|/si/-, /se/-||-/mkəˈˈˈtˈˈˈ/ ˈI [act on] theeˈ|
|'we' (inclusive)||/mæ/||/we/-, -/me/- 'we'||mä- ~ me- /mæ/- ~ /me/- 'we'||/ba/(nom.)
/myn/- (oblique) 'we'
|/men/-, /m/-||ma ~ mā
/ma/ ~ /maː/ 'we'
|'we' (exclusive)||/na/||/ne/- 'we'[note 7]||/naj/, /n/-[note 8]||nām /naːm/ 'we'||/naħnu/[note 9]|
|'you' (plural)||/tʼæ/||-/te/[note 10]||tä /tæ/||/tʰV/
Below are selected reconstructed etymologies from Kaiser and Shevoroshkin (1988) and Bengtson (1998). Reconstructed ( = unattested) forms are marked with an asterisk. /V/ means that it is not clear which vowel should be reconstructed. Likewise, /E/ could have been any front vowel and /N/ any nasal consonant. Only the consonants are given of Proto-Afroasiatic roots (see above).
- Proto-Nostratic */kʼo/ or */qʼo/ 'who'
- Proto-Indo-European *kʷo- /kʷo/- 'who', kʷi- /kʷi/- (with suffix -i-) 'what'. Ancestors of the English wh- words.
- Proto-Afroasiatic */kʼ(w)/ and /k(w)/ 'who'. The change from ejective to plain consonants in Proto-Afroasiatic is apparently regular in grammatical words (Kaiser and Shevoroshkin 1988; see also */tV/ instead of */tʼV/ above).
- Proto-Altaic ?*/kʰa/-. The presence of /a/ instead of /o/ is unexplained, but Kaiser and Shevoroshkin (1988) regard this alternation as common among Nostratic languages.
- Proto-Uralic *ko- ~ ku- /ko/- ~ /ku/- 'who'
- "Yukaghir" (Northern, Southern, or both?) кин /kin/ 'who'
- Proto-Chukotko-Kamchatkan */mki/, */mkin/- 'who'
- Proto-Eskimo–Aleut */ken/ 'who'
- Proto-Nostratic */kʼærd/, */kʼerd/, or */kʼird/ 'heart ~ chest' (Kaiser and Shevoroshkin ; the Proto-Eskimo form given by Bengtson  may indicate that the vowel was /æ/ or not).
- Proto-Indo-European *ḱerd- /kʲerd/- 'heart'. The occurrence of *d instead of *dʰ is regular: voiceless and aspirated consonants never occur together in the same Proto-Indo-European root.
- Afroasiatic: Proto-Chadic */kʼVrd/- 'chest'
- Proto-Kartvelian */mkʼerd-/ (/m/ being a prefix) 'chest ~ breast'
- Proto-Eskimo */qatə/ 'heart ~ breast'. The presence of /q/ instead of /k/ is not clear.
- Proto-Turkic */køky-rʲ/ - 'chest'
- Proto-Nostratic */qʼiwlV/ 'ear ~ hear'
- Proto-Indo-European *ḱleu̯- /kʲleu̯/- 'hear'. Ancestor of English listen, loud.
- Proto-Afroasiatic */kʼ(w)l/ 'hear'
- Proto-Kartvelian */qʼur/ 'ear'
- Proto-Altaic */kʰul/- 'ear'
- Proto-Uralic *kūle- /kuːle/- (long vowel from fusion of -/iw/-) 'hear'
- Proto-Dravidian *kēḷ /keːɭ/ 'hear'. (Must figure out if it's /g/- instead.)
- Proto-Chukotko-Kamchatkan */vilvV/, possibly from earlier /kʷilwV/ 'ear'
- Proto-Nostratic */kiwæ/ ~ /kiwe/ ~ /kiwi/ 'stone'
- Afroasiatic: Proto-Chadic */kw/- 'stone'
- Proto-Kartvelian */kwa/- 'stone'
- Proto-Uralic *kiwe- /kiwe/- 'stone'
- Proto-Dravidian */kwa/ 'stone'
- Proto-Chukotko-Kamchatkan */xəvxə/ 'stone'; Kamchadal квал /kβal/, ков /koβ/ 'stone'
- Proto-Eskimo–Aleut */kew/- 'stone'
- Proto-Nostratic */wete/ 'water'
- Proto-Indo-European *wed- /wed/- 'water ~ wet'
- Altaic: Proto-Tungusic */ødV/ 'water'
- Proto-Uralic *wete /wete/ 'water'
- Proto-Dravidian *ōtV- ~ wetV- /oːtV/- ~ /wetV/- 'wet'
- Proto-Nostratic */burV/ 'storm'
- Proto-Indo-European *bʰer- /bʱer/- 'storm'
- Proto-Afroasiatic (?) */bwr/- 'storm'
- Proto-Altaic */burV/ ~ /borV/ 'storm'
- Proto-Uralic *purki /purki/- 'snow storm ~ smoke' (-/k/- unexplained)
- Proto-Nostratic */qantʼV/ 'front side'
- Proto-Indo-European *h₂ant- /χant/- 'front side'
- Proto-Afroasiatic */χnt/ 'front side'; the change from */ntʼ/ to */nt/ is apparently regular
- Proto-Altaic */antV/- 'front side'
- Proto-Nostratic */d͡zeɢV/ 'eat'
- Proto-Indo-European *seh₃(w)- /seʁ(w)/- 'satiated'
- Proto-Afroasiatic (?) */zʁ/- 'be fed' ~ 'be abundant'
- Proto-Kartvelian */d͡zeʁ/- 'become sated'
- Proto-Altaic */d͡ʒeː/ 'eat'
- Proto-Uralic *sexi- /seʁi/- or *sewi- /sewi/- 'eat'
- Proto-Nostratic */nʲamo/ 'grasp'
- Proto-Indo-European *i̯em- /jem/- 'grasp'
- Proto-Dravidian *ñamV- /ɲamV/- 'grasp'
- Proto-Nostratic */ʔekh₁-/ 'to move quickly, to rage; to be furious, raging, violent, spirited, fiery, wild (of a horse)'
- Proto-Indo-European */h₁ek-u-/ 'quick, swift (of a horse)'
- Proto-Altaic */èk`á/ 'to paw, hit with hooves; to move quickly, to rage (of a horse)'
- Proto-Nostratic */kʼutʼV/ 'little'
- Proto-Afroasiatic */kʼ(w)tʼ/ ~ /k(w)tʼ/ ~ /kt/ 'little'
- Proto-Kartvelian */kʼutʼ/ ~ /kʼotʼ/ 'little'
- Proto-Dravidian *kuḍḍ- /kuɖː/- 'little'. (Must figure out if plosives correct.)
- Proto-Turkic */küčük/-g from Proto-Altaic */k`ič`V/ ( ~ -č-)
In the 1960s, Vladislav Illich-Svitych composed a brief poem using his version of Proto-Nostratic. (Compare Schleicher's fable for similar attempts with several different reconstructions of Proto-Indo-European.)
|Nostratic (Illich-Svitych's spelling)||Nostratic (IPA)||Russian||English||Finnish|
|K̥elHä wet̥ei ʕaK̥un kähla||/KʼelHæ wetʼei ʕaKʼun kæhla/||Язык – это брод через реку времени,||Language is a ford through the river of time,||Kieli on kahluupaikka ajan joen yli,|
|k̥aλai palhʌ-k̥ʌ na wetä||/kʼat͡ɬai palhVkʼV na wetæ/||он ведёт нас к жилищу умерших;||it leads us to the dwelling of those gone before;||se johdattaa meidät kuolleiden kylään;|
|śa da ʔa-k̥ʌ ʔeja ʔälä||/ɕa da ʔakʼV ʔeja ʔælæ/||но туда не сможет дойти тот,||but he cannot arrive there,||mutta ei voi tulla sinne se,|
|ja-k̥o pele t̥uba wete||/jakʼo pele tʼuba wete/||кто боится глубокой воды.||who fears deep water.||joka pelkää syvää vettä.|
The value of K̥ or Kʼ is uncertain—it could be /kʼ/ or /qʼ/. H could similarly be at least /h/ or /ħ/. V or ʌ is an uncertain vowel.
Status within comparative linguistics
While the Nostratic hypothesis is not endorsed by the mainstream of comparative linguistics, Nostratic studies by nature of being based on the comparative method remain within the mainstream of contemporary linguistics from a methodological point of view; it is the scope with which the comparative method is applied rather than the methodology itself that raises eyebrows.
Nostraticists tend to refuse to include in their schema language families for which no proto-language has yet been reconstructed. This approach was criticized by Joseph Greenberg on the ground that genetic classification is necessarily prior to linguistic reconstruction, but this criticism has so far had no effect on Nostraticist theory and practice.
Certain critiques have pointed out that the data from individual, established language families that is cited in Nostratic comparisons often involves a high degree of errors; Campbell (1998) demonstrates this for Uralic data. Defenders of the Nostratic theory argue that were this to be true, it would remain that in classifying languages genetically, positives count for vastly more than negatives (Ruhlen 1994). The reason for this is that, above a certain threshold, resemblances in sound/meaning correspondences are highly improbable mathematically.
Pedersen's original Nostratic proposal synthesized earlier macrofamilies, some of which, including Indo-Uralic, involved extensive comparison of inflections. It is true the Russian Nostraticists and Bomhard initially emphasized lexical comparisons. Bomhard recognized the necessity to explore morphological comparisons and has since published extensive work in this area (see especially Bomhard 2008:1.273–386). According to him the breakthrough came with the publication of the first volume of Joseph Greenberg's Eurasiatic work, which provided a massive list of possible morphemic correspondences that has proved fruitful to explore. Other important contributions on Nostratic morphology have been published by John C. Kerns and Vladimir Dybo.
Critics argue that were one to collect all the words from the various known Indo-European languages and dialects which have at least one of any 4 meanings, one could easily form a list that would cover any conceivable combination of two consonants and a vowel (of which there are only about 20×20×5 = 2000). Nostraticists respond that they do not compare isolated lexical items but reconstructed proto-languages. To include a word for a proto-language it must be found in a number of languages and the forms must be relatable by regular sound changes. In addition, many languages have restrictions on root structure, reducing the number of possible root-forms far below its mathematical maximum. These languages include, among others, Indo-European, Uralic, and Altaic—all the core languages of the Nostratic hypothesis. To understand how the root structures of one language relate to those of another has long been a focus of Nostratic studies. For a highly critical assessment of the work of the Moscow School, especially the work of Illich-Svitych, cf. Campbell and Poser 2008:243-264.
- From Indo-European data alone, this difference between 'I' and 'me' seems impossible to explain. Based on comparisons to other Nostratic languages, however, some linguists (e.g. Ruhlen 1998) interpret 'I' as a compound of a Proto-Nostratic demonstrative pronoun /ʔe/ ~ /ʔi/, a Proto-Nostratic (or Proto-Eurasiatic) verb /gæ/ ~ /ge/ ~ /gi/ that probably meant 'to be', and -/m/ – in short, 'that's me' (that demonstrative pronoun, is verb, and a derivative of Proto-Nostratic /minV/) or "c'est moi" (ce demonstrative pronoun, est verb, and another derivative of Proto-Nostratic /minV/). As support, Ruhlen (1998) cites Chukchi -/eɣəm/ and /ɣem/ 'I' and -/eɣət/ and /ɣet/ 'thou', Itelmen ким /kim/ 'I' and ма /ma/ 'me', the Proto-Eskimo suffix -/mkət/ (see table), and several Uralic occurrences like Kamassian /igæm/ 'I am' or Hungarian engemet /ɛmɡɛmɛt/ 'me', tégedet /teːɡɛdɛt/ 'thee' (where -et is the accusative ending). Norquest (1998) cites many of the same forms and adds "Western Kamchadal" /kəmːa/ 'I' and /kəzːa/ 'thou'.
- Chadic only.
- A Cushitic verb suffix.
- Brahui has -/ti/ as the expected verb suffix; other Dravidian languages do not seem to have a cognate.
- /c/ may have been [c] or [t͡ʃ].
- In Proto-Indo-European the derivatives of /mæ/ and /na/ are thought to have fused, the former becoming the nominative stem and the latter the oblique stem. See Proto-Indo-European pronouns for the whole declension paradigm. – Kaiser and Shevoroshkin (1988) report that it has been speculated that Proto-Indo-European /ne/- had "an archaic meaning of exclusivity", which is, according to them, untestable from Indo-European data alone, but "strongly corroborated" by comparison with other Nostratic languages.
- Verb prefix with exclusive meaning only in Svan.
- Exclusive meaning only in Chadic.
- Verb suffix.
- E.g. Bomhard 2008.
- (Bomhard 2008:240).
- For instance Philip Baldi: "No particular side on the issue is taken in this book" (Baldi 2002:18).
- Salmons, Joseph C.; Joseph, Brian D. (1998). Nostratic: Sifting the Evidence. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 978-90-272-3646-3.
On the other hand, Comrie baldly states, in answer to his own question of the relatedness of Altaic, Uralic and Indo-European pronominal systems, "I do not know". Other agnostics represented in this volume, such as Ringe, Vine, Campbell, and even Hamp, demonstrate that the hypothesis is being taken seriously indeed by skeptics specializing in Indo-European and Uralic, at least. While these scholars seek to test the hypothesis, Nostratic has been around long enough and has been discussed widely enough that some regard the genetic affiliations as established.
- Manaster Ramer, Alexis; Michalove, Peter A. "Nostratic hypothesis | proposed language family". Encyclopedia Britannica.
The Nostratic theory is among the most promising of the many currently controversial theories of linguistic classification. It remains the best-argued of all the solutions hitherto presented for the affiliations of the languages of northern Eurasia, a problem that goes back to the German Franz Bopp and the Dane Rasmus Rask, two of the founders of Indo-European studies.
- Kallio, Petri; Koivulehto, Jorma (2017). "Beyond Proto-Indo-European". In Klein, Jared; Joseph, Brian; Fritz, Matthias (eds.). Handbook of Comparative and Historical Indo-European Linguistics. 3. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 2280–2291. ISBN 978-3-11-054243-1.
In general, Nostratic studies have failed to meet the same methodological standards as Indo-European studies, but then again so have most non-Indo-European studies.
- Sweet 1900: vii, 112–132.
- Pedersen as cited by Ruhlen, 1991: 384.
- Ruhlen 1991: 384-5.
- Bernal (1987). "Nostratic and Euroasiatic". Black Athena. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0-8135-3655-3.
- Sweet (1900), The History of Language, cit in Ruhlen 1991: 381-2.
- Ruhlen 1991:259.
- Szemerényi 1996:124.
- Cf. Trombetti’s defense against his critics in Come si fa la critica di un libro (1907).
- Cf. Greenberg 2005:159. See also Saussure's remarks on Franz Bopp, the founder of comparative linguistics, after Saussure has described the discovery of Indo-European by Cœurdoux and William Jones: "Bopp's originality is great. His merit is not to have discovered the kinship of Sanskrit with other European languages, but to have conceived that there was a subject for study in the precise relations of one related language to another related language." (From course notes by R. Engler, quoted by Tullio De Mauro in his critical edition of Ferdinand de Saussure, Cours de linguistique générale, Paris: Payot, 1972, p. 412; cp. Cours p. 14.)
- Dolgopolsky, Aharon (May 7, 2008). Nostratic Dictionary. ISBN 9781902937441 – via www.repository.cam.ac.uk.
- Reconstructing Proto-Nostratic (2 vols) - Brill. www.brill.com. Brill. 25 June 2008. ISBN 9789004168534.
- Bomhard, Allan R. "Bomhard - A Critical Review of Dolgopolsky's Nostratic Dictionary" – via Internet Archive.
- Bomhard, Allan R. (15 February 2016). "A Comprehensive Introduction to Nostratic Comparative Linguistics (2nd edition)" – via Internet Archive.
- Mallory, J.P.; Adams, D.Q. (2006). The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European & the Proto-Indo-European World (Oxford Linguistics). Oxford University Press. p. 84. ISBN 0199296685. Retrieved 2019-07-23.
- Salmons Joseph, Nostratic: sifting the evidence (1998)
- Bomhard, Allan R. (1999). "Next of Kin: The search for relatives of Indo-European". In Sheila M. Embleton; John Earl Joseph; Hans-Josef Niederehe (eds.). The Emergence of the Modern Language Sciences: Methodological perspectives and applications. Philadelphia: John Benjamins. pp. 101–108.
- Greenberg, J., "The Indo-European First and Second Person Pronouns in the Perspective of Eurasiatic, Especially Chukotkan", Anthropological Linguistics Vol. 39, No. 2 (Summer, 1997), p. 187.
- Greenberg 2002:2.
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- These phonemes do not occur in some or most reconstructions of Proto-Nostratic. They are omitted or put in brackets in the "Sound correspondences" table below, except for */p/.
- The phoneme */y/ appears in Bomhard but not in some other reconstructions of Proto-Nostratic.
- Kaiser (1989)
- Manaster Ramer(?). A "Glottalic" Theory of Nostratic.
- Bomhard, A. (2008). The Glottalic Theory of Proto-Indo-European and Consonantism and Its Implications for Nostratic Sound Correspondences.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-04-25. Retrieved 2006-02-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Some (such as Kaiser and Shevoroshkin ) regard the inconsistency in the evolution of this phoneme as evidence that it did not exist. Compare the extreme, and mysterious, rarity of its expected derivative, /b/, in Proto-Indo-European.
- The values of the Proto-Indo-European *h₁, *h₂, *h₃ and of the Proto-Uralic *x are controversial; the only evidence for the precise values shown here comes from the comparison with other Nostratic languages.
- Which phoneme appears in Proto-Indo-European depends on the vowel that followed it in Proto-Nostratic: a following /a/ kept the consonant plain (and changed itself into /e/ in the process); a following /æ/, /e/, or /i/ produced palatalization (and became /e/ in the process), except in the cases where /i/ became a diphthong; and a following /o/, /u/, or /y/ produced labialization (and again became /e/ in the process), except where /u/ became a diphthong.
- In Proto-Indo-European, all vowels became /e/ unless preceded by /ʔ/ or diphthongized or affected by ablaut. In the Afroasiatic languages, ablaut is so pervasive that it prevents reconstruction of vowels in most Proto-Afroasiastic roots; in addition, /i/ partially merged with /j/ and /u/ (at least sometimes derived from Proto-Nostratic /u/, /o/, and /y/) with /w/. Kartvelian, too, has ablaut.
- Quoted from Kaiser and Shevoroshkin 1988:313
- Marked with a question mark in Kaiser and Shevoroshkin 1988
- The Eskimo–Aleut languages, too, have a plural marker -/t/. – Like them, Proto-Altaic did not distinguish animate and inanimate nouns.
- The Proto-Indo-European animate plural marker /-s/ has been suggested to belong here.
- The Kurukh language has -/kan/.
- Only in Proto-Turkic and its descendants.
- As in Latin senatus populusque romanus 'the Roman Senate and people'.
- Kaiser and Shevoroshkin 1988:314f.
- Cf. Bomhard 1996.
- See Bomhard 2008:209: "While Proto-Eskimo–Aleut has not yet been reconstructed, great progress has been made in reconstructing Proto-Eskimo."
- Amur dialect only.
- "Altaic etymology".
- "Altaic etymology".
- Wilford, John Noble (1987-11-24). "Linguists Dig Deeper Into Origins of Language". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-08-20.
- Greenberg 2005:337.
- Cf. Sweet 1900:115–120.
- Greenberg 2000.
- Bomhard, Allan R. "More Thoughts on Nostratic Morphology" – via Internet Archive.
- In Bomhard and Kerns 1994:141–190.
- Dybo 2004.
- Cf. Cuny 1943:113–159 and the various sections on "Root structure patterning" in Bomhard 2008.
- For example:
From Bomhard and Kerns, The Nostratic Macrofamily, p. 219:
- Proto-Nostratic *bar-/*bər- 'seed, grain':
- A. Proto-Indo-European *b[h]ars- 'grain': Latin far 'spelt, grain'; Old Icelandic barr 'barley'; Old English bere 'barley'; Old Church Slavonic brašъno 'food'. Pokorny 1959:111 *bhares- 'barley'; Walde 1927–1932. II:134 *bhares-; Mann 1984–1987:66 *bhars- 'wheat, barley'; Watkins 1985:5–6 *bhares- (*bhars-) 'barley'; Gamkrelidze-Ivanov 1984.II: 872–873 *b[h]ar(s)-.
- B. Proto-Afroasiatic *bar-/*bər- 'grain, cereal': Proto-Semitic *barr-/*burr 'grain, cereal' > Hebrew bar 'grain'; Arabic burr 'wheat'; Akkadian burru 'a cereal'; Sabaean brr 'wheat'; Harsūsi berr 'corn, maize, wheat'; Mehri ber 'corn, maize, wheat'. Cushitic: Somali bur 'wheat'. (?) Proto-Southern Cushitic *bar-/*bal- 'grain (generic) > Iraqw balaŋ 'grain'; Burunge baru 'grain'; Alagwa balu 'grain' K'wadza balayiko 'grain'. Ehret 1980:338.
- C. Dravidian: Tamil paral 'pebble, seed, stone of fruit'; Malayalam paral 'grit, coarse grain, gravel, cowry shell'; Kota parl 'pebble, one grain (of any grain)'; Kannaḍa paral, paral 'pebble, stone' Koḍagu para 'pebble'; Tuḷu parelụ 'grain of sand, grit, gravel, grain of corn, etc.; castor seed'; Kolami Parca 'gravel'. Burrow-Emeneau 1984:353, no. 3959.
- D. Sumerian bar 'seed'.
- Proto-Nostratic *bar-/*bər- 'seed, grain':
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- WITCZAK K.T., KOWALSKI A.P. (2012). "Nostratyka. Wspólnota językowa indoeuropejska". In: Przeszłość społeczna. Próba konceptualizacji, red. S. Tabaczyński i in. (red.), Poznań, pp. 826–837.
- Stefan Georg, 2013, Review of Salmons & Joseph, eds, Nostratic: Sifting the Evidence, 1997
- "Linguists debating deepest roots of language" – New York Times article on Nostratic (June 27, 1995)
- "What is Nostratic?" by John Bengtson, in Mother Tongue Newsletter 31 (1998), pages 33–38
- "Nostraticist Vladislav Markovich Illich-Svitych" – photograph, Nostratic poem (2002)
- Proposed descent tree for Borean languages, including Nostratic by Sergei Starostin
- Database query to Nostratic etymology on StarLing database (last modified 2006)
- Nostratic Dictionary by Aharon Dolgopolsky (2006): main page at Cambridge University DSpace and "Preface" by Colin Renfrew