View Full Version : Language shift and elite dominance, how often?

2009-11-28, 10:24

This is interesting:

Conquest by a minority, including Renfrew's elite dominance and system-collapse models. Under conquest, a people, usually with strong social hierarchy and military organization, takes power in a country and imposes its language and usually much of its global cultural inheritance, retaining for itself positions of power and control of wealth. Conquerors, if well-organized, can be a small minority. Two such cases are the previously cited examples of Turkey and Hungary, which are well-known historically and are further studied in chapter 5. In both cases the genetic traces of the invaders are, at best, extremely modest since they were not sufficiently numerous to influence strongly the genetic pool of the previous inhabitants.

Conquest does not always involve language replacement. Several barbarian invasions after the fall of the Roman empire did not have a marked effect on local languages, although in some cases the original barbarians' dialect has been conserved to these days in certain small areas.

In Renfrew's terminology, system collapse, generating a power vacuum, may result in unusual circumstances, giving a chance to certain minorites to take control and impose their language. Two examples cited by Renfrew are the fall of the Roman Empire in Britain, after which Anglo-Saxon mercenaries, perhaps with the help of kin from abroad, acquired power; and the fall of the Myan civilisation around the tenth century A.D., about which much less is known. As acknowledged by Renfrew, this mechanism could be considered a special case of elite dominance.

Unlike Renfrew, who has chosen not to consider genetic aspects of these phenomena, we are interested in joint history. In the demographic-subsistence model, there is clearly replacement of both languages and, at least partially, also of genes. Most elite-dominance situations are likely to leave the genes largely or relatively intact.
— Cavalli-Sforza et al., The History and Geography of Human Genes, ISBN 0691087504, p. 102 (http://books.google.com/books?id=FrwNcwKaUKoC&printsec=frontcover&dq=isbn:0691087504&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=&f=false)

How often has this happened in history? It would be interesting if you could give examples and cite sources, preferably academic sources, of when and how language replacement occurred in history, and what was the cause.

I'll start with an early historical case in point:

Parpola, Simo (2004). "National and Ethnic Identity in the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Assyrian Identity in Post-Empire Times (http://www.jaas.org/edocs/v18n2/Parpola-identity_Article%20-Final.pdf)". Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies Vol. 18 (No. 2).

In this study, Simo Parpola argues that there was a language shift in the Neo-Assyrian Empire from Akkadian to Aramaic. He calls this, "The Aramaization of Assyria". For a more general discussion about how this has affected the modern Assyrian Neo-Aramaic language, discuss it in this thread (https://www.forumbiodiversity.com/showthread.php?t=412), because the Assyrian language isn't the focus of this specific topic.

I've also read some hypothetical speculation by Svante Päboo, that ethnic Finns used to speak an Indo-European language, before they shifted to an Uralic language, which became the modern Finnish, Finno-Ugric language:

Similarly, studies of mtDNA have identified large genetic distances between the Saami and other Europeans, including the Finns (Sajantila and Pääbo 1995; Sajantila et al. 1995). Likewise, Lahermo et al. (1996) found no overlap between Saami and the remaining European mtDNA patterns and concluded that the Saami and the Finns must have different genetic histories. One alternative hypothesis to explain the presence of genetic differences and language similarities in the Finns and the Saami involves a language shift by the Finns from Indo-European to Finno-Ugric (Sajantila and Pääbo 1995).

Note to PeterThaGreat: let's not make this a bashing Finns thread, I just used it as an example for the sake of argument and discussion.

If you know more examples, preferably with good sources, let's discuss this.

2009-11-28, 10:33
Other examples include, Romanians, who once spoke a language; Dacian, thought to be closeley related to Iranic, now however Romanians speak a Romance language, with little genetic imput left over from Roman conquerors.

Anyways this is all interesting, I wonder how can languages be imposed on a populace with little actual changes to the gene pool. Turkey for example is suposedly only 8% central Asian , yet these Turkics were able to sub-due a much larger population of Anatolians.

2009-11-28, 11:29
Iberians, most of their DNA haplogroups have been proven to be autochtonous, although this is difficult for me to prove as much of the invaders (Celts, Germanics, Romans) carried the r1b haplogroup too, and I don't have much knowledge of further sub-clades.

2010-02-09, 12:32
The only examples are not Hungarian,Turkish and Romanian we have more.
-Most of the Balkan people speak Slavic languages but they have predominantly Balkanian haplogroups such as E1b or I2a.
-Another example is nort African,Syrian,Lybnanese Arabic speakers.
-Hazara people speak İrani language but they are decendants of Mongols.
-Kazak people speak Turkic, but they genetically very close to Mongols.
-Daghestani tribes such as Avars and Lezgins speak Caucasian languages but they are predominantly J1
-The people of British İsle decendants of Celtics,but they speak a Germanic language.
-Some Latin American countries such as Peru,Bolivia mostly indiginous but speak Spanish.
-Most of the Caribbean countries speak Europan languages while they root from Africa.
-French are Celtic but speak Romance.

2010-02-10, 19:11
-Syrian,Lybnanese Arabic speakers.

I dont know about that. There were Arab tribes in Levant like Ghassanids and Nabataean and other Bedouin wandering in Syrian Desert before Islamic Conquest.

2010-02-10, 19:36
Anyways this is all interesting, I wonder how can languages be imposed on a populace with little actual changes to the gene pool. Turkey for example is suposedly only 8% central Asian , yet these Turkics were able to sub-due a much larger population of Anatolians.Excellent explanation right here:

“DNA scientists class the Finns as Indo-Europeans, or descendants of western genetic stock. But because "Indo-European" is a term borrowed from linguistics, it is misleading in the broader context of bioanthropology. DNA scientists work within a time frame of tens of thousands of years, whereas the evolution of Indo-European languages, as indeed of all European language groups, is confined to a much briefer time span. DNA scientists nevertheless postulate that the Finno-Ugric population absorbed an influx of migrating Indo-European farming communities ("Indo-European" both genetically and, by that stage, also in the language they spoke). The newcomers altered the original genetic makeup of the Finno-Ugric population, but nevertheless adopted their language. This, in a nutshell, explains the origin of the Finns, according to the DNA scientists. The Samis, however, are a much older population in the opinion of DNA scientists, and their origin has yet to be established conclusively.”
Source: http://sydaby.eget.net/swe/jp_finns.htm

Again, this is not a Finn thread, I'm just citing sources.

Point anyway is that languages evolve faster than the speed of genetic groups, and through contact with other ethnic groups, there's a tendency to impose a language on another group, in various contexts, like political power or because the language has a high prestige (religious, cultural or otherwise).

Food for thought: how much of all Europeans are actually descended from the original proto-Indo-Europeans? Speaking a PIE-descended language certainly doesn't mean 100% of your ancestry is derived from the original PIE group.

2010-02-17, 16:28
Interesting thread. People learn languages to communicate better with others. Linguistic impositions are usually associated with estatal and writting societies. When two (or more) different linguistic groups take contact it can occur different things (without a necesary exclusion):

A and B.
A learns B and B learns A (bilinguism)
A and B converge in AB (pidgin and creole)
A and B use C (lingua franca)
A or B prevalence over the other, but leaving a substrate (lexical, fonetics...)

What I find really difficult is to erase completely the linguistic factors involved in the "losing languages".

Why iberians lost their "native" languages? Well, iberians were integrated into a bigger political concept, with its burocracy, administrators, well-developed writing system...If you wanted to participate in the new system, learning the official language was advantageous (romans used one language), because the new rulers didn't go to learn all the iberian languages.

In the bronze of Ascoli (I c. b.C) we can see how two iberian horsemen have adopted roman names (their fathers' ones are still iberian). It is supposed that iberian languages survived, reisdually, till VI century (more than 700 years since the roman arrival), but ibero-romance languages are not the same, latin "behave" depending on the substrate(s) it was put on top.

Nobody in the world has 100 % ancestors of the same linguistic group. Neither the members of the supposedly original PIE group.

2010-11-24, 10:49
Useful study on language shift and elite dominance:

It is suggested that the necessary degrees of language spread required to
explain the distributions of the world’s most extensive language families, of foragers
and food producers alike, would have required significant spread of native speaker
communities. Language shift can explain small scale linguistic situations but not
whole language families, and elite dominance was not a major spreader of language
families in pre-state times.Source: http://aalc07.psu.edu/papers/Bellwood%20Stanford.pdf

2010-11-29, 10:19
This case is very common.Another examples:
*Modern Egyptians are mostly closer to Copts,since they are descendants of Ancient Egyptians.But Modern Egyptians speak Arabic.
*Assyrians speak a Semitic language but genetically they are closer to Armenians.
Also I don't know is that totally correct but I've read in somewhere that Koreans are genetically closer to SE Asians than East Asians,despite their language is somewhat related to Japanese,Tunguz and Mongol.

---------- Post added 2010-11-29 at 12:21 ----------

Turkey for example is suposedly only 8% central Asian , yet these Turkics were able to sub-due a much larger population of Anatolians.

Well,that isn't correct at all...Since Seljuks weren't pure Mongoloid when they came Europe...Some of IE genes in Turkey is carried from Central Asian IE(Tocharians,Soghdians etc.).

2010-11-29, 10:26
Gaels speak a Celtic language and many believe they weren't even Celts at all.

2010-11-29, 10:30
Also as I know,Inuits in Greenland speak Danish and they are culturally/religiously closer to Danes...

2010-11-29, 10:34
It's not language shift, though. The vast majority of people in Greenland are bilingual. Their native tongue is vibrant.