A more recent, revised and updated version of this paper has been published (2019)

Corded Ware substrate

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Corded Ware Substrate hypothesis

It has been argued that similarities found in Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic languages – like the peculiar phonetic ruki development, a similar satem trend in both groups[Meier-Brügger 2003] – suggest a sort of west-east continuum between both languages, with certain features running through them[Mallory and Adams 2007].

In Europe, North-West Indo-European communities speaking Pre-Germanic merged with peoples from the Battle Axe culture during the Dagger Period of the late Nordic Neolithic (ca. 2400-1700), while Pre-Balto-Slavic probably merged with Corded Ware cultures in the Únětice or Mierzanowice/Nitra cultural regions (ca. 2300-1600). In the steppe, Graeco-Aryan dialects spoken in the eastern Yamna and Poltavka cultures were replaced by peoples of Abashevo origin forming the Potapovka and Sintashta cultures (ca. 2100-1800 BC). Because both dialects, a Northern and a Southern IE one, already developed quite differently, evolved in a similar manner, their changes may be explained by a common Corded Ware substrate language[Quiles 2017].

According to the theory presented in this paper, the cultural-historical community formed at the end of the 6th millennium in the Pontic-Caspian steppe may have spoken related dialects, potentially identified – following common guesstimates and the described Proto-Indo-European evolution – as [[1]]. The gradual contribution of steppe-related ancestry to all steppe cultures during the Late Neolithic points to the maintenance of exchange among them and with the Caucasus, although differences in their distribution points to their independent evolution.

In such a loose community formed by regional groups, the eastern Khvalynsk area developed Middle Proto-Indo-European or Indo-Hittite, as shown by its later expansion of Late Indo-European dialects as the Yamna culture. The western Sredni Stog area – bordering with Neolithic farmers to the west, and with Indo-European horse-riders to the east – remained a society of hunter-gatherers with contributions from cattle herding, and did not practice horse domestication, which is compatible with the main vocabulary reconstructed for Proto-Uralic[Pereltsvaig and Lewis 2015].

The North Pontic Eneolithic societies are therefore the best approximate population at this moment for the population that later expanded the Corded Ware culture – and thus Uralic dialects – into northern Europe and Eurasia. While Wiik’s concept of a Mesolithic European ‘Vasconic-Uralic harmony’[Wiik 2008] is not tenable today, the proposed Uralic substratum for Germanic and Balto-Slavic may be[Wiik 1999].

From a linguistic point of view, the characteristic palatalisation of the consonant system in Proto-Uralic is compatible with the similarly transposed velar system adopted for Late Indo-European dialects by Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian speakers, thus explaining the strongest phonetic connection between these dialectally diverse Indo-European languages. Differences in the Baltic and Slavic satemisation processes might point to an early split of the North-West Indo-European dialect ancestral to both, before or during its assimilation by different Uralic-speaking communities of late Corded Ware cultures. A potential connection with the Balkans Chalcolithic, the origin of the Corded Ware horizon, could also explain the potential satem influence found in Anatolian and Paleo-Balkan languages.

This model supports thus the reconstruction of two series of velars: the traditional reconstruction of dorsovelars and labiovelars[Lehmann 1952], which is usually ignored in common textbooks in favour of the older reconstruction of a third series of palatovelars[Bomhard 2015]; and also Martinet’s glottalic consonants[Gamkrelidze and Ivanov 1995].

A western Corded Ware substratum could also be argued to be the origin of certain common isoglosses found between Germanic and Balto-Slavic. In terms of Holzer’s “Temematic hypothesis”, Germanic and Temematic would share common western Corded Ware isoglosses, and only later would Proto-Balto-Slavic – already separated from Proto-Indo-Iranian in the suggested Indo-Slavonic group – absorb Temematic as a substratum language[Kortlandt 2016].

copper-age-early_corded-ware.jpg Diachronic map of Copper Age migrations ca. 3100-2600 BC [Anthony 2007][Harrison and Heyd 2007][Sjogren, Price, and Kristiansen 2016][Heyd 2012][Heyd 2014].

To further complicate the dialectal nature of Balto-Slavic, ancient samples show R1b1a1a2a2-Z2103 lineages in western Yamna migrants, as attested in Vučedol and in east Bell Beaker populations. Also, modern populations in central Europe, in regions previously occupied by the Únětice and Lusatian cultures, also show R1b1a1a2a2-Z2103 subclades. Assuming that Yamna lineages corresponded to separated clans that kept a Graeco-Aryan dialect during the western migration, their integration into a common Únětice culture could also explain the Graeco-Aryan features of Balto-Slavic that have been associated with Indo-Iranian.

For more on the Uralic substrate associated with Corded Ware societies, see the Corded Ware Substrate hypothesis[Quiles 2017].

Agricultural Substrate Hypothesis

A different proposal is found in Kroonen’s Agricultural Substrate Hypothesis, which is based on vocabulary and especially noun inflection, in some cases common to Germanic, Balto-Slavic, and Greek. Its author related it first to the advent of Middle Eastern farmers[Kroonen 2012], and now to the Funnelbeaker culture that was substituted in northern Europe by the Corded Ware culture[Kristiansen et al. 2017][Iversen and Kroonen 2017].

According to our model, this substrate language would correspond precisely with the language spoken by Corded Ware peoples, that was later substituted by Indo-European from Yamna or Bell Beaker cultures. Kroonen’s proposal links the common substrate language to a Middle Eastern language, possibly related to Proto-Semitic. Given the strong historical interconnection (and clear division) between Trypillian and Sredni Stog cultures, linked to the, it could be argued that these traits of a Middle Eastern language would have been adopted precisely by western Corded Ware communities during its initial expansion.

The Ice Age refugium of western hunter-gatherers in south-eastern Europe was only partially mixed with Middle Eastern Neolithic farmers up to the Danube. In light of certain macro-family proposals, it might be suggested that the northern region – colonised mainly by R1b1a-L754 lineages (including R1b1a1a-P297 and R1b1a2-V88 subclades) – could have spoken Afroasiatic, or a language common to Afroasiatic and Indo-Uralic, that could have later evolved into the main language of the Old European culture and east-central Europe.

eneolithic_forest.jpg Diachronic map of Eneolithic migrations ca. 4000-3100 BC [Anthony 2007][Szmyt 2013][Piezonka 2015], Uni-Köln.


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