02 November 2016

The Indo-European horses (updated)

The common IE word for 'horse'1, reconstructed as *h₁ek´w-o-, is a loanword from the language spoken by nomadic shepherds of the Pontic-Caspian steppes, where the animal was domesticated around 4,000-3,500 BC2. This is a Wanderwort found in Caucasian *ɦɨ[n]tʃwi (~ -e) 'horse' (NCED 211) which also spread to Sumerian anše 'donkey' and Hurrian eššǝ 'horse'3.

Interestingly, we find possible correspondences in Afrasian *ʕi(n)ʒ- 'sheep, goat' (Semitic, Cushitic) and *χu(n)ʒ(-ir-) 'pig' (Semitic, Chadic)', whose specialization could have involved phonosymbolism in the initial fricative. As pigs, sheep and goats -which together with cattle made up the Near East Neolithic package- were first domesticated around 9,000-8,000 BC in the Taurus-Zagros mountains area, I would identify the source language with Bomhard’s Proto-Nostratic4, which his collegue Kerns5 regarded as being part of the Dene-Caucasian phylum: 
I believe that Nostratic languages did not exist except as a part of Dene-Caucasian until the waning of the Würm glaciation, some 15,000 years ago.
In my opinion, this word would have designated some Pleistocene ungulates (i.e. hoofed animals) such as deer or boar as a derivative from 'hoof' or 'paw'. Hence possible Eurasiatic cognates would be IE *g´hes- 'hand'6, Caucasian *kwanVtʃˀe 'paw; knee' and Uralic *ki(n)tʃe/*ky(n)tʃe 'nail, fingernail, claw', the latter two with the nasal retained in some of the later Wanderwörter.
1 In fact, the IE word has been used by defenders of the so-called Kurgan theory as part of the evidence supporting those people were speakers of PIE (i.e. the proto-language of the IE family). See J.P. Mallory (1989): In Search of the Indo-Europeans. Language, Archaeology and Myth, p. 143-185. 
2 The domesticated horse (Equus ferus caballus) is a different subspecies than the wild horse of the Eurasian steppes (Equus ferus ferus), also called tarpan (a Turkic word). There is also another horse subspecies native to the Euasian steppes, the so-called Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus Przewalski's), which has never been domesticated.
3 Luwian *aššu-/*azzu- 'horse' and Georgian aču/ačua 'interjection for calling horses' are loanwords from Indo-Iranian.
4 A. Bomhard (2008): Reconstructing Proto-Nostratic. Comparative Phonology, Morphology, and Vocabulary, vol. I, p. 235-241. 
5 However, and unlike proposed by Nostraticists, in my opinion this language couldn't be the common ancestor (Mother Tongue) of a plethora of language families such as Indo-European, Afrasian or Kartvelian, but rather the source of several Neolithic Wanderwörter. A. Bomhard & J.C. Kerns (1994): The Nostratic Macrofamily: A Study in Distant Linguistic Relationship, p. 153.
6 With suffixes -r-/-to-, the latter being a demonstrative.


  1. Hi Octavia,

    I was wondering if you could split the Nostratic evolution that lead to Basque/Influenced like this:

    An imigration, first wave, route along the Mediterranean Sea, Cardial Ware. This is what links North Caucasian to Basque, besides "founding" the latter.

    Second wave is the LBK, which forms the Aquitanian influence.

    Third wave is the Bell Beaker culture, which makes up the proto celtic influence.

    Forth and last wave is the romance influence.

  2. Hi, Daniel.

    I'd more or less agree with Cardial Ceramics being the vector of Vasco-Caucasian languages in West Europe (of which Basque would be the only survivor), but I think the rest of your schema is oversimplified and grossly inaccurate.

    For example, I don't think LBK had a direct influence on Basque, and also they were other IE languages in Iberia before Celtic. The language(s) of the Mesolithic hunterer-gatherers should be also accounted for.

  3. I remember that once you wrote, in Tower of Babel forums, off line now, that there was another wave of influence, which formed Aquitanian. The only long wave to hit Iberia before Corded Ware was LBK, besides Cardial.

  4. This was years ago, but now I've got more linguistic data about Neolithic Europe. It looks like Vasco-Caucasian speakers were agro-pastoralists while LBK people belonged to a different stock, most likely Eurasiatic (although my own interpretation differs from the one of Nostraticists).

  5. I found your Eurasiatic scattered in some google searches. What is its branching scheme, if there is any, into family and macro families?

  6. To cut a long story short, the PIE reconstructed by IE-ists isn't a real protolanguage but rather a cross section trhough the last stages of the IE family, which would be the result of the superimposition (through language replacement processes) of several linguistic varieties or paleo-dialects whose common ancestor (i.e. the real PIE) would have been spoken in the Upper Paleolithic.

    Besides IE, from this phylum would also stem Altaic and Afrasian (which has lots of loanwords from indigenous African languages). But in despite of having a lot of Eurasiatic lexicon (in the form of Neolithic loanwords), Kartvelian doesn't seem to be an Eurasiatic language.

  7. These Eurasiatic paleo-dialects can be identified thanks to sound correspondences.

    In fact, the Spanish IE-ist Francisco Villar has reached to similar conclusions by studying the ancient toponymy and hydronymy of Europe and SW Asia, e.g. the roots *akW-ā, *ap-/*ab-, *up-/*ub- 'water'.

    Typically, we can got two or more representants of the same Eurasiatic root in IE, which to the oblivious IE-ists would appear to be different "PIE roots".

  8. Please notice that the usual chornology given for Proto-Nostratic (roughly 15,000-12,000 BC) would actually correspond to the branching of Proto-Afrasian from Eurasiatic.

  9. I am not sure about dates, but it seems that such uniformity in toponymy and hydronymy indicates a very uniform wave of expansion. The dates you showed indicate, it would have to show some kind of technical correlation between expanding waves from very distant refugia.

    I rather believe in a late expansion, beginning around 8500BC, after the 11.1ka event, where there it is written "pigs" in your graphic. And expanding around hills fed by rivers, which is pretty much covered by a wave of expansion shown by your graphic.

    SW asia earliest crops date from 7000BC, also in hills fed by rivers. It's also around this date that it arrives in the Balkans.

    The "pig" zone, which is also the same of the earliest crops of wheat, is what I would consider the epicenter of Nostratic.

    There is a wave of advance following the 8.2ka event, where irrigation and long range navigation is developed.

    The basques probably inherited this agro pastoral culture from the proto nostratic, after one of its daughter branch arrived to the hills of Iberia after the 8.2ka event.

    I'd consider Kartvelian as the remaining of the initial expansion, east of the black sea, towards the Volga, after the 8.2ka event. The break of this cluster, gave birth to what is usually called by afroasiatic and kartvelian, happened around the 5.9ka event.

    This is a list of bond events:


    Bond 7 is in the limit of resolution of most records. Bond 8 and 5 are the strongest.

    The date around 8500BC is what Allan Bomhard gives to proto nostratic.

  10. The 5.9 event was the 3rd strongest, globally speaking. It led to the desertification of the sahara. It also led to the intensification of irrigation technology which led to Sumer and Old Egypt civilizations, also to the split of proto eurasiatic, as I wrote. It basicaly affected the climates related to the North Atlantic weather.

  11. Linguistic evidence doesn't support the appartenance of Basque to "Nostratic" bur rather to the Vasco-Caucasian (also called Macro-Caucasian or Sino-Caucasian) phylum.

    However, I partially agree with Kerns in that at least a part of the "Nostratic" lexicon is of Vasco-Caucasian origin, and more specifically of a branch indigenous to the Taurus-Zagros mountains area.

    IMHO, the flaw inherent to current linguistic theories is they implicitly assume language families are monoloythic, when they're usually the outcome of multiple language contact and replacement processes. So it's no wonder macro-comparativists tend to consider loanwords and Wanderwörter as if they were part of the inherited lexicon.

    I personally think Bomhard's "Nostratic" would be a branch of Eurasiatic which originated in the Near East and expanded in the Neolithic, but it can't be confused with Eurasiatic itself, which is much older, being spoken by hunter-gatherers.

  12. You might be interested in seeing some PIE information & maps here:

  13. Thanks. I see their statistical would point to a Neolithic expansion from Anatolia, much in line with Renfrew's theory. Unfortunately, the IE family can't be the result of a single linguistic event, but rather the outcme of several replacement and contact processes.