Skip to comments.Siberian, Native American Languages Linked -- A First
Posted on 03/28/2008 7:53:49 PM PDT by blam
Siberian, Native American Languages Linked -- A First
for National Geographic News
March 26, 2008
A fast-dying language in remote central Siberia shares a mother tongue with dozens of Native American languages spoken thousands of miles away, new research confirms.
The finding may allow linguists to weigh in on how the Americas were first settled, according to Edward Vajda, director of the Center for East Asian Studies at Western Washington University in Bellingham.
Since at least 1923 researchers have suggested a connection exists between Asian and North American languagesbut this is the first time a link has been demonstrated with established standards, said Vajda, who has studied the relationship for more than 15 years.
Previous researchers had provided lists of similar-sounding and look-alike words, but their methods were unscientific. Such similarities, Vajda noted, are likely to be dismissed as coincidence even if they represent genuine evidence.
So Vajda developed another method. "I'm providing a whole system of [similar] vocabulary and also of grammatical parallelsthe way that verb prefixes are structured," he said.
His research links the Old World language family of Yeniseic in central Siberia with the Na-Dene family of languages in North America.
The Yeniseic family includes the extinct languages Yugh, Kott, Assan, Arin, and Pumpokol. Ket is the only Yeniseic language spoken today. Less than 200 speakers remain and most are over 50, according to Vajda.
"Within a couple of generations, Ket will probably become extinct," he said.
The Na-Dene family includes languages spoken by the broad group of Athabaskan tribes in the U.S. and Canada as well as the Tlingit and Eyak people. The last Eyak speaker died in January.
Vajda presented the findings in February at a meeting of linguists at the Alaska Native Language Center in Fairbanks.
Making the Connection
Vajda established the Yeniseic-Na-Dene link by looking for languages with a verb-prefix system similar to those in Yeniseic languages. Such prefixes are unlike any other language in North Asia.
"Only Na-Dene languages have a system of verb prefixes that very closely resemble the Yeniseic," he said.
From there, Vajda found several dozen cognatesor words in different languages that sound alike and have the same meaning.
The results dovetail with earlier work by Merritt Ruhlen, an anthropologist at Stanford University in California who Vajda said discovered the first genuine Na-Dene-Yeniseic cognates.
Vajda also showed how these cognates have sound correspondences.
"I systematically connect these structures in Yeniseic with the structures in modern Na-Dene," Vajda said.
"My comparisons aren't just lists of some look-alike words I show there is a system behind it."
Johanna Nichols is a linguist at the University of California in Berkeley who attended the Alaska meeting where Vajda presented his research.
With the exception of the Eskimo-Aleut family that straddles the Bering Strait and Aleutian Islands, this is "the first successful demonstration of any connection between a New World language and an Old World language," Nichols said.
Vajda said his research puts linguistics on the same stage as archaeology, anthropology, and genetics when it comes to studying the history of humans in North Asia and North America.
However, the research has not revealed which language came first. Neither modern Ket nor Na-Dene languages in North America represent the mother tongue.
For example, some words in the Na-Dene family likely represent sounds of the mother tongue more closely than their Yeniseic cognates. Other words in Yeniseic, however, are probably more archaic.
Based on archaeological evidence of human migrations across the Bering land bridge, the language link may extend back at least 10,000 years.
If true, according to Vajda, this would be the oldest known demonstrated language link.
But more research is needed to determine when the languages originated and how they became a part of various cultures before such a claim will be accepted, according to UC Berkeley linguist Nichols.
"I don't think there is any reason to assume the connection is [10,000 years] old
this must surely be one late episode in a much longer and more complicated history of settlement," she said.
They don’t have a lot of examples.
Most likely these folks were among the later arrivals rather than being among the first. (But, all of my linguistics books are at the office so what do I know?)
Ya I don’t think the Na-Dene were the first people - they came later though before the Inuit etc.
Thanks, interesting stuff. I had a Korean girlfriend (from Korea) who told me that they taught her in school that Koreans discovered America, and settled it.
***His research links the Old World language family of Yeniseic in central Siberia with the Na-Dene family of languages in North America. ***
Alaskan, Navaho and Apache. Late comers.
** I had a Korean girlfriend (from Korea) who told me that they taught her in school that Koreans discovered America, and settled it.***
Years ago, I had a book on Atlantic flyboy Charles Lindberg who did some archaeology work in Alaska. They found Korean Jade at a dig there.
"The oldest human remains found in the Americas were recently "discovered" in the storeroom of Mexico's National Museum of Anthropology. Found in central Mexico in 1959, the five skulls were radiocarbon dated by a team of researchers from the United Kingdom and Mexico and found to be 13,000 years old. They pre-date the Clovis culture by a couple thousand years, adding to the growing evidence against the Clovis-first model for the first peopling of the Americas."
"Of additional significance is the shape of the skulls, which are described as long and narrow, very unlike those of modern Native Americans.
Although that doesn't seem to have anything at all to do with the idea about connections between Siberian and Na-Dene languages, the American Plains Indian SIGN LANGUAGE is clearly a subset of the early Chinese character language reflected in the Shang Dynasty characters.
That's from an area quite a bit to the South of Central Siberia, but it does add to the theory that the Chinese character set, the four (or five) tones, and the spoken languages grew up simultaneously in pre-history ~ probably as far back as the pictoglyphs found in Northern Finland.
The "mother tongue" for all the Na-Dene languages as well as the Yeniseian group is probably quite easily derived from the SIGN LANGUAGE and the SHANG CHARACTERS.
I will wait on the professionals to do all the work in that area.
They're older than anything in Korea.
Odds are good that a bunch of Americans discovered Korea long before the Koreans discovered America!
Now thats a new thought! ;-) LOL! What a rub that would be.
Story of Human Language, Course No. 1600, Taught by John McWhorter, Manhattan Institute, Ph.D., Stanford UniversityInteresting lecture (the parts I've heard). He talks about the linguistic evidence against a single colonization of the Americas (which are substantial), but doesn't come right out and say, it happened that way. :') Na-Dene is one of two homogeneous language families, largely found in the Arctic; farther south, particularly in S America, it's (in McWhorter's phrase or something like it) a riot of diversity.
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Clovis Speakers Discuss Man’s Origins In The United States
The State/AP | 10-27-2005 | Meg Kinnard
Posted on 10/28/2005 11:53:56 AM PDT by blam
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