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Presentation of Festschrift for Prof. Hans Hoch

Event Type
Department of Linguistics
Lucy Ellis Lounge
Sep 9, 2013   4:00 pm  
Hans Henrich Hock
Originating Calendar
Linguistics Event Calendar


Nice Wheels!

The horse, the wheel, the chariot and Indo-European ideologies

The domestication of horses in Ukraine/Kazakhstan (ca. 4000 BC), the introduction of wheels (ca. 3500), and the development of chariots (ca. 2000, southeastern Urals), combined with the reconstructions *ek'wos ‘horse’ and *(kwe)kwlo /*rotHo- ‘wheel (à chariot)’ have important consequences for Indo-European (IE) linguistics. The usual interpretation is that PIE cannot be dated earlier than ca. 4000 BC and must have been spoken near the area where horses were domesticated and chariots were developed. IE speakers in other areas, such as India, must have migrated there. See e.g. Anthony 2007.


This conclusion is being challenged from two sides. Indian nationalists reject the notion that (Indo-)Aryans migrated to India, claiming that they are indigenous — only “Aryans”, i.e. Hindus, are real Indians; e.g. Talageri 1993ab, 2008. Publications by Atkinson and Gray (e.g. 2006ab, also Bouckaert et al. 2012) lend potential support to this claim, by questioning reconstruction of the words for ‘horse’ and ‘wheel/chariot’ and arguing for borrowing diffusion in post-PIE times. Others, too, argue for borrowing scenarios, related to different agendas. Gamkrelidze and Ivanov (1995), advocates of a PIE home near the Caucasus, consider PIE *(kwe)kwlo a borrowing from neighboring Near-Eastern languages, while Parpola (2008) postulates borrowing in the opposite direction, arguing that Indo-Europeans invented the wheel.


I examine the different accounts and demonstrate that a. *ek'wos and *(kwe)kwlo cannot be explained as late, post-PIE borrowings but must be reconstructed (pace Atkinson & Gray), b. Indo-Aryan migration to India therefore cannot be rejected (pace Indian nationalists); c. similarities in words for ‘wheel’ between IE and Near Eastern languages probably reflect borrowing by calquing, but there is no evidence to decide who borrowed from whom (pace Gamkrelidze & Ivanov and Parpola). I conclude that Indo-Europeanists must exercise caution, lest they unwittingly support ideologically motivated agendas or get carried away by their own agendas.



Anthony, David W. 2007. The horse, the wheel, and language: How Bronze-Age riders from the Eurasian steppes shaped the modern world. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Atkinson, Quentin D., and Russell D. Gray. 2006a. Areaccuratedatesan intractable problem for historical linguistics? In Mapping our ancestry: Phylogenetic methods in anthropology and prehistory, ed. by C. Lipo, M. O’Brien, S. Shennan, and M. Collard, 269–296. Chicago: Aldine.

Atkinson, Quentin D., and Russell D. Gray. 2006b. How Old is the Indo-European Language Family? Illumination or More Moths to the Flame? In Phylogenetic methods and the prehistory of languages, ed. by Peter Forster and Colin Renfrew, 91-109. Cambridge, UK: The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Atkinson, Quentin D., Geoff Nicholls, David Welch, and Russell D. Gray. 2005. From words to dates: Water into wine, mathemagic or phylogenetic interference? Transactions of the Philological Society103:2. 193–219.

Bouckaert, Remco, Philippe Lemey, … Russel Gray, Marc A. Suchard, and Quentin D. Atkinson. 2012. Mapping the origins and expansion of the Indo-European language family. Science 337: 957-960.

Gamkrelidze, Thomas V., and Vja'eslav V. Ivanov. 1995. Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans, 2 vols. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Parpola, Asko. 2008. Proto-Indo-European speakers of the Late Tripolye culture as the inventors of wheeled vehicles: Linguistic and archaeological considerations of the PIE homeland problem. InProceedings of the 19th Indo-European Conference, UCLA, ed. by Karlene Bley-Jones et al., 1-59. Washington, DC: Institute for the Study of Man.

Talageri, Shrikant G. 1993a. Aryan invasion theory and Indian nationalism. New Delhi: Voice of India.

Talageri, Shrikant G. 1993b. The Aryan invasion theory: A reappraisal. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. [≈ 1993a, omitting the first, Hindutva-ideological chapter.]

Talageri, Shrikant G. 2008. The Rigveda and the Avesta: The final evidence. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.

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