CHAIR OF URALIC LANGUAGES, UNIVERSITY OF TARTU
 

INNOVATIVE VIEWS IN URALISTICS
 

  We must remember that now the human genetics recognizes three main methods for the researching of human genes:

1. nucleus DNA – from parents to all children,
2. mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) – only from mothers to all children (maternal lineage),
3. Y chromosome (Y) – only from fathers only to sons (paternal lineage)
   It is clear that the Finno-Ugrians share their maternal lineages with other Europoids (Caucasoids in the genetic terminology) and not with Mongoloids, at least in any larger extent. The results of the genetic research allow also to question the origin of Tat C allele of the Y chromosome and to suggest that it has first occurred in Finno-Ugric population and only considerably later found its way to (some) Siberian populations. The Tat C allele was found to be frequent not only among the European Finno-Ugric populations but also among Latvians and Lithuanians, who are linguistically both Indo-Europeans. Richard Villem’s work team write that "it turned out that frequencies of the Tat C allele in both Latvian (Lahermo et al. 1999) and Lithuanian (our results) Y chromosomes are close to those among Estonians, Karelians and Finns: i.e. significantly higher than among Russians and much higher than among western Slavs: around 29% for Latvians and 33% for Lithuanians. We consider this finding very interesting from the point of view of the ethnogenesis of the extant Baltic and Finno-Ugric populations. There is no apparent north-south frequency gradient of Tat C allele from the Arctic Sea (Saamis) to Lithuanians but a sharp east-west cline both in Scandinavia and on the Baltic area." (Rootsi et al. 2000: 152). The work team also suggests that a high Tat C frequency among Latvians and Lithuanians, in contrast to almost all other Indo-European-speaking Europeans. Particularly, both Poles and Belorussians differ sharply in this respect from the two indicated Baltic populations, as well as from Russians. That suggests very extensive admixture of Latvians and Lithuanians with Finno-Ugric-speaking populations – up to an extent that language change hypothesis can be discussed.
   According to new scientific research, the ancestors of modern population of the Baltic area arrived in this area at the end of the Last Maximum of the Last Ice Age from the more southern regions of Europe. They were Euripides by race and settled the territory of the Baltic area after the glacier receded about 19,000–13,000 years ago.
   Modern Man, or Homo sapiens sapiens, started migrating from eastern Africa 120,000-100,000 years ago and settled Europe roughly 40,000 years ago, arriving during an inter-stadial (temporary warming) period in the Last Ice Age about more than 120,000 years ago. This inter-stadial covered the period for 40,000 to 30,000 years ago (the glacier, in the coldest climate conditions, extended to the Black Sea). Human settlement may have also occurred on Baltofennoscandinavian territory during a temporary period before the Last Maximum of the Last Ice Age, 23,000-19,500 years ago. The advancing and receding glacier, which reached at least half a kilometre in thickness on the edge in modern Lithuania and 2.5 kilometres thick on the mountains of Scandinavia, along with the water flows off the ice have destroyed all possible traces of human activity and inhabitation in the Baltic area during that period.
   According to archaeologist Pavel Dolukhanov's theory, the ancestors of Finno-Ugric peoples formed the first wave of modern people arriving in Europe from Africa, when then settled the Periglacial zone at the southern edge of the glacier. The waves of immigrants who followed settled the southern, Mediterranean zone.
   The final retreat of the glaciers about 19,000 years ago drew human settlements northward, reaching the Arctic Ocean about 11,000–9000 years ago. According to linguist Kalevi Wiik's theory, our Finno-Ugric ancestors settled an area from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains, both during the Last Maximum of the Last Ice Age and thereafter.
   The population of hunters and fishers living in the Periglacial zone was small and spread out, as is took roughly ten square kilometres of land to support one person. No large migrations occurred within the populated area. Extensive population movement took place only onto the unpopulated land that was freed from beneath the glacier as it moved northward.
   Natural disasters also forced the population to move. After humans populated Europe, these natural disasters included volcanic activity in the central part of Europe what is now western Germany on the Eiffel plateau, 100,000 to 11,000 years ago. The most interesting volcanic activity, in regard to human migration, occurred 13,000 to 11,000 years ago, when a large part of what is now Germany was covered with ash and rocks. The most powerful explosion was by the Laach volcano 13,000 years ago, which seriously damaged local plant cover and drove away game animals. Archaeologist Hans-Peter Schulz theorizes that people also fled the disaster area, and, based on archaeological finds, may have fled as far as what is now central Russia. It could be expected that during this flight people also arrive in the Baltic area.
   After a volcanic eruption, vegetation is restored relatively quickly – even within a human generation or so. Because of this, we can assume that populations wandered back and forth between the area of the natural disaster and the neighbouring territories for a thousand years. This tendency served to mix together various human populations and allowed for the consolidation of human genetic types and numerous incidents of language contact throughout the heart of Europe.
   We have no conclusive information concerning how long ago modern humans, or Homo sapiens sapiens, was able to speak. Experts believe that human language is at least 50,000 years old, but we can consider it quite probable that our ancestors could speak even earlier, perhaps 100,000 or more years ago.
   Today roughly 6000 languages are spoken around the world. About 10,000 years ago, when human had not begun to shift from food consumption (hunting and fishing) to food production (farming and livestock) that created the conditions for a marked increase in population, humans numbered about 5-10 million in the whole world.
   At that time humans were speaking a record number of distinct languages, about 12,000. This average number is based on the assumption that 10,000 years ago each language collective included 500-1000 people, as is true of Australian aborigines in modern times. It is possible that within the past few millennia more languages have died out than are currently alive today and that most languages today are not spoken by their original users. The original inhabitants of New Guinea hold the record for the largest number of languages relative to the population and linguistic divergence has long been the rule on the island. Currently there are very few languages in northern Europe, the result of millennia of linguistic convergence.
   The comparative method of Indo-European linguists, which has become the widely accepted paradigm for historical linguistics in general, is based upon the principle that related languages diverge with the passage of time. In 1997 linguist Robert M. W. Dixon has developed a general model of long-term linguistic equilibrium within an enduring linguistic area, followed by an episode of drastic change. He sees the punctuation episode, when the dispersal is actuated that triggers the divergence underlying the family tree (Sprachbaum) formation, as a rather special event. The more normal situation is one where convergence processes prevail. In 1999 Dixon's standpoints are relied on by linguist Daniel Nettle. He argues that when humans migrated from Africa there would be a great variety of available geographical niches and the population would fission repeatedly and often. The newly split languages would go on changing until they were sufficiently different to be identified as different language families. But then Nettle follows Dixon's convergence approach and predicts a decrease in number of apparent language families.
   Earlier I have evoked my conviction that Dixon's model of punctuated equilibrium is the best for explaining emergence of language families and, particularly, the Uralic language family. Likewise, I see the only possible way for a further development of historical linguistics in its symbiosis with genetics and archaeology, which, in turn, supports Dixon's model. The formation of intergrated Uralic languages by way of convergence has been supposed also by linguists János Pusztay and Kalevi Wiik.
   Two types of geographic areas may be discerned in the world. One type - for example, the Eurasian steppe belt and at one time the Bering Isthmus that connected Eurasia and America - encouraged the easy spread and exchange of languages, and could have been at least temporarily linguistically unified. The other - for example, the Caucasus Mountains and the hilly island of New Guinea - preserved linguistic diversity and no one language was able to spread across the whole area.
   If indeed only one language had existed 100,000 years ago, based on the Indo-European language divergence model there should be about 10 million billion billion billion languages in the world today. As that is not the case, we have to assume that language exchange has been the rule, not the exception in human history.
   The Periglacial zone was rich with biomass and this created conditions favourable for large game animals, such as mammoth, bison, elk etc. Large game hunting and close contact between various human populations helped either to preserve the original similarity between Finno-Ugric languages or to make other languages similar to Finno-Ugric languages. In the latter case, it is possible that a lingua franca or common language of exchange was used.
   In either case, the result was that throughout the Periglacial zone there was a relatively high level of language unity, which is to say that people spoke Finno-Ugric languages. (Absolute language unity in such a large area - from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains – is inconceivable. In such a geographic expanse even the complete unity of the theoretical Finno-Ugric lingua franca is inconceivable.)
   In the southern Mediterranean zone this process of language convergence did not occur or was not as extensive as in the Periglacial zone. Of the non-Indo-European languages that were once spoken in the Mediterranean zone only the Basque language in the Pyrenees and the Caucasian languages in the Caucasian Mountains are preserved. But of course many non-Indo-European languages were once spoken in the areas between the Pyrenees and the Caucasus.
   Roughly 10,000 years ago agriculture began to spread from Turkey into the Mediterranean zone and then into the rest Europe, and livestock herding began to follow the same path from steppes of Europe and Asia. (According to archaeologist Valter Lang, the first signs of agriculture, for example, on Estonian territory are about 5000 years old.)
   The appearance of Indo-European languages in the Mediterranean zone about 7500 years ago changed the European distribution of languages. The Indo-European languages pushed the unknown languages out of centre of the Mediterranean zone became the eastern neighbours of the Basque type languages and the southern neighbours of the Finno-Ugric languages. The major flood, in particular, which could have happened about 7500 years ago, deserves attention. The oceanic water, risen as a result of the melting continental ice cap, broke through the barriers at the Bosporus from the direction of the Mediterranean Sea and passed on to the Black Sea whose level was rising very fast - about 15 cm a day - to 107 metres higher than earlier. (It is quite possible that the Biblical Flood is a reminiscence about the catastrophe of that period.) The population of the shores of the Black Sea were forced to flee from the waters in all directions about which some archaeological evidence has supposedly been found. As supposed, the fleeing was most intensive from the north-western shelving shores of the Black Sea where at present the depth of the sea is only 30-60 metres and thus the flood was most extensive. (This Black Sea phenomenon under observation is to a certain extent comparable to the Laach volcanic phenomenon only without the back-and-forth movement of the population.)
   Hereby it is important that those who escaped from the shores of the Black Sea had already dealt with agriculture and animal husbandry and so the Black Sea phenomenon could accelerate the spread of these manners of subsistence to the areas of hunters and fishers in Central Europe where Finno-Ugric-speaking populations could have located. Everything related to the phenomenon under observation needs a more profound research but the result of the phenomenon is sure to be extremely interesting, particularly from the view of language contacts.
   Wiik theorizes that northern Indo-European languages (Germanic, Baltic and Slavic), which differ greatly from other Indo-European languages, were created when Finno-Ugric speakers learned Indo-European language form. But, as is always case with learning foreign languages, they made errors in pronunciation, word forms and sentence structure. In other words, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic languages are full of Finno-Ugric influences, or more exactly substrata. Among the substrata, however, almost no Finno-Ugric loan words are found. The lack of loan words is characteristic of the language exchange process, as is basically the same as the process of learning a foreign language. When we learn a foreign language we don't use words from our mother tongue but we do mistakes in pronunciation, declination, conjugation, number use and sentence construction based on the norms of our mother tongue. The Finno-Ugric substratum is most apparent in the Slavic languages, through southernmost areas where they appear, and most disputable in the Germanic languages.
   In the past few years Wiik's theory has been the subject of heated discussion, especially, as can be expected, in relation to the Germanic languages. Incidentally, this has been enlivened by the fact that about a third of the Germanic vocabulary is of non-Indo-European origin but does not suggest modern Finno-Ugric vocabulary. This third includes many words relation to sea travel, military action and societal organisation.
   Wiik's theory has been criticized also for its language typology aspect: some of the theoretically Finno-Ugric substrata in the Germanic languages includes phenomena that are very common in Europe and in the whole world and therefore could have arisen in the Germanic and Finno-Ugric languages independently.
   Of course, lost languages that are entirely unknown to us might have one time been spoken in the Periglacial zone, the same is true in the Mediterranean zone. These might not have been at all similar to Finno-Ugric languages. On the other hand, we cannot forget that Finno-Ugric languages and the level of development of their speakers might varied widely within the Periglacial zone, and some of these languages are now lost, i.e. replaced with Indo-European languages.
   Currently scientists are moving away from the old understanding that shifts in material and spiritual culture throughout human history have been caused always by relatively large population migration. Material and spiritual culture (including language) could have been transferred - and for the most part have transferred - from one group to another without any population migration at all. The movement of a few cultural pioneers (including language pioneers) is more likely. It has been convincingly posited that agriculture, as one example, has spread throughout the world almost entirely without the help of population migration. Wiik stresses that this also occurred in Europe.
   It is interesting, therefore to note that Wiik has pointed out that agriculture spread through Europe first, followed about a thousand years later by Indo-European languages. Linguist Jean-Luc Moreau has suggested that Indo-European language-speakers were not the ones who spread agriculture but professional bandits with sophisticated military technology who arrived in the areas that had grown rich on agriculture and subjected the local farmers to their own power.
   Agriculture allowed humans to gain about fifty times more sustenance from an area than did hunting and fishing. The shift to agriculture's end result was explosive population growth in Europe and around the globe. Their is no clear evidence that the spread of agriculture from Turkey first to southern Europe and from there northward before the Black Sea flood phenomenon would have caused the massive migration of southern populations. Why this was, we still cannot satisfactorily explain. (Possible explanations may include the destructive epidemics that spread easily among the dense human populations of the farmers and the looting and wars that took place among the farming populations.)
   In Wiik's approximation, Baltic population are mainly typical north-western Europeans, characterized by the height, large head, oval face and light skin, hair and eyes. The reasons for the arousal of the anthropological factors is not entirely clear, nor do we know why this type of human is so common to north-western Europe. It has be posited that the cause may be natural selection among Nordic farmers. Researcher Valdar Parve supposes that the original meat-eating inhabitants of Baltofennoscandinavia differed considerably from present day inhabitants of this area. Nutrition habits on the territory of Baltofennoscandinavia changed considerably when a transition to agriculture and more and more vegetarian way of nutrition took place. The resulting deficiency in fat-soluble vitamins is believed to be a Darwinian factor of selection. Deficiency in vitamin D and rachitis, deficiency in vitamin K and disturbances in blood clotting, deficiency in vitamin E and weakness of uterus contractions - all this caused the death of young pigmented women at childbirth. This kind of situation was favourable to individuals with large area of light skin. Their body mass was small in relation to the body area, allowing the access of ultraviolet radiation, which is scarce in northern regions but forms an essential factor for synthesizing fat-soluble vitamins from provitamins of vegetable origin. So the key to the origination of depigmented population lies in the change of nutrition habits.