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Towards a (pre)history of linguistic convergence areas: correlates in genetics, archaeology, history and geography

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When looking to language data as a source of information on human (pre)history, linguistic areas have long been the very poor relation of language families. Both within linguistics, and in conjunction with archaeology and genetics, far less attention
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  MÉMOIRES DE LA SOCIÉTÉ DE LINGUISTIQUE DE PARIS___ NOUVELLE SÉRIE TOME XXIV DIFFUSION: IMPLANTATION, AFFINITÉS, CONVERGENCE PEETERS2017  SOMMAIRE I NTRODUCTION  ......................................................................................... 71. M ODÉLISATION D EMOLIN   Didier. Dynamique et complexité des systèmes phono- logiques ........................................................................................... 21 F RANÇOIS   Alexandre . Méthode comparative et chaînages linguistiques pour un modèle diffusionniste en généalogie des langues  ............... 432. S OCIOLINGUISTIQUE   DU   CONTACT   DE   LANGUES L AMEEN   Souag. La diffusion en berbère : réconcilier les modèles ..... 83 S IMONIN   Jacky & W HARTON   Sylvie. Comparer, typologiser : un éclai-rage de la sociolinguistique du contact  .......................................... 1093. L ES    A  IRES    DE  C ONTACT    REVISITÉES 3.1. Enjeux H EGGARTY   Paul. Towards a (Pre)History of Linguistic Convergence Areas: Correlates in Genetics, Archaeology, History and Geography  1353.2. Etudes de cas3.2.1.    Méso-Amérique C HAMOREAU   Claudine. La Mésoamérique. Une aire graduelle de convergences structurelles .............................................................. 1793.2.2.    Europe (aire baltique) L AISIS   Arthur. Langues baltiques et Sprachbund circumbaltique : regard diachronique ........................................................................ 2073.2.3.    Papouasie & Océanie L OISEAU   Sylvain. Les langues non-austronésiennes d’Océanie proche : phénomène de diffusion  .................................................................. 235  TOWARDS A (PRE)HISTORY OF LINGUISTIC CONVERGENCE AREAS: CORRELATES IN GENETICS, ARCHAEOLOGY, HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY Abstract When looking to language data as a source of information on human (pre)history, linguistic areas have long been the very poor relation of language families. Both within linguistics, and in conjunction with archaeology and genetics, far less atten-tion has been paid to convergence areas than to diverging families. Yet human populations have inevitably interacted in complexes of both convergent and diver-gent processes. This holds in linguistics no less than in culture and genetics: witness Matisoff’s (1990: 113) “Sinosphere” vs. “Indosphere”, two contrasting areal con-vergence zones, but within the same diverging Tibeto-Burman family. This imbal-ance between families and areas distorts and diminishes what we can learn from comparative linguistics, both historical and typological. It also means that we have much to gain if we can rebalance, to look much more seriously at the real-world contexts through (pre)history in which linguistic areas arose.Archaeologists and geneticists, when faced with signals of convergence between human populations on the sociocultural and demographic levels, often still think only in terms of divergent  families  as the linguistic parallel — rather than the more natural fit with convergent areas , so little known outside linguistics. Linguistics, meanwhile, labours under its own misconceptions and outdated visions of other disciplines, in the balance between migratory and diffusionist interpretations of the human past. Explaining linguistic areas requires one to think in terms of demo-graphic and socio-cultural processes radically different to those traditionally invoked to account for language family expansions. Or indeed, to rethink whether certain contexts and processes — trade, mobility, and so on — are good explanations for divergent families at all, when in fact they can be more plausible shapers of linguis-tic convergence areas instead. This contribution aims to set out some general first principles for a prehistory of language areas. These principles will be illustrated by cases drawn from a range of (pre)historic contexts from across the globe: Meso-America, the Andes and Amazonia, the Balkans, mainland south-east Asia, and the ‘Altaic’ zone of north-eastern Asia. 1. Language and (Pre)History: Not Just Families… This paper launches a call for linguistic areas to be at last accorded their rightful place in the history of our languages — and of the populations that spoke them.  136  PAUL HEGGARTY It is hardly news that language is a rich source of information on the human past, complementary to the archaeological and genetic records. But ‘language as (pre)history’ has always been dominated by the concept of lan-guage families; linguistic areas have always remained the very poor relation. This is certainly the case within linguistics, but even more so outside it, in the perceptions of archaeologists and geneticists. The linguistic window on the human past tends to be seen all but exclusively in terms of expansive, divergent families, with far less attention paid to convergence areas. As one illustration, take the recent string of  Nature papers (e.g. Lazaridis et al . 2014, Haak et al . 2015, Allentoft et al . 2015, Jones et al . 2015) that report significant results from the ancient DNA  of past populations of Eura-sia, particularly Europe. All directly address, in their abstracts or even titles, the centuries-old question of the srcin of the Indo-European language  fam-ily . They say not a word, however, about the European linguistic area  and convergence towards “Standard Average European” structural traits (Whorf 1941, Haspelmath 2001). Indeed it may be fairly safe to suppose that most of the authors of those papers (not linguists) may not even be aware of those concepts at all. There is an irony here, in that within their own disciplines it would be anathema to geneticists and archaeologists to overlook the truisms that pop-ulations admix, and that cultural traits can diffuse. Yet those processes cor-relate closely with how languages converge into linguistic areas  (which few outside linguistics have even heard of), rather than diverging into the major families that are usually presumed as the only linguistic signal for prehistory. It is of course only researchers  who tend to focus far too much on lan-guage families rather than areas. Actual human populations, in the real world, tend to interact in complexes of both types of process: convergent and diver-gent. This is just as true in linguistics as in genetics and culture. Witness Matisoff’s (1991: 485-486) “Sinosphere” vs. “Indosphere”, two contrasting areal convergence zones, but within the same diverging Tibeto-Burman family. As this classic case shows, families are not enough. We cannot hope to understand the (pre)history of our languages, nor that of the populations that spoke them, without the very different perspective of linguistic conver-gence areas too. Nor is Tibeto-Burman some exceptional case. Within the Indo-European family, the Indic branch within the Indosphere contrasts structurally with its sister branches that fall within Standard Average European. On a smaller scale, individual representatives of several deeply diverged branches of Indo-European have all since converged somewhat on each other, and away from their closest relatives in their respective branches, within the proto-typical linguistic area of the Balkans. In South America, the expansion of the main Aymara and Quechua families is just one side of the linguistic story of Andean civilisation. Equally striking, and just as much in need of explanation, is those families’ exceptionally intense convergence with each other, within the linguistic area of the Central Andes. Worldwide, it is high   CORRELATES IN GENETICS, ARCHAEOLOGY, HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY 137time that we spoke up for this forgotten dimension of language history. And high time that linguists transmitted that news to other disciplines, to make the most of the great potential of areal linguistics to complement, refine and correct our understanding of the past.The imbalance between families and areas distorts and diminishes what we can learn from comparative linguistics, both historical and typological. Or more positively, it means that we have much to gain if we can redress the balance between them. To realise this potential, however, calls for much rethinking of long-standing assumptions and approaches. This applies not only to archaeologists and geneticists when they look to language data, but also to linguists themselves, when they seek to set their linguistic areas into the real-world contexts that might plausibly account for how and why they came to exist at all. For linguistics tends to labour under its own misconcep-tions and outdated visions of other disciplines, not least in the balance between migratory and diffusionist interpretations of the human past, directly relevant to the contrast between language families and areas. Unbeknownst to many linguists, in archaeology that balance has long since turned decisively away from the over-enthusiastic invocation of migrations as a default presumption for culture change, typical of the earlier phase of archaeology as culture history. It has been superseded by a focus on ‘pro-cesses’ of change (see §5.1 below), and a presumption in favour of conver-gence and cultural diffusion, now seen as just as critical in shaping the human past, if not even more so. Beyond simply describing the world panorama of linguistic areas, in order to explain satisfactorily why it exists in that way at all, we must think in terms of demographic and socio-cultural processes that may be radically dif-ferent to those traditionally invoked to account for language family expan-sions (§5.2). Indeed, we need to rethink whether certain contexts and pro-cesses — trade, mobility, and so on — are good explanations for divergent families at all, when they are, a priori, more plausible drivers of linguistic convergence areas instead (§5.5). In short, we need a more principled approach to the real-world contexts through (pre)history in which linguistic areas arose, and to what those areas can in turn tell us of prehistory. A more explicit prehistory of linguistic areas also provides much-needed cautionary tales and reality checks on some of the more speculative recent ventures into the ‘ultra-deep’ linguistic past. The search is on for diagnostic tools that might take us beyond the current time-depth limit on orthodox historical linguistics. Only areal linguistics can warn of the circularities and pitfalls, however, in certain common presumptions about how to identify which are the precious ‘ultra-stable’ typological features, on the basis of hypothesised deep-time (macro-)families — which may in fact be linguistic areas instead (§6.1). Even within known families, convergence phenomena can entirely up-end presumptions, even calculations, of which features are or are not ultra-stable. All hangs on which  stability is the greater: genea-logical — or areal (§6.2).
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