On Proto-Finnic language guesstimates, and its western homeland

Recent chapter The Indo-Europeans and the Non-Indo-Europeans in Prehistoric Northern Europe, by Petri Kallio, In: Language and Prehistory of the Indo- European Peoples: A Cross-Disciplinary Perspective, Copenhagen (2017).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine), especially when read in combination with the most recent papers on Early Indo-Iranian, Corded Ware, and Fennoscandian genomes:

Like the Indo-Europeanists, also the Uralicists suffer from their “school who wants it large and wants it early”. This time, however, the desired homeland is even larger and earlier, covering the whole northern half of Europe already at the end of the Ice Age (Wiik 2002). As a Finn, admittedly, I find such an idea very flattering indeed. As a historical linguist, however, I also find it absurd for the same reasons which I already gave above in the case of the Indo-Europeans.

True, linguistic palaeontology is less helpful in the case of the Uralians, even though especially Common Uralic *pata ‘clay pot’ and *wäśkä ‘copper’ indicate that Proto-Uralic was not spoken before the Subneolithic period, which in the East-Baltic area is dated about 5300–3200 BC. However, the most valuable evidence comes from the earliest Indo-European loanwords in the Uralic languages, which show that Proto-Uralic cannot have been spoken much earlier than Proto-Indo-European dated about 3500 BC (Koivulehto 2001: 235, 257).

As the same loanword evidence naturally also shows that the Uralic and Indo-European homelands were not located far from one another, the Uralic homeland can most likely be located in the Middle and Upper Volga region, right north of the Indo-European homeland*. From the beginning of the Subneolithic period about 5900 BC onwards, this region was an important innovation centre, from where several cultural waves spread to the Finnish Gulf area, such as the Sperrings Ware wave about 4900 BC, the Combed Ware wave about 3900 BC, and the Netted Ware wave about 1900 BC (Carpelan & Parpola 2001: 78–90).

* Interestingly, the only Uralicists who generally reject the Central Russian homeland are the Russian ones who prefer the Siberian homeland instead. Some Russians even advocate that the Central Russian homeland is only due to Finnish nationalism or, as one of them put it a bit more tactfully, “the political and ideological situation in Finland in the first decades of the 20th century” (Napolskikh 1995: 4). Still, some Finns (and especially those who also belong to the “school who wants it large and wants it early”) simultaneously advocate that exactly the same Central Russian homeland is due to Finnlandisierung (Wiik 2001: 466). Fortunately, I do not even need to resort to playing the politics card myself, because there is enough convincing evidence for the Central Russian homeland anyway.

Remarkably, the loanword evidence furthermore suggests that the ancestors of Finnic and Saamic had at least phonologically remained very close to Proto-Uralic as late as the Bronze Age (ca. 1700–500 BC). In particular, certain loanwords, whose Baltic and Germanic sources point to the first millennium BC, after all go back to the Finno-Saamic proto-stage, which is phonologically almost identical to the Uralic proto-stage (see especially the table in Sammallahti 1998: 198–202). This being the case, Dahl’s wave model could perhaps have some use in Uralic linguistics, too.

Even though Bronze-Age Finnic and Saamic were still two dialects rather than two languages, it does not mean that they would still have been spoken in a geographically limited area. On the contrary, their Indo-European loanwords dating to this period indicate that their speech areas were already geographically separate. The fact that at that time both Baltic and Germanic influenced Finnic much more strongly than Saamic must be considered a crucial piece of information when we are trying to locate the Finnic and Saamic homelands.

Iron Age migrations in Europe.

(…)the fact that Palaeo-Germanic loanwords are much more numerous in Finnic than in Saamic must lead to the same conclusion. As I noted above, the most likely Palaeo-Germanic speaking carriers of the Nordic Bronze culture (ca. 1700–500 BC) spread from Scandinavia to the Finnish and Estonian coastal areas. As they never spread any further to the east than as far as the bottom of the Finnish Gulf, the idea that the Finnic homeland included neither Finland nor Estonia completely fails to explain the very existence of Palaeo-Germanic loanwords, whose quantity and quality in Finnic presuppose a superstrate rather than an adstrate.

(…) as the Nordic Bronze culture influenced coastal Finland much more strongly than it did coastal Estonia, the idea that the Finnic homeland did not include Finland but Estonia alone similarly fails to explain the very strength of the Bronze-Age Palaeo-Germanic superstrate in Finnic, which can indeed be compared with the Medieval French superstrate in English, for instance (Kallio 2000: 96–97). From a Germanicist point of view, therefore, Itkonen’s theory concerning the Finnic homeland does not only seem to be the best but also the only alternative (Koivulehto 1984: 198–200).

As the same can now also be said about the Indo-Europeanization of the Baltic speech area, the fact that Baltic and Finnic are the most conservative branches of their language families and that they have relatively few substrate words may really be due to exactly the same reason, namely that before their arrival the East-Baltic region was still very sparsely populated by Subneolithic hunter-fisher-gatherers, whose linguistic influence on the newcomers was therefore rather limited. On the other hand, as these language shifts already took place millennia ago, there has been a lot of time for the Baltic and Finnic speakers to replace most of their old substrate words by all kinds of new lexical innovations.

Speaking of loanword evidence, the Aikios and especially Saarikivi (2004b) have furthermore argued that the Indo-Iranian loanwords occurring in Finnic and/or Saamic alone force us to locate the Finnic and Saamic homelands further to the east (e.g. near the White Lake). Still, I fail to see why the Indo-Iranian loanwords counted in dozens should be more relevant in locating these two homelands than the Germanic loanwords counted in hundreds. Besides, the Indo-Iranian loanwords mainly consist of cultural borrowings which do not necessarily presuppose a superstrate but only an adstrate. Moreover, they must be dated so much earlier than Vedic Sanskrit (ca. 1500–1000 BC) and Gathic Avestan (ca. 1000–800 BC) anyway that their spread can very well be connected with the abovementioned Netted Ware wave about 1900 BC.

An interesting read, where the author expressly refers to the many political (nationalist) and xenophobic overtones (including his own) that arise in ethnolinguistic identifications of prehistoric cultures.

We are seeing how the newest dialectalisation trends want it ‘late and small’, and ‘late’ corresponds smoothly with the most recent genomic findings involving Chalcolithic and Bronze Age expansions.

In the Uralic case, in North-Eastern Europe only Corded Ware migrants are known to have expanded within a suitable time frame into the region, and their patrilineal descendants show a widespread distribution in the region during the Bronze Age.

Also, if Proto-Finnic is coeval with Pre-Proto-Germanic, and expanded from the western part of North-East Europe (necessarily including the Gulf of Finland), well… You know the drill.

Of course, regarding Proto-Indo-European and Uralic, there are also a lot of people who still want itlarge and early‘ – and the most recent research won’t deter them from such proposals.