Migrations painted by Irish and Scottish genetic clusters, and their relationship with British and European ones


Interesting and related publications, now appearing in pairs…

1. The Irish DNA Atlas: Revealing Fine-Scale Population Structure and History within Ireland, by Gilbert et al., in Scientific Reports (2017).


The extent of population structure within Ireland is largely unknown, as is the impact of historical migrations. Here we illustrate fine-scale genetic structure across Ireland that follows geographic boundaries and present evidence of admixture events into Ireland. Utilising the ‘Irish DNA Atlas’, a cohort (n = 194) of Irish individuals with four generations of ancestry linked to specific regions in Ireland, in combination with 2,039 individuals from the Peoples of the British Isles dataset, we show that the Irish population can be divided in 10 distinct geographically stratified genetic clusters; seven of ‘Gaelic’ Irish ancestry, and three of shared Irish-British ancestry. In addition we observe a major genetic barrier to the north of Ireland in Ulster. Using a reference of 6,760 European individuals and two ancient Irish genomes, we demonstrate high levels of North-West French-like and West Norwegian-like ancestry within Ireland. We show that that our ‘Gaelic’ Irish clusters present homogenous levels of ancient Irish ancestries. We additionally detect admixture events that provide evidence of Norse-Viking gene flow into Ireland, and reflect the Ulster Plantations. Our work informs both on Irish history, as well as the study of Mendelian and complex disease genetics involving populations of Irish ancestry.

The European ancestry profiles of 30 Irish and British clusters. (a) The total ancestry contribution summarised by majority European country of origin to each of the 30 Irish and British clusters. (b) (left) The ancestry contributions of 19 European clusters that donate at least 2.5% ancestry to any one Irish or British cluster. (right) The geographic distribution of the 19 European clusters, shown as the proportion of individuals in each European region belonging to each of the 19 European clusters. The proportion of individuals form each European region not a member of the 19 European clusters is shown in grey. Total numbers of individuals from each region are shown in white text. Not all Europeans included in the analysis were phenotyped geographically. The figure was generated in the statistical software language R46, version 3.4.1, using various packages. The map of Europe was sourced from the R software package “mapdata” (https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=mapdata).

2. New preprint on BioRxiv, Insular Celtic population structure and genomic footprints of migration, by Byrne, Martiniano et al. (2017).


Previous studies of the genetic landscape of Ireland have suggested homogeneity, with population substructure undetectable using single-marker methods. Here we have harnessed the haplotype-based method fineSTRUCTURE in an Irish genome-wide SNP dataset, identifying 23 discrete genetic clusters which segregate with geographical provenance. Cluster diversity is pronounced in the west of Ireland but reduced in the east where older structure has been eroded by historical migrations. Accordingly, when populations from the neighbouring island of Britain are included, a west-east cline of Celtic-British ancestry is revealed along with a particularly striking correlation between haplotypes and geography across both islands. A strong relationship is revealed between subsets of Northern Irish and Scottish populations, where discordant genetic and geographic affinities reflect major migrations in recent centuries. Additionally, Irish genetic proximity of all Scottish samples likely reflects older strata of communication across the narrowest inter-island crossing. Using GLOBETROTTER we detected Irish admixture signals from Britain and Europe and estimated dates for events consistent with the historical migrations of the Norse-Vikings, the Anglo-Normans and the British Plantations. The influence of the former is greater than previously estimated from Y chromosome haplotypes. In all, we paint a new picture of the genetic landscape of Ireland, revealing structure which should be considered in the design of studies examining rare genetic variation and its association with traits.

Here are some interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Population structure in Ireland

The geographical distribution of this deep subdivision of Leinster resembles pre-Norman territorial boundaries which divided Ireland into fifths (cúige), with north Leinster a kingdom of its own known as Meath (Mide) [15]. However interpreted, the firm implication of the observed clustering is that despite its previously reported homogeneity, the modern Irish population exhibits genetic structure that is subtly but detectably affected by ancestral population structure conferred by geographical distance and, possibly, ancestral social structure.

ChromoPainter PC1 demonstrated high diversity amongst clusters from the west coast, which may be attributed to longstanding residual ancient (possibly Celtic) structure in regions largely unaffected by historical migration. Alternatively, genetic clusters may also have diverged as a consequence of differential influence from outside populations. This diversity between western genetic clusters cannot be explained in terms of geographic distance alone.

In contrast to the west of Ireland, eastern individuals exhibited relative homogeneity; (…) The overall pattern of western diversity and eastern homogeneity in Ireland may be explained by increased gene flow and migration into and across the east coast of Ireland from geographically proximal regions, the closest of which is the neighbouring island of Britain.

Analysis of variance of the British admixture component in cluster groups showed a significant difference (p < 2×10-16), indicating a role for British Anglo-Saxon admixture in distinguishing clusters, and ChromoPainter PC2 was correlated with the British component (p < 2×10-16), explaining approximately 43% of the variance. PC2 therefore captures an east to west Anglo-Celtic cline in Irish ancestry. This may explain the relative eastern homogeneity observed in Ireland, which could be a result of the greater English influence in Leinster and the Pale during the period of British rule in Ireland following the Norman invasion, or simply geographic proximity of the Irish east coast to Britain. Notably, the Ulster cluster group harboured an exceptionally large proportion of the British component (Fig 1D and 1E), undoubtedly reflecting the strong influence of the Ulster Plantations in the 17th century and its residual effect on the ethnically British population that has remained.

Fine-grained population structure in Ireland. (A) fineSTRUCTURE clustering dendrogram for 1,035 Irish individuals. Twenty-three clusters are defined, which are combined into cluster groups for clusters that are neighbouring in the dendrogram, overlapping in principal component space (B) and sampled from regions that are geographically contiguous. Details for each cluster in the dendrogram are provided in S1 Fig. (B) Principal components analysis (PCA) of haplotypic similarity, based on ChromoPainter coancestry matrix for Irish individuals. Points are coloured according to cluster groups defined in (A); the median location of each cluster group is plotted. (C) Map of Irelandshowing the sampling location for a subset of 588 individuals analysed in (A) and (B), coloured by cluster group. Points have been randomly jittered within a radius of 5 km to preserve anonymity. Precise sampling location for 44 Northern Irish individuals from the People of the British Isles dataset was unknown; these individuals are plotted geometrically in a circle. (D) “British admixture component” (ADMIXTURE estimates; k=2) for Irish cluster groups. This component has the largest contribution in ancient Anglo-Saxons and the SEE cluster. (E) Linear regression of principal component 2 (B) versus British admixture component (r2 = 0.43; p < 2×10-16). Points are coloured by cluster group. (Standard error for ADMIXTURE point estimates presented in S11 Fig.)

On the genetic structure of the British Isles

The genetic substructure observed in Ireland is consistent with long term geographic diversification of Celtic populations and the continuity shown between modern and Early Bronze Age Irish people

Clusters representing Celtic populations harbouring less Anglo-Saxon influence separate out above and below SEE on PC4. Notably, northern Irish clusters (NLU), Scottish (NISC, SSC and NSC), Cumbria (CUM) and North Wales (NWA) all separate out at a mutually similar level, representing northern Celtic populations. The southern Celtic populations Cornwall (COR), south Wales (SWA) and south Munster (SMN) also separate out on similar levels, indicating some shared haplotypic variation between geographically proximate Celtic populations across both Islands. It is notable that after the split of the ancestrally divergent Orkney, successive ChromoPainter PCs describe diversity in British populations where “Anglo-saxonization” was repelled [22]. PC3 is dominated by Welsh variation, while PC4 in turn splits North and South Wales significantly, placing south Wales adjacent to Cornwall and north Wales at the other extreme with Cumbria, all enclaves where Brittonic languages persisted.

In an interesting symmetry, many Northern Irish samples clustered strongly with southern Scottish and northern English samples, defining the Northern Irish/Cumbrian/Scottish (NICS) cluster group. More generally, by modelling Irish genomes as a linear mixture of haplotypes from British clusters, we found that Scottish and northern English samples donated more haplotypes to clusters in the north of Ireland than to the south, reflecting an overall correlation between Scottish/north English contribution and ChromoPainter PC1 position in Fig 1 (Linear regression: p < 2×10-16, r2 = 0.24).

North to south variation in Ireland and Britain are therefore not independent, reflecting major gene flow between the north of Ireland and Scotland (Fig 5) which resonates with three layers of historical contacts. First, the presence of individuals with strong Irish affinity among the third generation PoBI Scottish sample can be plausibly attributed to major economic migration from Ireland in the 19th and 20th centuries [6]. Second, the large proportion of Northern Irish who retain genomes indistinguishable from those sampled in Scotland accords with the major settlements (including the Ulster Plantation) of mainly Scottish farmers following the 16th Century Elizabethan conquest of Ireland which led to these forming the majority of the Ulster population. Third, the suspected Irish colonisation of Scotland through the Dál Riata maritime kingdom, which expanded across Ulster and the west coast of Scotland in the 6th and 7th centuries, linked to the introduction and spread of Gaelic languages [3]. Such a migratory event could work to homogenise older layers of Scottish population structure, in a similar manner as noted on the east coasts of Britain and Ireland. Earlier communications and movements across the Irish Sea are also likely, which at its narrowest point separates Ireland from Scotland by approximately 20 km.

Genes mirror geography in the British Isles. (A) fineSTRUCTURE clustering dendrogram for combined Irish and British data. Data principally split into Irish and British groups before subdividing into a total of 50 distinct clusters, which are combined into cluster groups for clusters that formed clades in the dendrogram, overlapped in principal component space (B) and were sampled from regions that are geographically contiguous. Names and labels follow the geographical provenance for the majority of data within the cluster group. Details for each cluster in the dendrogram are provided in S2 Fig. (B) Principal component analysis (PCA) of haplotypic similarity based on the ChromoPainter coancestry matrix, coloured by cluster group with their median locations labelled. We have chosen to present PC1 versus PC4 here as these components capture new information regarding correlation between haplotypic variation across Britain and Ireland and geography, while PC2 and PC3 (Fig 4) capture previously reported splitting for Orkney and Wales from Britain [7]. A map of Ireland and Britain is shown for comparison, coloured by sampling regions for cluster groups, the boundaries of which are defined by the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS 2010), with some regions combined. Sampling regions are coloured by the cluster group with the majority presence in the sampling region; some sampling regions have significant minority cluster group representations as well, for example the Northern Ireland sampling region (UKN0; NUTS 2010) is majorly explained by the NICS cluster group but also has significant representation from the NLU cluster group. The PCA plot has been rotated clockwise by 5 degrees to highlight its similarity with the geographical map of the Ireland and Britain. NI, Northern Ireland; PC, principal component. Cluster groups that share names with groups from Fig 1 (NLU; SMN; CLN; CNN) have an average of 80% of their samples shared with the initial cluster groups. © EuroGeographics for the map and administrative boundaries, note some boundaries have been subsumed or modified to better reflect sampling regions.

Genomic footprints of migration into Ireland

Quite interesting is that it is haplogroups, and not admixture, that which defines the oldest migration layers into Ireland. Without evidence of paternal Y-DNA lineages we would probably not be able to ascertain the oldest migrations and languages broght by migrants, including Celtic languages:

Of all the European populations considered, ancestral influence in Irish genomes was best represented by modern Scandinavians and northern Europeans, with a significant single-date one-source admixture event overlapping the historical period of the Norse-Viking settlements in Ireland (p < 0.01; fit quality FQB > 0.985; Fig 6). (…) This suggests a contribution of historical Viking settlement to the contemporary Irish genome and contrasts with previous estimates of Viking ancestry in Ireland based on Y chromosome haplotypes, which have been very low [25]. The modern-day paucity of Norse-Viking Y chromosome haplotypes may be a consequence of drift with the small patrilineal effective population size, or could have social origins with Norse males having less influence after their military defeat and demise as an identifiable community in the 11th century, with persistence of the autosomal signal through recombination.

European admixture date estimates in northwest Ulster did not overlap the Viking age but did include the Norman period and the Plantations

The genetic legacies of the populations of Ireland and Britain are therefore extensively intertwined and, unlike admixture from northern Europe, too complex to model with GLOBETROTTER.

All-Ireland GLOBETROTTER admixture date estimates for European and British surrogate admixing populations. A summary of the date estimates and 95% confidence intervals for inferred admixture events into Ireland from European and British admixing sources is shown in (A), with ancestry proportion estimates for each historical source population for the two events and example coancestry curves shown in (B). In the coancestry curves Relative joint probability estimates the pairwise probability that two haplotype chunks separated by a given genetic distance come from the two modeled source populations respectively (ie FRA(8) and NOR-SG); if a single admixture event occurred, these curves are expected to decay exponentially at a rate corresponding to the number of generations since the event. The green fitted line describes this GLOBETROTTER fitted exponential decay for the coancestry curve. If the sources come from the same ancestral group the slope of this curve will be negative (as with FRA(8) vs FRA(8)), while a positive slope indicates that sources come from different admixing groups (as with FRA(8) vs NOR-SG). The adjacent bar plot shows the inferred genetic composition of the historical admixing sources modelled as a mixture of the sampled modern populations. A European admixture event was estimated by GLOBETROTTER corresponding to the historical record of the Viking age, with major contributions from sources similar to modern Scandinavians and northern Europeans and minor contributions from southern European-like sources. For admixture date estimates from British-like sources the influence of the Norman settlement and the Plantations could not be disentangled, with the point estimate date for admixture falling between these two eras and GLOBETROTTER unable to adequately resolve source and proportion details of admixture event (fit quality FQB< 0.985). The relative noise of the coancestry curves reflects the uncertainty of the British event. Cluster labels (for the European clustering dendrogram, see S4 Fig; for the PoBI clustering dendrogram, see S3 Fig): FRA(8), France cluster 8; NOR-SG, Norway, with significant minor representations from Sweden and Germany; SE_ENG, southeast England; N_SCOT(4) northern Scotland cluster 4.

Another study that strengthens the need to ascertain haplogroup-admixture differences between Yamna/Bell Beaker and Sredni Stog/Corded Ware.

Text and images from preprint article under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license.

Featured image, from the article on Science Reports: The clustering of individuals with Irish and British ancestry based solely on genetics. Shown are 30 clusters identified by fineStructure from 2,103 Irish and British individuals. The dendrogram (left) shows the tree of clusters inferred by fineStructure and the map (right) shows the geographic origin of 192 Atlas Irish individuals and 1,611 British individuals from the Peoples of the British Isles (PoBI) cohort, labelled according to fineStructure cluster membership. Individuals are placed at the average latitude and longitude of either their great-grandparental (Atlas) or grandparental (PoBI) birthplaces. Great Britain is separated into England, Scotland, and Wales. The island of Ireland is split into the four Provinces; Ulster, Connacht, Leinster, and Munster. The outline of Britain was sourced from Global Administrative Areas (2012). GADM database of Global Administrative Areas, version 2.0. www.gadm.org. The outline of Ireland was sourced from Open Street Map Ireland, Copyright OpenStreetMap Contributors, (https://www.openstreetmap.ie/) – data available under the Open Database Licence. The figure was plotted in the statistical software language R46, version 3.4.1, with various packages.

Evolutionary forces in language change depend on selective pressure, but also on random chance


A new interesting paper from Nature: Detecting evolutionary forces in language change, by Newberry, Ahern, Clark, and Plotkin (2017). Discovered via Science Daily.

The following are excerpts of materials related to the publication (written by Katherine Unger Baillie), from The University of Pennsylvania:

Examining substantial collections of annotated texts dating from the 12th to the 21st centuries, the researchers found that certain linguistic changes were guided by pressures analogous to natural selection — social, cognitive and other factors — while others seem to have occurred purely by happenstance.

“Linguists usually assume that when a change occurs in a language, there must have been a directional force that caused it,” said Joshua Plotkin, professor of biology in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences and senior author on the paper. “Whereas we propose that languages can also change through random chance alone. An individual happens to hear one variant of a word as opposed to another and then is more likely to use it herself. Chance events like this can accumulate to produce substantial change over generations. Before we debate what psychological or social forces have caused a language to change, we must first ask whether there was any force at all.”

“One of the great early American linguists, Leonard Bloomfield, said that you can never see a language change, that the change is invisible,” said Robin Clark, a coauthor and professor of linguistics in Penn Arts and Sciences. “But now, because of the availability of these large corpora of texts, we can actually see it, in microscopic detail, and begin to understand the details of how change happened.”

One change is the regularization of past-tense verbs. Using the Corpus of Historical American English, comprised of more than 100,000 texts ranging from 1810 to 2009 that have been parsed and digitized — a database that includes more than 400 million words — the team searched for verbs where both regular and irregular past-tense forms were present, for example, “dived” and “dove” or “wed” and “wedded.”

“There is a vast literature and a lot of mythology on verb regularization and irregularization,” Clark said, “and a lot of people have claimed that the tendency is toward regularization. But what we found was quite different.”

Indeed, the analysis pointed to particular instances where it seems selective forces are driving irregularization. For example, while a swimmer 200 years ago might have “dived”, today we would say they “dove.” The shift towards using this irregular form coincided with the invention of cars and concomitant increase in use of the rhyming irregular verb “drive”/“drove.”

Despite finding selection acting on some verbs, “the vast majority of verbs we analyzed show no evidence of selection whatsoever,” Plotkin said.

The team recognized a pattern: random chance affects rare words more than common ones. When rarely-used verbs changed, that replacement was more likely to be due to chance. But when more common verbs switched forms, selection was more likely to be a factor driving the replacement.

The grammar of negating a sentence has changed from “Ic ne secge” (Beowulf, c. 900) to “Ic ne sege noht” (the Ormulum, c. 1100) to “I seye not” (Chaucer, c. 1400) to “I doe not say” (Shakespeare, c. 1600) before returning to the familiar “I don’t say” (Virginia Woolf, c. 1900). A team from Penn used massive digital libraries along with inference techniques from population genetics to quantify the forces responsible for language evolution, such as in Jespersen’s cycle of negation, depicted here. (c) Cherissa Dukelow, 2017, license information below

The authors also observed a role of random chance in grammatical change. The periphrastic “do,” as used in, “Do they say?” or “They do not say,” did not exist 800 years ago. Back in the 1400s, these sentiments would have been expressed as, “Say they?” or “They say not.”

Using the Penn Parsed Corpora of Historical English, which includes 7 million syntactically parsed words from 1,220 British English texts, the researchers found that the use of the periphrastic “do” emerged in two stages, first in questions (“Don’t they say?”) around the 1500s, and then roughly 200 years later in imperative and declarative statements (“They don’t say.”).

These manuscripts show changes from Old English (Beowulf) through Middle English (Trinity Homilies, Chaucer) to Early Modern English (Shakespeare’s First Folio). Penn researchers used large collections of digitized texts spanning the 12th to the 21st centuries to show that many language changes can be attributed to random chance alone. (c) Mitchell Newberry, 2017, license information below

While most linguists have assumed that such a distinctive grammatical feature must have been driven to dominance by some selective pressure, the Penn team’s analysis questions that assumption. They found that the first stage of the rising periphrastic “do” use is consistent with random chance. Only the second stage appears to have been driven by a selective pressure.

“It seems that, once ‘do’ was introduced in interrogative phrases, it randomly drifted to higher and higher frequency over time,” said Plotkin. “Then, once it became dominant in the question context, it was selected for in other contexts, the imperative and declarative, probably for reasons of grammatical consistency or cognitive ease.”

As the authors see it, it’s only natural that social-science fields like linguistics increasingly exchange knowledge and techniques with fields like statistics and biology.

“To an evolutionary biologist,” said Newberry, “it’s important that language is maintained through a process of copying language; people learn language by copying other people. That copying introduces minute variation, and those variants get propagated. Each change is an opportunity for a different copying rate, which is the basis for evolution as we know it.”

Featured image: copyrighted, modified from the Supplementary information of the article.

Image (c) Cherissa Dukelow, 2017, licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/
Image (c) Mitchell Newberry, 2017, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/, licensed under CC-BY-NC 4.0 (see materials at University of Pennsylvania for further sources).


Schleicher’s Fable in Proto-Indo-European – pitch and stress accent


Also included in our monograph North-West Indo-European (first draft) is a tentative reconstruction of Schleicher’s fable in North-West Indo-European, and just for illustration of the reconstructed sounds (including pitch and stress accent), a recording has been included.

The recording is available as audio (see above) or video (see below) with captions and multiple subtitles. The captions in North-West Indo-European show acute accents over accented vowels, while stressed syllables are underlined:

I think such a recording was necessary for comparison with the most commonly reconstructed pronunciation, as taught usually in courses. And I am not referring to those professors still using only stress – instead of pitch – accent to pronounce PIE, but to those that, using pitch accent, do place stress over the same syllable.

A good example to illustrate my point is Andrew M. Byrd‘s reading of his version of the fable for the journal Archaeology.

Apart from some controversial decisions regarding the Proto-Indo-Hittite reconstruction – see our explanation of our version, or e.g. Kortlandt’s reconstruction of the Fable (PDF) for more details – , his recitation does not seem to contrast enough pitch and stress accent, to the extent that pitch and stress seem to be always on the same syllable. He specialises in Proto-Indo-European phonology, so maybe it is a voluntary selection.

Firstly, as an introduction – in case you don’t know anything about this question -, a pitch accent is reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European, based on the reconstructed accent of Old Indian, Greek, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic – hence also valid for North-West Indo-European, even though Italo-Celtic lost it completely.

If you have listened to any tonal language*, words have also stress accent, and not necessarily on the same syllable – but usually on the heaviest one. In fact, I don’t know of an accent pattern with pitch+stress on the same syllable (but for certain reconstructed intermediate labile stages of a languages), and I guess it is so redundant that it would always lose one of them.

*pitch-accent systems are also tonal systems, after all, since they involve at least two tones: an acute or rising one, and usually a falling one after it.

You can listen to a sample of the Homeric recitation by Stephen Daitz, with restored Ancient Greek pronunciation, where he contrasts pitch and stress beautifully:

Note: you can buy his readings in restored pronunciation online in Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

You can listen to other samples of Ancient Greek with restored pronunciation by Stefan Hagel (whose Homeric singing is superb), or many others.

To see what I mean with the lack of contrast in Byrd’s pronunciation, just compare the restored pronunciation with these samples, of restored Koine Greek, from the Biblical Language Center. I think you can hear pitch accent pronounced, but always stressing the same syllable. After a while, it gets quite monotone (no pun intended); for me, at least*.

*It seems to be, nevertheless, one of the top rated pronunciations of Koine Greek out there.

Pitch accent in my pronunciation is not as noticeable as that of Stephen Daitz, and still less than that of Stefan Hagel. But it is not intended to.

I wanted to combine tone and stress as naturally as possible, as it is found in modern languages, like Chinese, or like South Slavic, Baltic, or Scandinavian languages. I believe PIE phonology cannot be too different from modern natural examples.

Many Modern Greek scholars complain about the artificiality of the restored pronunciation. I’ve heard particularly harsh criticism against Stefan Hagel’s pronunciation: many scholars do not recognise the ancestral language in the restored pronunciation.

While such critics may seem like snob reactionaries, and I really appreciate an exaggerated poetic style for epic poems (I have spent hundreds, probably thousands, of hours listening to Stephen Daitz), I don’t think this is the way Ancient Greek was usually spoken. Listening to Hagel’s pronunciation in the Ancient Greek Assimil, there is a huge contrast between readers who don’t use the restored pronunciation in the recordings (offering thus a decaffeinated Ancient Greek), and Hagel’s reading (or, almost, singing).

In my interpretation of the fable I have tried to follow these ideas, and maybe in the end the pitch accent is not as acute as it should be (a fifth higher). On the other hand, it seemed more natural to me this way.

Also, in the final version of my reading, there are many words where it is not clear – not even to me – if there is more than one syllable with pitch or stress accent. This is especially so after after my first change of voice to make a more acute ‘sheep voice’, and then worsens with my graver ‘horse voice’. I really thought recording this was going to be easier!

If you have any comments or suggestions on the pronunciation, they are all welcome.

UPDATE (November 2, 2017): Frederik Kortlandt comments our paper – “When comparing PIE with other tonal languages, the best candidate is Japanese, which means that the “stress” falls on the last High syllable of a word form or sequence of connected word forms.”

Our monograph on North-West Indo-European (first draft) is out

I wrote yesterday about the recently updated Indo-European demic diffusion model.

Fernando López-Menchero and I have published our first draft on the North-West Indo-European proto-language. Our contribution concerns mainly phonetics, and namely two of its most controversial aspects: a common process of laryngeal loss and two series of velars for PIE.

There is also an updated linguistic model for the Corded Ware substrate hypothesis, which seeks to explain certain similarities between Germanic and Balto-Slavic, and between Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian, and potential isoglosses between the three.

Available links:

As you probably know, our interest is (and has been for the past 15 years or so, even before our common project) the reconstruction of a North-West Indo-European proto-language, the ancestor of Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic. At least since Krahe’s proposal of an Alteuropäische substrate to European hydronymy, some 70 years ago, Indo-Europeanists have been supporting an Old European branch of Proto-Indo-European.

Root *sal-, *salm in European river names. Krahe (1949). From Wikipedia.

However, dialectal divisions were tentative. Since Oettinger, some 30 years ago, we have a clearer picture of a group of closely related dialects, namely Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic. Although the nature of Balto-Slavic is somehow contended (for the few scholars who support an Indo-Slavonic group), the minimalist view holds that at least the substrate language of Baltic and Slavic, Holzer‘s Temematic, was part of the North-West Indo-European group.

A North-West Indo-European (NWIE) proto-language not only solved the controversial question of Pan-European IE hydronymy (clearly of Late Indo-European nature), but also – and more elegantly – the question on the origin of the many fragmentary languages attested in Western Europe, usually attributed to a “Pre-Celtic” or “Pre-Italic” nature depending on their surrounding languages (Venetic has even said to be related to Germanic…).

Stages of Proto-Indo-European evolution. IU: Indo-Uralic; PU: Proto-Uralic; PAn: Pre-Anatolian; PToch: Pre-Tocharian; Fin-Ugr: Finno-Ugric. The period between Balkan IE and Proto-Greek could be divided in two periods: an older one, called Proto-Greek (close to the time when NWIE was spoken), probably including Macedonian, and spoken somewhere in the Balkans; and a more recent one, called Mello-Greek, coinciding with the classically reconstructed Proto-Greek, already spoken in the Greek peninsula (West 2007). Similarly, the period between Northern Indo-European and North-West Indo-European could be divided, after the split of Pre-Tocharian, into a North-West Indo-European proper, during the expansion of Yamna to the west, and an Old European period, coinciding with the formation and expansion of the East Bell Beaker group.

Described first mainly in terms of lexical isoglosses, the concept of a NWIE language was then gradually and strongly founded in common grammatical features, contributed to mainly by the German, North American, and Spanish schools (as you know, the British or French schools are quite divided on the nature of Proto-Indo-European itself…). Recent archaeological models pioneered by Harrison and Heyd (2007) showed how this might have happened, with Yamna migrants that evolved as the East Bell Beaker group, and their subsequent expansion into most of Europe.

Genetics is now clearly supporting such a closely related group, too.

Yamna – East Bell Beaker migration 3000-2300 BC according to Heyd in Harrison and Heyd (2007).

The work of Prescott and Walderhaug (1995) on the Pre-Germanic homeland, and the more precise archaeological migration model developed by Prescott clearly established the advent of Bell Beakers in Scandinavia as the key factor for the development of a unitary Pre-Germanic language in Scandinavia during the Dagger Period of the Nordic Late Neolithic.

The nature of Únětice and Mierzanowice/Nitra cultures as of Bell Beaker absorption of preceding Corded Ware cultures made the identification of the Balto-Slavic homeland in the Lusatian culture as quite likely – and this is now being confirmed with the study of Bronze Age samples, like those of the Tollense battlefield, which cluster closely to West Slavic and East German samples.

At the time of Marija Gimbutas’ breakthrough model of the “kurgan peoples” a common dialect from this Old European branch was deemed to be ‘Northern European‘ (or ‘Germano-Balto-Slavic’), which greatly influenced her work, supporting an identification of different burial types as stemming from the same source. This model, rejected already some years after Gimbutas’ proposal, has sadly survived to this day because of tradition (due e.g. to the work and influence of Kristiansen, and to some extent Anthony), and for some years (until the advent of ancient DNA) because of the modern distribution of haplogroup R1a in Europe and its relation to the ancient distribution of the Corded Ware culture.

This traditional model of a ‘Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker expansion of NWIE’ which we also followed until recently, never fit well with the known migrations paths from Yamna (into Balkan Early Bronze Age cultures), with the geographic distribution of Old European hydronymy, or with the guesstimates for Late Indo-European and North-West Indo-European. This compelled us to support a break-up of the proto-language further back in time than warranted by models of language change, and it needed certain unlikely cultural diffusion events over huge areas (because no such migration from Yamna to northern Europe has been attested): along the steppe/forest-steppe zone first, for a diffusion from Yamna into Corded Ware cultures, and along the Danube or the Rhine later, for a diffusion of Corded Ware into Bell Beaker. These models were also based on the wrong interpretation of the first radiocarbon dates of Beakers – placing an origin of the Bell Beaker people in Iberia (which has been rejected in Archaeology, and now also in Genetics).

Such a ‘Germano-Balto-Slavic’ group faded in Linguistics long ago, with most Indo-Europeanists preferring to talk about late contacts (viz. Celto-Germanic or Italo-Germanic contacts), and for some there is – if any subgroup at all – a core West Indo-European or Italo-Celto-Germanic group, which may be supported by recent genetic research on Bell Beaker peoples, with the Beaker group of the Netherlands being the key. Our research on the potential language spoken by Corded Ware peoples – most likely related to Uralic, from an Indo-Uralic community from the Pontic-Caspian steppe – can elegantly explain the isoglosses that both European dialects share.

Diachronic map of Late Copper Age migrations including Classical Bell Beaker (east group) expansion from central Europe ca. 2600-2250 BC

Read also: Schleicher’s Fable in Proto-Indo-European – pitch and stress accent