Correlation does not mean causation: the damage of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’, and the ‘Future American’ hypothesis

america-languages-lowlandic

Human ancestry can only help solve anthropological questions by using all anthropological disciplines involved. I have said that many times in this blog.

Correlation does not mean causation

Really, it does not.

You might think the tenet ‘correlation does not mean causation‘ must be evident at this point in Statistics, and it must also be for all those using statistical methods in their research. But it is sadly not so. A lot of researchers just look for correlation, and derive conclusions – without even an initial sound hypothesis to be contrasted… You can judge for yourself, e.g. reading the many instances of this complaint in recent publications of Biomedical and Social Sciences, on the interesting blog Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science.

In anthropological questions regarding Indo-European studies there is an added handicap: not taking correlation to mean causation does also mean – to avoid at least the most obvious confounders – taking into account the multiple linguistic and archaeological data that are available right now, to explain the expansion of Indo-European languages.

You might also believe that international researchers in Human Evolutionary Biology – after all, this is essentially a biomedical discipline – are acquainted with statistical methods and their problems when applied to their field. And that scientific journals – and especially those with the highest impact factors, like Nature, Science, or PNAS – have professional, careful reviewers who would never accept papers that equal correlation with causation, especially when Social Sciences are involved (because this alone might make errors grow exponentially…). Sadly, this is obviously not so, either.

https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/correlation.png

The ‘Yamnaya component’ concept and its damage

From Allentoft et al. (2015), emphasis is mine:

Both studies [Haak et al. (2015) and this one] found a genetic affinity between samples from a central European culture known as Corded Ware, which existed from around 2500 bc, and samples from the earlier Yamnaya steppe culture. This similarity between distant populations is best explained by a substantial westward expansion of the Yamnaya or their close relatives into central Europe (Fig. 1b). Such an expansion is consistent with the steppe hypothesis, which argues that Corded Ware cultures were a conduit for the dispersal of Indo-European languages into Europe.

More interesting than these vague words – and the short, almost invisible suggestion that Yamna may not be exactly the population behind Corded Ware peoples – are the maps that illustrated in Nature their risky hypothesis: they called it “steppe hypothesis“, like that (in general terms), as if everyone defending a steppe origin for Proto-Indo-European would support such a model, when they actually referred to the specific hypothesis of one of their authors (Kristiansen), one of the few archaeologists who keep Gimbutas’ concept of the ‘Kurgan peoples’ alive, based on the Corded Ware culture:

Allentoft Corded Ware
Allentoft et al. (2015): “They conclude that the Corded Ware culture of central Europe had ancestry from the Yamnaya. Allentoft et al. also show that the Afanasievo culture to the east is related to the Yamnaya, and that the Sintashta and Andronovo cultures had ancestry from the Corded Ware. Arrows indicate migrations — those from the Corded Ware reflect the evidence that people of this archaeological culture (or their relatives) were responsible for the spreading of Indo-European languages. All coloured boundaries are approximate.”

In many publications that followed, the trend has been to reproduce this graphical model, by asserting (or implying) that Bell Beaker peoples were the result of subsequent Corded Ware migrations, and indeed that Corded Ware peoples migrated from the Yamna culture, and were thus the vector of expansion for Indo-European languages in Europe.

All of this is being proven wrong, as I predicted: see Mathieson et al. (2017) and Olalde et al. (2017) for recently studied samples with ‘steppe component’, older than (and unrelated to) the Yamna culture. However, no retraction (or correction, whatever) has been published to date about the concept of the ‘Yamnaya ancestry expansion’, and its consequences.

We shall see then just a rather surreptitious shift in terminology from ‘Yamnaya’ to ‘steppe’ component, to adapt to the new data – i.e. some damage control while the ship of ‘Yamnaya ancestry’ capsizes – but little else. “Earlier ‘Yamnaya ancestry’, you say? Just, you know, let’s call it ‘steppe ancestry’ and shift the expansion of Indo-European languages to one or two thousand years earlier, and done!”

The damage of this post-truth genetics is already done: we will see the unending distribution on the Internet in general, and on social networks in particular, of these grandiose conclusions, of far-fetched Indo-European migration models that include the Corded Ware culture, of simplistic maps with apparently harmless ‘arrows of migration’ (like the above) representing fictional population movements suggesting nonexistent dialectal branches.

You might be one of those sceptics wary of so many boring statistical rules: “But it’s a safe reasoning: Yamanaya samples have an ‘ancestral component’ that is found elevated in Corded Ware samples, and less so in Bell Beaker samples, and PCA showed a similar result…so the migration model Yamnaya -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker is a priori correct, right?”

The ‘Future American’ hypothesis

Let me illustrate this attractive “Correlation = Causation” argument, using it to solve the problem of Future American languages.

Suppose we live in a future post-apocalyptic world ca. 3500 AD, with no surviving historical records before 3000 AD. None. Just investigation of cultures and their relationship by Archaeology, proto-languages reconstructed and language families identified by Linguistics, etc.

We have thus Future Germanic and Future Romance as the only language families spoken in Future Western Europe and in the Future Americas, in a distribution similar to the present day*, and we have certain somehow related archaeologically-defined cultures on both sides of the Atlantic, like Briton, Iberian, Norman, or Lowlandish, although their distribution remains partly undefined in time and space.

* If you are really curious about this scenario, you can read about the potential evolution of a Future North-American language.

But what languages did the ancestors of Future Americans speak, and who spread them? That question remains far from being settled by our future researchers, in spite of the solidest linguistic and migration models (talking mainly about Briton and Iberian cultures): too many authorities out there questioning them, fighting to impose their own pet theories.

Suddenly, the newly developed field of Human Ancestry comes to save the day. So let’s say we have this map of ancient samples recovered (dated from, say, the 6th to the 18th century AD), and our study is centered on the newly described “Western European” component (a precise combination of, say, WHG+steppe), which peaks in early samples from the Low Lands – hence we call it, quite daringly, “Lowlandic component“.

Our group is keen to demonstrate that the ancient Lowlandic culture described in Archaeology (marked especially by the worldwide distribution of tulips among other traits) is the origin of Western European and American languages… Now, let’s reach conclusions about migrations in the Middle Ages!

america-languages-lowlandic
‘Future American’ hypothesis. Migration routes in Western Europe and the Americas during the Middle Ages, based on the ‘Lowlandic component’ (Click to open higher quality version).

PCA shows that South-West European samples cluster closely to some North-West European samples, and that some late South American samples available cluster at some distance from North American samples – nearer to a native component represented by two individuals with 0% Lowlandic ancestry and a different cluster in PCA. And some North-American samples cluster quite closely to North-West European samples.

Based on the decrease in ‘Lowlandic component’ in the different samples and on PCA, we conclude that Lowlandic peoples (“or their close relatives”) must have migrated at the same time to North America, South America (or potentially from North America to South America?) as well as western, central, and northern Europe. Both migration events must have happened roughly at the same time, in part because both distinct language families appear in a north-south distribution, and Proto-Lowlandic must be (according to Genetics) the ancestor of both, Proto-Future-Germanic and Proto-Future-Romance.

That makes a lot of sense! A huge Lowlandic pressure for migration, you see. Push-pull mechanisms and stuff. A Lowlandic Empire probably (scattered remains are found everywhere)! And, judging by the presence of the ‘Lowlandic component’ in Future East Europe from the Elbe to the Vistula, maybe Lowlandic peoples spread Proto-Slavic, too! We can even date the common Lowlandic-Slavic proto-language this way! So many groundbreaking conclusions!

Future scholars supporting the Lowlandic homeland are on fire; they can’t get enough of publishing papers on the subject. “Two different Future American language families with cultural origins in Britain and Iberia, my ass! Because genetics.”

And don’t forget the future people of haplogroup R1b-U106 and high Lowlandic component: Wow, they are the heirs of those who expanded Future Germanic and Future Romance languages everywhere, aren’t they? How proud they must be. And who wouldn’t want to have these tall, blond, blue-eyed Lowlanders as their forefathers? Personalised genetic analysis is selling like crazy: “let’s know our Lowlandic percentage!”. Everyone is happy, colourful maps with lots of arrows and shit…

But – your future you might ask in awe, seeing that this doesn’t sound quite right, based on your basic archaeological and linguistic knowledge:

  • What about specific models of migration proposed to date? The solidest ones, not just anyone that seems to fit?
  • What about the dialectal classification of languages? The mainstream ones, not those that are compatible with this interpretation?
  • What about archaeological cultures to which individual samples belonged?
  • What about the actual dates of each sample? And how this date relates to the state of the culture to which it belongs?
  • What about the haplogroups, and the actual subclade of each haplogroup?
  • What about the territories, cultures, and dates not sampled, could they change this interpretation in light of known archaeological models?
  • And what about the actual origin of that ancestral component they so frivolously named? Dit it really appear ex nihilo in the Low Lands, and expanded from it?

“Who cares! This new data is sooo coool… And it proves what we wanted, what a coincidence! And it’s numbers, mate! Numbers don’t lie.”

 
No, numbers don’t lie. But people do.

Correlation is fun, isn’t it?

 

Related:

Academic journals can’t be trusted to tell the scientific truth

Dutch researcher Julian Kirchherr has published an interesting article in The Guardian about the reliability of academic journals, and the consequences for the academic world that orbits around them.

Science (and more specifically the scientific publication market) is in a major crisis, and journals are publishing a large amount of articles with fake results – which cannot be replicated in other experiments -, and even false data fabricated by researchers.

The interesting aspect of Mr. Kirchherr’s opinion is that, unlike many others who criticize the shortcomings of the publishing industry, he stresses the value of performance indicators – such as the number of papers published in high-impact journals – for academic institutions.

However, not only novel and surprising results (many of them made by chance) should be taken into account, but also good (and dull) research that doesn’t produce great discoveries, as well as the teaching prowess of a researcher.

The solution cannot be to revolutionize or get rid of the publishing industry: what we need is a proper evolution of a system in crisis, including a general, healthy distrust of methods, materials, results and discussion of any article published in any journal, and not only major scandals.

A FAQ about Atheism on Darwin’s anniversary: “The Atheist Is Not Arrogant; The ‘Believer’ Is”

Apparently Darwin’s anniversary is giving more fuel to the Brights & co. to ignite still more flames, like the latest digged (and meneado) “Atheism Is Not Arrogant“. Here is a quick criticism of that concept of “Atheism” from a non-atheist and non-religious point of view:

  • As a statement of non-belief, ‘atheism’ is not inherently arrogant

    That is true for Atheism “as a statement of non-belief”. However, Atheism – even if defined differently in all languages -, conveys a general meaning (see Wikipedia) of either:

    1. The affirmation of the nonexistence of a god or gods;
    2. or the rejection of theism.

    It is also defined more broadly by some as an absence of belief in deities, which is actually “weak atheism“, or nontheism. Hence the atheist often asserts (i.e. believes in) the nonexistence of god and rejects theism, which is different from disbelieving, and probably an “inherently arrogant” position, like asserting any other unproven belief. The answer of believers (atheists and theists alike) that “they (not us) have to prove [X] beyond doubt, and they can’t” is untenable in questions that can be neither proven nor refuted.
    X being e.g. the (non)existence of god, afterlife, or the divine origin of universe, regarding the different concepts of ‘god’, ‘afterlife’ or ‘divine’.

  • Where atheism becomes misconstrued lies in what believers feel it asserts. Many individuals, who do not understand the terminology, (while working within the parameters of absolutism from their own worldview) inappropriately interpret the word to make an absolute claim on the existence of god.This understanding is a misnomer; merely the term states, “I do not believe”

    As we have already seen, the misconstruction of atheism as a concept is actually made by strong atheists, who try to disguise their antireligion or antitheist positions as a more neutral “nontheism”. In its origin, “a-theos” (Gk. non-god) might have meant just “non-theism”, i.e. modern weak atheism. Today, however, the anticlerical, antireligious or antitheist trend of most atheists have driven the meaning of Atheism and Atheist to its current general meaning in English and most languages.

  • Often when a disbelief in deities is attested, the faithful believer will assert that it is arrogant for anyone to claim an absence of god

    That’s true. Often, also, when a belief in deities is attested, the faithful atheist will assert that it is arrogant for anyone to claim the existence of god. See an example in the same post of that Atheist who describes Atheism as nontheism and shows a clear antitheism:

    Many times it is the faithful who are arrogant in this manner, insisting their holy book is ‘Truth’, sometimes to the extent of attempting to silence opposing views. Is it not infinitely more arrogant to declare heresy, blasphemy and apostasy on those who use evidence to shape their understanding of reality? A reaction such as this displays an uncomfortableness with having one’s beliefs challenged and thereby inferring a feeling of infallibility on part of the believer.

    About that quote, I think some people don’t really look around in their social networks (Digg, Menéame and the like) and don’t read others’ posts and comments. I live in a “normal” community (whatever that means abroad) and people around me are atheists, agnostics or religious alike, and most are scientific people (medical doctors, biologists, engineers, etc.) without professional differences between them related to personal beliefs. However, anyone of them who dares to show his faith publicly is quickly the objective (in the Net) of the Flying Spaghetti Monster joke, and his belief is enough for many to think (and assert as true) that he cannot be a man of science. That is the real contemporary feeling of “infallibility on part of the believer”; of the believer in the nonexistence of god, of course, atheists who believe that just because they reject religious beliefs they are better scientists, or that they are able to classify scientists (or their intelligence!) according to their beliefs. The modern Inquisición is a mob rule disguised as rational, heroic ‘science’ fighters.

  • Where atheism becomes misconstrued lies in what believers feel it asserts. Many individuals, who do not understand the terminology, (while working within the parameters of absolutism from their own worldview) inappropriately interpret the word to make an absolute claim on the existence of god.This understanding is a misnomer; merely the term states, “I do not believe”

    False again. Those many individuals who don’t understand the terminology are many modern atheists as the author, who disguise their faith in the evil nature of religion and theism as nontheism, and construe personal meanings different from the generally accepted ones (ahteist as nontheist, religious as fundamentalist), spreading it through the social networks in an attempt to prove their personal beliefs in the nonexistence of god and the evil nature of theism.

  • The one who says “I disbelieve” is not arrogant, it is those who postulate ownership of absolute “Truth”.

    I agree. The one who says “I disbelieve” (nontheist) or even “I can’t believe nor disbelieve” (agnostic) is not an arrogant. Only the one who asserts (and promotes) the nonexistence of god and the evil nature of theism, just like the one who asserts the existence of god and the evil nature of atheism, is an arrogant.

Rhetoric of debates, discussions and arguments: Useful destructive criticism for scientific & academic research, reasons and personal opinions; the example of Proto-Indo-European language revival

Rhetoric (Wikipedia) is the art of harnessing reason, emotions and authority, through language, with a view to persuade an audience and, by persuading, to convince this audience to act, to pass judgement or to identify with given values. The word derives from PIE root wer-, ‘speak’, as in MIE zero-grade wrdhom, ‘word’, or full-grade werdhom, ‘verb’; from wrētōr ρήτωρ (rhētōr), “orator” [built like e.g. wistōr (<*widtor), Gk. ἵστωρ (histōr), “a wise man, one who knows right, a judge” (from which ‘history’), from PIE root weid-, ‘see, know’]; from that noun is adj. wrētorikós, Gk. ρητορικός (rhētorikós), “oratorical, skilled in speaking”, and fem. wrētorikā, GK ρητορική (rhētorikē). According to Plato, rhetoric is the “art of enchanting the soul”.

When related to Proto-Indo-European language revival, as well as in modern scientific research of any discipline, discussions are sometimes interesting in light of historical rhetoric, as they might get really close to some classical (counter-)argumentative resources, however unknown they are to their users…

Sophists taught that every argument could be countered with an opposing argument, that an argument’s effectiveness derived from how “likely” it appeared to the audience (its probability of seeming true), and that any probability argument could be countered with an inverted probability argument. Thus, if it seemed likely that a strong, poor man were guilty of robbing a rich, weak man, the strong poor man could argue, on the contrary, that this very likelihood (that he would be a suspect) makes it unlikely that he committed the crime, since he would most likely be apprehended for the crime. They also taught and were known for their ability to make the weaker (or worse) argument the stronger (or better).

So, for example, if people might generally think that evolution is very likely to have occured, because of the scientifical data available, one only has to say something like “God put those proofs there to confound people and prove their faith“. And, even if there is no single reason to give why that person is entitled to interpret the Bible that way, and to determine what ‘God thought’ when ‘inventing proofs of a false evolution’, in fact there is no need to give rational arguments: this very likelihood of evolution is in itself a proof of how good God is in cheating us…

Statistics was a discipline mostly unknown to sophists, but I’m sure they more or less imagined the typical bell curve that population beliefs and opinions follow. If interpreted the other way round, one could say that the more an idea is believed by people, the more likely is that someone will come along with another, competing one. In fact, that’s natural evolution, too: without that universal trend that life has to differentiate itself from the normal, matter would have never changed and get more and more complicated…

That trend is observed in research, too, as man is obviously another animal and its intelligence another natural feature subjected to the evolutive machinery of nature. That’s why Occam’s razor is never a sufficient argument to end a research field or hypothesis: you have e.g. Gimbutas’ theories (or Renfrew’s, if you like) – even though obviously not completely proven hypothesis -, about some prehistoric speakers being successful in their conquests and migrations through Eurasia, which infers with logic that what happend with Indo-European languages expansion is what has almost always happened in the known history of language expansion, using the most probable extrapolation they can with the facts we know. But you will still find competing hypothesis about an unlikely millennium-long, peaceful spread and mix of languages through and from Europe or Asia, based on some controversial facts and a great part of imagination. And, even if such theories are far away from what can generally be considered rational, they will certainly find supporters; and it’s not bad that such unlikely ideas emerge: science is built up thanks to some of such marginal ideas which eventually prove true; apart from the million ones that prove false and disappear, and some dozens that are sadly able to remain, like homeopathy or Esperanto-like conlanging, as I’ve said before. The same happens with the human body, which went through mutation obtaining lots of advantages, but at the same time dragging some genetic illnesses along…

About Proto-Indo-European research, it’s more or less straightforward which hypothesis and theories are considered generally accepted, and which ones minority views. Nevertheless, that doesn’t prevent renown experts from accepting some marginal hypothesis in some aspects of PIE reconstruction, while keeping the general view on other ones; neither does that prevent renown linguists and philologists to consider Proto-Indo-European, or comparative and historical grammar in general, an absurd work: the ex-Dean of a southern Spanish University, a Latin professor, deems PIE an “invention”; in his words, “from Lat. pater, Gk. pater, and Eng. father, we say there is a language that said what, ‘pater‘? pfff”; he obviously considers “language=written & renown language system”; the problem with that thought is that if PIE becomes spoken (i.e. written too) and renown, just as Old Latin became Classical Latin – instead of disappearing as the other Italic dialects – the whole reasoning is useless; so it’s also useless now. One of the most famous Indo-Europeanists in Spain, F. Adrados (e.g. marginal supporter of Etruscan as an IE language) and Bernabé (e.g. marginal supporter of the Glottalic theory, I think), even if dedicated to Indo-European reconstruction, deemed PIE revival – in some news in Spanish newspaper El Mundo – a “uthopia“, but considered at the same time possible that Greek and Latin (respectively) became EU’s official language: it’s not that they don’t consider speaking PIE impossible, but only that there are “better” alternatives: better, I guess, for Romance or Greek speakers or philologists…

About Proto-Indo-European language revival for Europe, thus, it is difficult to ascertain if it is the most rational choice, as it is to ascertain if liberal thoughts are more rational than conservative ones. I have lived in other countries within the European Union, and have visited other parts of Spain where the spoken language is not Spanish; from that experience, the different attitudes I’ve found are overwhelming: when you speak in English or German anywhere in Europe, the conversation is everything but fluent; also, if you speak English in the UK, German in Germany, French in France, or Czech in Czechia, even mastering quite well the regional language, you’ll never get the same reaction as if a Catalan (from a Catalan-speaking region) speaks Spanish in, say, Galicia (a Galician-Portuguese speaking region), as both use a language (Spanish) common to both of them. That was also the idea behind the first Esperanto out there, probably Volapük, and it has been the idea behind every conlang trying to be THE International Auxiliary Language since then; and none has succeeded. That was also the idea behind Hebrew revival in Israel, for speakers of a hundred different languages living in the same territory: they had other modern, common languages to choose instead of an ancient, partially incomplete, and “difficult” (in Esperantist terms) one, too, and it succeeded.

Latin use in Europe, on the other hand, has been declining ever since the first Romance dialects developed, and had its latest offcial (i.e. legal) use in Europe, apart from the Catholic church, at the beginning of the XX century in Hungary – curiously enough, a non-Indo-European speaking country. Its revival has been proposed a thousand times since then, but has never recovered its prestige, as Germanic-speaking countries have taken the lead in Western Europe, and Slavic-speaking countries in the East. It is hard to explain now why English- or German- or Polish-speaking peoples should learn and speak again the language of the Romans and the Roman Empire, with which they have little history in common…

The rest of known language revivals, like Cornish or Manx, or even e.g. the partial revival (“sociolect”) of Katharevousa Greek, not to talk about the so-called “revivals” – in fact “language revitalizations” – of Basque, Catalan, Breton, Ukrainian, etc. have been just regionally oriented language (or prestige + vocabulary) revivals with cultural or social purposes.

So, is Proto-Indo-European revival a “correct”, or “sufficiently rational” option, given the known facts? As an opinion, it is neither correct nor incorrect, as being “Indo-Europeanist for Europe” is like being leftist or conservative in politics; just like supporting Hebrew revival wasn’t (a hundred years ago) “sufficiently rational” in itself, and controversy over its revival have never ended. But, the reasons behind PIE revival can and should be questioned, as the reasons behind a conlang adoption (i.e. the concepts of “better” and “easier” when applied to language) can and should be critically reviewed. In Proto-Indo-European, it refers – I think – to two main questions:

1) Did Proto-Indo-European exist? i.e. can we confidently consider any proto-language something different from especulation or mere unproven hypothesis? The answer is “it depends”. Proto-Indo-European was probably a language spoken by prehistorical people, as probable as any generally accepted scientific theory we can support without experimental proofs, like theories on the Universe, its creation or development: they might prove wrong in the future, but – following the necessary abstraction and common sense – it’s not difficult to accept most individual premises and facts surrounding them. That migh be said about proto-languages like Proto-Slavic (ca. 1 AD), Proto-Germanic (ca. 1000 BC), Proto-Greek or Proto-Indo-Iranian (ca. 2000 BC) or Proto-Indo-European, especially about its European or North-Western subbranch (ca. 2500-2000 BC); on the other hand, however, about proto-languages like ‘Proto-Eurasiatic’ or ‘Proto-Nostratic’, or ‘Proto-Indo-Tyrrhenian’, or ‘Proto-Thraco-Illyrian’, or ‘Proto-Indo-Uralic’, or ‘Proto-Italo-Celtic’ (or even Proto-Italic), or ‘Proto-Balto-Slavic’, and the hundred other proposed combinations, it is impossible to prove beyond doubt if and when they were languages at all.

2) Is the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction trustable enough to be “revived”? i.e. can we consider it a speakable language, or just a linguistic theoretical approach? Again, it depends, but here mostly mixed with political opinions. In light of Ancient Hebrew – a language that ceased to be spoken 2500 years ago -, “revived” as a modern language introducing thousands of newly coined terms – many of them from Indo-European origin -, to the point that some want to name it “Israeli”, instead of “Hebrew” (as we call MIE “European” or “Europaio” instead of “Indo-European”), I guess the answer is clearly yes, it’s possible: in any possible case, Indo-European languages have a continuated history of more than 4000 years, and modern terms need only (in most cases) a sound-law adjustment to be translated into PIE. Also, in light of the other proto-languages with a high scientifical basis and a similar time span, like Proto-Uralic, Proto-Semitic or Proto-Dravidian, there is no possible comparison with Proto-Indo-European: while PIE is practically a fully reconstructed and well-known language without written texts to ‘confirm’ our knowledge, the rest are just experimental (mainly vocabulary-based) reconstructions. There are, thus, proto-languages and proto-languages, as there are well-known natural dead languages and poorly attested ones; PIE is therefore one of the few ones which might be called today a real, natural language, like Proto-Germanic, Proto-Slavic or Proto-Indo-Aryan.

However, anti-Europeanists (or, better, anti-Indo-Europeanists for the European Union) won’t find it difficult to say a simple “a proto-language is not enough to be revived, as Ancient Hebrew was written down and PIE wasn’t”, thus disguising their sceptic views on the politics behind the project with seemingly rational discussion. While others will also state, in light of our clear confrontation with conlangs, that “proto-language is nothing different from a conlang”, thus disguising their real interest in spreading their personal desire that a proto-language be similar to a conlang. One only has to say: “Classical Latin couldn’t be reconstructed by comparing Spanish, French and Italian” – when, in fact, the question should be something like “could the common, Late Vulgar Latin, be reconstructed with a high degree of confidence, having just the writings of the first mediaeval romance languages?” The answer is probably a simple “yes,and quite well”, until proven the contrary, but by expressing the first doubt one can easily transform the possible-reconstruction argument in an apparently unlikely one; enough to convince those who want to be convinced…

Thus, whereas some people consider PIE a natural language, confidently reconstructed, but impossible to speak today because of political matters, others just consider it another invention, nothing different from Esperanto, while Esperantist talk about it as a “worse” or “more difficult” alternative to it: you could nevertheless find all opinions mixed together when it comes to destructive discussions, as the objective is not to defend an own rational and worked idea, but simply to destroy the appearance (or likelihood, in sophistic terms) of the rival’s idea. Be it anti-Europeanism, anti-Indo-European-reconstrution or anti-everything-else-than-Esperanto, you don’t have to defend your position: just repeat your known anti- cliches, and you’ve “won”. Apparently, at least.

Cicero noted what Greek rhetors already knew before about usual debates, and how arguments should be made and countered so that no idea is left accepted. In that sense, discussions were (and are) generally so unnecessary, that the Socratic Method seems to be still the best philosophical approach to discussions, even those concerning scientifical (i.e. “most probable”) facts: Instead of arriving at answers, non-expert (and often expert) discussion is used to break down the theories others hold, not “to go beyond the axioms and postulates we take for granted” and obtain a better knowledge, as Greek philosophers put it, but just to destroy what others build up.

So, for example, we might get these general rules to counter any argument, even if it’s not only based on opinions, but also on generally accepted facts:

1) Demonstrate the falseness of a part of the rival’s argument; then, infer the falseness of the whole reasoning. For example, let’s say Gimbutas’ view is out-dated, or that we at Dnghu included something considered nowadays ‘wrong’ in our grammar: then PIE revival is also mistaken; nothing more to explain. Or, let’s say that Hebrew revival is not “equal” to a proto-language revival, and that therefore the comparison is ‘false’ – even if comparisons are there to compare similar cases, not “equal” cases, which would be absurd – then, the whole PIE revival project is ‘equivocal’ or ‘absurd’. That’s the view about PIE revival you can find in some comments made on American blogs out there.

2) You can also confirm a part of your rival’s argument, and then, by doing it, carry that argument to its extreme, to the extent that the consequences of it are intolerable, and the paroxism completely distorts your rival’s argument. That’s more or less what I usually do when confronting conlanging as a real option for the European Union, by saying “OK, let’s adopt the ‘better’ and ‘easier’ language: first Esperanto, then the “better” and “easier” Esperanzo, then Lojban, then Pilosofio, then Mazematio, etc. etc. ad infinitum” – so, as a conclusion, one might accept that “better” and “easier” are not actually good reasons to adopt a language; hence the arguments based on “better” and “easier” cliches are opinion, not ratio.

3) The most common now (and then, I guess, in spoken language) is personal discredit, by which you can infer that his argument is also corrupted. That is what some have made when lacking more arguments, calling me personally (and the Indo-European language Association in general ?!) a “racist”, “nazi”, or “KKK-like” group; or trying to discredit me personally by saying I don’t master the English language; or that I misspelled or ‘was wrong’ in reconstructing this or that PIE name or noun; or even just because I am “an amateur”, – thus suggesting we all have to be “language professionals” to propose a trustable PIE revival. A recent example of this is our latest Esperantist visitor, saying I am “close to being racist” because I propose PIE for the EU – thus obviously inviting readers to identify “language=race”, saying that “I propose one language = I propose one race = I am a racist”, and therefore if “I=racist” and “I propose PIE revival” => “PIE=x”. The whole reasoning is nonsense, but he is not the first – and won’t be the last – educated individual to say (and possibly believe) that…

4) The fourth is actually only a minor method derived from the third, used in desperate cases, which consists on taking a sensible, emotional example of the consequences of the generalization of the rival’s argument, to demonstrate the moral baseness of the one who defends it; then, if he is discredited, his argument is corrupted, too [see point 3]… That is what some desperate people do when saying that PIE revival for the EU is “bad” (or “worse”) for non-IE-language-speakers like Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian, Basque or Maltese peoples. In fact, anyone who had taken a look at our website, or had made a quick search about me, would have found that I began this project of PIE revival to defend European languages (at least minority languages, as national or official languages are already well protected) against the European Union’s English officious imperium and English-German-French official triumvirate. Also, if we left PIE revival, only some languages (the official, i.e. national ones, 25 today) would get EU support, while the rest just die out or resist with some regional or private support. With Modern Indo-European, on the other hand, there will only be one official language supported by the European Union, and the rest really equal in front of each other and the Union, be it English, Maltese, Basque, Saami or Piedmontese. Nowadays, English is the language spoken in institutions, Maltese has an official status before the EU, while Saami is official in its country, Basque is only official in its territory, and Piedmontese, Asturian, Breton, and the majority of EU regional languages are only privately and locally defended. Nevertheless, one only has to say “supporting Indo-European is what Nazis did, PIE revival is racist and wants to destroy non-Indo-European peoples and cultures”; and, there you are: nothing proven, nothing reasoned, but the simplest and most efficient FUD you can find to counter the thousand arguments in favour of this revival project.

However unnecessary and unfruitful it might seem, I still discuss – or even directly look for debate -, because I get a benefit of such long, active pauses from my study, unlike those tiny passive TV- or radio-pauses I insert between study hours, especially in these stressful exam periods. Indeed I can find something to discuss in any website at any time, but I’m generally interested in debating these language political options. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to understand why some people get mad (at me, the project, or even the association or the whole world), when in fact taking part on any discussion is freely accepted by all of us, and it’s me who put new ideas and proposals on the table, and the others who just have to criticize them…

Something valuable for life I learned from psychology (possibly the only thing…) is about Chomsky’s reaction on Skinner’s comments: my professor (close to Freudian psychoanalysis), who told us the story – I hope I got it well, I cannot find it out there – thought it was Skinner who “won” the debate, by answering to Chomsky’s criticism, who in turn had criticized Skinner’s work, Verbal Behaviour, for his “scientistic”, not scientific, concept of the human mind. In fact, the younger Chomsky had just applied science to psychology (a need that psychology still has), simplifying the understanding of mind with a strict cognitive view, and criticizing some traditional views that psychologists accepted as ‘normal’. Skinner and those who followed his behavioural school of thought overreacted, mostly based on the belief that Chomsky’s reasons were against their lives and professional options, when in fact reason and opinion are in different planes. Chomsky, instead of entering the flame (yes, trolling existed back in the 60’s) did nothing. When asked years later, about why he didn’t reply as expected to all that criticism, he just said: “they missed the point”; he said what he had to say, criticized what he wanted, proposed an alternative, and left the discussion. And still, even by not answering, cognitive revolution provoked a shift in American psychology between the 1950s through the 1970s from being primarily behavioral to being primarily cognitive.

If you want to debate about opinions – be it PIE revival, Europeanism, general politics, Star Trek or the sex of angels -, entering into unending criticisms and personal attacks, that’s OK; but you should do it if and when you want, as I only do it because I obtain something beneficial, having a good time, laughing a little bit, relaxing from study, thinking about interesting reasons that might appear for or against my views or ideas, etc. And you should do it to get something in (re)turn, be it that same stress relief I (and most people) get, or other personal or professional benefits whatsoever. If not, if maybe you are getting more stressed trying to “convince” me or others, to “make us change our minds” with great one-minute ‘reasons’, by discussing directly your opinions as if they were ‘true‘, then you are clearly “missing the point” (using Chomsky’s words) with these discussions, and – as our latest Esperantist commenter (Mr. Janoski) puts it – “losing your time”, “trying to understand” something…