Monday, January 22, 2018

Brahui Origins

The latest paper on Brahui origins, by Pagani, et al., purports to be interdisciplinary while flatly ignoring the linguistic and historical evidence contrary to the paper's own conclusion in what is, quite frankly, a shoddy piece of scholarship, despite doing solid work on the population genetic side of the analysis (although that too is uninformed by the ancient DNA necessary for the paper to make such a sweeping conclusion).
Pakistan is a part of South Asia that modern humans encountered soon after they left Africa ~50 - 70,000 years ago. Approximately 9,000 years ago they began establishing cities that eventually expanded to represent the Harappan culture, rivalling the early city states of Mesopotamia. The modern state constitutes the north western land mass of the Indian sub-continent and is now the abode of almost 200 million humans representing many ethnicities and linguistic groups. Studies utilising autosomal, Y chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA markers in selected Pakistani populations revealed a mixture of Western Eurasian-, South- and East Asian-specific lineages, some of which were unequivocally associated with past migrations. Overall in Pakistan, genetic relationships are generally predicted more accurately by geographic proximity than linguistic origin. The Dravidian-speaking Brahui population are a prime example of this. They currently reside in south-western Pakistan, surrounded by Indo-Europeans speakers with whom they share a common genetic origin. In contrast, the Hazara share the highest affinity with East Asians, despite their Indo-European linguistic affiliation. In this report we reexamine the genetic origins of the Brahuis, and compare them with diverse populations from India, including several Dravidian-speaking groups, and present a genetic perspective on ethnolinguistic groups in present-day Pakistan. Given the high affinity of Brahui to the other Indo-European Pakistani populations and the absence of population admixture with any of the examined Indian Dravidian groups, we conclude that Brahui are an example of cultural (linguistic) retention following a major population replacement.
Pagani L, Colonna V, Tyler-Smith C, Ayub Q., "An Ethnolinguistic and Genetic Perspective on the Origins of the Dravidian-Speaking Brahui in Pakistan." 97(1) Man India. 267-278 (2017) (Open Access).

I would have argued for elite driven language shift, rather than major population replacement as at least as plausible if not more so. (Hat Tip Razib Khan.)

In particular, the shallow analysis of the conclusion ignores a key point. The paper states (link added editorially):
Formally, two models could be considered. In model 1, the ancestors of the Brahui people were a pre-existing Dravidian-speaking group in Pakistan, who were gradually assimilated by the Indo-European migrants, who arrived ~3,000 years ago, while their language was preserved. In model 2, the Brahui ancestors were Indo-European speakers, who later adopted a Dravidian language. No historical or linguistic data support model 2, so model 1 provides the best explanation for the unique characteristics of the Brahui.
This is simply wrong.

Pagani could have argued that there was dispute in the historical and linguistic data and grappled with it, but instead Pagani simply ignores what was really the conventional wisdom in the linguistic discipline about Brahui.

The reality is that the linguistic data support a migration date after 1,000 CE (for what it is worth about the same time frame as the migration of the ancestors of the European Roma a.ka. gypsies and about two hundred years after the Parsi arrive in India) and the Brahui case follows a pattern common to the other North Dravidian dialects. Many North Dravidian communities also have oral histories that include a migration myth consistent with this kind of origin. This time frame also makes a pre-historic population replacement scenario far less plausible. As the linked Wikipedia page explains (with solid references):
Although in modern times speakers of the various Dravidian languages have mainly occupied the southern portion of India, in earlier times they probably were spoken in a larger area. After the Indo-Aryan migrations into north-western India, starting ca. 1500 BCE, and the establishment of the Kuru kingdom ca. 1100 BCE, a process of Sanskritisation started, which resulted in a language shift in northern India. Southern India has remained majority Dravidian, but pockets of Dravidian can be found in central India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. 
The Kurukh and Malto are pockets of Dravidian languages in central India, spoken by people who may have migrated from south India. They do have myths about external origins.[66] The Kurukh have traditionally claimed to be from the Deccan Peninsula,[67] more specifically Karnataka. The same tradition has existed of the Brahui,[68][69] who call themselves immigrants.[70] Holding this same view of the Brahui are many scholars [71] such as L. H. Horace Perera and M. Ratnasabapathy.[72]
The Brahui population of Pakistan's Balochistan province has been taken by some as the linguistic equivalent of a relict population, perhaps indicating that Dravidian languages were formerly much more widespread and were supplanted by the incoming Indo-Aryan languages.[73][74][75] However, it has been argued that the absence of any Old Iranian (Avestan) loanwords in Brahui suggests that the Brahui migrated to Balochistan from central India less than 1,000 years ago. The main Iranian contributor to Brahui vocabulary, Balochi, is a western Iranian language like Kurdish, and arrived in the area from the west only around 1,000 AD.[76] Sound changes shared with Kurukh and Malto also suggest that Brahui was originally spoken near them in central India.[77]
[66] P. 83 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate by Edwin Bryant
[67] P. 18 The Orāons of Chōtā Nāgpur: their history, economic life, and social organization. by Sarat Chandra Roy, Rai Bahadur; Alfred C Haddon
[68] P. 12 Origin and Spread of the Tamils By V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar
[69] P. 32 Ideology and status of Sanskrit : contributions to the history of the Sanskrit language by Jan E M Houben
[70] P. 45 The Brahui language, an old Dravidian language spoken in parts of Baluchistan and Sind by Sir Denys Bray
[71] Ancient India; Culture and Thought By M. L. Bhagi
[72] P. 23 Ceylon & Indian History from Early Times to 1505 A.D. By L. H. Horace Perera, M. Ratnasabapathy
[73] Mallory (1989), p. 44.
[74] Elst (1999), p. 146.
[75] Trask (2000), p. 97 "It is widely suspected that the extinct and undeciphered Indus Valley language was a Dravidian language, but no confirmation is available. The existence of the isolated northern outlier Brahui is consistent with the hypothesis that Dravidian formerly occupied much of North India but was displaced by the invading Indo-Aryan languages, and the presence in the Indo-Aryan languages of certain linguistic features, such as retroflex consonants, is often attributed to Dravidian substrate influence."
[76] Elfenbein, Josef (1987). "A periplus of the 'Brahui problem'". Studia Iranica. 16 (2): 215–233. doi:10.2143/SI.16.2.2014604.
[77] Krishnamurti (2003), pp. 27, 142.
Note that the linguistic evidence of a 1,000 CE origin for the Brahui branch of Dravidian is also corroborated by the lack of Dravidian toponyms in Northern India and Pakistan. There are Dravidian place-names throughout the regions of Sindh, Gujarat and Maharashtra according to George Erdösy (1995), The Indo-Aryans of ancient South Asia: Language, material culture and ethnicity, p. 271 and Edwin Bryant, Laurie L. Patton (2005), The Indo-Aryan controversy: evidence and inference in Indian history, p. 254. But, those place names do not extend further north than these regions.  The Brahui are located beyond the range where Dravidian place-names are found.

A similar case of probable language shift in a North Dravidian population (the Gonds) also exists, although in that case, the original language of the Gonds was probably a Munda language.

A time depth of 3,000 years is also almost as great as the linguistically ascertained age of the Dravidian language family itself (arguably even older), so it is hard to see why Brahui wouldn't have a more basal position in the Dravidian language family than it does if it were really this old. And, it is harder to see why Brahui would have managed to persist for 3,000 years in a linguistic sea of Indo-European neighbors, than it is to see how it could have done so far less than 1,000 years.

In short, Pagani is guilty of shoddy cross-disciplinary research at a really elementary level that impacts the conclusion of the paper. This glaring error should have never made it past peer review.

8 comments:

Nathan said...

"Note that the linguistic evidence of a 1000 CE origin for the Brahui branch of Dravidian is also corroborated by the lack of Dravidian toponyms in Northern India and Pakistan. There are Dravidian place-names throughout the regions of Sindh, Gujarat and Maharashtra according to George Erdösy (1995), The Indo-Aryans of ancient South Asia: Language, material culture and ethnicity, p. 271 and Edwin Bryant, Laurie L. Patton (2005), The Indo-Aryan controversy: evidence and inference in Indian history, p. 254. But, those place names do not extend further north than these regions. The Brahui are located beyond the range where Dravidian place-names are found."


Witzel-who does not believe IVC was Dravidian- nonetheless does say that a Dravidian substratum can be found from mid RigVedic times, a time when the Vedic Aryans were in the Punjab.

So it could just be that Dravidian places names have vanished or linguists have so far been unable to discern a Dravidian etymology for current place names.

andrew said...

Nathan, I think you misunderstand the import of what Witzel was saying.

"There are an estimated thirty to forty Dravidian loanwords in Vedic. However, Witzel finds Dravidian loans only from the middle Rigvedic period, suggesting that linguistic contact between Indo-Aryan and Dravidian speakers only occurred as the Indo-Aryans expanded well into and beyond the Punjab."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substratum_in_the_Vedic_language

This compares to more than 300 words, starting in the early Rig Vedic, for a lost substrate language of Vedic Sanskrit which was probably the Harappan language.

Nathan said...

On page 18
http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/IndusLang.pdf

"In sum, as has been repeatedly mentioned, there are no traces of Dravidian language
in the Panjab until the middle period of the RV, around c. 1450 BCE,"

I am only stating that Dravidian was present in the Punjab, as Witzel mentions above. I am not claiming that Witzel says the Harappan language is Dravidian.

The Blog entry stated there was no sign of Dravidian place names north of Sindh; I mentioned the presence of Dravidian in the Punjab, so that one may consider that there might have been Dravidian place-names in the area north of Sindh , at one time.

Ryan said...

Could the language that preceeded Baloch and Brahui in the region have been Elamo-Dravidian as well? That would answer a lot of questions, and the Baloch got in the region relatively late themselves.

andrew said...

The Elamo-Dravidian hypothesis has never been very solid, and the Iranian farmers who were responsible for bringing the Fertile Crescent agricultural package to the pre-Harappans in the IVC ca. 6000 BCE were not the source of the South Indian Neolithic ca. 2500 BCE who utilized a Sahel African agricultural package of domesticated crops very close in time to their original domestication in African.

Elamite, it lacks the right phonemes (e.g. retroflex consonants) to be a source for either Harappan or Dravidian (which were almost certainly different languages that probably weren't in the same language family). Elamite was attested as a written language from the Bronze Age through the Classical era in writing, but that writing has never been found in South Asia and its writing does not correspond to Harappan seals. The cognates aren't very solid.

And, importantly features of the Brahui language didn't arise in Dravidian languages until after 1000 CE at a point where the invention of those language features was attested in Dravidian writing Brahui is a very derived form of Dravidian, not a basal one.

Ryan said...

@Andrew - Elamo-Dravidian aside, what I'm asking is what if Baloch replaced a previous Dravidian language before Brahui arrived.

I'm not saying that that older Dravidian language is related to Brahui in any way. I'm just saying that the Baloch and Brahui both seem very Dravidian genetically, and maybe that's from whomever was there prior to Baloch arriving. Brahui is only 1000 years old, but Baloch has only been in Balochistan for 3,000 years itself. That's really not that long.

I think the high frequency of haplogroup J in southern India is pretty much a smoking gun of some sort of West Asian influence. Razib's post has pretty good autosomal evidence for this too IMHO.

And as I mentioned in that other thread I do not think the IVC language has any living relatives. That's not my point.

andrew said...

" I'm just saying that the Baloch and Brahui both seem very Dravidian genetically, and maybe that's from whomever was there prior to Baloch arriving."

The whole point of the most recent Pagnini paper, and on this I agree, is that the Brahui are genetically indistinguishable from neighboring Indo-Europeans.

Ryan said...

@Andrew - "The whole point of the most recent Pagnini paper, and on this I agree, is that the Brahui are genetically indistinguishable from neighboring Indo-Europeans."

Those neighbouring Indo-Europeans are the Baloch I keep mentioning!

I'm not disputing the Brahui's similarity to their neighbours. I'm pointing out that both the Brahui AND their neighbours have a ratio of IE ancestry to Iran_Chl ancestry unusual for IE populations but typical for Dravidians.