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Bronze- and Iron-Age Celtic-speakers: what don't we know, what can't we know, and what could we know? Language, genetics and archaeology in the twenty-first century

  • Patrick Sims-Williams (a1)

In 1998 the author published ‘Genetics, linguistics and prehistory: thinking big and thinking straight’, a critique of late twentieth-century attempts to synthesize the disciplines of genetics, linguistics and archaeology. This paper assesses subsequent progress, using examples from various parts of the world, including Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Frisia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Micronesia, Portugal, Spain and the Canary Islands. The growing importance of mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome, rather than classical population genetics, is emphasized. The author argues that ancient DNA and early linguistic data should be used more. Languages mentioned include Aquitanian, Basque, Celtiberian, Etruscan, Finnish, Hungarian, Iberian, Lepontic, Lusitanian, Pictish, Raetic, ‘Tartessian’, Thracian and the Ladin dialect of the Italian Alps. Aspects of the ancient linguistic geography of Scotland and the Iberian peninsula are discussed, as is the difficulty of deciding the direction of spread of Indo-European and non-Indo-European languages. The potential of ancient place and personal names is illustrated from Celtic.


En 1998, l'auteur a publié Genetics, linguistics and prehistory: thinking big and thinking straight, critique des tentatives de la fin du XXe siècle de synthétiser les disciplines de la géné-tique, de la linguistique et de l'archéologie. Ce document évalue les progrès ultérieurs, en utilisant des exemples pris dans différentes parties du monde, notamment en Grande-Bretagne, au Danemark, en Finlande, en Frise, en Allemagne, en Hongrie, en Irlande, en Italie, en Micronésie, au Portugal, en Espagne et dans les îles Canaries. L'importance croissance de l'ADN mitochondrial et du chromosome Y, plutôt que la génétique classique des populations, est mise en avant. L'auteur avance que l'ADN ancien et les premières données linguistiques devraient être utilisés davantage. Les langues mentionnées incluent le gascon, le basque, le celtibère, l’étrusque, le finnois, le hongrois, l'ibère, le lépontique, le lusitanien, le picte, le rétique, le tartessien, le thracien et le dialecte ladin des Alpes italiennes. Certains aspects de la géographie linguistique ancienne de l’Écosse et de la péninsule ibérique sont abordés, tout comme la difficulté de décider de la direction de déplacement des langues indoeuropéennes et non indoeuropéennes. Le potentiel des noms anciens de lieu et de personne est illustré à partir du celte.


1998 veröffentlichte der Autor die Abhandlung „Genetics, linguistics and prehistory: thinking big and thinking straight“, worin er die Versuche im ausgehenden 20. Jahrhundert um eine Synthese der wissenschaftlichen Bereiche von Genetik, Linguistik und Archäologie bespricht. Des weiteren werden die in der Folge erzielten Fortschritte anhand von Beispielen aus verschiedenen Teilen der Welt (Großbritannien, Dänemark, Finnland, Frankreich, Friesland, Deutschland, Ungarn, Irland, Italien, Mikronesien, Portugal, Spanien und den Kanaren) bewertet. Hingewiesen wird auch, im Gegensatz zur klassischen Populationsgenetik, auf die zunehmende Bedeutung der mitochondrialen DNA und des Y-Chromosoms. Der Autor argumentiert, dass historische DNA- und frühe linguistische Daten mehr verwendet werden sollten. Zu den in der Abhandlung erwähnten Sprachen zählen u.a. Aquitanisch, Baskisch, Keltiberisch, Etruskisch, Finnisch, Ungarisch, Iberisch, Lepontisch, Lusitanisch, Piktisch, Rätisch, ‘Tartessisch’, Thrakisch und die ladinischen Dialekte der italienischen Alpen. Aspekte der historischen linguistischen Geografie Schottlands und der iberischen Halbinsel werden behandelt, ebenso wie die Schwierigkeit der Entscheidung, die die Ausbreitungsrichtung der indoeuropäischen und nicht-indoeuropäischen Sprachen anbetrifft. Das Potenzial historischer Ortsbezeichnungen und Eigennamen wird anhand des Keltischen vor Augen geführt.

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