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Problem formulation and historical context define terminology and relevance – not linguistic formalism

  • Kristian Kristiansen
Extract

In his response, Colin Renfrew retreats to a formalistic argument – Indo-European can only mean a language family. It has nothing to do whatsoever with institutions or religion. This statement simply writes off a whole academic discourse of Indo-European studies. Consequently Renfrew does not accept an argument that links the spread of an institution to a concomitant spread of its language or its terminology. In opposition to this I consider Indo-European languages to have a history linked to social and economic processes of change that we still know too little about. However, it implies a relationship between them, as Colin Renfrew cogently argues in his book (Renfrew 1987: chapter 6). Institutions which appear to have their origin in the Proto-Indo-European period, and which are still preserved – like language diversified – in later Indo-European religious mythology or sagas, are consequently termed Indo-European in this specific research context, as they share a common history. Often they also share a common terminology that can be demonstrated to have a Proto-Indo-European origin. In that they are interlinked in one way or another with language. It is therefore a worthy research task to consider if processes of language spread and the spread of institutions are interlinked, given that their terminology share a common origin.

From this follows that we must either abolish the term Indo-European completely, or accept that it embodies a number of social and religious traditions and institutions whose history cannot be totally separated from that of language, as their meaning is expressed in a specific Indo-European terminology. The danger of political misuse does not originate from research into this relationship; it originates from simplistic theoretical and methodological conflations of such categories with racist and chauvinistic historical constructions. The relationship between language and DNA, which Colin Renfrew has propagated, is no less subject to such manipulation. The only weapon against this is a developed theoretical and methodological strategy.

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Renfrew, C. 1987. Archaeology and language. The puzzle of Indo-European origins. London: Jonathan Cape.
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Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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