Newsletter of the Association for the Study of Language In Prehistory

Issue 25 · Summer 1995

Austric Hypothesis as Prehistory

In the fine tradition of Oceanian anthropology Blust puts his linguistic taxonomy to work in prehistory. Having agreed that the new super-phylum (words he eschews) was vast and complex, he set out to find its dispersal point and time depth. One will have to read his paper to follow his reasoning and get his more specific conclusions. Here I sum up his primary findings:

1) The homeland of PAN must be on or near Formosa. That is settled prehistory nowadays, it seems. Blust moves it there from the Fujian coast & oldest rice-farming areas in mainland China.

2) In order to join up with AA ultimately, it has to go to older highland areas to the west, where agro-ecological factors put it. Most likely the Yangtze-Salween Zwischengebiet, the highland area from which rice farmers spreading out would have access to most of Southeast Asia.

3) The homeland of AA lies not so far away in the same highlands to the west near Nagaland. Rice farmers or wild-rice reapers again.

4) Proto-Austric (PAU) is essentially a foregone conclusion after the premises of 2) and 3). It is located to the south somewhat, again in the highlands along the Burma-Thailand border area. The Ur-Austricans were getting ready to be farmers, harvesting wild rice.

5) The dates of these proto-languages in their homelands, though informed by linguistic dates, will be governed by agricultural dates obtained from archeology; that seems clear. We get back to 15,000-10,000 for a kind of pre-Austric incipient rice cultivation stage, then 7000 BC for PAU in its homeland, 5500 BC for PAA, and one millennium later for PAN. At one point Blust cites a lexical retention count (Swadesh list) of 7% between AN branches. This he believes fits nicely within his general estimates of the time depth of PAN on Taiwan of 4500 BC, i.e. 6500 BP. He exemplifies the statistics by Cebuano and Roviana, from the Philippines and Melanesia respectively, which he believes were separated only 5000 years ago, despite their 7% retention which should imply 6000-8500 years ago by standard formulae. Why not? The retention rates varied. (Probably because of Melanesia)

All of this is derived from a paper Robert gave in 1993 at a conference sponsored by Ward Goodenough, famous Oceanist anthropologist, at the University of Pennsylvania. It should be published soon. Since Blust sent me a copy of the paper and since it was delivered publicly at Penn, I presume that it is kosher for us to publicize its main points here in. If this presumption vexes anyone at Penn, please so inform me.

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(c) 1996 Association for the Study of Language In Prehistory