18 May 2013

The Inca Connection: A Quechua Word Game


Gather round and I’ll show you a magic trick. Watch my hands, but first look at Table 1 below. It is based on a 200-word Swadesh list for Southern Quechua and the Tower of Babel “Eurasiatic” etymologies:

Table 1


Proto-Eurasiatic
Meaning
Quechua
Meaning
1
*ma, *ʔVnV
not
mana... chu
ama... chu
not (negation)
not (prohibition)
2
*ḳV
this
kay
this
3
*mV
what (interr.)
ma
what (interr.)
4
*mV[c]V
old
machu
old
5
*ʔVmV
mother
mama
mother
6
*ḳerV
bark (of a tree)
qara
bark (of a tree)
7
*gwVrV
bark, skin
qara
bark, skin
8
*ḲaĺV
skin
qara
skin
9
*ḲorV
worm
kuru
worm
10
*ḳurV
short
kuru
short
11
*ḳUlV
far, next
karu
far
12
*lVKV
thick, dense
raku
thick
13
*Ḳa[lH]ä
tongue, speak
qallu
tongue
14
*ṗVĺV
feather, tail
puru
feather
15
*ʕeḳu
water
yaku
water
16
*ḳuc`u
cut
kuchuy
cut
17
*[č]orwV
(a kind of) fish
challwa
fish
18
*bongä
thick, swell
punkiy
swell
19
*ṗuɣV
blow
phukuy
blow
20
*külV
cold
chiri
cold
21
*w[e]ṭV
year
wata
year
22
*ḳVlV
grass
qura
grass

There are only twenty-two matches because I got bored too soon, but it’s an easy game. One can even formulate some preliminary “regular correspondences” (supported by a few cognate pairs each!). For example, Eurasiatic liquids (laterals and rhotics) generally merge in Quechua, yielding /r/ (8, 11, 12, 14, 20, 22), but before certain consonants (laryngeals and semivowels) liquids are reflected as palatal /ʎ/, spelt ll (13, 17). Eurasiatic affricates are generally preserved as such, yielding Quechua ch /tʃ/ (4, 16, 17), but we also have one example of a velar stop palatalised and affricated before a front vowel (20) and possibly one more (1) if chu is related to PIE *kʷe (but I can’t say at this stage why the *e is reflected as /u/). Before the low vowel /a/ Eurasiatic dorsals become velar /q/ in Quechua (6, 7, 8, 13). There are sporadic exceptions (2, 11) and one occurrence of a uvular before /u/ (22), but come on, folks, you can’t expect me to solve all problems in one fell swoop with so little material.

No comment (Aaarrrrrgh!)
I think I have already demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the Quechua people are a lost Nostratic tribe. Note that the semantic matches are impeccable and the similarity of the words is quite obvious to any open-minded observer. Indeed, the matches are much better than many of those in the LWED. The quality of examples 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 9, in particular, is guaranteed by the fact that they represent statistically certified ultraconserved Eurasiatic vocabulary (Pagel et al. 2013). The famous items ‘mother’, ‘bark’, and ‘worm’ are among them. In many Eurasiatic languages the words for ‘bark’ and ‘skin’ are the same or look related (6, 7). This seems to be true of Quechua as well, but just in order to probe every possibility, I can offer an alternative etymology of qara ‘skin’ (8, from a different Eurasiatic root), in which case its homophony with qara ‘bark’ must be accidental. A nice match either way.

But there is more to Quechua than just its Eurasiatic affinities. It seems to be particularly close to Proto-Indo-European. Compare the Quechua numerals pichqa ‘5’ and suqta ‘6’ = PIE *penkʷe, *sweḱs, clearly a common Indo-Quechuan innovation not shared with any other Eurasiatic group. I can’t reveal too much at present, but mark my words: you’ll read about it in Nature one day – or Science, perhaps, or PNAS.

[► Back to the beginning of the Proto-World thread]

10 comments:

  1. You should totally turn this into a real paper, like Sokal's 1996 paper "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity".

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    1. It's indeed my response to what could be called "postmodern historical linguistics". But Sokal deliberately produced nonsensical word salad, while I'm at least partly serious about the comparative analysis. My "long-range comparison" picked up so many false positives not because I was cheating but because I was comparing real-language data with highly unconstrained reconstructions (*******!). Many long-rangers do the same thing in earnest.

      There is, by the way, nothing inherently impossible about Quechua-Eurasiatic connections. If the "Eurasiatic" languages began to diverge as early as 15 ky BP, that would have left their speakers some 1,500 years to discover the Beringian passage and catch up with the Clovis expansion. But let's face it, any real historical relationship would have produced a very different pattern -- not this near-indentity of linguistic forms. "Ultraconserved" doesn't mean almost unchanged.

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  2. Well, this can be merged with Mark Rosenfelder's "Deriving Proto-World with tools you probably have at home", which satirizes mass comparison by showing that Quechua-speakers are also a lost part of the Sinitic world. Add to this a certain person's totally non-satirical claims about the Indo-European nature of Tsimshianic....

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  3. I admit I was struck by the apparently topical reference to "Di's divorce". Jeez that is an old page!

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  4. It's easier if you compare a language of your choice (or even a computer-generated list of artificial words for real meanings) with something reconstructed, like Starostin's Eurasiatic/Nostratic. Optional segments, cover symbols and numerous synonyms help a lot. I found perfect matches (100% semantic agreement + more or less regular sound correspondences) for more then 10% of the longer Swadesh list in less than half an hour. Imagine what could be done with a large Quechua dictionary a lot of time to spare.

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  5. BTW, the paper by Page et al. has received criticism from Moscow, too.

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  6. Thanks for the link, Sergei, a very competent discussion, highlighting all the methodological faults.

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  7. "I think I have already demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the Quechua people are a lost Nostratic tribe."

    Oh well, this is very exciting, isn't it? This shows how Uto-Aztecan really is descended from Biblical Hebrew and that modern Utes and Shoshone are descended from the Lamanite tribes. Quick, send word to Salt Lake City! /s

    And you thought you were joking. There really are people poised to swallow this stuff.

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  8. Broadly speaking, when comparing distantly related languages, it's far easier to pick either chance resemblances tor Wanderwörter han genuine cognates, as the latter tend to undergone semantic shifts, more so in the enourmous time depths involved, which are much older than the ones proposed by long-rangers.

    An example (among many others) of a chance resemblance mistaken for a true cognate in The Tower of Babel is Kartvelian *q´el- 'neck' vs. IE *kol-s-o- id. The latter is a Latin-Germanic isogloss derived from IE *kºel- 'to turn', reflecting the physical analogy between 'neck' and 'pole'.

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    Replies
    1. As we say in Spanish, "quien mucho abarca, poco aprieta", which freely translated would read as "long-rangers grasp little" (when speaking of true cognates).

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