The Siberian Origin of Na-Dene Languages

Following up on recent discussion of the peopling of the Americas, The University of Alaska at Fairbanks is hosting a conference about the possible link between Siberian (Yeniseic) and Na-Dene language families. The conference, titled Dene-Yeniseic Symposium, will be held on February 26, 27 and 29, 2008, and will feature a lecture from Edward Vajda, Professor of Modern and Classical Languages and Director for the Center for East Asian Studies at Western Washington University. Vajda will be discussing several linguistic parameters connecting the Siberian and Na-Dene families and providing new insights to the question of the origin of human presence in the Americas.

All known Yeniseic languages seem to be related at a time depth of about 2,500 years. The large number of cognates between them permits the reconstruction of much basic vocabulary, suggesting a proto-language spoken by mobile bands of hunter-gatherer-fishers in the boreal forests of northern Inner Asia.

The reconstruction of proto-languages by way of the comparative method has always been an excellent support to migration theories. Comparison with recent biological and archaeological studies should turn some interesting conversation. When Vajda publishes, it should stir up some controversy in the anthropology community as a whole.

8 thoughts on “The Siberian Origin of Na-Dene Languages

  1. look forward to hearing more about that. In his book “The Great Human Diasporas” Cavalli-Sforza mentions that fishing developed as a major activity in thwe Sea of Japan while it was still connected to the mainland during the last ice age. He goes on to suggest a genetic expansion centred on Japan that shows up in his third principal component for Asia “may be linked to one of the old stone-age or Paleolithic migrations from eastern Asia to America”. As a result I’ve long thought there may be a connection between the Na-Dene group, the controversial Austric group and the Yeniseic. Probably originally centred around the Sea of Japan and based on improved boating.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I would call your statement controversial, but I remembered hearing a similar statement from an archaeologist, John Olsen. He was referring to John Turk’s book “In the Wake of Jomon,” which made claims about the origins of Kennewick Man, a prehistoric (C14 dated at 9,300 BP) skeleton found near the Columbia River in Washington. In the book, Turk suggests that Kennewick Man may have originated in Jomon Age Japan, a claim supported by associated dugout canoe remnants. As far as I know, these claims are supported chiefly by seriation; leaving out essential genetic and linguistic data. Perhaps Vajda’s paper will reopen the door for Turk’s line of questioning.

  3. Thanks Alexgreengaard. I’d agree that my statement is controversial. May be totally way off the mark but I think it’s worth considering. And it certainly makes sense that Kennewick could have Joman origins. I’ll try to follow up on the book you mention.

  4. Alex. With your interest in Austronesian languages I’d be interested in comments and criticism regarding the following. I’ve been having a discussion at Dienekes site regarding the southern end of the Sea of Japan:

    http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2008/02/pinghua-han-chinese-are-not-of-han.html

    Specifically my comments concern the unusual distribution of Y-haps O2a and O2b. Again, my comments may be controversial but also could be relevant to considerations for what happened also at the northern and western margins of the Sea.

    “In fact I reckon here’s what happened: Y-chromosome haplogroup O2 moved along the Korean peninsular to Japan. With the advantage of boating technology developed in the lake that was then the Sea of Japan it was able to move onto the Ryukyu Islands. It then expanded around the South China Sea into South China and islands in Southeast Asia, replacing and mixing with various Y-chromosome C lines who had arrived long before”.

    I also found some links regarding Ryukyu prehistory that provide possible supporting evidence:

    http://books.google.com/books? id…2xUGZQ7YqniD_4o

    http://www.t-net.ne.jp/~keally/C…es/ okinawa.html

    From an essay I wrote for remotecentral: “Polished stone tools and new pottery styles, probably associated with the Austric-speaking people, replaced the Hoabinhian culture in Malaysia and Thailand about 3500-3000 BC. Both pottery and the polished stone axe with quadrangular cross section appeared in Borneo by 2500 BC (Bellwood 1978)”.

    http://remotecentral.blogspot.co…Terry% 20Toohill

    ‘Fits stunningly close to my theory on the origin and spread of O2 Y-chromosome haplogroup covered above’.

  5. Alex – Terry T asked me to forward this comment, as for some reason he was unable to post it…

    “Alex. With your interest in Austronesian languages I’d be interested in comments and criticism regarding the following. I’ve been having a discussion at Dienekes site regarding the southern end of the Sea of
    Japan:

    http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2008/02/pinghua-han-chinese-are-not-of-han.html

    “Specifically my comments concern the unusual
    distribution of Y-haps O2a and O2b. Again, my
    comments may be controversial but also could be
    relevant to considerations for what happened at the northern and western margins of the Sea.

    “In fact I reckon here’s what happened: Y-chromosome haplogroup O2 moved along the Korean peninsular to Japan. With the advantage of boating technology developed in the lake that was then the Sea of Japan it was able to move onto the Ryukyu Islands. It then expanded around the South China Sea into South China and islands in Southeast Asia, replacing and mixing with various Y-chromosome C lines who had arrived long before”.

    “I also found some links regarding Ryukyu prehistory that provide possible supporting evidence:

    http://books.google.com/books? id…2xUGZQ7YqniD_4o

    http://www.t-net.ne.jp/~keally/C…es/ okinawa.html

    “From an essay I wrote for remote central: ‘Polished stone tools and new pottery styles, probably associated with the Austric-speaking people, replaced the Hoabinhian culture in Malaysia and Thailand about 3500-3000 BC. Both pottery and the polished stone axe with quadrangular cross section appeared in Borneo by
    2500 BC (Bellwood 1978)’.

    http://remotecentral.blogspot.co…Terry% 20Toohill

    “Fits stunningly close to my theory on the origin and spread of O2 Y-chromosome haplogroup covered above”.

    btw, welcome to Anthropology.net

  6. It is not very fair to say that it is the first time that a link between Yeniseian and Na-Dene is demonstrated in 2008 by Vajda. Already in 1998 M. Ruhlen has shown this link in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of USA, n°95, 1998, pp. 13994-13996.

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