Afrasian and Its Closest Relatives: the Borean Hypothesis
Harold Fleming

 

Following the example furnished by Joseph Greenberg's Eurasiatic book and specifically oriented towards the concept of "valid taxon" which underlies his work on Indo-European and its closest relatives, my paper is focused on the Afrasian (Greenberg's Afro-asiatic) phylum of languages as the western anchor of a great chain of languages extending across Eurasia and down to Tierra del Fuego in the Americas. The basic hypothesis is that Afrasian is related to the following groups of languages before it is related to any others. These kindred languages are, as follows:

a) Kartvelian of the Caucasus

b) Dravidian of greater India

c) Sumerian, Elamitic and a few other fossil languages of the ancient Near East

d) Eurasiatic of Greenberg, beginning with Etruscan in the far west and ending with Eskimo-Aleut in the far east. It includes Indo-European and all of Siberia except for Yeniseian.1

e) Macro-Caucasic of Bengtson (Basque of Iberia, Caucasic of the Caucasus, and Burushaski of Pakistan) (This may be more than one taxon)

f) Yeniseian of west Siberia (Ket, Kot)

g) Sino-Tibetan of eastern Asia

h) Na-Dene of western North America (Haida, Eyak, Tlingit, Athapascan)2

i) Amerind of Greenberg (one valid taxon but with great differences among sub-taxa)

It is clear that the Borean hypothesis involves a super-phylum some of whose sub-taxa are themselves super-phyla. The term phyletic chain is introduced as a better label, particularly because the Borean groups show a chain like distribution from southern Ethiopia through southwestern Eurasia to northeast Asia and down to the end of the New World. Borean has clear similarities to Swadesh's Vasco-Dene. Borean is predominantly associated with human populations of "Caucasoid" or "Northern Mongoloid" physical appearance, the major exceptions being southern India, southern China, southwestern Ethiopia, northern Nigeria, and the Chad Republic. Borean as a chain is closely associated with the appearance of the Upper Paleolithic in the Levant, Europe, and western Eurasia from 50,000 to 45,000 years ago.


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1 Along with Afrasian, groups a-d have often been called "Nostratic." The Nostratic hypothesis is explicitly rejected here because it is not a valid taxon, Afrasian being coordinate to the rest and group c being aberrant in its relationship to the others.
2 Groups e-h are usually gathered together under the rubric of "Dene-Caucasic." This is similar to Swadesh's "Vasco-Dene" but the memberships are not quite the same. The Dene-Caucasic hypothesis is held in abeyance for the nonce because of the very great range of its membership and great phonological differences about some of the sub-taxa.