Friday, January 4, 2013

On the Origin of Salish, Wakashnan, and North Caucasian Languages

Vitaly Shevoroshkin
International Journal of Modern Anthropology


The following paper represents a comparison between the most stable words in two language unities: 1)Salish-Wakashan (North America) and 2) Lezghian group of the North Caucasian family (North Caucasus). This comparison shows that any word/root from the list of basic words in Salish and/or Wakashan precisely matches the appropriate word/root of Lezghian as well as its proto-form in North Caucasian. Such close similarity clearly shows that the Salish-Wakashan languages of North America are related to the North Caucasian languages. We may add that the North Caucasian languages are older, and phonetically more complex, than Salish-Wakashan languages. This shows that Salish-Wakashan languages may have originated from the North Caucasian languages, which are a part of a larger unity: the Sino-Caucasian, or Dene-Caucasian phylum, or macro-family. Having this in mind, we can ask ourselves, when and where have the ancestors of the people, who now speak Salish and Wakashan languages, separated from North Caucasian languages. In the paper below, we try to show that this may have happened approximately 5,000 years ago. After this split, the ancestors of the Salish and Wakashan languages started moving to the North-East and reached at the end the North American territory. Something similar has happened with another family that is a part of the Dene-Caucasian phylum: The Yenisseian languages of Siberia are closely related to the Athapascan languages of North America, which presupposes a split between the ancestors of the Yenisseian languages and those of the Athapascan languages at some point in Siberia, after which the ancestors of people, speaking Athapascan languages, migrated to North America.

Related Posts:

Issues in Salish Syntax and Semantics (link)
Little Big Man (link)
Efficient moment-based inference of admixture parameters and ... (link)
Migration Paths:  Dienekes' Clusters Galore Scatter Plot Results (link)
Westward Across the Steppe;  Southward Through the Himalayas (link)


  1. That tends to support the idea of a Dene-Caucasian phylum. I thought the idea was opposed by many.

  2. I'm not a linguist, Terry. I am also not familiar with the discourse among linguists, and am not familiar with it on this topic.

    However, both Vadja and Shevoroshkin are highly accomplished linguists who do work in many areas. Both are originally native Russian speakers.

    I did read parts of Shevoroshkin's paper, and although I am not trained to read linguistic notation, his analysis looks very compelling.

    The most questionable point in this Shevoroshkin's paper would likely be the dating of the split between the North Caucasian languages and Salish-Wakashan. He puts forward 5000 years ago. Without agreeing or disagreeing with this argument, I would note that the final disappearance of the Beringian land bridge is at about 9,000 years ago. (See the Blue Marble 3000 map in the right side bar.) However, it would have been gradual, and many Salish-Wakashan groups are expert ocean canoists, especially the Nuu-chah-nulth.

  3. Here is a link to the University of Colorado "Post Glacial Flooding of the Bering Land Bridge" animation:

    It requires the set up of the latest version of QuickTime, which I haven't set up.

  4. Youtube:

    (I don't know who panglossww is, the simulation looks like the Blue Marble 3000 animation, but zoomed in on the Bering Land Bridge.)

  5. Could they have traveled during winter ice-over with travoix or dogsleds?

    1. Shevoroshkin suggests a split of Salish and Wakashan from the Dene-Caucasian macro family approximately 5000 years ago. Most of coastal British Columbia is not easily traversable by land. Given this, and the association of Wakashan and Salish groups with the canoe, it is most likely that these groups reached their current location in the Salish Sea by canoe, travelling along the coast.

      Dene/Athabaskan groups, on the other hand, probably did reach their current locations at least in part by travoix/dogsleds, but perhaps also by canoe.

  6. I'm no linguist, but in the connection between:

    Irish <--> Caucasian <--> Salishan

    I note that the Irish Gaelic phrase, "Na Daoine" - pronounced Nah DeeNah - means "The People"

    It looks very similar to "Na Dene"?!

    I did a Google search and found this smoking gun!!!

    In his "The Na-Dene languages: A preliminary report", he describes how he arrived at the term (Sapir 1915, p. 558):

    The name that I have chosen for the stock, Na-dene, may be justified by reference to no. 51 of the comparative vocabulary. Dene, in various dialectic forms, is a wide-spread Athabaskan term for "person, people"


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