African Archaeological Review

, Volume 29, Issue 2–3, pp 109–130 | Cite as

Linguistic Archaeology

  • Christopher Ehret
Disciplinary Overview


This chapter addresses the essential issues in evaluating works that use linguistic evidence in reconstructing the past. Linguistics has its own well-developed body of theory and practice. Its evidence is subject to rigorous validation. Any work claiming to infer history from linguistics must validate its evidence against a systematic phonological reconstruction, and it must provide that validating apparatus or else direct the reader to where that apparatus is to be found. Scholars do not get to pick and choose among the archaeological data to support their ideas. Neither does one get to pick and choose or to engage in special pleading to make the linguistic evidence fit one’s prior notions. The chapter illustrates the requirements of linguistic reconstruction by laying out the system of the Eastern Cushitic language group and showing how to apply the system, step by step, to reconstruct the presence of a particular component of the proto-Eastern Cushitic economy.


Linguistic stratigraphy Regular sound change Systematic phonological reconstruction Lexical artifact Cognate Loanword Proto-Eastern Cushitic Proto-Indo-European 


Ce chapitre aborde les questions essentielles à l'évaluation des travaux se basant sur les données linguistiques pour reconstruire le passé. La linguistique dispose d’un corpus bien développé de théorie et de pratique. Ses données sont sujettes à un mode de validation rigoureux. Un ouvrage qui prétend déduire l'histoire à partir de données linguistiques doit valider ces dernières à la lumière d’une reconstruction phonologique systématique; il se doit de décrire ce système de validation ou d’indiquer au lecteur où l’on peut le trouver. Les chercheurs n'ont pas le loisir de trier sur le volet les données archéologiques qui appuient leurs idées. De la même manière, il est malvenu de faire du tri sélectif ou de recourir à des plaidoyers spéciaux afin de rendre les preuves linguistiques conformes au parti-pris du chercheur. Ce chapitre illustre les exigences de la reconstruction linguistique par la présentation du système de phonologie historique du groupe linguistique Est-Couchitique et en montrant comment appliquer le système, étape par étape, pour reconstruire la présence d'une composante particulière de l’économie proto-Est-Couchitique.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UCLA Department of HistoryLos AngelesUSA

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