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The Kennewick Man Case | Court Documents | Affidavits & Declarations

Affidavits Address Oral Tradition and Cultural Affiliation

Affidavit of Allan R. Taylor

I, Allan R. Taylor, being first duly sworn, do depose and state as follows:

1. I am a professor emeritus of linguistics, Department of Linguistics, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado. I have devoted more than 35 years of my life to the study of human languages and the part they play in the cultural systems of their users.

2. My professional qualifications are as follows. I hold a Ph.D. degree in linguistics (awarded: 1969) from the University of California, Berkeley, California. I have been a member of the faculty of the University of Colorado since 1964, initially in the Department of Slavic Languages (1964 to 1970) and later in the Department of Linguistics (1970 to present). My area of specialization in graduate school was Native American languages and linguistics, and this continued to be my primary research area throughout my academic career. I retired from full-time teaching in 1993. I am currently pursuing a master's degree in anthropology at the University of Colorado. Over the course of my career, I have authored or co-authored three books on topics relating to linguistics, more than 25 articles and book chapters, and approximately 12 papers that were presented at professional conferences. As a result of my research and studies, I am familiar with the processes involved in the evolution of languages and with what languages can (and cannot) tell us about the relationships between different past and present human populations.

3. Linguistics can tell us nothing about the cultural affiliation of the Kennewick Man skeleton. Since dead men cannot speak and since the language which he spoke is itself long since extinct, either through evolution into another speech form, or because of outright language death, it is impossible to know what language he spoke. The only thing definitely known about Kennewick Man in a cultural sense comes from the projectile point embedded in his hip. This artifact can be localized in place and time, but it can not be attributed to a particular social or linguistic group since the specific identity of the peoples of that time and place is unknown. Because this connection is missing, even if we knew where the point originated (i.e., whether from his own people or another group), the language or languages spoken by the makers of these early projectile points is not and cannot be known. Consequently, we have no linguistic way to link the skeleton to any language in use 9,200 years ago. It is also impossible linguistically to connect Kennewick man to any language spoken today, since we do not know which remote form of language he spoke as his mother tongue, and how such a putative language relates (if at all) to Native American languages currently spoken.
4. Nonetheless, linguistics can tell us some things about how Kennewick Man may, or may not, connect to the modern world, for he was a human being and he presumably spoke a human language. For one thing, even though we do not know what language he spoke, we can be certain that it would not be intelligible to anyone living today. All cultures and the different components of culture change over time, and this includes language. Languages constantly change and adapt in response to the needs and preferences of their users. We know this from study of the records of languages still spoken in many parts of the world, e.g. Latin, Greek, Persian, Tamil, and Chinese. Some of the processes affecting language change including the following:

A. Because it has to be learned anew by each generation, language undergoes inevitable changes in the learning process between individuals and from one generation to the next. This is a general cognitive process involving learning of all kinds. Such changes may include the addition (or loss) of words and expressions, variations in meaning, and subtle differences in pronunciation. Intergenerational changes may not be noticeable between a parent and a child, or even between a grandparent and a grandchild, but after 10 or 20 generations, they are both noticeable and pervasive. After 300 or 400 generations, the differences can be expected to be massive, to the point that the original language will now be a different language, or even a group of different related languages.

B. Language can also change as a result of contact with other groups speaking different languages. Changes resulting from such intergroup contact can be rapid and extensive. In some cases, the result can be the complete loss of one group's native language. A classic example of such an outcome is provided by the Pygmies of equatorial Africa who are thought to have once inhabited a large part of the continent. Due to the expansion of Bantu speaking agriculturists over the last 5,000 years, the Pygmies are now confined to a few isolated enclaves in the Ituri rainforest of Zaire and elsewhere. None of the survivors speak or even remember the ancestral Pygmy language(s). Instead, they all speak the Bantu languages of their dominant neighbors. Even our own language, English, is an example of a language massively influenced by neighboring languages. The lexicon of English includes an enormous Romance component, over 50%, mostly from French but also much from Latin, which has entered the language since approximately 1000 years ago. Much of the synonymy of English, (e.g. freedom and liberty), and much of the technical and intellectual vocabulary (e.g. ecclesiastical and prestidigitation), are the result of its dual parentage, Romance and Germanic.

C. Geographic isolation between groups can act to concentrate and perpetuate spontaneous and other language changes that occur differentially in the geographically separated groups. If the isolation continues for a sufficient period of time, separate languages will usually develop. This is what happened as the Germanic, Slavic, Celtic, and Romance languages spread over Europe. Social isolation (lack of contact between groups of speakers) can have the same effect. Black English dialect is a beautiful example of such a phenomenon: this dialect developed within an oppressed group which was socially isolated within a larger linguistic community, southern English. The dialect is different because most Blacks associated, and often continue to associate, primarily with other Black people rather than with speakers of other forms of English. Moreover, Black English has become a source of identity and pride for many Black people, who often prefer it over standard English-recall the Ebonics controversy of a few years ago.
D. Language can also be affected by spontaneous or random changes that do not follow a regular, predictable pattern and cannot be explained. The cause can be something as trivial as a word or pronunciation change initiated (either consciously or unconsciously) by an influential person whose behavior is imitated by other members of the group. Over time, such changes may lead to distinct methods of expression and even new dialects.

5. In response to these processes, languages can change dramatically over a period of time much shorter than the 9,200 years that separate Kennewick Man from us. For example, speakers of modern English must be specially trained in order to read and understand the ancestral language of English, Anglo-Saxon or Old English, that was in use between the time of the invasion of the Angles and Saxons at the end of the Roman period in Britain (roughly 400 A.D.) and approximately a thousand years ago. As difficult as it is to learn to read Anglo-Saxon, it would be even more difficult for a modern speaker of English to understand spoken Anglo-Saxon since the details of the pronunciation of spoken languages are usually much more complicated than their written versions. To take another example, the Roman language of Julius Caesar's time (100 to 44 B.C.) had by the Late Middle Ages developed into multiple daughter languages as diverse as Catalan, French, Italian, Romanian, Romansch and Spanish all of which are largely mutually unintelligible today. The changes that occurred in these languages took place despite the moderating influences of a literary tradition. As these and other examples demonstrate, change in language is perfectly normal, and impossible to prevent. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Kennewick Man's human language was immune to the normal processes of linguistic change. Consequently, whatever language he may have spoken, we can safely conclude that it would be very different from anything spoken today, even its own direct descendent(s) if any still exist(s).

6. Furthermore, the possibility cannot be excluded that Kennewick Man's language has not survived to the present even in a modified form. Languages not only change over time, they can also become extinct, just as the inevitable end of a species is extinction. In just the last 2,000 years, numerous European languages known to history have disappeared. Examples include Gaulish, Burgundian, Thracian, Oscan, Umbrian, Prussian, Norse, Provencal, Dalmatian, Cornish, Manx, and Turkic Bulgar. And this is a minimal list; many more could be added. European languages presently on the verge of extinction include the Slavic languages Sorb and Wend, each spoken today (mostly as a second language) by a handful of people in eastern Germany. The same is true of the Welsh and Scottish Gaelic languages spoken in the British Isles. Similar language extinctions have occurred elsewhere in the world. Mention has already been made of the disappearance of the ancestral languages(s) of the African Pygmies. Likewise, few traces exist today of the many different languages that must have been spoken in Southern China and Southeast Asia prior to the spread of Han Chinese and the Austroasiatic and Tai-Kadai languages during the last 7,000 years. In the New World, many of the Native American languages spoken in North America in 1492 A.D. no longer exist today. The proportion of such languages lost over the past 500 years may be as high as 75 percent. Other New World language extinctions undoubtedly occurred in pre-Columbian times as well. Since we do not know what language Kennewick Man spoke, we cannot be certain his language was not a casualty of an extinction event either long before or following the arrival of Europeans in this hemisphere.

7. Even if Kennewick Man's language has survived to the present in one or more modified forms, there is no way to identify the descendant language or languages since we do not know what the ancestral language was. The descendants of Kennewick Man and his language, if there are any, could reside presently anywhere in the Americas, just as his ancestors could be from anywhere in East Asia. Prehistoric hunter-gatherer groups were constantly on the move from place to place in response to resource scarcities (or abundances), competition from other populations, and other external pressures such as climate and natural disasters. Tribal territories could shift over vast distances, sometimes in only a few generations. For example, from comparative linguistic studies, we know that the Navaho and Apache peoples of the American Southwest speak an Athapaskan language that first originated around a thousand years ago far to the north in Canada. They are now separated by more than a thousand miles from the nearest related Athapaskan-speaking tribes in western Canada. Likewise, the Wiyot and Yurok languages of northern California are distantly related to the Algonquian languages most recently spoken in the Midwest, East, and Northeast of the United States. We do not know which group moved from where (i.e., whether it was the ancestors of the California tribes who moved or the others), but it is certain that migration occurred. We have no reason to believe that Kennewick Man and his tribal contemporaries were an exception to this pattern of population expansions, contractions and movements that characterized American and indeed all of prehistory. As a result, no present group or tribe can represent themselves as Kennewick Man's cultural or linguistic descendants. A person has to know what he or she is a descendent of in order to claim descent from it.

8. The diversity of Native American languages in the Pacific Northwest at the time of European contact is not proof that the region was continually occupied by the same populations over the last 9,000 years. Language diversity only proves that the languages involved have a long separate history. It does not necessarily prove continuous residence in one location. There was undoubtedly much language contraction, expansion, and exchange in North America over the last nine millennia. Although it is very possible that the ancestors of some of the present populations were in this region 9,000 years ago, we have no way to know which specific ones can make such a claim with historical correctness.

9. Given its age and circumstances of discovery, the Kennewick skeleton cannot be affiliated to any modern population except on a biological basis (i.e., through skeletal, dental, and genetic resemblances, which can only be discovered by detailed osteological analysis and testing). Such data, however, even if there appears to be a biological affiliation, will not be sufficient to establish a cultural or linguistic affiliation. Biology, culture and linguistics are independent variables, and there is no necessary connection between them. Populations can be biologically related and still speak different languages. For example, American Blacks are biologically related to West Africans, who speak a multitude of different languages, while American Blacks speak English today. Their close Caribbean and Latin American relatives speak other forms of English, or dialects of French, Spanish, or Portuguese. And even when people speak related languages, their cultures may be vastly different. For example, the pastoral culture of the Athapaskan-speaking Navaho of the American Southwest is very different from the marine-based cultures of the Athapaskan tribes of the Pacific Northwest. And both of these are in turn different from the caribou hunting cultures of the Canadian Athapaskan tribes.

10. It is pointless to speak of any linguistic or cultural affinities between Kennewick Man and any living Native American group(s). Even if he has any living direct descendants, their culture and language would be so different from his that he could not recognize them either as descendants or relatives. I am not aware of a single instance in which a linguistic affiliation has been established with any degree of confidence between a modern population and human remains as old as the Kennewick skeleton. Kennewick Man lived in a cultural world and a time that no longer exist. If anything remains of his culture, language and beliefs, it would be in forms so changed that they would be very difficult, if not impossible, to recognize today. But in any event, the point is moot: without knowing what his culture and language were, it is pointless to speak of modern continuities of either.

DATED this day of March, 2000.

Allan R. Taylor

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