V013 19 June 2001

The Risch-Chadwick Theory: An Obstacle to Progress

J. Faucounau
Member of the Linguistic Society of Paris, France

Since the decipherment of the Linear B script in 1952 and the resulting discovery of "Mycenaean Greek", the linguistic thinking has been dominated by the "Risch-Chadwick Theory" (hereafter : RC Theory). The influence of this theory, universally accepted thanks to John Chadwick's authority, has even governed archaeology. It has been impossible for archaeologists to advocate any reconstruction of the Greek Prehistory, which would be contrary to the Risch-Chadwick's linguistic basic hypothesis and its consequence: the Mycenaean dialect "is" the ancestor of all Greek dialects, except the West Greek ones, brought in by the Dorians at a late date. Therefore the Achaeans/Mycenaeans "have to be" the "First Greeks" into the Aegean". As a result, any written "pre-Mycenaean" artifact, like, for instance, the Phaistos Disk, "could not" be written in Greek. In the same way, as the Mycenaean Culture developed during the Late Bronze Age, a too remote date for "the Coming of the Greeks" had to be considered as "impossible". So, E. Grumach and S.Hood put it as late as 1200 BC and most other scholars dated it during the Middle Helladic period, until, under the pressure of the archaeological facts, the transitional period between E.H.II and E.H.III was suggested by J. Caskey. As J. Chadwick several times repeated it : "The Greek language arose through the mixture of a group of Indo-European speakers with an earlier population, and this group penetrated Greece at some time during the Middle Helladic or Early Helladic III period". (Chadwick 1975:819). This statement has long been considered as indisputable, and it is only recently that J. Coleman (2000), on the basis of the most recent archaeological findings, has proposed that the "Proto-Greeks" arrived from the north at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age, in the later fourth millennium BC.

It is not our intention to evaluate the plausibility of those diverse archaeological theories. But we believe that the time has come to put an end to the dictatorship of the RC Theory by pointing out its weaknesses and its implausibility.

1)- A theory which disregards the ancient tradition

The first weakness of the RC Theory is its total disregard of the most ancient tradition. For all the ancient authors, the Ionians were "the first Greeks". There are no conflicting views about this among Herodotus, Strabon or Pausanias, although there is one concerning the origin of the Ionians. We will notice, in particular, that Herodotus - who call them "Pelasgoi" - established a link between the Ionians and the oldest inhabitants of the Cycladic Islands. He wrote : "The inhabitants of the islands ... were also a Pelasgic people. They were later called Ionians for the same reason as the Ionians who came from Athens.." (Herodotus VII,95).

The word "Pelasgoi" is important. Influenced by the RC Theory, and because the Pelasgoi were said to have been the first inhabitants of Greece, most modern scholars have considered the name as designing a "Pre-Greek" (and therefore "non-Greek") population. But the obvious link with "Pelagos" : "the open sea" leads us to think that the primitive meaning of the word must have been "seafarers", a good description indeed of the Cycladic people during the Early Bronze Age. The most natural guess coming from the Herodotus account is therefore that a)- the Ionians were "the first Greeks" b)- they were seafarers and came by sea c)- they were once settled in the Cycladic Islands, probably during the Early Bronze Age.

Instead of accepting this "natural guess", J. Chadwick, confronted with the ancient testimonies, preferred to state : "There is no doubt that the ancient authors described Ionians as located in the Peloponnese; but it may be doubted whether these people can be identified with speakers of an Ionic dialect..."(Chadwick 1975:814). A gratuitous statement, obviously generated by his linguistic theory...

2)- A theory which disregards the geographical data

The RC Theory essentially rests upon a study of the Greek Dialects. Before proceeding to a complete examination of the problem, it is interesting to remind the best established facts in this field. The classification of the Greek dialects into four groups (Ionic-Attic, Arkado-Cypriot, Aiolic and West Greek) has been universally accepted, as has also been agreed by all scholars that "Greek" (or at least its Indo European component) has been brought by "immigrants from the north". From where, is still a matter of discussion. But the most probable place seems to be in the Balkans, south of the Low Danubian Valley. A simple glanze at the repartition-map of the four dialectal groups suggests, then, to attribute this repartition to three (or four) " waves of immigrants" having followed the paths indicated on our Figure 1 (whatever the timing of their arrival) : one wave corresponding to the "Proto-Ionians" (later dialects : Attic-Ionic) -- one to the "Proto-Acheans" (later dialects : Arkado-Cypriot and Aiolic) - one to the "Proto-Dorians" (later dialects : West Greek).

It is interesting to notice here that this scheme, suggested by the repartition-map, is coherent with the preceding "educated guess." It suffices to suppose that the "Proto- Ionian wave" arrived first, at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age.

Is this "reasonable guess" accepted by the RC Theory ?.. Not at all ! The Risch-Chadwick theory reduces the number of "dialectal waves" to only two. A surprising decision, to say the least, considering the repartition-map !

Another strong geographical implausibility of the RC Theory comes from the comparison between Cypriot and Attic concerning their links with Mycenaean. If we accept that Attic shares very few features in common with Mycenaean (See hereafter), the situation is different with the Arkadian and Cypriot dialects. The links are there sufficient to let one believe in a common ancestor - the Mycenaean - c.1200 BC, i.e. at a time close to the end of the Mycenaean era. Hence a killing objection : how to explain, then, in the frame of the RC Theory, that after the disappearance of the Mycenaean World the Arkadian dialect remained closer to the far-away Cypriot than to the nearer Attic dialect ?..

3)- A theory based upon a single linguistic fact

One might believe that the RC Theory, which asserts that the Mycenaean has been the ancestor of the three dialectal groups : Attic-Ionic, Arkado-Cypriot and Aiolic, would have an indisputable basis. This is wrong. Taking into account the linguistic links between Mycenaean, on the one hand, and Arkado-Cypriot and Aiolic, on the other hand, considering that Mycenaean is half-the-way between a "Proto-Achean" going back to the Early Helladic, and these later dialects cannot be criticized. But things are completely different with Attic-Ionic. The features common to Mycenaean and Attic-Ionic can be classified into two categories : a)- those which are archaic remnants, and therefore cannot prove anything concerning an eventual kinship between both dialects. b)- those - the only significant ones - which are innovations in comparison with the "Common Greek". And, in fact, E. Risch himself has recognized that there is only one linguistic feature of this kind : the assibilation ti > si (E. Risch 1956:256-7) !..

Opposite to this unique argument, one has to mention the many difficulties, existing in the RC Theory :

a)- absence of explanation for a missing etymological digamma in many Mycenaean words, like i-da-i-jo, ki-ri-jo, ri-jo, rapte, o-no, etc.

b)- double and difficult-to-explain vocalization : or/ro and ar/ra

c)- implausible explanation of the later transformation of the labio-velar before the vowel e.

These difficulties are easily solved when one adopts the scheme suggested by the Ancient Tradition and the Geography : The absence of an etymological digamma, the a-vocalization, the exceptions to the "regular rule" that Mycenaean qe- has become pe- in its true dialectal descendents (Beotian pettares v. / Ionic tesseres), etc. can be explained as the influence of the "Proto-Ionians" , who coming by sea were the true "first Greeks".


CHADWICK J. 1975 : "The Prehistory of the Greek Language", C.A.H.Vol II, Part 2, pp. 805-819

COLEMAN J. 2000 :"An archaeological Scenario for the "Coming of the Greeks" ca. 3200 B.C.", J.I.E.S. Vol.28 pp.101-153.

FAUCOUNAU J. 1990 :"L'anciennete du dialecte ionien: un reexamen", Etudes Indo-Europeennes, pp.49-69

RISCH E. 1956 :"Caractere et Position du dialecte Mycenien" Etudes Myceniennes, pp.249-258

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