As discussed in a previous post, to anyone reviewing the evidence in detail, it is difficult to deny the obvious long list of cognates between Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and Chinese. These cognates include numerous elements of core vocabulary: verbs, nouns and adjectives. In many cases, these cognates extend to Thai, as well.
From a historical perspective, the obvious question is: how did this likely happen? A successful Eastern invasion led by an PIE-speaking horse-riding tribe is certainly one explanation, and legends of the blond-haired name-giving Huangdi would support this guess.
Yet even if that DID happen, several other mysteries remain unexplained. When we look at the cognate vocabulary, as Prof. Zhang Congdong pointed out, the similarities with ONE branch of Indo-European are far stronger than those with any of the others – the Germanic branch. Comparing terms for animals such as 馬 (ma, *mog, meaning “horse”), cognate with mare (en), marc (ir), Mähre (dt) and *mork (PIE), 牛 (*gou/gu, meaning “cattle”), cognate with cow (en) and Kuh (dt), 豕 (*sĕg, meaning “pig”), cognate with sow (en), Sau (dt), sus (lt) and *suk (PIE), or kinship terms like 孫 (“sūn”, male descendent), English cognate “son” make this apparent. While these terms are not exclusive to the Germanic branch of PIE, where there is a choice of terms, as for example in the word for cattle, Chinese almost always opts for the German variant.
Moreover, Chinese (and to some extent Thai) seem to also have a number of cognates for terms which occur ONLY in the Germanic branch of Proto-Indo-European. While the reconstructed Germanic, Greek, Latin/Baltic and Slavic proto-languages clearly have a common origin, it has long been estimated that approximately one third of the basic Germanic vocabulary has no PIE counterpart. This has usually been assumed to have been due to some type of substantial language substrate in an area conquered by the Germans. Common terms such as 壯 (“strong”, read zhuàng in modern Chinese, English cognate … “strong”) or 背 (read bèi in modern Chinese, “bek” in Thai and approximately “*bak” in ancient Chinese, English cognate “back”) are some of the more obvious examples. There are many more, but these cases show how amazingly close the relationship would seem to be.
So perhaps the invasion was comparatively recent in historical terms, say within the past 4000 years at a maximum. If we theorize that there was a massive emigration out of the once flourishing Baltic Sea civilization area when climatic conditions dramatically worsened approximately 3500 years ago, sending the Latins from Latvia to Latium, the (W)achaeans (Wikinger) from Denmark to the Pelopónnesos, and the Aryans from St. Peterburg to India, then the emigration of yet another group across Asia is easily imaginable.
And yet, let’s look at the evidence of a few other words, specifically the old word for dog – 犬 (something like *kün or *khü(ĕ)n in ancient Chinese, English cognate “hound”. Except for some words like “call” in peripheral dialects, in the Germanic languages the PIE k weakened in almost all cases to an “h”. Latin canis and Greek κυνός look far more similar to the Chinese than the Germanic “Hund/hound”.
So did the emigration simply took place before Germanic lost its k sound? Or is the explanation somehow linked to the mysterious non-PIE vocabulary? Could the unexplained words perhaps come from Asia? After all, if these substrate people lived in Scandinavia, why did their words not seep into any of the languages of any of the other PIE-speakers living around the Baltic? There seem to be no obvious answers to these questions, but I feel like we have a number of clues waiting for someone to piece them cleverly together.