‘fringe’ historical linguistics 8

Hello again, everybody!

I summarize here the linguistic aspects of some general catastrophist theories involving Atlantis and other ‘lost’ continents/civilizations.  Some of the thinkers in question, like Ryan & Pitman (discussed last time), are highly qualified in some of the relevant disciplines; one such is Stephen Oppenheimer, who locates an early centre of diffusion in a now-submerged South-East Asian continent (but note that both Oppenheimer and his linguistically-trained ally Paul Manansala appear relatively weak where historical linguistics is concerned).  Others, such as Stan Hall (to whom I referred earlier) are clearly non-mainstream.

Arysio dos Santos accepts the reality of Atlantis; he places much emphasis on historical linguistics, arguing that unexpected similarities (at all the main linguistic levels) exist between languages such as Guanche (Canary Islands), Etruscan and Dravidian (Tamil etc.), at frequency levels which exclude chance.  He disputes the mainstream use of statistics in this area and argues that accidental similarities are much less likely than has been concluded by mainstream linguists such as Ringe (see earlier).  The disagreement does not seem to involve the mathematics per se but rather dos Santos’ handling of the linguistic data, which, a linguist might suggest, does not appear to incorporate adequately the factors which I discussed, such as structural differences between the languages in question.  (Dos Santos also rejects conventional ideas about proto-languages and language families.)

Other writers who accept the reality of Atlantis (especially as a lost land rather than as a location or culture known later by other names) include: Viatcheslav Koudriavtsev and his colleagues with their ‘Protolanguage’ (pan-Slavic) and its ‘Protoscript’; J.M. Allen and Rand & Rose Flem-Ath with their focus upon South American locations(the Flem-Aths believe that Atlantis was in Antarctica and that the Atlantean refugees arrived first in South America; they endorse some extreme and unjustifiable claims about the structure of Aymara which are associated with the idea that it is of Atlantean origin); Constantin Benetatos with the view that all later European languages (especially those in Northern Europe) are descended from the language of Atlantis; etc., etc.

J.S. Gordon also accepts the reality of Atlantis (and links his ideas about Atlantis as a real entity with arguments in support of the currently fashionable theory of the universe as pervaded by consciousness).  His work is vitiated by a number of unwelcome features, including some relating specifically to his use of linguistic data.  For instance: a) he repeatedly discusses key linguistic matters in an impossibly vague manner; b) he fatally confuses linguistic levels (pronunciation and grammar) in using key terms such as agglutinative; c) he relies upon earlier non-mainstream thinkers and ill-informed and dated sources; d) he proposes wildly implausible and unsupported scenarios involving the development of languages and scripts (intended to replace well-established mainstream ideas about these matters); e) he largely ignores the two hundred years of scientific historical linguistic scholarship and thus employs the usual loose, seriously unreliable non-mainstream philological/etymological methods; etc.

One of the works of Gene Matlock (see my earlier references) also argues for the reality of Atlantis.  His claim to have ‘proved’ his case is grotesquely exaggerated, to say the least.  As in his other works, Matlock relies repeatedly upon isolated and unsystematic superficial similarities of vocabulary items in attempting to establish etymologies which would demonstrate his diffusionist claims about ancient links between the languages and cultures of India (and other Old World areas) – all derived from the supposed Ursprache, Sanskrit – and the Americas.  And again, as in his other works, his claims on these fronts also contradict many established etymologies and vast amounts of well-established information about the relationships between languages.  Matlock ignores the crucial structural aspects of the languages which he compares; his linguistic terminology is popular and non-standard; he makes many claims about poorly-documented periods of early history without presenting any references or worthwhile evidence; he cites other non-mainstream claims rejected by most experts; etc., etc.

Zoltán Simon argues for a historical Atlantis in Western Atlantic waters, and for a catastrophist and otherwise revisionist account of early human history; he believes that the cases for (a) catastrophist interpretations of early history, (b) the early discovery (and subsequent loss) of advanced technology, and (c) extraterrestrial intervention in that period are much more persuasive than they are.  His linguistic ‘evidence’ is of the usual amateur kind; he also makes various specific errors; and he rejects reconstructed proto-languages such as Proto-Indo-European, assessing the evidence/argumentation for such entities in thoroughly confused terms and grossly undervaluing it – partly because he wishes to propose alternative genetic and other links between languages, often involving his native Hungarian.  Indeed, he exaggerates the influence of Hungarian and the Hungarians on linguistic differentiation and world history, finding pseudo-cognates and grammatical parallels between Hungarian and English and reading the mysterious Yarmouth Runestone (Nova Scotia) as Hungarian.  (Again, compare Stan Hall.)

Some other non-mainstream authors are interested in Lemuria and/or Mu rather than (or as well as) Atlantis.  One such, Frank Joseph, cites similarities between short words and syllables, with related or allegedly related meanings, in languages normally regarded as unrelated and as not having experienced important cultural contact.  These include the words moai as used in Okinawa and Easter Island (where the meanings are not in fact even close), Japanese torii and German Tor (both meaning ‘gate’), various words containing the syllable -mu-, etc. He believes that these similarities mostly indicate common origin in Lemuria/Mu.  (Joseph also includes in this discussion a completely mistaken comment about the pronunciation of the Latin names Romulus and Remus; he believes that these words too contain the word Mu and were stressed on the relevant syllable.)

There is an entire small world of non-mainstream scholarship based on the works of Immanuel Velikovsky, a major-planet catastrophist and chronological revisionist.  The (minor) linguistic element in Velikovsky’s thought involves the alleged diffusion of words after the catastrophe (compare Michal Tsarion).  Since Velikovsky’s death his ideas have persisted and diversified.  One leading Neo-Velikovskyan tradition is represented by David Talbott and his fellow ‘Saturnists’, who hold that Earth and the other inner planets were formerly in captive rotation about a much larger Saturn and that this situation and the catastrophic restructuring which led to the present configuration of the system are reflected in myths around the world.  Talbott places emphasis upon the similarity and alleged common origin of words in many apparently unrelated languages, which in his view relate to myths and motifs associated with cultural ‘memories’ of the earlier configuration and the ensuing cataclysm.  Most of the Saturnists show little detailed knowledge of linguistics, but one of Talbott’s associates was Roger Wescott, a qualified linguist, who posited relatively recent dates for the commencement of linguistic diversification, partly because of his catastrophist account of the recent history of the planet (many pre-existing cultures and their languages would have been destroyed in any Velikovskyan catastrophe).

There are writers in this area of thought with even more markedly non-mainstream ideas.  These include, notably, Ted Holden, who argues, for instance, that features of the Baltic languages (Latvian and Lithuanian) reflect the beginning of the re-diversification of languages ‘from scratch’ following a catastrophe early in the first millennium BCE.  Holden is also a supporter of Julian Jaynes’ highly suspect theory that during the first millennium BCE the psychology of Homo sapiens underwent a major shift – revealed, for instance, in contrasts between discourse styles found in Homeric Greek and in later Classical Greek – involving the loss of telepathic abilities and the emergence of self-awareness.


9 Responses to ‘fringe’ historical linguistics 8

  1. davidgerard says:

    “non-mainstream scholarship” … what a wonderful phrase that is :-)

  2. Ken says:

    Something I’ve vaguely wondered for some time: I know that these “non-mainstream scholars” have conferences where they get together and share their “theories” – but no two of those theories agree. So what do the Q&As after the presentations sound like?

    I get the impression they all spend so much time attacking mainstream reality that they never get around to noticing that no two people in the room agree. (Actually I got that impression from Ted Holden, of all people, way back in the USENET talk.origins days when he described some of those conferences.)

  3. Pacal says:

    Thank you for this overview of crank linguistics used to advance pseudoscience woo.

    Velikovsky is a perenial source of amusement. The man was a Psychoanalyist, whose Freudian idea seved as the basis for his view of human history.

    It is of interst that this Freudian basis is largely ignored while discussing Velikovsky’s crank notions. Velikovsky took several ideas from Freud and ran with them. For example the notion of collective consciousness and a lamarkian belief in the effects of same. Freud created the myth of the original promor4dial horde in which “Father” sexually monopolized the women. The sons banded together and killed and then ate the father. The horror of the act was so great that they repressed all memory of the act and created religion, (God is the “Father”), incest taboos, ritual and art as part of the repression of the terrible and unbearable to think about act. This act has had and will continue to have a Lamarkian influence on Human development in Freuds view.

    Another important notion was Freudian repression, acts and events that are too painful to remember are repressed but memories of them surface through to conciousness in the form of neroses and in the case of collective repression myth and folklore.

    Thus Velikovsky decided that the memory of those terrible events, which using methods of Freudian analysis, were too painful to remember most of thwe time clearly, were “remembered” in the form of myth. mankind collectively repressed the memory of these events just like mankind collectively repressed the memory of the primordial patricide.

    Thus Velikovsky, because he “knew”, that these disasters happenned based on his Freudian like intepretations of Myth and legend created his theory. Thus like a Freudian if a text said something that could be interpreted as evidence of a planet wide disaster it was ad if the memory did not exist or was so garbled that it could not be interpreted in any reasonable fashion to be such a memory it was evidence of the uccess of repression and therefore was more proof. Heads I win, tails you lose logic. The classic statement of Velikovsky’s position about collective amnesia is his Mankind in Amnesia.

    Velikovsky was very fond of pontificating about things he new little or nothing about and apparently often took little trouble to learn. He for example rejected gravity in favour of electro-magnetic forces; apparently because electro-magnetic forces made his game of planetary billards more likely. Velikovsky wrote a short book called Cosmos without Gravitation, in which Velikovsky shows an extraordinary level of stunning ignorance of basic physics.

    I should point out that Velikovsky’s books only describe the last bit of his planet swiping senario. In the past their were near collisions involving Mercury and Jupitor for example which Velkovsky did not go into detail in his books. I should also mention that Velikovsky also thought that the Earth orbited Saturn within the last 20,000 years. So Talbot did not originate the idea.

    As for Julian Jaynes it has been well nigh 30 years since I read his masterpiece of pseudoscience begging the question b>The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. In which a trained Psychologist blows trying to understand culture and religion. That a well educated man could have written such piffile is sad but not surprising. A high IQ and a good education is not a foolproof inoculation against woo.

    Jaynes basic position seems to be that no one in their “right” minds could possiblt have really believed that the Gods were talking to them etc. So it must have been one side of their brains talking to the other and people interpreting that as Gods telling them what to do. In other words no really “rational” person could have believed in this stuff so it must have been one side of the brain talking to the otherside. Here we see a perfect example of ‘rationalist” discourse. They could not have thought differently from us and been like us. But since they did their brains must have been wired diffrently because they could not have thought so and been “rational”.

    Mr. Jaynes along with Velikovsky has been a prenial source of amusement in the past and will continue to be well into the future.

    • Pacal says:

      No doubt Mark will in his good time tear apart this particular academic urban legend. It is my understanding that this particular linguistic “story” is based upon cherry picking certain Zuni and Japanese words. In otherwords the old and very tiresome wordlist game. Zuni, like Japanese seems to be a isoate. a language that is not related to other languages. Of course if you use the “superfamily” idea of languages you get relationships. However even in that case Zuni is related to other Amerindian languages and if anything Japanese would be related to Korean and or similar languages.

      However the story that the Zuni and Japanese are related has been going around for quite sometime. Allegedly their are biological similarities and cultural similarities. The biology is the supposed similarity of blood groups. Of course actual genetic analysis of native Americans seem to show only distant conections, (after you exclude more recent admixture), with east Asia on the order of c. 10,000 years+ easily. As for the cultural similarities it is once again cherry picking a few traits and then saying it shows a connection. Well if you have enough traits to look at you will find connections. Thus this academic urban legend is dependent, like most diffusionistic claims on careful cherry picking and ignoring the absolute astounding lack of actual evidence for a connection. Like no Japanese remains ever found pre-Columbus in the New World or the lack of any real physical evidence of people with Japanese ancestory among the Zuni. Or the fact that you have to really twist Zuni legends to find Japan in them. The archeology of the SouthWest as been going on for over a century and their is no evidence in the development of Pueblo culture of an incursion of East Asians in the last few thousand years. Although there is indeed evidence of influence and migration from Mexico and from the Na-Dene peoples from the north.

      Finally anyone who thinks that the Pueblo cultures are “similar” to Japanese culture of even a few centuries back is nothing but delusional.

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