Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 27

Hi again, everybody! ‘Hall Of Shame’ continues!


Because of its long history and respected status, Greek – from Mycenaean through Homeric, Classical, Koine, Hellenistic, New Testament and Byzantine/Medieval to Modern (both Katharevousa and Demotic) – is a major focus for non-mainstream claims.

Some non-mainstream theories involve claims to the effect that Greek was the Ursprache. Joseph Yahuda, supported by Konstantinos Georganas, Kostas Katis and others (see also ‘Around The World In ‘Mysterious’ Scripts & Texts’, this blog, 22 May 2012), is one writer who advances this view. Yahuda commences from the claim that Hebrew specifically is disguised Greek, almost all of its words being composed of one or more distorted Greek roots, and goes on to identify Greek as an overall Ursprache and thus to deny the existence of Proto-Indo-European as an ancestor for Greek and other languages. However, even where Yahuda’s claims are not mutually contradictory or are not actually refuted by other evidence, the ‘evidence’ in their favour is of the usual inadequate kind.

Another author of much the same kind is Harrell Rhome. Citing Yahuda and various dated sources, Rhome identifies Greek as the ancestor of Hebrew, Semitic languages generally, Egyptian, Indian languages, etc. Rhome’s main intention here is to lower the status of Hebrew, which he perceives as having been tendentiously exaggerated by Jewish writers. But in fact it is not clear how seriously he himself takes his own account of Greek.

Some other non-mainstream theories involve the Greek legends regarding the Siege of Troy (in modern Turkey) and its aftermath, as recounted in the Homeric poems. Several authors have sought to re-assign the location of the Trojan War and associated legendary events to distant areas, in the Atlantic and elsewhere. On less than persuasive grounds, Iman Wilkens (previously alluded to in ‘Linguistics Hall of Shame 2’, this blog, 23 March 2013) holds that the main actions of the Trojan Cycle really occurred in Britain, France and his native Netherlands. (Compare Daunt and others, who relocate the events reported in the Old Testament). Wilkens identifies Homeric place-names etc. with later British (Celtic), English, Dutch and other local place-names using the usual amateur methods. For instance, he equates Cambridgeshire river-names with the superficially and unsystematically similar Homeric Greek names of rivers in the Trojan Plain.

Felice Vinci instead re-interprets the actions of the Trojan Cycle as occurring in the area surrounding the Baltic Sea. Linguistic details are not at all salient in Vinci’s argument, but he does make a vague comment about ‘Achaean-like place-names’ in the Baltic and naïvely interprets the presence in the Baltic region of Lithuanian (a conservative Indo-European language but not one especially closely related to Greek) as supporting his case.

Of course, the precise location of Troy was not known until relatively recently, and the ‘facts’ of any genuine ‘Trojan War’ and the locations of many associated places remain disputed and indeed often conjectural; but it is very generally accepted that these events, or the genuine events upon which they were based, did indeed occur in the Eastern Mediterranean Greek world, where they appear to be set.

References to any of these writers on request!

More next time!


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3 Responses to Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 27

  1. Pacal says:

    Wilken’s silly book and argument is based on a truly absurd series of linguistic name comparisons. What with Ithaca becoming Cadiz, and Knossos in southern Norway, to say nothing of Mycenae becoming the French town of Troyes. The capper of all this when he “finds” Homer’s birthplace on a island in the Netherlands!

    It is rather obvious that Wilken’s fantasy is little more than a extreme rationalization of the Welsh legend of Brutus a refugee from Troy founding Britain and the British as out lined in The British History by Nennius, written in the early 9th century.

    There Nennius claimed that the British (Welsh) were the descendants of Trojans. It is obvious that Wilkens accepts this account as historical and moves Troy from Asia Minor to Britain to make the Nennius’ account more believable as “history”.

    Rather hilariously Wilkens suggested that the poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey, were composed in a Celtic language and then translated into Greek. Oh and in his opinion Greek is unsuitable for hexameter verse!

    Well that is bollocks. Ancient Greek is perfectly suitable for hexameter verse as evidenced by the fact the Greeks kept using it. Further the fact is both the The Iliad and the The Odyssey are stunning examples of poetic verse not the poor translations he implies. There is contrary to his fantasies no evidence that they were composed in any other language than Greek. Further any translation of such a poem from one language to another especially if it involves translating it into a verse form like hexameter involves composing in effect a new poem. So even if his fantasy of a Western European “Homer” is real it would still have to involve an actual Greek Homer composing the poem.

    As for Greek being the basis for Hebrew!? Well I suppose this person(s) doesn’t get the idea of language families, such as Hebrew is a Semitic language and Greek is Indo-European!

  2. John Cowan says:

    A non-mainstream but true belief: modern Greek is not a single language. Instead, it is a small family of four languages: Contemporary Standard Modern Greek, Tsakonian, Cappadocian, and Pontic, all mutually unintelligible and typologically very different. Tsakonian, for example, has only aspirated stops, prenasalized stops, and affricates in place of CSMG’s rich set of consonant clusters. Cappadocian has agglutinative case endings, vowel harmony, and verbs agreeing in gender as well as number with their subjects, all due to its heavy Turkish superstrate.

  3. marknewbrook says:

    Thanks to John for his very well-informed comments.

    I would quibble only with two of his terms. The views that I regard as ‘non-mainstream’ are overwhelmingly proposed by writers who know far too little about the discipline in question to say what John says here. Even ‘maverick’ appears off-target. ‘Minority academic’, maybe? And I would not use ‘true’ here, simply because I do not think that languages can be objectively enumerated: I see no demonstrable strictly linguistic difference between the notions ‘single language with exceptionally diverse varieties’ and ‘family of closely related languages’. In some cases distinctions in terms of speaker-perceptions and/or language-related aspects of culture hold up better. (Mutual intelligibility appears NOT to work as a criterion.)

    Mark N

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