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Indic Language Families and Indo-European

Indic Language Families and Indo-European

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Published by Üntaç Güner
Indic Language Families and Indo-European
Subhash Kak Yavanika, Number 6, 1996, pp. 51-64
Indic Language Families and Indo-European
Subhash Kak Yavanika, Number 6, 1996, pp. 51-64

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Indic Language Families and Indo-European
Subhash Kak
Yavanika 
, Number 6, 1996, pp. 51-64
As the science of language, historical linguistics in the early 19thcentury saw itself as providing a framework for studying the his-tory and relationships of languages in the same manner as biologydescribes the animal world. But whereas biology has been revolution-ized by the discovery of the genetic code, no similar breakthrough hasbrought new illumination to linguistics. Over the protestations of itsmany critics, mainstream historical linguistics has remained withinthe parameters of 19th century thinking. In the meanwhile, archaeo-logical discoveries have altered our understanding of ancient Eurasia(e.g. Renfrew 1987, Feuerstein et al 1995). The Indo-Europeans areseen to be present in Europe a few thousand years earlier than wassupposed before. The Indian evidence, based on archaeology as wellas the discovery of an astronomy in the Vedas, indicates that VedicSanskrit is to be assigned to the 4th and the 3rd millennia BC, if notearlier. The Indian cultural area is seen as an integral whole. TheVedic texts are being interpreted as a record of the complex trans-formations taking place in the pre-2000 BC Indian society (Shafferand Lichtenstein 1995).But the whole edifice of historical linguistics related to the Indo-European family is based on the assumption that Hittite around 2000BC is the earliest member of the family and Vedic Sanskrit belongs tothe period 1200-1000 BC. A major effort is needed to put together anew framework to understand the pre-history of the Indo-Europeanlanguage family. In this note, I consider a few random linguisticquestions of interest to the readers of 
Yavanik¯ 
that demand freshexamination.51
 
52
Subhash Kak 
Language of Paradise
We all understand how the 19th century construction of the Orient bythe West satisfied its needs of self-definition in relation to the Other.To justify its ascendancy, the Other was defined to be racially mixedand inferior; irrational and primitive; despotic and feudal. This def-inition was facilitated by a selective use of the texts and rejectingtraditional interpretations, an approach that is now called Oriental-ism. The terms in the construction were not properly defined. Nowwe know that to speak of a “pure” race is meaningless since all ex-ternal characteristics of humans are defined in a continuum. In the19th century atmosphere of European triumphalism, what obtainedin Europe was taken to be normative. With hindsight it is hard tobelieve that these ideas were not contested more vigorously.Although this was the age which marked the true beginnings of modern science, old myths continued to exercise great power. Whenit was found that the languages of India and Europe were relatedin structure and vocabulary, the West responded with “a tissue of scholarly myths. These myths were steeped in erudition, informedby profound knowledge of Hebrew and Sanskrit, fortified by compar-ative study of linguistic data, mythology, and religion, and shapedby the effort to relate linguistic structures, forms of thought, andfeatures of civilization. Yet they were also myths, fantasies of thesocial imagination, at every level. The comparative philology of themost ancient languages was a quest for origins, an attempt to re-turn to a privileged moment in time when God, man, and naturalforces still lived in mutual transparency. The plunge into the distantpast in search of ‘roots’ went hand in hand with a never forgottenfaith in a meaningful history, whose course, guided by the Providenceof the one God, could be understood only in the light of Christianrevelation. As scholars established the disciplines of Semitic andIndo-European studies, they also invented the mythical figures of the Hebrew and the Aryan, a providential pair which, by revealingto the people of the Christianized West the secret of their identity,also bestowed upon them the patent of nobility that justified theirspiritual, religious, and political domination of the world.” (Vernant1992)
 
Yavanika, No 6, 1996 
53Although the term Aryan never had a racial connotation in theIndian texts, the scholars insisted that this was the sense in whichthe term ought to be understood. It was further assumed that Aryanmeant European by race. By doing so Europe claimed for itself allof the “Aryan” texts as a part of its own forgotten past.The West considered itself the inheritor of the imagination andthe mythic past of the Aryan and the idea of the monotheism of the Hebrew. This dual inheritance was the mark of the imperialdestiny of the West. Despite his monotheism, the poor Jew, sincehe lacked Aryan blood, should have seen “the dark silhouette of thedeath camps and the rising smoke of the ovens.” (Vernant 1992).On the other hand, the Asiatic mixed-blood Aryan had no futurebut that of the serf. He could somewhat redeem himself if he rejectedall but the earliest core of his inheritance, that existed when theAryans in India were a pure race. For scholars such as Max ullerthis became ultimately a religious issue. Echoing Augustine, M¨ullersaw in his own religious faith a way for progress of the Asiatic. Wewould smile at it now but he said, “Christianity was simply thename ‘of the true religion,’ a religion that was already known tothe ancients and indeed had been around ‘since the beginning of thehuman race.”’ (see Olender, 1992) But ideas– bad and good– neverdie. uller’s idea has recently been resurrected in the guise thatChristianity is the fulfillment of Vedic revelation! (e.g. Panikkar,1977).A linguistic “Garden of Eden” called the proto-Indo-European(PIE) language was postulated. Europe was taken to be the home-land of this language for which several wonderful qualities were as-sumed. This was a theory of race linking the Europeans to the in-habitants of the original homeland and declaring them to the origi-nal speakers of the PIE. By appropriating the origins, the Europeansalso appropriated the oldest literature of the Indians and of other IEspeakers. Without a past how could the nations of the empire everaspire to equality with the West?Indian literature was seen to belong to two distinct layers. Atthe deepest level were the Vedas that represented the outpouringsof the nature-worshiping pure Aryans. At the next level, weakenedby an admixture with the indigenous tribes, the literature became a

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