A view against Uralic

Illness has prevented me from making updates for the past week, but I did get some reading done. I recently acquired through inter-library loan Angela Marcantonio’s The Uralic Language Family: Facts, Myths and Statistics, published by Blackwell in 2002. I got it only because it was a title about Uralic from a respectable publisher (i.e. not some Nostratic self-publishing scheme), but I was surprised to find that Prof Marcantonio opposes the view of the Uralic languages as a genetic family:

The detailed analysis which is carried out in this book has uncovered a total absence of scientific evidence in favour of the notion that the Uralic languages form a language family, that is, a genetically coherent group of related languages. Therefore, in short, I shall conclude that Uralic is not a valid node.

I thought this all sounded somewhat familiar, and I realised that I had already read some months ago Linguistic Shadow-Boxing, a defence against Marcantonio’s work by Johanna Lakso of the University of Vienna. Prof Laakso reveals the flaws in Prof Marcantonio’s work quite well.

I think it seems obnoxious when a scholar, as Marcantonio does, challenging the majority view doesn’t just simply present his alternative viewpoint, but rambles about how established dogma won’t easily accept new insight. When I flipped through William Schmalstieg’s monograph ‘Monophthongizations—more plausible than laryngeals!’ (collected in The New Sound of Indo-European), the bibliography’s mention of a Scientific American article on the ‘resistence of science to new discoveries’ didn’t make me too thrilled about reading his piece.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass is useless

Back when I first learned about Old Church Slavonic, the sexiest language around, I was intrigued by Czech composer Leoš Janáček’s masterpiece of twentieth-century choral repetoire, the Glagolitic Mass. Instead of setting the mass in Latin, as is the fashion and which he himself considered in 1908, Janáček instead decided to look far back into his country’s history and set the mass in Old Church Slavonic. I bought a recording right away, and for some months enjoyed the music while puzzling over the libretto. Why, I thought, was the OCS vowel yat marked (in transliteration as ě), while the two nasal vowels were not to be seen at all? How authentic was the text, and was I sure to be getting Old Church Slavonic instead of some thoroughly uninteresting redaction like Russian Church Slavonic?

I discovered the awful truth upon acquiring Paul Wingfield’s Janáček: Glagolitic Mass, a Cambridge Music Handbook. In the third chapter, ‘The (Old?) Church Slavonic text’, Wingfield—guided by a few fine handbooks for OCS—shows that the text of Janáček’s work is a hybrid and error-ridden, transliterated variant of Old Church Slavonic. Not only did Janáček piece together the work from two imperfect attempts at getting to an OCS mass, but in the process of revising the music he would write out the text from memory and fail to check it against the source. A scholar, Miloš Weingart, attempted to correct the text in 1928, but he felt he had to omit the nasal vowels, thinking them too difficult for singers, and had to leave out the missing jers lest he add a hundred extra syllables to the work.

Further attempts have been made in the last seventy years to reach an acceptable text that could fairly well be called Old Church Slavonic, but none entirely successfully. The only Old Church Slavonic gimmick I could show off to my friends, unwilling to admit OCS’s class and allure, proves to be an mismash about as unnatural as anything one would hear in Russian or Bulgarian liturgies. Oh well, at least it is still good music.

Racism in Modern IE Studies?

A few months ago, I noticed that at the listings of many books about comparative Indo-European linguistics on Amazon.com was the same copied-and-pasted review encouraging browsers to read John V. Day’s The Indo-Europeans: The Anthropological Evidence. The fellow who posted these reviews, which never said anything about the book at whose listing they were posted, had also posted a number of positive reviews to books on white supremacism. What kind of book was Day’s, I wondered, that it would attract such an audience?

I discovered that Prof Day was a student of Prof James Mallory, author of the now-classic In Search of the Indo-Europeans and editor of the Journal of Indo-European Studies. In fact, this book The Indo-Europeans was the product of his doctoral studies under Prof Mallory. I proceeded to get the book by inter-library loan. When it arrived, I found that the book itself merely tried to reach some kind of physical description of the Indo-Europeans based on archaeological finds and ancient works of history. It was uninteresting—I like to view PIE as an elegant structure in itself and not try to connect it to actual speakers—but unoffensive. The book’s publisher, the Institute for the Study of Man, has published a number of informative books on Indo-European studies, including Winfred Lehmann’s Pre-Indo-European.

I then discovered an essay written by Prof Day himself, ‘In Quest of Our Linguistic Ancestors: The Elusive Origins of the Indo-Europeans’ (PDF) which is a presentation for the layman of some of his work. Let us first consider the forum to which Prof Day submitted this essay. The first two points of the philosophy of The Occidental Quarterly journal is that The West is a cultural compound of our Classical, Christian, and Germanic past, and that Race informs culture; it is the necessary precondition for cultural identity and integrity. That Prof Day would choose such a place to discuss his work says much about the author. Just wait, however, until you see what the author himself has to say.

To show the true nature of Prof Day’s beliefs, it is sufficient to simply quote the final paragraph of his essay.

In a journal about the West and its future, it is fitting to end this article by briefly recounting the fate of the Roman upper class. Among Indo-European peoples, the Romans offer an especially useful example because they left masses of records, enabling later historians to determine what became of them. The evidence found in ancient texts implies that this class descended largely from Indo-Europeans who had a decidedly northern European physical type, although that isn’t something one reads in modern books about Roman history. In Rome, though, the upper class was always a tiny minority. Instead of protecting its interests, it allowed itself to wither away. Consider a bleak statistic. We know of about fifty patrician clans in the fifth century B.C., but by the time of Caesar, in the later first century B.C., only fourteen of these had survived. The decay continued in imperial times. We know of the families of nearly four hundred Roman senators in A.D. sixty five, but, just one generation later, all trace of half of these families had vanished. If we in the West want to avoid a similar fate, we must learn from Indo-European history.

There you have it. Rome fell due to race-mixing and our modern Western culture will too if we don’t watch out. Disgusting.

I would like to believe that Prof Day is a rare breed in modern Indo-European studies, but if he hasn’t changed his views after being around long enough to submit a doctoral thesis, I am worried that the atmosphere in IE studies is conducive to this nonsense. I hope that some of you out there with more experience can reassure me that I am not entering a field full of bigots.