Archaeology and Language (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
In this work, Colin Renfrew confronts issues at once deeply academic and extremely sensitive. On the one hand, it can be assumed that very few people will ever bring themselves to care deeply about the fact that Tocharian, an extinct language of Central Asia, appears to belong to the centum group of languages rather than the satem group. On the other hand, it should be remembered that considerations of very much this type—Norwegian is a “Germanic” language, but Polish is not—affected decisions during World War II as to which populations should be exterminated, enslaved, or gently treated, and that the ideology used to validate these decisions was to some extent formed in quiet university libraries all over Europe during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The initiating agent of this comparative study of languages was the proclamation made to the Bengal Society in 1786 by Sir William Jones that Latin and Greek—which Jones had learned at school like every self-respecting English contemporary—were too close to Sanskrit, the ancient religious language of India, for the similarity to be a coincidence: They must have had a common source. The statement must have come as rather a shock to many of Jones’s listeners. Latin and Greek were “respectable” languages of high prestige; Sanskrit was known only to their “colored” subjects. Jones was in effect asking these scholars to discard strongly entrenched views on race. The...
(The entire section is 1942 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
British Book News. September, 1987, p. 602.
The Guardian. CXXXVIII, March 6, 1988, p. 27.
Nature. CCCXXXI, January 28, 1988, p. 311.
New Scientist. CXVII, January 28, 1988, p. 64.
The Observer. December 13, 1987, p. 23.
The Times Educational Supplement. November 27, 1987, p. 23.
The Times Literary Supplement. June 24, 1988, p. 714.
(The entire section is 35 words.)