Comparative linguistics

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at GMX.LI
Tue Mar 21 22:07:39 UTC 2000

Am Tue, 21 Mar 2000 schrieb Sam Garg:

> My objection is based on your insistence, as evidenced from your posts of
> the last few days, that comparative ligusitics is/ must be/ should be the
> final arbiter of things Indological.

If that was your impression from my posts, then it is very unfortunate,
since I do not believe that myself. (Meanwhile, on Monday, I posted a rather
more lengthy bit of writing addressed primarily to Mr Oka, and I hope this
has clarified still more.) You must know that Indology is largely, but not
only philology, and that philology is not only linguistics.

While it is sympathetic, on the one hand, to have this list open for all
interested persons, it is rather sad, on the other, that the list owner on
repeated occasions has to write policy statements like in the "Horse & BMAC"
thread (in spite of his having already written something clearly enough on
the Indology Web Page, where everybody should be able to see it) about things
that everybody should know before they enter here. It should not be necessary
for me to give my recent example of the talking potshard to prove that
philology is superior to archaeology (leave aside other disciplines) in
understanding history. Similarly, it should not be necessary for Prof.
Witzel, in the Jyotisa Vedanga thread, to give such simple examples of the
use of linguistics in dating. But when the dilettantism becomes very
irritating or insulting, one feels like talking back, and sometimes one has
little patience left.

> I brought myself up to date on the histories of Sri
> Lanka, Iran, Iraq, the Gulf area, Middle East, Turkey and Europe. [...]
> Unfortunately, most of those questions remain unanswered.  Comparative
> lingusitics has had over two centuries to prove their Indological models but
> have been unable to do so.  How much more time will be needed?

But are your questions such that linguistics can legitimately answer, i.e.,
are they *linguistic* questions? And, however unpleasant it may sound, we have
to face the possibility that some questions cannot be decisively answered. Or
indeed, maybe more time is needed. It is hard to draw up time plans for when
which discoveries will be made!

> In the meanwhile, we amateur Indologists (here I speak only for my own
> group) have become increasingly sceptical of 'classic' interpretations of
> Indian history.

There is of course such a thing as healthy scepticism. The professionals
repeatedly find good reasons for doubting earlier theories, and so they dig
deeper, find out more, etc. (this is called 'progress'. Many lay critics,
also on this list, for some reason believe that the human sciences are
stagnant and rigid. Cf. all the noise that is regularly made about people who
wrote over a century ago). But much recent dilettantish criticism is rooted
in being uninformed about what has already been done and / or is
ideologically based: one already 'knows' what the answers 'should' be, and if
mainstream academics do not lend their support, then those academics 'must be
wrong' and are maligned in any (un)thinkable manner.


More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list