The discipline of philology entered a new phase after Sir William Jones announced his discovery in 1786, of the ancient mother tongue that originated both the Indian and the European languages. This ancient mother tongue was later referred to as Proto-Indo-European. Jones’ discovery1 initiated the reevaluation of all languages, both living and dead, to reassert their historical and prehistorical connections. One line of study that aroused much interest among the philologists was the ancient language of Sanskrit, used in The Avestas, the holy books of the Zoroastrians later adopted by the Indus, especially the Rig Veda and the Avesta Vedic. The speakers of Sanskrit were the Indian Parsis (Persians), a Brahman religious elite who called themselves Aryans, a term derived from Arya, the name of the province where they lived.
Inscriptions of a Sanskrit-type language found in Germany were deemed to be the oldest in Europe and led many German philologists to conclude that Proto-Indo-European had entered Europe via the German plane, which in turn was used to create the theory that the Teutonic peoples were direct descendents of the Aryans, otherwise known as Aryanism. Aryanism can be considered a variant form of Teutonism, the ideology of the supremacy of the Teutonic or Germanic peoples over other ethnic groups. It gave another impulse to archaeological philologists who sought to demonstrate how cultures could be pinpointed to specific archaeological sites.
During the second decade of the 20th century, Gustav Kossina (1858-1931), a German archaeologist and ethno-historian attempted to link archaeological sites to peoples described in the ancient Greek mythology like the Pelasgi, the Illyrians and the Paeonians. The one-to-one relationship between modern and ancient ethnic groups, which Kossina believed, is not accepted by most modern archaeologists. What became known as ‘Nazi archaeology’ ended up as a propaganda tool aimed at inculcating nationalistic pride in the Germanic peoples.
The Jews, whose linguistic ancestry was thought to be unconnected with Proto-Indo-European, were made the scape goats for the two economic crisis that engulfed Germany firstly in 1918 and then again after the crash of the stock market in 1929. Anti-Semitism became the main common denominator which the German National Socialist Party (NSADP) used to unite the German population.
Teutonic supremacy is based on two mistaken beliefs. The first, that the Aryans who authored the the Rig Veda and the Avesta Vedic are only related to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages. There are other branches in Iran and in the eastward region into Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Furthermore, there is nothing to suggest that the Aryans were a race let, alone a pure race. The second mistaken belief has to do with the location of the European point of entry of Proto-Indo-European. Recent comparative linguistics of Indo-European languages have identified that the point of entry of Proto-Indo-European in Europe is not Germany but the steppe grasslands of Russia and Ukraine.
The spurious turn of philology started by the lack of objectivity of the ideas of the Romantic Movement, when Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) stated that language gave meaning to the world and was at the core of the authentic experience. This idea was disseminated by the professors of philology to their students (See my posting The Shakers of Teutonic Supremacy). Even after it was shown that it was impossible to circumscribe long dead languages to current political territories, the philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) insisted on the old Romantic notion of language and authenticity. He believed that Germany was the cultural heir of classical Greece and that the German language was more authentic than any other. Although Heidegger’s accolades forgave his association with the Nazis by showing that he was not anti-Semitic like the Nazis, he was, nonetheless, a racist, as he developed a xenophobia against Latin peoples.
Jo Pires-O’Brien is the editor of PortVitoria, a cultural internet magazine dedicated to the Spanish and Portuguese speaking communities worldwide: http://www.portvitoria.com/
1. Apparently, Jones was not the first person who noticed the similarities between the European languages and the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. Another Englishman,Thomas Stephens (c.1549–1619), made the same discovery which is mentioned in Richard Hakluyt’s book Principal Navigations, written in 1599.