In Search of the Meta-Indo-Europeans

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In the 16th century, a curious discovery was made: many of the languages of the Indian subcontinent were found to have an affinity for European tongues. This was significant, because the two major languages of classical European antiquity, Greek and Latin, were already known for their affinity. To learn that a language as culturally significant to the Hindus as Sanskrit might also be related to these two indicated some sort of greater culture. This was the beginning of the study of what would later be named the Indo-European languages, after its two geographic extremes.

In the English-speaking world, one of the most prominent intellectuals in this field of study, and orientalism more generally, was Max Müller. He vigorously promoted Indian religion as an important source of truth that European society could, and should, draw from. The linguistic links between the Indo-European languages were presented as proof that the European and Indian peoples shares a common lineage. In this, Müller popularized the usage of the term "Aryan" to refer to this family of peoples. For instance, his translation of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason declares it as having a dinstinctly Aryan or "Vedic" wisdom.

Unfortunately for Müller, he commonly received two type of unintended reactions. The first of these was unsurprising. Many accused Müller of popularizing dangerous neopagan ideas that were an insult, if not a threat, to Christianity at large. The second reaction is the one that is more infamous today, that being the reappropriation of his ideas in an explicitly racist context. Of course, given Müller's service to the British East India Company and his insistence that Hinduism was in need of a pseudo-Christian, monotheistic reform, it's not as if he was completely free from colonialism, but relative to those who adopted his terminology, he inclined to shy away from racial spuremacism. Later in Müller's life, when he learned of this reappropriation, he became greatly saddened by the notion that this would be his ultimate legacy.

In retrospect, we know that one of the great unintented consequences of discovering the Indo-European family was the urge to discover comprable families. Müller himself was a contributor to this urge. His classification of languages was quite different compared to how we classify them today. First, he considered languages to be primarily classified by their grammar. Second, he ordered these families by their supposed grammatical development. Third, he then tied this supposed grammatical development to different stages of civilization. Take for instance his classifcation of the various Eurasian languages, which is as follows:

  1. The Antedeluvian stage, the origin of roots
  2. The Family stage, the origin of juxtaposition
  3. The Nomadic stage, the origin of agglutination
  4. The Political stage, the origin of amalgamation

Of these, there are no living examples of the Antedeluvian stage. Meanwhile, Müller claimed that Chinese is in the Family stage. Contrary to this, he claimed that both the Indo-European languages and the Semitic languages have progressed to the Political stage. This then leads to the question of which languages belong to the Nomadic stage. As it turns out, there is a very convenient answer. Müller claimed that all of the Eurasian languages that were not related to Indo-European, Semitic, or Chinese belonged to the Turanian family.

His proposal consisted of two main branches. The "Northern" branch consisted of those languages that have since been attempted to be unified as "Altaic." Müller explicitly names Finnic, Samoyedic, Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic languages as members. (Finnic and Samoyedic have since been joined as Uralic.) The "Southern" branch consisted of "Tamulic," Tai, Munda, "Malaic," and "Bhotîya," which itself could be subdivided into "Gangetic" and "Lohitic" languages. Notably, while some today still maintain that Altaic is a genuine family, instead of a sprachbund, the Southern branch is much less justifiable. To begin, we shall translate Müller's terminology into modern terms. "Tamulic" is Dravidian, "Malaic" is Malayo-Polynesian, and "Bhotîya" is Tibeto-Burman, with "Gangetic" being Burmish and "Lohitic" being Tibetan. As with Müller's separation of Finnic and Samoyedic, we can now say that Tai and Munda are both Austroasiatic languages, but this is not a serious flaw. However, the Tibeto-Burman languages are now known to belong to Sino-Tibetan, which conficts with Müller's typography. To his credit, we can say that there is at least a sprachbund (some might even say a macrofamily, which has some genetic evidence) containing Austroasiatic, Austronesian, and Sino-Tibetan. However, even assuming this, the inclusion of Dravidian is still inappropriate. In fact, while there is even some faint haplogroup evidence of a relation between some "Altaic" languages and those of Müller's Southern branch, not even this proposal can save Dravidian.

This article is currently unfinished.