(Image: Finmiki, Pixabay)

Language on the Fringe 9 – Of Finns and Frisians

Forthcoming in Skeptical Adversaria
Reproduced with permission

Sometimes, partly isolated (and often nationalistic) sub-traditions of non-mainstream work develop in specific countries. One such tradition, with a linguistic focus, involves Ior Bock’s wild (and often obscure) notions about his native Finland. As a result of earlier hegemony and settlement, Swedish is a major minority language in Finland. IB and his followers (notably Les Whale in Australia) assert that the Finnish variety of Swedish – which they call Rot, pronounced like English root – was used in a primordial civilisation in Scandinavia and indeed is the ancestral language of humanity. Most other languages (including Swedish Swedish) are descended directly from Rot, and a sub-set come from Finnish itself, known here as Van and supposedly an early off-shoot of Rot. The sound-system of Finnish Swedish is heavily re-interpreted and presented as uniquely structured.

IB holds, further, that anyone who knows Rot and Van can understand any other language without learning it, and Whale claims (without any actual evidence!) that he himself was able to follow spoken Burmese on this basis. IB’s family has reportedly handed this knowledge down through the generations, with sons apparently assisting the acquisition process by drinking their fathers’ sperm (IB himself drinks his own sperm as well)! Etc, etc!

In fact, Finnish and Swedish are transparently not related other than by contact. And the examples from other languages given in support of IB’s claims display vast confusion.

There are other cases of this kind in the Germanic world, notably similar claims regarding the vast antiquity of Frisian and involving the Oera Linda Book , a 19th-Century forgery.

Poles apart?

Yet another case of this kind, which has come to my attention more recently, involves Poland. Igor Witkowski (who has published mainly on 20th-Century history) has produced a ‘popular’ revisionist archaeological book titled Axis Of The World, which promotes a new version of the ‘Hancockian’ theory of a highly advanced world civilisation pre-dating those recognised by historians. As usual, Witkowski treats myths as a reliable source of evidence about early history, and suggests that mainstream archaeology rejects the ‘undeniable facts’ because accepting them would involve overturning entire theories. And he links e.g. Indus Valley Script and Rongo-Rongo (Easter Island), because of loose superficial similarities.

Witkowski’s work is partly based on the earlier work of fellow Pole Benon Zbigniew Szalek, whose 1984 book (available in English) discusses the decipherment of unknown scripts. This book is quite well-informed, though Szalek’s views on these matters are still often controversial; for instance, his ‘decipherment’ of the Phaistos Disk has not been generally accepted. But where he (as cited now by Witkowski) deals with etymology and relationships between languages, his methods are the usual ones adopted by amateur enthusiasts. One has the impression that Witkowski and even Szalek (like IB & Co.) have failed to familiarize themselves with the international 20th-Century historical linguistic tradition.

Kennewick Man revisited

Readers may have seen my brief discussion of this case in my review of Fritze’s 2009 book in the last issue. The struggle for control of KM is in fact many-sided. The 10,000-year-old remains do not appear to be Amerindian and have been technically described as ‘caucasoid’, but they are not likely to be European either, and have indeed been related quite persuasively to those associated with the prehistoric ‘Jomon’ culture of Japan and Taiwan. This would be hugely interesting. The Jomon may have been the ancestors of the Polynesians, and in 2001 the Polynesian chief J.P. Siofele sought ownership of KM on this basis – unsuccessfully, even though his claim had far more scientific plausibility than that of the local Umatilla tribe. Earlier, the Nordic neo-pagan revivalist group Asatru had argued that KM was European and in fact one of their own (part of a prehistoric Norse diaspora).

Against the West

KM is not the only essentially scientific/historical issue to be muddied and politicised by the anti-European bias which is currently trendy in circles affected by postmodernism. For instance, the ancient historian Mary Lefkowitz forcefully critiqued some recent politically-motivated unhistorical Afrocentrist claims about the alleged Egyptian origins of Greek civilisation and the supposed black African ethnicity of ancient Egyptians (and even ancient Greeks!), initially believing – perhaps naively – that historical truth was the key issue in such cases. Alarmingly, this action brought her much grief at the hands of activists, many of them conspicuously ill-informed.

In a similar vein, the historian Keith Windschuttle argues that contemporary mainstream academic ideas about European-Aboriginal relations in 19th-Century Australia have been skewed in this way. He holds that the National Museum in Canberra exaggerates the amount of gratuitous violence against Aborigines (e.g. foregrounding some ‘massacres’ which may well never have occurred) and that claims of ‘genocide’ in Tasmania are much overstated.

Skeptical heroes?

Some of Windschuttle’s other ideas are such as might draw skeptical criticism. For example, he has endorsed some views of Australian prehistory which are partly based on highly controversial linguistic theories. But his claims about Aboriginal matters have made him something of a hero among Australian skeptics, many of them displaying limited knowledge of the relevant disciplines but – not unreasonably – alarmed by creeping postmodernism and by the wholesale public adoption of ill-founded but politically palatable historical ideas.

A more prominent Australian ‘skeptical hero’ is Ian Plimer, the senior earth-scientist who challenged creationist nonsense in the courts (incurring large financial losses). Plimer is among the dwindling minority of scientists who dispute the view that human actions are crucially significant as causes of global warming. His 2009 book on the subject has divided local skeptics; and, while there are fierce exchanges on bulletin boards from those with relevant knowledge, some who themselves are not experts seem to support him partly out of loyalty.