There can be no greater 'elephant in the room' than the idea of 'Aryan'.
Based on the flimisiest of data, the hypothesis of Aryan language/s and 'race' seems to have caught fire sometime in the mid 19th century, leading to a massive conflagaration both in the West (World War II) and East (the cultural racism of Hindutva). In that process, it got mingled with Darwin's and Spencer's ideas, and with Nietzsche's and Dayanand Saraswati's, coming out with a concoction that is baffling and confused beyond belief.
Here's an extract from an 1876 book in which the Irish are desperately trying to link themselves to the mythical 'great culture' of the Aryans. While reading this I couldn't but be amused. I am classifying this idea of "Aryan" in the category of humour.
THE ARYAN ORIGIN OF THE GAELIC RACE AND LANGUAGE. BY THE VERY REV. ULICK J. BOURKE,
The pagan Irish were Aryans, therefore Easterns; the Easterns were great builders; Noah built the Ark; his sons must also have been good builders; some of his descendants were certainly such, e.g., the builders of the Tower of Babel and the hanging gardens of Babylon, & the sons of Japhet must have been as clever as their cousins: the pagan Irish were descendants of Japhet; they must have inherited the family talents; they could accordingly have built the Round Towers; they did build them; ergo, these structures are of pagan origin.
All the Aryan nations were skilled in the sciences and arts, especially those of architecture, sculpture, dyeing, and painting. But the early natives were, as their language proves, Aryan. Therefore, the inhabitants of ancient Ireland were skilled in the sciences and arts, and they possessed a knowledge of architecture, sculpture, dyeing, and painting. Does this argument prove that the pagan Irish built the Towers? Not at all. It only proves that they had knowledge and power sufficient to erect those perennial piles which are a source of wonder to succeeding generations.
The early Irish were Aryan, therefore they were a race possessed of skill and power to erect those Towers.
THE SCIENCE OF LANGUAGES SHOWS THAT ENGLISHMEN AND IRISHMEN ARE NOT ALIEN.
Irishmen are not all that Lord Lyndhurst declared they were "Aliens in speech, in religion, in blood." Science shows that they are with Englishmen and Scathmeu brethem of the one great Aryan family, who, thousands of years ago emigrated from Persia in the East to the most western portion of Europe, and made island homes of Eire and Britain.
At this moment, as Matthew Arnold observes, "there exists in the mind of many Englishmen, yea, and of many Irishmen in Ireland, such a sense of mutual repulsion, such a feeling of incompatibility, of radical antagonism between the two races that the Jew seemed, at least not long ago, nearer than the Gael to Englishmen."
"I remember when I was young," says the Professor of Poetry, Oxford University, " I was taught to think of Kelt as separated by an impassable gulf from Teuton; my father in particular was never weary of contrasting them; he insisted much oftener on the separation between us (English) and them, than on the separation between us and any other race in the world."
Political and religious differences doubled the estrangement. The sneers and insults of writers in the Times, assuring the Gaels that everything of theirs not English is "simply a foolish interference with the national progress of civilisation and prosperity" tended to make this estrangement immense, incurable, fatal.
There have been no greater enemies to the English nation and people than ignorant, conceited writers who decry everything Irish, Gaelic, Keltic, and who can find nothing of good even in virtue or knowledge, unless tinged with the yellow beams that radiate from some golden focus, or with the mellow light of imperial favor.
The object and aim of the present work is to give a thorough critical account of the language of the Gael, to show its early origin; that it is Aryan, and comes to us down the great stream of migration that had begun to flow westward from the high country between the Tigris and the Indus, even before Abraham went forth out of his country, and from his kindred, and out of his father's house, and came into the land which the Lord did show him.
Through the eastern origin of the language, one reaches the habitat of the people who spoke a common mother tongue in the hilly country of Persia and Armenia, and all along the fertile valleys watered by the Oxus, the Araxes, and Euphrates once, as many learned men suppose the blissful site of Paradise. The phonesis of this primitive Aryan tongue did not rest on chance, but had been wedded, like music, to principles of science. These principles were handed down to the eldest daughter of the mother tongue—Gaelic—the phonetic developments of which show forth, at this day, the truth of Jakob Grimm's law. Gaelic is the twin sister of Sanskrit, and like it, is the oldest of the Indo-European family.
The primary result of the study of the language of ancient Ireland as a branch of the science of philology, is to lead the student to the conviction, that the first immigrants who made Eire their home had come from the East; and that the language which they spoke was Aryan, identical at that early period with the tongue known and spoken in the valleys of Persia, and eastward to the banks of the Indus. A knowledge of this lost language has been obtained by the labours of men of science, much in the same way, as one could form a new Latin speech from the six living romance dialects, if it were possible that Latin, like Cornish, or the Etruscan, or the Aryan, had died out. The newly efformated Latin tongue would, like a broken Base remoulded, be similar in every respect to the original defunct Latin language. In this way, the lost primitive Aryan tongue has been reconstructed, a grammar written, a dictionary compiled. This revived language could well be styled Japhetic, or, the tongue spoken by the descendants of Japhet, in contradistinction to the Semitic spoken by the children of Sem, and which is the mother tongue of Hebrew, Chaldaic, Syriac, Arabic, Samaritan, Ethiopic, and old Phenician; while the Aryan or Japhetic is the parent tongue of Sanskrit, Keltic, Greek, Latin, Gothic, Slavonic—nigh every dialect in Europe, and in parts of Asia, where the descendants of Japhet took up their abode.
CHAPTER II. MEANING OF ARYAN.
Why call the language and the race Aryan?—what does it mean? The answer will be given the reader in the words of Rev. George W. Cox, M.A., in the preface to the Mythology of the Aryan Nations, Vol. 1.; London, Langmans, Green and Co., 1870: "I have retained the word Aryan, which is a name for the tribes or races akin to Greeks and Teutons in Europe and in Asia.
"Objections have been lately urged against its use on the ground that only Hindoos and Persians spoke of themselves as Aryans. And the tracing of this name to Ireland Mr. Peile regards as very uncertain. To him the word appears to mean, not ' ploughman,' but fitting, worthy, noble. If it is so, the title becomes the more suitable as a designation for the peoples who certainly have never called themselves Indo-Germanic."
Pictet shows plainly the word means high, illustrious, noble, of the highest rank. He devotes several pages to the explanation of the word; and in his wake follow Max Muller and most English writers.
"Arya is a Sanskrit word, and in the later Sanskrit, it means noble, of a good family. Max Muller devotes fifteen pages (Lectures on the Science of Languages) to the explanation of the term." I can only state," he says, "that the ethnological signification of Aryan seems to be one who ploughs or tills, and that it is connected with the Latin root arare, (root, Irish "ar," ploughing.) Airya, in Zend, means venerable, and is, at the same time, the name of the people."—p. 277. Again, that "Aryan was a title of honour in the Persian empire, is clearly shown by the cuneiform inscriptions of Darius."
Max Muller closes the dissertation with the following judicious remarks:
"As comparative philology has thus traced the ancient name of Aryan from India to Europe, as the original title assumed by the Aryans before they left their common home, it is but natural that it should have been chosen as the technical term for the family of languages which was formerly designated as Indo-Germanic, Indo-European, Caucasian, or Japhetic."—Lecture vi.
The scholars of Europe and the East, and of America, have, in German, French, and English, within the past twenty years, adopted the term.
Who were the Aryans. Pictet and Max Muller answer the question:
It can be proved by the evidence of language, that before their separation, the Aryans led the life of agri. cultural nomads—a life such as Tacitus describes that of the Germans. They knew the arts of ploughing, of making roads, of building ships, of weaving and sewing, of dying and painting, of erecting houses; they had counted at least as far as one hundred. They bad domesticated the most important animals—the cow, the horse, the sheep, the dog. They were acquainted with the most useful metals. They had recognised the bonds of blood, and laws of marriage; they followed their leader and kings; and the distinction between right and wrong was fixed by customs and laws. They adored a God and invoked him under various names." All this is proved by the evidence of language. It is proved further that they were a powerful, an intellectual race, their language wonderful in its fecundity and plastic potency. Their descendants came from their country to Europe, by two roads—"one through Chorasan to the north, through Russia, and thence to the shores of the Black Sea, and through Thrace; another from Armenia, across the Caucasus, or across the Black Sea to Northern Greece, and along the Danube to Germany." The first branch who came to Europe were Kelts. Those who came by the south-western route settled in Greece, Thessaly, Pannonia, Etruria, Tyrol, Helvetia, Spain, Gallia, Hibernia. Those who came by the northern course were also Kelts. To this hour ethnology points to two distinct races.
HIGH VALUE OF IRISH-GAELIC.
How does Irish-Gaelic, as a branch of philology, prove more clearly than historic records, the civilization of the ancient Keltic race in Ireland?
"I cannot see," says Professor Blackie, " that the academic claims of Greek and Latin, however high'y allowed, can justify us in the habitual neglect of that most venerable member of the Aryan family—Gaelic, which lies at our own doors. Lecture—the Gaelic language, page 2. Published at Edinburgh, 1861.
It is the same class of scholars in Germany and Switzerland, and not Irishmen, who have shewn that Irish Gaelic is, in origin, one with Sanscrit, Greek, and Latin; and that it is amongst the oldest branches of the one primaeval Aryan tongue.
The Irish speech is, therefore, for all lovers of languages, and for all who wish to become, like German scholars, acquainted with the first tongue spoken by the human family, equal in value to Sanscrit, Latin, and Greek.
This is not merely the opinion of the writer—it is held by Professor Blackie of Edinburgh, by Monsieur Pictet of Geneva, by Bopp, by Geddes, Professor of Greek in the University of Aberdeen. Geddes says—(Lecturethe Philologic uscs of the .Deltic tongue—published by A Browne & Co., Aberdeen, 1872):—" A great field of investigation, as yet comparatively unexplored, lies before you in your (the Gaels of the Highlands) own tongue—it is an El-Dorado for the winning."
Second—Schleicher, a German scholar, shows in his compendium of comparative grammar, the position which Irish holds as a language in the wide field of Aryan speech.
1. Alt Indisch or Sanscrit.
2. Baktrisch or Zend.
4. Italisch or Latin.
5. Irisch or Gaelic.
7. Litauisch or Lithuanian.
According to this distinguished linguistic scientist, a foreigner to Ireland in all save her ancient language, Irish holds on the tree of early human speech a position next after the eastern and classic off-shoots of the great Aryan tongue. Fuller investigation shows that with its 16 or 17 primitive letters, had an earlier start westward than either Greek or Latin from the Aryan region—namely, that high table land around Mount Ararat, whence the four rivers—the Euphrates, and the Tigris, the Araxas and the Oxus, flowing out from the Garden of Eden, took their rise. Professor Geddes does not fail to observe, viewing the linguistic tree framed and developed by German hands, that Schleicher makes, immediately after the separation of Sanscrit or Zend from the common stem, the Keltic keep company with the Greek and Latin in what he calls a common Greco-ItaloKeltic branch, and that there remained the Italo-Keltic which shot far more to the west, after the Greek had sprouted forth to the south, and had attained development. It there found, as history testifies, a congenial clime for further growth in the mountains and valleys of Thessaly, and stretching more southward still in the Peloponnessus and in the isles of Greece, and, above all, in Ionia, where it blossomed and ripened into the highest and the most matured perfection. Under the stylus of tha father of Grecian poe it had been made the medium of the undying Epics, that tell of the direful wrath of Achilles with the destruction of Troy, and the wanderings of Ithaca's king.
It is certain that there was a primaeval speech, called at present by scholars the Aryan tongue; that it was once spoken by the people who lived in the high table lands of Armenia and Iran; that it was carried to Europe by the inhabitants who emigrated from the land now ruled by the Shah, that Greek, Latin, Keltic or Irish, Slavonic or Bulgarian, Lithuanian, Gothic, or German, are dialects of that common pre-historic speech.
Monsieur Pictet for good reasons styles this primitive race Aryan, and calls the language they spoke the Aryan tongue. He says that in course of time they spread from Armenia eastward to India, and westward to the extreme limits of Europe, and that they formed one long chain of parent peoples, one in blood and in kin, yet no longer recognising each other as brothers:
It is now a recognised fact in science, that from the Indus to the Atlantic Ocean, and thence across the American continent to the shores of the Pacific, the descendants of one primitive, blue-eyed, fair-haired race, divided into several branches, and speaking dialeets of what was once a common language, held sway. To determine the common elements in the languages, mythologies, legends, laws, and customs of the several branches of this great Aryan race, and thence inductively rehabilitate the primitive parent race, whence they issued, is one of the most interesting and important problems of historical science.
The Irish race, it is confessed, had been the earliest emigrants from the land of Iran, and had led the van in the great army which came westward to people Europe.
The strong point of which Irish-Gaelic supplies proof in favour of the truth of Dr. Bentley's discovery rests on the fact that Latin and Gaelic are elder sisters to Greek, in the Aryan family of languages, and that the three are quite distinct; yet, that they are traceable on a common geneological stem.
Again, Irish-Gaelic is anterior to the Latin.
(1) "The 'Celts seem to have been the first of the Aryans to arrive in Europe." Max Muller,—Lectures on the Science of Language, vol. i., p. 225.
(2) " In a variety of instances," says Newman, (Regal Rome, p. 25) " Latin words retain only secondary meanings where the primary ones are manifest in the Irish-Gaelic (Keltic.) Thus, the word "monile," a neck-lace, is from the Gaelic, " mulneal." The word " mumeal" means neck." Hence Irish-Gaelic was before Latin. See pp. 118, 119—Supra.
(3) Dr. Donaldson, in his New Crafgas, says:—The earliest population of both Italy and Greece was Irish or Keltic. After these came the Sclavonian, Low-Iranian or Pelasgic element in each country.
The proofs presented in the preceding chapters, and the learned views and grave opinions of those scholars who at the present day are most distinguished for their knowledge of languages, and for their acquaintance with the science of comparative philology, cannot fail to imbue the mind of the reader with the certainty, that there had been a primeval tongue now known by the name Aryan; and that all the languages of Europe and those of India and Persia have, like branches from a parent plant, sprouted forth from that venerable tree of pre-historic speech.
Professor Blackie says, further:—" What was the lineage and kinship of the Gaelic language? In 1830 it was regularly admitted to be a real orthodox, f all-blooded member of the great Aryan or Indo-European family of languages, in which year Prichard published his book on the subject.
"Originally the Aryan tongue was the language of the leading classes on the high table-land of Persia, who at length divided—one half (at different periods) going east into Hinclostan, and the other west into Europe. Gaelic, therefore, as the earliest in her migration westwards, was one of the oldst branches of this ancient family."—Ibid. That Irish-Gaelic, in its plastic power and phonetic fecundity, possesses not only the virtual but the formal germinal developments of dialectic variety, is a proposition that can, as the writer says, be readily proved by means of a little knowledge of the science of comparative philology.
Romila Thapar rejects the idea of an Aryan "people" and suggests that through a (presently unknown process), Indo-European language/s were absorbed by India.