3. Linguistic aspects
of the Indo-European Urheimat question
3.1.1. Evidence sweeping
everything before it
from archaeology and Sanskrit text studies seems to contradict the theory
of the entry of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European (IE) language
family in India through the so-called “Aryan Invasion” (Aryan Invasion
Theory, AIT), we are usually reassured that “there is of course the linguistic
evidence” for this invasion, or at least for the non-Indian origin of the
F.E. Pargiter had shown how the Puranas locate Aryan origins in the Ganga
basin and found “the earliest connexion of the Vedas to be with the eastern
region and not with the Panjab”1, but
then he allowed the unnamed linguistic evidence to overrule his own findings:
“We know from the evidence of language that the Aryans entered India very
early.”2 (His solution is to relocate the point
of entry of the Aryans from the western Khyber pass to the eastern Himalaya:
Kathmandu or thereabouts.)
same time, the linguists themselves are often quite aware that the AIT
is just a successful theory, not a proven fact. Those who try to
take the scientific pretences of their discipline seriously, are not all
that over-confident about the AIT. Many are willing to be modest
and concede that so far it has merely been the most successful hypothesis.
In fact, when quizzing linguists about the AIT, I came away with the impression
that they too are not very sure of their case. By now, most of them
have been trained entirely within the AIT framework, which was taken for
granted and consequently not sought to be proven anymore. One of
them told me that he had never bothered about a linguistic justification
for the AIT framework, because there was, after all, “the well-known archaeological
the rest, “the linguistic evidence” is still the magic mantra to silence
all doubts about the AIT. It is time that we take a look for ourselves
at this fabled linguistic evidence.
3.1.2. Down with the Linguistic
reaction among Indians against this state of affairs is to dismiss linguistics
altogether, calling it a “pseudo-science”. Thus,
Prof. N.S. Rajaram describes 19th-century comparative and historical linguistics,
which generated the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT), as “a scholarly discipline
that had none of the checks and balances of a real science”3, in
which “a conjecture is turned into a hypothesis to be later treated as
a fact in support of a new theory”.4
N.R. Waradpande questions the very existence of an Indo-European language
family and rejects the genetic kinship model, arguing very briefly that
similarities between Greek and Sanskrit must be due to very early borrowing.5
He argues that “the linguists have not been able to establish that the
similarities in the Aryan or Indo-European languages are genetic, i.e.
due to their having a common ancestry”. He
alleges that “the view that the South-Indian languages have an origin different
from that of the North-Indian languages is based on irresponsible, ignorant
and motivated utterances of a missionary”.6
The “missionary” in question is the 19th century prioneer of Dravidology,
Bishop Robert Caldwell.
of linguistics by critics of the AIT creates the impression that their
own pet theory, which makes the Aryans into natives of India rather than
invaders, is not resistant to the test of linguistics. However, the
fact that people fail to challenge the linguistic evidence, preferring
simply to excommunicate it from the debate, does not by itself validate
this body of evidence. Prof. Rajaram’s remark that hypotheses are treated
by scholars as facts, as arguments capable of overruling other hypotheses,
is definitely valid for much of the humanities, including linguistics.
To be sure, it doesn’t follow that linguistics is a pseudo-science, merely
that linguists m their reasoning have often fallen short of the scientific
Pargiter: Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, Motilal Banarsidass,
Delhi 1962, p.302.
Pargiter: Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, p. 1.
Rajaram: The Politics of History, Voice of India, Delhi 1995, p.
Rajaram: The Politics of History, p.217.
Waradpande: The Aryan Invasion, a Myth, Babasaheb Apte Smarak Samiti,
Nagpur 1989, p. 19-21.
Waradpande: “Fact and fiction about the Aryans”, in S.B. Deo & Suryanath
Kamath: The Aryan Problem, Bharatiya Itihasa Sankalana Samiti, Pune
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