Chapter 5: LOOKING FAR BACK
There is abundant evidence that before widespread travel across the seas was undertaken by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Egyptians, and Romans, certain key names and words had already been taken by land and water throughout the world, perhaps even to lands now buried under miles of ice, as, for example, the Antarctic continent.
Although these names and words have undergone change over the centuries, they can still be found in their changed forms when competent scholars study the native place names of rivers and mountains, of volcanoes, waterfalls, lakes, islands, regions, towns and cities.
Moreover, these same names and words are found in personal and tribal names, in mythological and deified names, and in the names for animals, birds, fish, flowers, trees, foods, and parts of the body. Only half-concealed in the spoken and written languages of widely separated peoples in the world are intriguing clues to man's ancient past. These key words, blended into many combinations in many languages can be identified in two distinct groups. Words of the first group are found in all parts of the world. Key words of the second group are found in the Mediterranean area, Europe, Africa, parts of the east coast of North America, Japan, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. Thus two old dispersions of people have been identified and recorded. Further it is startling that legends about the Garden of Eden, the expulsion of Adam and Eve, the temptation by the serpent, the sharing of forbidden fruit, the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel, and the story of the great Flood were found in Middle America by the Spanish before priests began their work with the Indians. Clearly such claims by students of language must be examined (Cohane, 1969, p. 13-24).
If we live in the kind of young world described in Genesis, if the world was destroyed in a universal Flood, if Noah's three sons and their wives began to repopulate the entire world, if the confusion of tongues really happened as described, if the Table of Nations is a true genealogy of nations and an accurate description of language families, there ought to be some hints of these great events half-buried in the languages which have come down to us. It is not necessary that there be such evidences, but just as ancient artifacts have been preserved over millennia down to the present, we need not be surprised to find equally ancient and impressive linguistic "artifacts" if we look closely at language.
What might we look for? The root meaning of some modern words could well go back to interesting facets of the daily life of our remote ancestors. If in very ancient times man was the kind of world traveler and navigator described above, there ought to be some linguistic relics lying around to support such a view of the past. If we live on a young earth, there ought to be some evidences in languages of intractions among peoples before the great separation occurred at Babel. If earliest man was as sophisticated as modern man, there is no reason to accept the notion that the alphabet was a relatively recent discovery made many thousands of years after cruder forms of speech had been developed, e.g., a syllabic system. If the old appearance of the earth is due to the consequence of a number of catastrophic events, some such memories ought to be concealed in some words which have come down to us. In much of the above, place names ought to be of particular value in shedding light on many aspects of the ancient past. All in all, language has unusual potential in relating back to our remote past. In this work we make something of a pioneering survey of words, the alphabet, and our number system which clearly was derived from the alphabet.
We know that even the most casual examination of our language and of place names - cities, lakes, rivers, mountains - shows many traces of the natives, the conquerors, and the immigrants for hundreds of years in the past. Scholars have noted that we can follow the path of Alexander the Great as he conquered the known world of his day by observing the place names that still exist all the way from Macedonia to India. These place names capture moments of history 2300 years ago. We are beginning to realize that place names go back farther still.
In the attempt to search into languages for clues to the ancient past, the searcher must be aware of some of the characteristics of language. Important information could well be overlooked otherwise.
It is essential that anyone who works with various Indo-European languages must be acquainted with Grimm's Law, which shows the orderly changes which many words have undergone from time to time and from language to language. Knowledge of Grimm's Law helps one to see and understand why father, pater, and Vater are three forms of the same word, as are brother, frater, and Bruder. We also see precisely why the following word pairs are identical - the one being derived lawfully from the other: pes and foot, tres and three, duo and two, granum(grain) and corn, and cornu and horn. Awareness of the above helps the reader understand relevant examples given by linguists. The Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) who discovered the law is the same person who worked with his brother to collect the famous Grimm's Fairy Tales (Blumberg, 1969, p. 66-67).
Further, the modern form of a word or a place name is generally established on the basis of consonant structure, rather than on vowels, prefixes, suffixes,aspirates, etc. There are many examples in the Middle East of the interchangeability or confusion of L and R, just as we find today in the Orient. Consonants are astonishingly durable over the centuries within words. Amateurs are not qualified to establish relationships between words, since words that appear to be closely related may have nothing at all in common, e.g., the words cornu and corn above. Yet very dissimilar appearing words may be derived one from the other. When one studies examples, the concept of consonant structure becomes clearer: The word Philistine is precisely the same as the word Palestine, Copt is another way of spelling Egypt, Massilia is Marseille, Neapolis is Naples, Firenze is Florence, Gades is Cadiz, Megiddo is Armageddon, Iskanda is Alexander, Heracles in Hercules, Aryan is Iran. Ecuador is the word equator. We can understand that Venezuela means "Little Venice", when we know that the discoverer found a village erected on piles on the shore of the Gulf of Maracaibo in 1499 which reminded him of Venice (Wadler, 1948, p. 109-111).
But there is another side of the coin. We look in vain for any relationship between the words Germany, Deutschland, and Allemande. Yet all three are exactly the same in geographical meaning. The word we use in this case depends on where we live. This fact poses many problems for the study of some ancient place names.
Having discussed some possibilities one might look for in using languages
to search out the past, and being aware of several basic characteristics
of language, we may now proceed to look for examples of how useful language
can be to gain insights into the distant past.
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