Joined: 30 May 2013
|Posted: Mon Feb 24, 2014 11:21 pm Post subject: George Borrow - inspired liguist, bullshiter or both?
|As far as we know, William Jones was the first person to notice the similarities between Sanskrit and the ancient European languages he had encountered at school ie Latin and Classical Greek. He also noticed the similarities between Sanskrit and the living languages of north India to living languages in Europe, including his parents' native Welsh.
So it is not surprising that Borrow is also eager to set out the similarities half a century later. Even I thought I could detect a similarity between our word 'drws' for door and 'gurdwara' which means a Sikh temple but is literally 'door of the Guru.' Then, I imagined our word 'pimp' for five had more than a coincidental resemblance to the Punjab, the land of five rivers and even punch, a drink with five ingredients. But I might be very wrong. Dafydd ap Geler Thomas told me that our word for male teacher 'athro' is the same as the Persian for priest which would have been the same thing in ancient times.
Borrow equates 'drwg' - bad, for instance, with the Sanskrit 'durgati', hell, and Durga, the goddess of destruction. He thinks 'maen' , stone, is related to mani, a gem. Then,'marw' to die is similar to 'mara', death.
Borrow also thought Taliesin, although a professed Christian, in reality a druid who flings 'great light' on the 'primitive priesthood' of Europe. His worldview resembles 'the philosophy of the Hindus before the time of Brahma.' It is startling when Borrow says with conviction that the 'original home' of the 'Cumro' was Southern Hindustan'. He is almost certainly wrong on this.
Of course we all come from Kenya, and those of us who are not Africans had ancestors who passed through India on their travels. But that this is where the language comes from is extremely dubious. He can't be blamed for not having information unavailable to the Victorians, but it now looks as if Indo-European languages travelled the other way. After all, they are not native to South India.
In recent years, it's been suggested that the original home of Welsh was Russia. Ukraine has also been mentioned as the original home of the Indo-European languages. What are we to make of the maidan in Kiev? It sounds like something you would hear in the Indian subcontinent. Nehru went to Moscow for the anniversary of the Russian revolution. He was amazed by Cossack dancing, because it reminded him of Pathan dancing in north India.
Where George Borrow probably should be criticised is for saying that 'cymro' is from the Sanskrit meaning a youth or a prince. If he's right, everyone else is wrong. We've always heard that 'Cymru' means fellow countrymen, and is related to 'comrade.'
I remember hearing in secondary school that the English word 'Welsh' means foreign and is related to 'Walloons' and 'walnut' which means foreign nut. This doesn't have to contradict what Borrow says, that it is connected with the German 'Wald', forest. According to him, Germans in his own day, still called Italy Welschland.
There's a tradition in Lech Walesa's family that they come from a small country in Western Europe originally, but they don't know what it was. That knowledge had been forgotten. I had been thinking it was Wales, as Walesa is undoubtedly the Polish word for Wales. But perhaps it just means foreign.
Borrow eagerly told someone he met in Wales that Owen was a version of John. It sounds as if it might well be, but no dictionaries with sections on personal names would agree. The meaning is always given as 'well born' and the equivalent in English or French is supposed to be Eugene.
In short, Borrow had a copious memory for useless information but he didn't know as much as he thought he did. That's ok. We all make mistakes. He's a bit pleased with himself. But then, according to Anne Robinson, so are we.