152. The Fatal Sound Shift: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org
The Fatal Sound Shift
During the sixteenth century, a studious Italian merchant living in India pointed out to his wealthy friends some striking similarities between ancient Sanskrit and Italian: deva/dio for God, sarpa/serpe for snake, etc. All theSanskrit numbers seemed related to the numbers of Italian. What could this mean? This early intuition came and went without much of a stir.
Then in 1786, during the early British occupation of India, the subject was addressed anew. In his speech to the Bengal-Oriental Society that year, Sir William Jones announced he believed a family connection existed between Sanskrit and English. It was tantamount to the University of Rome splitting the atom. Sir William declared Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit sprang "from some common source which perhaps no longer exists." Among English and Sanskrit he showed evidence for "a stronger affinity than could possibly have been produced by accident."
What common source might be the parent of Western civilization? Jones could not say, but only thirteen years later Sharon Turner's two-volume work, The History of the Anglo- Saxons, claimed to provide clues. There, replete with thousands of illustrations, was a record of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes out of ancient Germania as it had been preserved in song and story, Beowulf raised to a haunting power. Hundreds of cognates between modern English custom and ancient prototypes had been tracked by Turner; there seemed to be a stirring continuity between what Tacitus said about Germania and what upper- class English/ American eyes saw when they looked into their modern mirrors.
The favorite occupations in antiquity were war, the chase, rough and tumble sports, wenching, and drinking, not unlike the preferences of contemporary Englishmen. When not thus engaged, men often lay idly about leaving all work for women to do. Gambling was common and every free man was expected to bear arms. Could the English be the mighty Aryans of prehistory?
In 1808, Karl Wilhelm Frederick von Schlegel, founder and editor of the Athenaeum, chief voice of German romanticism, wrote a scientific study of Sanskrit which maintained that the languages of India, Persia, Greece, Germany, Italy, and England were connected by common descent from an extinct tongue. Schlegel proposed the name Indo- Germanic for the vanished dialect. We are forced, he said, to believe all these widely separate nations are descendants of a single primitive people's influence. Oddly enough, Schlegel learned Sanskrit himself at the hands of Alexander Hamilton, his close friend and a close friend to the Prussian government. Schlegel was highly esteemed by both Hamilton and the Prussia regime.
To put yourself in touch with this exciting moment in recent history requires only a visit to a neighborhood library. The language and customs of this ancient Aryan people are caught in Vedic literature — the story of an invading people who forced themselves on the Indian subcontinent. As Americans had forced themselves on North American natives, a resonant parallel. Aryan literature was exclusively a literature of battle and unyielding hostility, the Vedas stirring hymns of a people surrounded by strangers alien in race and religion.
There could be no peace with such strangers; their destruction was a duty owed to God. Full of vigor, the Vedas breathe the attitudes of an invading race bent on conquest, a cultural prescription with which to meet the challenges of modern times. If only a way could be found to link this warrior people with the elites of England and America.
In 1816, the brilliant young Danish scholar Rasmus Rask not only accepted the relationship of Germanic, Hellenic, Italic, Baltic, and Indo-Iranian, but went further and found the missing connection. Rask had seen something no one else had noticed: between some Germanic streams of language and the others a regular sound-shift had occurred transforming the sounds of B, D, and G into those of P, T, and K. It meant an absolute identification could be established between England and ancient Germania. Rask wasn't prominent enough to promote this theory very far, but the man who stole it from him was — Jacob Grimm of fairy-tale fame. In the second edition of Deutsche Grammatik (1822), Grimm claimed the sound shift discovery which to this day is called "Grimm's Law." Salons on both sides of the Atlantic buzzed with the exciting news.
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