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Darwin-L Message Log 4:54 (December 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<4:54>From GA3704@SIUCVMB.SIU.EDU  Tue Dec 14 22:16:48 1993

Date: Tue, 14 Dec 93 22:01:29 CST
From: "Margaret E. Winters" <GA3704@SIUCVMB.SIU.EDU>
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Precursors

The "Today in the Historical Sciences" of 12/12 with its quote
before the fact (almost) predicting evolution theory (Darwin's
grandfather?? - I'm tired and I didn't keep it) reminded me of
a long quote by Sir William Jones in an address he made to the
Asiatic Society of India in 1786 which prefigures the reconstruction
of Proto Indo-European.  With apologies to the historical linguists
on the list who probably can recite it by heart, it is worth
quoting:

The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful
structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the
Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both
of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs
and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced
by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine
them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some
common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists: there is a
similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that
both the Gothick and the Celtick, though blended with a very
different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanscrit; and the
old Persian might be added to the same family, if this were
the place for discussing any question concerning the antiquities
of Persia.

There is a statue to Sir William in St. Paul's Cathedral in London,
not for his contributions to historical linguistics, but for
his high position in the British Civil Service in India,
if I remember correctly, in the Bengali Province where he
founded the Asiatic Society.  The statue, most unfortunately,
has him in a Roman toga - I show a photograph of it to my
historical linguistics students each fall, and almost undermine
as a result, any respect they have for the field almost before
they begin.  But how can I resist?
            Margaret Winters

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