Deep Calls Unto Deep: Language Remembers

One of the reasons that I like linguistics so much is that it reveals deep history. Similar words show that people far away, whom you may never meet, whose language you might never hear, and whose country might be the enemy of yours share deep, ancient bond with you.

My favorite example to show people this concept is kinship terms shared between Persian and English. Mother and madar, father and padar, brother and baradar, daughter and doxtar. As a general rule, languages do not borrow kinship terms, whether within or out of a shared language family. The same kinship terms in Arabic, for instance, a language that heavily influenced Persian following the Arab-Muslim conquest of the Sassanid Empire: ummwalidaabwalidakhbint.

Besides kinship terms and the stuff of everyday life, language is the tool by which we convey our larger, abstract ambitions. Our mythologies depend on language – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God – Sing, O Goddess, the wrath of Akhilles, Peleus’ son, that sent many a brave soul thundering down into Hades…

What inspired this post was, really, a possible connection that I discovered between Lithuanian and Sanskrit. Linguists have known for at least a century now that these two languages share many words in common – sunus, sunus ‘son’; vyras, viras ‘man’; dumas, dhumas ‘smoke’; dantis, dantas ‘teeth’ – the connection that I noticed deals with mythology, as mentioned before.

It all concerns the planet Jupiter. The old Lithuanian word for the largest planet in our solar system is Indraja (the ‘j’ is pronounced as a ‘y’). That name shares an element with a deity on the other side of the world (for all that Lithuania is concerned). Indra, “Smasher of the Enclosure”, “Impeller of Rivers”, “Thunderer”, is the chief and king of the Vedic gods of the ancient Indo-Aryans.

For the name to carry a potential reflection in Lithuanian comes as no surprise. Jupiter, the planet, is considered to be the king of the gods in the Roman mythos. He rules as Diu Pater, “The Sky Father”; he is Indraja, the Vanguard of Indra, Lord of the Heavens.

The march time is long, and truth finds itself hidden in the shadows of history. Language remembers but only if in a fragment of a fragment of once was.

 

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