The History of a Myth: Marr and Marrism. Notes from a book by V. M. Alpatov. Biographical background. Born 1864 in Georgia, son of a Scottish father (81 years old!) and a Georgian mother
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Born 1864 in Georgia, son of a Scottish father (81 years old!) and a Georgian mother
Showed high linguistic aptitude from early on: studied (in addition to Georgian) Russian, German, French, English, Latin, Greek and Turkish in Gymnasium
At Petersburg U, was first student ever to study simultaneously all languages in all four depts devoted to Near Eastern studies: Armenian, Georgian, Persian, Turkish, Tatar, Sanskrit, Arabic, Hebrew, Syrian.
Near Eastern studies at Petersburg U did not include courses in linguistics
His main contributions are in archeology, philology, and literary studies
“In one of his later works, Marr wrote that the IndoEuropeanists had gone too far in their research and it was hard for them to turn back without having to demolish their idols. Marr didn’t have such a problem.”
Already as a student, Marr criticized the work of qualified linguists, who were forced to move to other work, and ultimately there were no specialists in Caucasian/Near Eastern languages with enough linguistic training to judge his work, and also no linguists with enough knowledge of Caucasian/Near Eastern languages to judge his work
“Japhetic theory” -- 1908 Marr tries to prove that Georgian is related to the Semitic languages, despite his lack of skill with comparative/historical linguistics
“Language Hybridization theory” -- He was also convinced that some Armenian dialects were related to Georgian – he didn’t understand that apparent similarities were more likely the result of recent contact
This went beyond anything acceptable as a theory of “substrates” in language and ultimately led to hypothesis that hybridization is relevant to many, and later to all languages. This of course meant that ALL languages were related to the Caucasian (Georgian) languages…
This especially applied to languages that had not been identified as belonging to any other families, which were immediately dubbed “Japhetic”, inlcuding the Basques (thus giving Georgian a foothold in Europe) – Also: Etruscan, Hittite, Dravidian, Chuvash, Hottentot…
Some of his ideas were clearly ridiculous, but others had some basis in fact – the problem is that fact and fantasy were all mixed together
The “Japhetic” ones that, for the most part, had not been assigned to other families
Those in other families he designated as “hybrids”, with a “superficial” layer (which was I-E, Semitic, etc.), and a deeper layer (which was “Japhetic”). The superficial layer is associated with the conquering elite, whereas the Japhetic layer is that of the original nation – this idea played out harmoniously with the communist revolutionary ideology of the Bolsheviks…
The New Teaching about Language is full of contradictions of facts, unproved claims, bad logic, divergence from accepted scientific practice… so why was it the accepted Soviet dogma of linguistics for two decades?
It was scientifically weak, but ideologically powerful, especially for the Stalinist cult of personality.
The ideas and the person were also very attractive, thus forming a myth
Next comes the stage of phonetic and semantic differentiation, when the four elements were broken down into sounds and given meanings, but ALL words go back to those tribal names.
For example: ‘Arm’ and ‘leg’ were not coined as parts of the body, but as connected with magical function, in dancing and playing…The lexicon was built up by hybridization and phonetic differentiation of the four basic elements.
Personal pronouns and singular are connected to more developed understanding of the individual
Superlative adjectives were a property of most developed languages
Revolutionary shifts in language were motivated by changes in technology and material culture, which yielded new ways of thinking and talking, and this is why there are different “systems” of languages
Language is preparing for its revolution, to create a “new and unified language where lofty beauty comingles with the highest development of reason. Where? Comrades, only in our communist classless society.” --Marr
According to Marr, all sounds could become all other sounds, unlike his enemies, the “indo-europeanists”, he didn’t follow regularities of sound change, and his correspondences were never limited, except by ideological motives (causing him to claim there was no connection between Russian rab ‘slave’ and rabota ‘work’)
In 20s and 30s the new Soviet Union had to create alphabets for unwritten languages and for languages with Arabic script, etc. -- somehow Marr and marrism got the credit for making this happen…
His only real contribution to these practical problems was his analytical alphabet of Abkhazian, which was supposed to prefigure the one world language, which was devised before the revolution and adopted in 1924
Marr’s works contain an abundance of ultra-revolutionary phrases, but very little practical information, and what directives there are, are usually impractical. For example, he said that one should not use a given dialect as the basis for constructing a literary language, but instead create something equally comprehensible to all dialects – this and other guidelines caused problems in language planning