A recent birthday

From the linguistics humor site Speculative Grammarian on Epiphany (January 6th):

Happy Birthday!: Today is the birthday of Nikolai Marr! To celebrate, use only the four original words, sal, ber, yon, and rosh, to speak today.

From Wikipedia:

Nicholas Yakovlevich Marr (… 6 January 1865 – 20 December 1934) was a Georgia-born historian and linguist who gained a reputation as a scholar of the Caucasus during the 1910s before embarking on his controversial “Japhetic theory” on the origin of language (from 1924) and related speculative linguistic hypotheses.

Marr’s hypotheses was used as a rationale in the campaign during the 1920-30s in the Soviet Union of introduction of Latin alphabets for smaller ethnicities of the country.

Marr earned a reputation as a maverick genius with his Japhetic theory, postulating the common origin of Caucasian, Semitic-Hamitic, and Basque languages. In 1924, he went even further and proclaimed that all the languages of the world descended from a single proto-language which had consisted of four “diffused exclamations”: sal, ber, yon, rosh.

Marr eventually fell out of favor with Stalin.

3 Responses to “A recent birthday”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    Didn’t know about Marr. Obviously a precursor of Joseph Greenberg, who also went off the deep end, I think.

    “Japhetic” obviously refers to Noah’s son Japheth, founder of the European languages in the traditional reading where Shem is the founder of the Semitic languages, Ham the father of the non-Semitic languages of the region (including, falsely, Canaan).

    The Wikipedia article led me to read some of Stalin’s distinctly Orwellian denunciation of Marr.

  2. Norval Says:

    Marr’s father was Scottish. Hence the unusual (for a Russian/Georgian).

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