THE SUMERIAN QUESTION (on Indo-European languages)


After British, French and German archeologists and linguists discovered and deciphered the oldest known written records in Mesopotamia and its neighbouring regions during the first half of the 19th c., they came to the conclusion that the language of those ancient inscriptions was neither Indo-European nor Semitic, but an agglutinative language which demonstrated significant similarities with the group of agglutinative languages known at the time as the Turanian ethno-linguistic group which included Hungarian, Turkic, Mongolian and Finnic (later referred to as the Ural-Altaic group) (27).

The recognition and acceptance of the Sumerian-Turanian ethno-linguistic relationship grew significantly in international orientalist circles until the 1870's (28). However, two factors hampered the further progress of research in this field. First, in Hungary, as a result of the imposition of the Finno-Ugrian theory as official doctrine following the 1848-49 War of Independence, all research concerning the Sumerian question was discouraged and this official attitude still prevails today in Hungary (29).

The second factor which had a considerable impact on the international level was the promotion of the theory that the Sumerians had never existed and that their language was invented by the Semitic priests of Babylonia as a means of secret communication (30). This theory was devised by J. Halevy, a rabbi from Bucharest who had obtained a position at the Sorbonne. This radical theory, despite its numerous flaws and obvious ideological motive, had a divisive effect among orientalists and broke the momentum gained by the advocates of the Sumerian-Turanian relationship. Since then, the Sumerian question seems to have been relegated to a minor status and passed under silence, the Sumerians having been generally dismissed as an isolated ethno-linguistic group of unknown origin having no known affinities with modern ethno-linguistic groups (31).

The silence was broken after WWII by Hungarian expatriates in the West who rediscovered the Sumerian question as they were able to gain access to the original Western sources of documentation on the Sumerians. These Hungarian researchers accumulated a considerable amount of evidence in support of the theory that the Sumerian and Hungarian languages are related. The reaction from official academic circles in Communist Hungary was that of categorical dismissal and discrediting of the Hungarian expatriate researchers, claiming that they were not competent in the field of Sumerology and that they were ideologically motivated. However, to this day, no conclusive evidence has been provided by official Hungarian academic circles to prove their claims regarding the Sumerian question and the origin of the Hungarians, as they simply refuse to examine the question in an open, rational and scientific manner. This attitude seems to be ideologically motivated (32).

The principal arguments against the Sumerian-Hungarian relationship appear to be unfounded: first, the apparent ambiguity arising from the polyphonic and polysemantic character of Mesopotamian cuneiform written symbols, which would render uncertain the decipherment of the ancient texts and the identification of their language. This apparent confusion is the result of the fact that the Semitic peoples which settled in Sumerian Mesopotamia (from 2340 BC) adopted the Sumerian writing system, but re-assigned new phonetic and semantic values to the Sumerian cuneiform characters (33). This was clearly shown by the multilingual inscriptions which included syllabaries and dictionaries explaining the Sumerian and Semitic phonetic and semantic values of the characters (34).

Also, the intermingling of the Sumerian and Semitic populations of Mesopotamia was reflected in the evolution of the Sumerian language (35). However, it would be misleading to compare the resultant hybridized Mesopotamian dialects to the Hungarian language since this would apparently weaken the Sumerian-Hungarian linguistic correlation. Thus, it should be taken into account that the Sumerians had existed in Mesopotamia for several thousand years prior to the arrival of the Semitic peoples, and that during this period, several regional dialects had evolved (36). Another factor which should be considered by linguists is the fact that the Hungarian language has been somewhat modified since the 19th c., and that as a result, some of the more archaic forms of Hungarian which have shown a definite relationship to Sumerian are no longer used in modern Hungarian. It seems therefore that in order to obtain more accurate results in comparative Hungarian-Sumerian linguistic analysis, it is the most archaic forms of these two languages which should be compared.

The principal results of the research conducted so far on the Sumerian-Hungarian relationship have indicated that these languages have over a thousand common word roots and a very similar grammatical structure (37). In his Sumerian Etymological Dictionary and Comparative Grammar, Kálmán Gosztony, professor of Sumerian philology at the Sorbonne, demonstrated that the grammatical structure of the Hungarian language is the closest to that of the Sumerian language: out of the 53 characteristics of Sumerian grammar, there are 51 matching characteristics in the Hungarian language, 29 in the Turkic languages, 24 in the Caucasian languages, 21 in the Uralic languages, 5 in the Semitic languages, and 4 in the Indo-European languages.

The linguistic similarities between Sumerian, Hungarian and other languages are corroborated by the archeological and anthropological data discovered so far. These archeological finds indicate that the Sumerians were the first settlers of Southern Mesopotamia (5000 BC), where they had come from the mountainous regions to the North and East with their knowledge of agriculture and metallurgy, and where they built the first cities. Increased food production through the use of irrigation allowed an unprecedented population increase, resulting in successive migratory waves which can be traced archeologically and anthropologically throughout Eurasia and North Africa (38). Thus, from the evidence left by this process of colonization, it appears that the Sumerian city-states were able to exert a preponderant economic, cultural, linguistic and ethnic influence during several thousand years not only in Mesopotamia and the rest of the Near East, but also beyond, in the Mediterranean Basin, in the Danubian Basin, in the regions North of the Caucasus and of the Black Sea, in the Caspian-Aral, Volga-Ural, and Altai regions, as well as in Iran and India. It seems therefore that the Sumerians and their civilization had a determining influence not only on later Near-Eastern civilizations, but also on the Mediterranean, Indian, and even Chinese civilizations, as well as on the formation of the various Eurasian ethno-linguistic groups (39).

One of the most comprehensive studies examining this complex question is László Götz's 5-volume 1100-page research work entitled "Keleten Kél a Nap" (The Sun rises in the East), for which the author consulted over 500 bibliographical sources from among the most authoritative experts in the fields of ancient history, archeology, and linguistics. In his wide-ranging study, László Götz examined the development of the Sumerian civilization, the determining cultural and ethno-linguistic influence of the Near-Eastern Neolithic, Copper and Bronze Age civilizations upon the cultural development of Western Eurasia, and the linguistic parallels between the Indo-European, Semitic and Sumerian languages indicating that the Sumerian language had a considerable impact on the development of the Indo-European and Semitic languages which have numerous words of Sumerian origin. László Götz also examined the fundamental methodological shortcomings of Indo-European and Finno-Ugrian ethno-linguistic research. His conclusion is that most Eurasian ethno-linguistic groups are related to one another in varying degrees, and that these groups, such as the Indo-European, Uralic and Altaic groups, were formed in a complex process of multiple ethno-linguistic hybridization in which Sumerian-related peoples (Subareans, Hurrians, Kassites, Elamites, Chaldeans, Medes, Parthians) played a fundamental role. Other researchers seem to have come to similar conclusions:

"The Indo-Europeanization of Europe did not mean total destruction of the previous cultural achievement but consisted in an amalgamation (hybridization) of racial and cultural phenomena. Linguistically, the process may (and must) be regarded in a similar way: the Indo-Europeans imposed an idiom which itself then adopted certain elements from the autochtonous languages spoken previously. These non-Indo-European (pre-I-E) elements are numerous in Greek, Latin, and arguably, Thracian... the Thracians were highly conservative in their idea of urbanism; their language reflects this reality in terms (words, place-names) the origin of which can be traced back to the idioms spoken in the Neolithic (pre-I-E) times... The Romanian name for Transylvania, Ardeal, is one of the clearest pre-I-E relics... place-names are of great importance in the reconstruction of vanished civilizations and it is almost inevitable that the identifiable pre-I-E elements come down from the Neolithic times: the dawn of the European civilization... the terms implying complex societies are of pre-Indo-European origin." (40)

Thus, it appears that the ancient pre-Indo-European peoples which settled in Europe were, for the most part, of Sumerian-related Near Eastern origins, and were later designated as the pre-Hellenic Aegean peoples, the Thracians, the Dacians, the Illyrians, the Etruscans, the Iberians, the Cimmerians and the Sarmatians. These peoples laid the foundations of European civilization and later intermingled with various other peoples to form the ethnic groups which are currently referred to as "Indo-European". There are, however, certain ethno-linguistic groups which have withstood this process of "Indo-Europeanization", and which have therefore preserved their non-Indo-European identity, such as the Basques, the Finnic peoples, and the Carpathian basin's indigenous population (the Neolithic, Copper and Bronze Age settlers) (41). The archeological and anthropological finds of the Carpathian Basin indicate that this indigenous population was related to, and at least in part originated from the ancient pre-Semitic Near-Eastern cultures (42). The same seems to apply to the Scythian, Hun, Avar, Magyar, Khazar (Sabir), Bulgar, Cuman and Petcheneg peoples of Eastern Europe and Central Asia which settled in Central Europe, including the Carpathian Basin.(Back)





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