23 June 2021

Language too modern?

From many of our words, the origin is unknown. Even in the fifth century BCE, Socrates speculated about etymology.

Plato Cratylus, for example 409c - 410a (transl. Fowler 1921): "Hermogenes: And what of πῦρ (fire) [...]? Socrates: Πῦρ is too much for me. It must be that either the muse of Euthyphro has deserted me or this is a very difficult word. [...] I know that many Greeks, especially those who are subject to the barbarians, have adopted many foreign words. [...] If we should try to demonstrate the fitness of those words in accordance with the Greek language, and not in accordance with the language from which they are derived, you know we should get into trouble. [...] Well, this word πῦρ is probably foreign; for it is difficult to connect it with the Greek language, and besides, the Phrygians have the same word, only slightly altered." The Fryas word for fire is the same as that for four: FJUR. In Plato's dialogue between Socrates and Timaeus (53d), the latter relates the element fire with the tetrahedron; a polyhedron composed of four triangular faces. In Oera Linda (codex p. [012], book p. 38), it is mentioned as the fourth element, after "LÒFT. WÉTER. LÁND" (air, water, land/ earth).

Although there are models, theories and speculations, we simply do not know how old our languages are and how they developed. We are discovering more about civilizations that were probably lost as a result of cataclysms, so we should be able to imagine that spoken and written languages once existed that may have been more advanced than their remnants later were. When critics of Oera Linda suggest that its syntax or vocabulary would be too modern to be authentic, their usual reference will be the oldest available, accepted sources of Dutch and Frisian. They are few and were written by scribes who had learned to read and write in the classical languages.

Latin and Greek as we know them may have been languages used primarily for the transmission of information, not for representing the language then spoken by normal people. Everyday language may have been much more similar to dialects that still exist. So, what if a text would emerge that was written or copied by someone who had actually learned to read and write the spoken language of his pre-Christian ancestors? Would this text not seem modern and strange — too easily readable, in the eyes of someone who had expected an older text to be less legible compared to that of a medieval monk?

Critics of Oera Linda have given examples of words that they consider to be modern, or that they assume must have been meant as a joke, like BED-RUM for bedroom (it can also mean: ask-, invite- or pray-room) or NÉF.TÜNIS (cousin, nephew or kinsman Tunis) for Neptune. Other words are assumed to be intentionally ambiguous. However, all such examples are speculative or arguments from incredulity (a fallacy). Old languages logically will seem ambiguous, because use and meaning of words has changed through time and there will have been regional differences. Even within and between the various texts of the manuscript, there are examples of different and changing meanings.

As far as I know, no Old-Frisian specialist has ever published a review of the Oera Linda language. The 1876 pamphlet by J. Vinckers usually referred to by people who claim that Oera Linda's falseness has long been established, was never translated into, summarized or reviewed in English, for a reason. It simply is no good.

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