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142 of 169 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars linguistic material, at least, is seriously flawed, January 4, 2006
This review is from: Forbidden History: Prehistoric Technologies, Extraterrestrial Intervention, and the Suppressed Origins of Civilization (Paperback)
This book is interesting and in places challenging, but the presentation often appears rather one-sided. Mainstream scholarly counter-arguments are not given sufficient credit or attention. In face of criticisms levelled at the allegedly biased and hidebound approach of mainstream scholarship, this is very disappointing.

My comments here are directed at the linguistic aspects of the material, where my own professional expertise applies. Here, there is a considerable amount of palpable error (see details below). Given this, readers lacking expertise in any specific discipline should treat with caution all novel claims made.

Chapter 10, David Lewis, pages 83-86

To my knowledge, no qualified writers have argued that Sanskrit derives from Proto-Dravidian; it is transparently Indo-European. The only clearly Dravidian elements in Sanskrit are some transferred vocabulary and some aspects of the sound-system.

It is not clear where Dravidian might have been spoken before it was in India. Although it is quite possible that Dravidian is related to Elamite and that its speakers came into India from the north-west, this has not been demonstrated. There is no actual trace of Dravidian outside South Asia.

The linguistic material presented by Churchward, Cerve etc is unverified and implausible. Some of the relevant claims, eg the dramatic claim about links between Greek and Mayan, do not hold up at all.

The view that the Easter Island Script (which itself has no agreed decipherment) and the Indus Valley Script are genuinely related has never been adequately supported.

To my knowledge, no linguistically qualified commentators have linked the Cambay material with the Indus Valley Script.

Chapter 23, Frank Joseph, pages 174-176

Joseph cites similarities between short words and syllables, with allegedly related meanings, in languages normally regarded as unrelated and as not having experienced important cultural contact, eg the words moai in Okinawa and Easter Island (where the meanings are not in fact close), Japanese torii and German Tor, various words containing the syllable mu. He believes that these similarities are `remarkable' or at least significant, and that they suggest common origin (in Lemuria/Mu) - or maybe in some cases important early contact. However, it is easy to show in linguistic and statistical terms that superficially similar forms such as these are very likely to arise by chance, especially with very short words and single syllables. Indeed, many cases are known where pairs of identical or very similar forms, with genuinely related meanings, are DEMONSTRABLY unconnected and only accidentally similar. Only if the parallelisms are very extensive and/or linguistically systematic is there good evidence of a real connection. Cases such as those presented here do not show any connection. The impressionistic method used in this section was superseded in the mid-19th Century as these facts became clear. It is now used only by authors unfamiliar with what historical linguists have learned.

Joseph's comment about the pronunciation of the names Romulus and Remus is mistaken.

Chapter 25, David Lewis again, pages 184-186

Lewis makes some strange statements about Indian languages. The following corrections are required:

a) So-called root words of Sanskrit do NOT appear `almost universally in the world's major languages'. Only other Indo-European languages share words with Sanskrit, except for the special cases of a) words (etc) transferred within India into Dravidian (notably Malayalam) and other local languages and b) medieval and modern transfers into other languages of cultural words involving Hinduism etc.

b) Even the words shared between Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages do NOT derive from Sanskrit, as Lewis implies. Sanskrit itself, though archaic, is demonstrably NOT as close to the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European ancestor language as was believed by European scholars when the relationship of Sanskrit with ancient European languages was first understood (1780s & after). For instance, Greek is demonstrably a better guide to the Proto-Indo-European vowel system than Sanskrit is. (The idea of an Indo-European or Aryan RACE is a 19th Century idea, long abandoned. This is all about LANGUAGES. Of course, ethnic groups TEND to retain their languages over time; but there are many exceptions.)

c) Whether or not there was an `Aryan Invasion' of India, the linguistic evidence therefore suggests (strongly) that Indo-European languages (including early Sanskrit or pre-Sanskrit) were introduced into India from the north-west, rather than the whole Indo-European family initially developing there. (We still do not know which language family is represented by the Indus Valley Script. A recognised solution to this problem would help to date the arrival of Indo-European in India. The main candidates are Indo-European and Dravidian.)

d) Lewis does not specify which `orthodox' scholars ascribe the first known alphabet to India.

e) Apart from Sanskrit transfers into Tamil of words which Sanskrit shares with Greek via Indo-European, there are no known demonstrably significant similarities or shared words between Tamil (Dravidian) on the one hand and Greek, Hebrew, languages of Kamchatka, languages of Polynesia etc on the other. It is easy to show in linguistic and statistical terms that superficially similar forms are very likely to arise by chance in such cases. (On the impressionistic method suggested by these remarks, see above on Joseph's material.) However: some Tamil words and features do appear in Sanskrit; but this is evidently because of contact within India in the last 3500 years. (As noted, Sanskrit has also influenced Dravidian in return.)

Summary: Current mainstream views on ancient India are based on the overall pattern of the evidence, not on `Eurocentrism'. There is, naturally, dispute over many specific points, and mysteries remain (notably the Indus Valley Script). And the whole mainstream viewpoint might in principle be overthrown by evidence. But there is no sign of that happening. For instance, Bryant's generally scholarly book on this theme, endorsing a position fairly close to Lewis', was weak on linguistics. (It should also be noted that Oppenheimer and even his linguist ally Manansala appear to be unfamiliar with historical linguistics; their linguistic points are among their weakest.)

As can be seen, the linguistic material in this book, at least, is seriously flawed.
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Showing 1-10 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 9, 2008 9:11:29 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 9, 2008 9:13:08 PM PDT
Appreciated the scholarly, specific criticism and explanations of why he is critical. His appreciation for the detail of the work makes his critique more credible.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 25, 2008 4:49:37 AM PDT
Good to see some appreciative comment, REM! Thank you for taking the time! See my other reviews for more. MN

In reply to an earlier post on May 17, 2008 4:14:44 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on May 25, 2008 11:20:46 PM PDT]

Posted on Aug 22, 2008 1:28:57 PM PDT
Redmond Geek says:
Mr. Newbrook,

Thanks so much for taking the time to provide your analysis. Your comments were very helpful.

Posted on Oct 26, 2008 1:41:40 PM PDT
J. Bray says:
Potential readers would do well to read this book for themselves regardless of the opinion of so called mainstream and self proclaimed experts.
Do your own research on the points in this book and see for yourself if it stacks up or doesn't but please dont allow someone to do your thinking for you.(certainly not a random net personality who can claim just about anything)

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 7, 2008 5:36:59 AM PST
I am not a 'random net personality', I am qualified & experienced in this subject area. Obviously people should read books for themselves, but the issues are quite technical, and it is difficult for those who are & remain untutored in it to do their own research with any expectation of arriving at reliable non-standard conclusions. It is writers like Knapp, not profssionally qualified critics, who feel entitled to 'claim just about anything'! I am happy to expand on my points, or to engage in discussion with anyone who still disagrees with me on the basis of a reasonable grasp of the discipline.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 7, 2008 10:49:42 PM PST
I notice you read all these books about alien origins, and i am not suprised from your low ratings. Do you have questions about human origins not being from this planet? You are highly specialized, but do you consider yourself a generalist? How did ancient civilizations carry a 1,000 ton stone statue from a quarry across a mountain to egypt when we don't have the technology today to lift 500 tons? You can go in detail about your specified area, but do you see a bigger picture. Have you looked back at historical behaviorism to understand that all goverments fall from the fallacy of monetary systems creation of competition? Do you understand that knowledge without morality leads to destructive actions based on historical observations of behaviorism? I am just trying to get you to think. I am not trying to come off as arrogant, or more enlightened, but i want to see why you have choosen such books to read. Based on your reviews i have observed your thoughts ,and i have some ideas on your thoughts. By the way what are your views on NLP and the use of semantics for thought manipulation?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 9, 2008 6:52:22 AM PST
I hope I am a reasonable generalist as well as having some expertise in my own subject. And I do not think I need to be told to think. I have studied philosophy and ancient history as well as linguistics, and I do not ASSUME that mainstream views are correct. I have in fact published critiques of the linguistic mainstream as well as of fringe works. If anyone thinks I am wrong in any way, they are welcome to argue this (from a well-informed standpoint), and I shall respond.

I do not deny that there are some mysteries about ancient artefacts (although many alleged mysteries turn out to be much more easily explained than anomalist writers suggest, or indeed appear on closer examination not to be mysteries at all when ). But that is not the point. I am merely pointing out that writers like these cannot reasonably use LINGUISTIC evidence of the kind they adduce in support of their views, because of now very familiar and apparently decisive evidence and argumentation of which they appear to be ignorant and which they certainly ignore (they make no reference to it, still less do they try to argue against it). And by doing this they mislead readers who know even less linguistics than they do. It is possible that some of the NON-linguistic evidence they use is more persuasive, and it may even be that they are largely correct (though I do not think they are). But even if they WERE correct, that could not be argued on LINGUISTIC grounds.

I review these books because I am angry and alarmed at the misuse of data involving my field of expertise and the misinformation which is thereby spread. I am an active 'skeptical linguist'.

I know of no persuasive evidence that 'human origins [are] not [...] from this planet'. And I do not see the relevance here of historical behaviourism or of political/ethical considerations (explain?). We are concerned here with the facts of cultural history.

NLP and its forerunner General Semantics represent the work of non-linguists (and a very small number of linguists/linguistics graduates) on matters which have been better discussed by members of the community of linguistics scholars. There is no doubt that language CAN be used to manipulate thought; but the version of this idea promoted in NLP has not found general acceptance among qualified linguists.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 3, 2009 3:55:40 PM PDT
Mr. Newbrook, if I might make a suggestion? There is a very interesting book that you might consider reading, if you're not biased against theosophy. It's the second volume in Madame Helena Pretova Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine, in which she explains the origins of all the races of mankind. I know it's not a book on linguistics, but it does trace each race and subrace as it develops in its own particular geographical area, and for those of us who know nothing about linguistics this might just be thing to help us put in perspective the (linguistic) claims put forth in Forbidden history. To the best of my knowledge, I don't believe anyone has written a comment on this second volume of Madame Blavatsky's from the archeological point of view, so if the next question you're going to ask me is this one, I honestly can't give you an answer...but if the people you criticize in Forbidden history could accept the claims Madame Blavatsky makes in her book, and follow the linguistic trail, they might not be as disoriented as you have correctly pointed out that they are. And yes, I am a theosophist myself.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 8, 2009 6:09:43 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 8, 2009 6:10:09 AM PDT
Hi & thanks, Carmen. I actually have a copy of Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine, but - while I respect anyone's considered views - I myself consider that the theosophical world picture is most unlikely to be correct. I have never found any good reason for believing in spiritual entities of any kind, or for accepting theosophical history of the world. More to the point, theosophical considerations relevant to language history and related ethnic/racial matters are seriously compromised by the available scientific/historical/anthropological evidence. Eg, the special status & vast age ascribed by theosophists to Sanskrit are not supported by this evidence. Few mainstream linguists or anthropologists would bother to critique a work such as Secret Doctrine. But I once attended a lecture on Sanskrit and historical linguistics by a Melbourne theosophist, the content of which further confirmed my views. I do not think that attending to Blavatsky's ideas would improve the thinking of the writers I criticise here. If linguists and others are to take Blavatsky seriously, they will need to be shown much more persuasive empirical evidence. But thanks again. Mark (Happy to discuss this further)
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