Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Italo-Celtic Hypothesis

As I mentioned in the last post, I wrote a series of short papers--essentially exercises in comprehension and mental processing. The first concerns the proposed unity of the Celtic and Italic branches of the Indo-European language family prior to their separation into distinct language branches (cf. Indo-Iranian) This hypothesis is based on a number of shared innovations (and, perhaps, retentions), some of which are unique to Celtic and Italic. The paper is a brief examination of the evidence. An excerpt from the introduction:
The Italo-Celtic hypothesis, an Indo-European subgroup uniting Italic and Celtic into a single entity, has, since its inception in 1861 (Lottner Kuhns Beitr├Ąge 2.309 ff.), sufficiently intrigued generations of scholars as to gain a kind of cyclical immortality. This sort of immortality is not without death; on the contrary, the theory has perished many times,1 but has always been resurrected—including, notably, by Cowgill 1970 from Watkins 1966.2 The principal appeal of this and other theories of subgrouping lies in their contribution toward the resolution of a question fundamental in Indo-European studies, as framed by Watkins: “wie es eigentlich gewesen?” (1966: 29). An intermediate Italo-Celtic subgroup, existing in the vast temporal grey space between Proto-Indo-European and its relevant end-points, i.e., the daughter languages of the separate Italic and Celtic subgroups, provides valuable insight as to the process.
For the interested, the entire paper can be found here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

mutetur et resurgat

May it be changed and rise again.

My long absence from blogging has been no accident. I found the rigidity of this blog’s self-imposed form and function off-putting, and was thus disinclined from using it as it should be (and hopefully shall be) used: as an open, easily accessible record of my thoughts, usually sketched in broad and indefinite strokes as, indeed, they tend to occur.

I was nudged back to De Grypis by three episodes in particular. The first was my encounter with the reflections of Chris Blattman, Yale development economist and one of my favorite bloggers, upon his two-year blogiversary. He recalls economist Dani Rodrik’s notion of his blog as academic memory (with Google), and agrees wholeheartedly. Rodrik, in fact, wrote:

[O]ne of the unexpected scholarly benefits of having a blog is that it is like keeping an intellectual journal. You get an idea, you jot it down in your blog. Some months later, you vaguely remember having had the idea and you google your own blog to recover it. I am not kidding: I google my own blog all the time...

I can well-appreciate his sentiment. Many are the hours of frustration I have spent groping for an idea which, only just yesterday (or two hours ago, or two minutes ago) so clear and comprehensible, has slipped beyond the reach of memory, especially of late. These are, at best, wasted hours and, at worst, wasted ideas.

A second episode really brought this home. In my research on an unrelated topic, I came across a linguistic analysis of a particular speech in the Iliad which may reinforce certain suggestions I made in a paper from my undergraduate days. Now that 2007 idea was developed into a full paper (misguidedly, perhaps—it was not received warmly by the instructor). I have that paper saved on file and so, if I choose, I may reinvestigate my initial claims in light of new evidence. But there are many ideas which do not end up in the permanent record; they are jottings in the margins of texts, little notes in the recesses of notepads that, neglected until the time comes for a full-scale paper, may be at that point inaccessible. These notes will find their natural home in a blog.

The third episode consists of the recent series of short papers I have written for a general class on Indo-European languages. These assignments require one to distill complex, far-reaching concepts--often treated at length in article, monograph, or book—into a brief 3-4 page paper. The process itself is immensely helpful in understanding the material, and the ideas extracted, boiled-down to their essentials, are suddenly seem more applicable in a wide set of contexts. They have certainly facilitated the strong conceptual framework that is integral to the study of Classics and even more so, Indo-European. Since the academic necessity of such papers that are, in fact, primarily mental exercises, will soon expire, I will turn to this blog—which, I believe, is an ideal platform.

The thoughts appearing here need not be fully developed or meticulously treated; such careful attention will be rare, as they are more useful to me as material for separate projects and, as it is likely, no more interesting (or perhaps, even less so) to my readers wholly fleshed out and with an eye for the particulars. Nor will I be bound to the limited domain of Classics, or even the more extensive domain of Indo-European studies. These remain my principal interests, a fact which will show in the frequency of subjects on which I will offer my thoughts.

Yet I would add that as I continue my studies, I have found that my observations outside my discipline can often be fruitful within it; at the very least, they tend to fuel the analytic thought-processes so vital to a thorough understanding of ancient languages and literature, inter alia. Moreover, the exercise of semi-daily writing should strengthen those prose composition muscles that might otherwise atrophy in the daily grind of a reading and translation heavy course load.

Please bear with me in these motives, for though generally selfish, they are not entirely so; it is my firm belief that these oft-fleeting notes will be more interesting to you than that which came before, and much more so than nothing at all.

I’m back.