Allegorical Nonsense

An allegory. Nonsense. Put them together. Okay, not really.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Academic Honesty

I have a dilemma.

A certain young gentlemen whose acquaintance I have not made other than in this virtual world of almost friends and not-quite communities, owns and operates a small web-log by the delightfully paronomastic name of "De-Lingu-ent: Latin Language Defective".

In the blog's profile, the young gentleman (who goes by the odd pseudonym of "500.50.100", and whom for convenience I shall therefore call "Five"), describes his self-assigned task as follows: "a Spartan in Rome investigates language – mediaeval and classic Latin, slang, Ecclesiastical Latin, Etruscan, Monasterish, and more - with an eye on etymology. I'm not a professional linguist, and will be using this blog to explore my own questions, and I welcome yours as well." He does not address the question of why he uses the word "defective" in the name of the blog, possibly on the assumption that we, his readers, will understand that he, being of Greek heritage, has been "tainted" by his deep interest in a language not his mother tongue.

A certain other gentleman, who calls himself merely "Phaedrus", regularly posts comments on the blog of this magnanimous host. In his comments to the blog, he not only expresses great wonderment at the etymological findings of the blog's author (which are indeed of some academic merit), but also adds certain hypotheses of his own as to connections between some of the Latin roots in question and other, quite different words, often in other languages.

For instance, where Five might construct a post about the Latin word "dat" ("he gives"), its etymological sources, its change in use over time, and its connection to other Latin words, Phaedrus might open with a compliment to his host as to the latter's enlightening insight, and follow with the tasty suggestion that perhaps the same word is somehow connected to Hebrew's "דת" ("religion") – after all, religion is something that the gods "gave" to humanity, and the similarity in pronunciation is just uncanny. Phaedrus presents his hypothesis as just something which sprang to mind, and indeed we are inclined to believe that he is merely another enthusiastic amateur throwing ideas around the intellectual ball-park.

By chance, after noticing a certain way of thinking and writing in Phaedrus' comments, a recollection itched its way to the forefront of my memory, whereby I had met colleagues of Phaedrus' (if not Phaedrus himself) in the past, and been exposed to their ideas. This had occurred back in my university days, when I had been studying linguistics, a field in which I was then (as now) keenly interested.

These colleagues were spear-heading a linguistic theorem known as "Aeneidics", under whose banner they posited that all the world's languages sprang from one original source, and that only over time did they mutate into the almost unidentifiable bastard descendants that they are today. That original language, according to this school of thought, was the proto-Latin language of Aeneas, son of the goddess, and founder of Rome. And using certain proprietary techniques, so they claim, it is still possible to see and hear the Aeneidic source in a great number of words commonly used in every modern language in existence (though due to the practicalities of research, most of the examples they have come up with to support their claim are in the Hebrew language).

On this basis, the proponents of Aeneidics would persuade the world that Venus is the one true goddess, Vergil's Aeneid is literally true (after all, in Book X, this dispersion of languages from one original source is foreseen with uncanny perspicacity: "Speak the same language … and Rome's immortal majesty remain"*), and all people of intellectual honesty and goodwill (in particular, Hebrew speakers) ought therefore to subjugate themselves to the rightful dominion of the Roman Empire.

And now to the dilemma.

Being of the opinion that:

(i) Phaedrus is a proponent of a theory, the theoreticians of which are so strongly motivated to prove their desired conclusion, that serious questions may arise as to their adherence to objective scientific method; and
(ii) Phaedrus seems not to have been heretofore open as to his membership of this club, instead posting what I consider "teasers" to lure unsuspecting amateur linguists to his way of thinking;

do I have some kind of moral obligation to unmask Phaedrus in the name of academic honesty?

If so, what does this obligation contain? To publicly connect Phaedrus with his colleagues (all it would take would be providing a link to their website)? To privately notify Five of my take on Phaedrus' intentions, by way of a friendly "heads-up"?

Or is the above approach merely arrogant and rude? Ought I respect Phaedrus' right to hold and freely purvey his opinions as any vendor in the great marketplace of ideas that is this worldwide web? A fortiori, given that Five seems also to be somewhat of a follower of the goddess of Rome? Ought I allow (or even participate in) academic debate to take on Phaedrus' arguments on their own merits, without prejudicing the forum by denigrating Phaedrus' intentions as I perceive them? Should I, in short, mind my own business?

Your suggestions would be appreciated.

* From the Project Gutenberg translation of the Aeneid.

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At 5:10 PM, Blogger Simon Holloway said...

How odd... are you sure about this "Aeneidics" thing? It doesn't get any hits on Google. Unless you're thinking of Edenics, which is the belief that all of the languages stemmed from Biblical Hebrew? And what site is this? It sounds creepily familiar to Balashon: Hebrew Language Detective!

At 5:22 PM, Blogger Simon Holloway said...

I take back my naive question (didn't take me long!)

What you are writing is evidently a rather clever means of disguising the true subject of your ire, and I have gone and spoiled it for one and all. Oh well.

I even know who the "Phaedrus" is, incidentally, although only through the website in question. And I wouldn't bother writing to the "Five", who runs the site: I'm sure he knows and is well aware of the stupidity behind these sorts of assertions. But you can berate him in the messages box. These people, more often than not, are simply ignorant anyway. He might appreciate learning something from you.

At 12:49 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Oh well. I might well call you "Al Khida: Hebrew Riddle Terrorist".

Thanks for the suggestion, though.

At 10:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Et tu, brute?

At 9:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isaac Mozeson?

At 5:20 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

No, it was a guy called Phil who posts on Balashon.

I once sat on a bus from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv next to a guy who I think (from subsequent Googling) was named Israel Cohen.

He was a proponent of a related theory that all the place-names in the world are derived from their relative position on a human body-shaped Phoenician map. More on that here, if you're interested:

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Joel Nothman said...

hahaha... very creative way of putting it... I read the post a few months ago, and intended to comment on it. But I didn't catch the riddle as quickly as Simon.

Yes... we're all aware of Phil, and I'm sure 5.50.100 is too. Let him be. Occasionally he says something interesting.


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