ATLANTIS AND LANGUAGE
by Mark Newbrook
This article consists of extracts from my 2013 book Strange Linguistics (Lincom-Europa, Munich).
I summarize here the linguistic aspects of some general catastrophist theories involving Atlantis and other 'lost' oceanic continents/civilizations. (Some theories of this kind, such as the fairly mainstream theory of Stephen Oppenheimer locating a centre of cultural and linguistic diffusion in a now-submerged South-East Asian continent, refer mainly to particular non-oceanic parts of the world and are covered in other sections of the book.)
Firstly: 'Atland' is a supposed sunken land similar to Atlantis, located in the North Sea; some regard Heligoland as a surviving remnant. The history of this 'lost' land is given in the Oera Linda Book1, a Frisian work which appears to be a nationalistically motivated late-nineteenth-century forgery. Although the linguistic details are not an especially important aspect of this case, supportive commentators on this work identify alleged cognates involving Frisian and various languages of the ancient world.
Michal Tsarion holds that, after the fall of Atlantis, culture and language spread through Europe and elsewhere from a base in Ireland, with the Irish (Gaelic) language as a new 'mother' language2.
Some cases of channelling involve 'Atlantean' or 'Lemurian' (see below) languages emanating from spirit realms, etc. One such case involves some 3,000 'Atlantean' words supposedly channelled to a medium3. An Australian group called 'Liquid Crystals' claims that it is in touch with survivors of Atlantis (in space/other 'dimensions') and has access to '11 [Atlantean] languages spoken and written'4. (etc!)
Jean-Louis Pagé's bilingual book5 links his 'decipherments' of the Phaistos Disk and other mysterious texts with his own version of the 'Orion' theory of the Giza Pyramids, etc. He upholds the historical reality of Plato's Atlantis (as his title suggests), locating it in the Arctic and attributing its destruction to a sudden polar shift in 9792 BCE; he also posits extraterrestrial intervention in the origins of human civilization; and he regards most of the Disk symbols as logographic/ideographic and pictographic (but it is not even clear which known or reconstructed language he thinks is represented, and he does not propose any phonological forms)6.
Arysio dos Santos accepts the reality of Atlantis; he places much emphasis on historical linguistics, arguing that unexpected similarities (at all the main linguistic levels) exist between languages such as Guanche (Canary Islands), Etruscan and Dravidian (Tamil etc.), at frequency levels which exclude chance7. He disputes the mainstream use of statistics in this area and argues that accidental similarities are much less likely than has been concluded by mainstream linguists. This disagreement, it seems, does not involve the mathematics per se but rather dos Santos' handling of the linguistic data, which, a linguist might suggest, does not appear to incorporate adequately various key factors such as the structural differences between the languages in question. Some of dos Santos' other views - on both linguistic and non-linguistic matters - also appear strikingly different from mainstream views (for instance, he rejects conventional ideas about proto-languages and language 'families').
Other writers who accept the reality of Atlantis (especially as a genuinely lost land rather than as a location or culture known later by other names) include: Viatcheslav Koudriavtsev and his colleagues with their 'Protolanguage' (pan-Slavic) and its 'Protoscript'8; J.M. Allen9 and Rand and Rose Flem-Ath10 with their focus upon South American locations (the Flem-Aths believe that Atlantis was in Antarctica and that the Atlantean refugees arrived first in South America; they endorse some extreme and unjustifiable claims about the structure of the Andean language Aymara which are associated with the idea that it is of Atlantean origin); Otto Muck with a fairly 'standard' Atlantic model11; Constantin Benetatos with the view that all later European languages (especially those in Northern Europe) are descended from the language of Atlantis12 (compare Tsarion as mentioned above), etc., etc.
J.S. Gordon13 also accepts the reality of Atlantis (and links his ideas about Atlantis as a real entity with arguments in support of the currently fashionable theory of the universe as pervaded by consciousness). His work is vitiated by a number of unwelcome features14, including some relating specifically to his use of linguistic data. For instance: a) he repeatedly discusses key linguistic matters in an impossibly vague manner; b) he fatally confuses linguistic levels (pronunciation and grammar) in using key terms such as agglutinative; c) he relies upon earlier non-mainstream thinkers and ill-informed and dated sources; d) he proposes wildly implausible and unsupported scenarios involving the development of languages and scripts (intended to replace well-established mainstream ideas about these matters); e) he largely ignores the two hundred years of scientific historical linguistic scholarship and thus employs the usual loose, seriously unreliable non-mainstream philological/etymological methods; etc.
One of the works of Gene Matlock also argues for the reality of Atlantis15. Matlock's claim to have 'proved' his case is grotesquely exaggerated, to say the least. As in his other works, he relies repeatedly upon isolated and unsystematic superficial similarities of vocabulary items in attempting to establish etymologies which would demonstrate his diffusionist claims about ancient links between the languages and cultures of India (and other Old World areas) - all supposedly derived from Sanskrit, which according to Matlock was the ultimate ancestor language - and the Americas. And, again as in his other works, his claims on these fronts also contradict many established etymologies and vast amounts of well-established information about the relationships between languages. Matlock ignores the crucial structural aspects of the languages which he compares; his linguistic terminology is popular and non-standard; he makes many claims about poorly-documented periods of early history without presenting any references or worthwhile evidence; he cites other non-mainstream claims rejected by most experts; etc., etc.
Zoltán16 (ignoring scholarly objections) argues for a historical Atlantis in Western Atlantic waters, and for a catastrophist and otherwise revisionist account of early human history; he believes that the cases for (a) catastrophist interpretations of early history, (b) the early discovery (and subsequent loss) of advanced technology, and (c) extraterrestrial intervention in that period are much more persuasive than they are. His linguistic 'evidence' is of the usual amateur kind; he also makes various specific errors; and he rejects reconstructed proto-languages such as Proto-Indo-European, assessing the evidence and argumentation for such entities in thoroughly confused terms and grossly undervaluing it - partly because he wishes to propose alternative genetic and other links between languages, often involving his native Hungarian. Indeed, he exaggerates the influence of Hungarian and the Hungarians on linguistic differentiation and world history, finding pseudo-cognates and grammatical parallels between Hungarian and English and reading the arguably mysterious runic Yarmouth Rune Stone (Nova Scotia) as Hungarian.
Some other non-mainstream authors are interested in the lost lands of Lemuria and/or Mu (located in the Indian or Pacific Oceans) rather than (or as well as) Atlantis. One such writer, Frank Joseph17 cites similarities between short words and syllables, with related or allegedly related meanings, in languages normally regarded as unrelated and as not having experienced important cultural contact. These include the words moai as used in Okinawa and Easter Island (where the meanings are not in fact even close), Japanese torii and German Tor (both meaning 'gate'), various words containing the syllable -mu-, etc. He believes that these similarities mostly indicate common origin in Lemuria/Mu. Joseph includes in this discussion a completely mistaken comment about the pronunciation of the Latin names Romulus and Remus; he believes that both of these words were stressed on the second syllable, which represents the word Mu.
In fact, there is no good linguistic basis for any of these proposals.
1The Oera Linda Book, available in English version by William R. Sandbach (1876) at http://www.sacred-texts.com/atl/olb/index.htm (accessed 6 February 2011; placed online by J.B. Hare, 29 January 2009). See also Adolf Reith, Archaeological Fakes (Diana Imber trans.), (New York and Washington, 1970), pp. 155-9, also Richard Rudgley, Pagan Resurrection (London, 2006), pp.119-20 and other such references in books promoting 'revisionist history', also Robert Scrutton, The Other Atlantis (Jersey, 1977); Secrets of Lost Atland (Jersey, 1978).
2Michal Tsarion, The Irish Origins of Civilization: An Alternative History of Ireland and The World (two volumes) (2007); available at http://www.irishoriginsofcivilization.com (accessed 26 January 2011).
3J. Ben Leslie, Atlantis Restored, or Links and Cycles (Rochester, NY, 1911).
4http://www.theliquidcrystals.com/related_topics.php (accessed 18 February 2011).
5Jean-Louis Pagé, Atlantis' Messages/Messages de l'Atlantide (Laval, QC, 2002).
6See Mark Newbrook, Review of Pagé, JL. 2002 Atlantis' Messages/Messages de l'Atlantide, The Skeptic (Australia), XXIII/1 (2003), pp. 46-8.
7Arysio Nunes dos Santos, Atlantis: The Lost Continent Finally Found: The Definitive Localization of Plato's Lost Civilization (Berkeley, CA, 2005); see also articles on http://atlan.org/ (accessed 2 February 2011).
8See Viatcheslav Koudriavtsev, 'Atlantis: New Hypothesis', available at http://www.think-aboutit.com/atlantis/AtlantisNewHypothesis.htm (accessed 20 February 2011), http://www.imh.ru/main_e.htm (accessed 28 February 2011).
9J.M. Allen, Atlantis, the Andes Solution (Moreton-in-Marsh (Gloucestershire, UK), 1998).
10Rand and Rose Flem-Ath, When the Sky Fell: In Search of Atlantis (Don Mills (ONT), 1995).
11Otto Muck, The Secret of Atlantis (London, 1978).
12Constantin Benetatos, 'Descendants of Legendary Atlantis', available at http://atlantishistory.net/text.htm or http://atlantishistory.net/blog/atlantis_history/ (both accessed 20 February 2011).
13J.S. Gordon, The Rise & Fall of Atlantis and the Mysterious Origins of Human Civilization (London, 2008).
14For more on Gordon, see Mark Newbrook, Review of Gordon, J.S. (2009) The Rise & Fall of Atlantis and the Mysterious Origins of Human Civilization, Skeptical Adversaria 1 (2010), p. 7.
15Gene Matlock, The Last Atlantis Book You'll Ever Have to Read!: The Atlantis-Mexico-India Connection (Mesa, AZ, 2002).
16Zoltán Simon, Atlantis: The Seven Seals (Vancouver, 1984).
17Frank Joseph, 'Japan's Underwater Ruins', in Forbidden History: Prehistoric Technologies, Extraterrestrial Intervention, and the Suppressed Origins of Civilization (Rochester, VT, 2005), ed. J. Douglas Kenyon, pp. 172-7.