Secular Hungary

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Creationist methods against linguistics

In Hungary, it's not only creationists and ID-people who try to use the law and the media as a stage for their issues instead of scientific debates. The relatively new Jobbik, a political party on the far right (which is sometimes called fascist) has launched a petition against something they call "Finno-Ugrian theory of origin", in order to force "the heritage of Hunor and Magor" into the schoolbooks.

Of course the "Finno-Ugric theory of origin" refers only to the origin of the Hungarian language, not the people, as its opponents suggest. On the contrary, scholars make clear that Finno-Ugrian family tree is confined to lingustics only. Genetically speaking, Hungarians hardly differ from their neighbours and from Europeans in general. As to the language, its structurally similar to Finnish, Estonian and a couple of other languages spoken by ethnic minorities in Russia, the nearest relatives being the Khanti and Mansi languages. The theory that the Sami and Hungarian language show similar traits was first put forward by János Sajnovics who during a Nordic expedition had the chance to study the Sami language; his 1770 study marks the beginning of this theory, that wa later refined and expanded to include what is now known as Finno-Ugrian languages. The idea was immediately rejected by some Hungarians who considered this extended family not noble enough ('halszagú', i.e. 'smelling of fish'), but linguistically, it has been proved to be sound. Linguistics has of course a complex set of methodological approaches, but its most important feature is that for sound results you have to compare sets of structures (e.g. comparing the structure of spatial expressions and its postfixes), not individual words or expressions. However, certain people are convinced that this lowly family tree is promoted with the aim to lessen Hungarian aplomb. Instead, they prefer to promote other, nobler kinships that have been refuted long ago, such as the idea that Hungarian is related to Sumerian (some people are also convinced that Hungarians are Scythians, and Jesus was king of Parthia and therefore really a Hungarian).
The proponents of the petition seem to be illustrious, at least at first. 10 of the seem to have a doctoral degree, of which 4 are listed in the Hungarian list of PhD-holders (the other five may have a doctoral title not equivalent to a PhD in law or medicine or hold a degree abroad), none of them in linguistics (although there are other linguistic fields than exploring Finno-Ugric relations). There's one philosopher, the 'anthropologist, biologist' turns out to have a degree in 'sports science', the third one is a physicist, and with the last one's name 5 different persons are listed, none of them in humanities (of course this is based on identical names, but I don't have their birth date to double check). A part of them is listed as member of the 'Institute of Hungarian Studies', which sounds nice but is operated from a private address, and judging from the stylistics used on their homepage, they have lost touch with the version of Hungarian we use in the Carpathian basin today.
To make it short: use of media and legal initiative instead of scientifically compelling arguments - doesn't that remind you of something?