The start of a Robert Irwin review (intriguingly titled “Arabian Antwerp”) in the June 28, 2002 Times Literary Supplement:

“In his Origines Antwerpianae (1569), Goropius Becanus argued that not only was language divine in origin, but that its original form was Dutch. More specifically, he identified the Primal Language as a dialect of Antwerp. The ancestry of the burghers of that city could be traced back to the sons of Japeth, and the latter were folk who had not become linguistically confused by working on the Tower of Babel.”

There you have human egomania and illogic in a nutshell: My language is the best language, and the original language to boot! There are many examples, but I like the obscure specificity of this one.

Irwin continues: “Becanus’s thesis commanded more support in the sixteenth century than it is likely to receive today.” I love the TLS. (Wearing my editor’s hat, however, I must point out that the second “that” in the quoted paragraph would have been better omitted.)


  1. The sad thing about Goropism is that within it lie the seeds of the evil nexus of nationalism, racism, and linguistic chauvinism. Cf. the current brouhaha in Hinduist circles on the Aryan invasion myth. Also, see my entry on Becanus:

  2. Ah, excellent! Anyone interested in these matters should definitely read Jim’s entry, which provides further examples.
    (Note to Jim: See, my comments section allows HTML.)

  3. I’ve been meaning to turn on the HTML tags in comment, but just hadn’t got around to it yet. Now when are you going to turn on trackback?

  4. Ouch — the biter bit! OK, I’ll figure it out… when I get back from California.

  5. John Cowan says:

    The oldest surviving Language Hat message, and very fitly named too! Of course, trackback still doesn’t work….

  6. But now it does!

  7. If you are like me and came here to marvel at antiquity, you will find that the links are 404ish.
    But the way of the WayBackMachine, Grasshopper, leads to joy:

  8. Jim-links that is—from the first comment

  9. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks, RH-B

  10. David Marjanović says:

    But the way of the WayBackMachine, Grasshopper, leads to joy:

    Nope! “Page cannot be displayed due to robots.txt.”

    Why should a page that search engines aren’t allowed to find not be accessible in the archive after its death? This is massively wrong-headed.

  11. Worse yet, if someone else buys the domain they can block access to former pages with their own robots.txt.

  12. That’s silly, they should save the robots.txt when they do the archive. Or trust that the existence of the archive proves that there were no robots.txt restrictions at the time.

  13. I thought about that, but it would prevent people from retracting anything: it would mean that anything once published to the Web would be permanently accessible, however false, libelous, or copyright-violating. The trick is to distinguish between different incarnations of a domain name, something the IA currently doesn’t do.

  14. Well, if Google can handle requests for removal of personal info, then the IA should be able to do it by request as well, instead of relying on an exploitable hack. And the information should be put in a 50 or 100 year archive and become accessible to researchers after that time. (Actually I hope they do that already, keep the archived pages on their long-time storage and just block it from public access).

    That would also solve the converse problem, of wanting to forget something embarrassing you put on a domain you since have lost control over.

  15. SFReader says:

    What robots have against Languagehat?

    Surely we haven’t harmed them, if we did, it was entirely unintentional.

  16. Thanks to this and other discussions, the Internet Archive is changing its policy to ignore robots.txt. They still have manual opt-out for any site by email. I haven’t tested whether this works yet or not, but it is already said to be in place for U.S. government sites (with no complaints from the big baby, who probably hasn’t noticed).

  17. Excellent!

  18. David Marjanović says:


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