THE TATARMAN OF VAMBERY.

Don’t miss the Poemas del río Wang post about one of those astonishing 19th-century wanderers long forgotten in the rush to delineate the world and its history in nationalist terms, with neat little boxes in which Persians live in Persia and speak Persian, French persons live in France and speak French, etc. etc. The post is about Mollah Sadik, given name Ishak/Izsák (1836-1892), brought to Hungary by the orientalist Ármin Vámbéry:

Izsák remained in Hungary and within a short time he perfectly mastered Hungarian. He was Vámbéry’s servant, librarian of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and even the “Tatar teacher” of Vámbéry’s friends József Budenz and Áron Szilády. For at that time he was the only one in Europe to speak Turkic languages, including his Uzbek mother tongue as well as Chagatay, the literary language of Central Asian Turks, and the Turkic scholars of Hungary were enthusiastic to draw on this never-hoped-for source.
Contemporary science of languages still professed the Turkic origin of Hungarian language. One had to wait some twenty years until the outbreak of the so-called “Ugrian-Turkic war”, the passionate scholarly debate in which Vámbéry was opposed by his former friend Budenz, and which made the theory of the exclusive Finno-Ugrian origin official for a century. Only recent scholarship has rehabilitated Vámbéry to a certain extent by saying that the Finno-Ugrian substratum of Hungarian language was enriched during the centuries of nomadic life in the steppe by such a great amount of Turkic elements both in its vocabulary and its grammar that it brought fundamental changes to the language.
“Vámbéry’s Tatarman was a great sensation”, writes Iván Sándor Kovács. “As if the young Veinemöinen came to visit Professor Elias Lönrot and his colleagues while compiling the Kalevala, or as if one of Ulysses’ sailors held a presentation of knotting at the Dutch Naval Academy.”

There’s too much in the post to try and summarize; go and enjoy. (And while you’re there, check out the latest post on the many names of Venice and the putative etymology of the Hungarian town of Velence, where the Tatarman is buried.)

Comments

  1. is it correct/okay to write ‘brought something’ about a person, was he his slave or what
    one strange word, and all impression is ruined, for me at least

  2. marie-lucie says:

    read, yes, in English you can bring people as well as things. If you are invited to a party or other gathering you can ask : “Can I bring my friend/my sister/etc” and if the answer is yes, you can say to that other person, “Do you want to come with me? they said that I could bring someone/a friend/you/etc”. Sometimes a written invitation will say “Bring a guest!” (meaning that you can bring someone if you want to) or just “Bring yourself!” (meaning that you don’t have to bring food or drink).

  3. i’m not objecting to the word bring, but to the word something referring to a person

  4. marie-lucie says:

    I had to reread the text, but I suppose you refer to this sentence:
    Vámbéry also brought something else from Central Asia: a young mullah of Khiva named Ishak, or in Hungarian Izhak.
    I don’t think it means that the author is treating the man as a thing: it is more like: “he brought a lot of things and experiences back with him, and then, here is a surprise: he brought a young mullah …”
    To quote a personal experience: I meet together with a group on a regular basis. One day a member of the group said to me as I came in: “I have something for you”, then he stepped aside and here was one of my old friends that I had not seen for a long time! I didn’t know that they knew each other, and having found out that they both knew me, he brought her to the group to see me. “I have something for you” didn’t mean that he was treating her as a thing, just announcing a surprise. I think that it is the same in the sentence you find offensive.
    Let native speakers of English comment on this use.

  5. if the author of the post wrote he brought someone, i wouldn’t have thought anything, though it needs maybe one’s will to go that far from home
    but he said something and it sounds to me as if Mollah Sadik was treated like some kind of exotic commodity and all the following narrative is then just like it’s confirmation

  6. its
    well,i perceive the story like that after one word which is misused imo
    not like a moving story of cultural exchange or something

  7. marie-lucie says:

    it sounds to me as if Mollah Sadik was treated like some kind of exotic commodity
    Would an exotic commodity have been made “librarian of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences”? It seems to me that his exceptional talents were fully recognized by the people he worked with for years.

  8. read may be right. The Hungarian term used here allows for both things and persons, but when composing the English version, I also hesitated whether I should write “brought something [with reference back to experiences etc.] or rather someone else”. Then I decided that the context would make it clear that Izhak was obviously not considered as a “thing”. Now as I see that it was ambiguous, I substituted it with the longer formula.

  9. It didn’t strike my ear that way, Read. I took it to be like Marie-Lucie’s friend — springing a surprise, not disparaging.

  10. Read, I’m going back and forth on this.
    I wanted to convince you that the attitude you are detecting in these words is not really there. I wanted to say that the word “something” functions differently from the phrase “some thing” in a way that you may not be fully aware of. I wanted to quote Shakespeare: “Something wicked this way comes.” I wanted to say fondly “You know, Read, you are really something!”
    But I can’t quite convince myself. I think you have a point. It comes across as if he is bringing home a treasure.
    Now, I can call somebody a treasure, meaning that I value him in some big way. Maybe he has a lot of knowledge to share. Maybe he does really good work. Maybe he has a big loving heart. If I call someone a treasure, it doesn’t mean that I am not caring about him as a human being, although it might mean that right at that moment I am focusing on what others can get from him rather than thinking about what he might need.
    Still, I think that in the context of “orientalism” there is something real here that is bothering you, that it’s not just an English usage issue. It sounds a little like he is being collected.

  11. it’s not just an English usage issue
    I meant, it’s not about Read imperfectly understanding nuances of English usage.
    (Also I somehow failed to sign my previous comment.)

  12. read:i’m not objecting to the word bring, but to the word something referring to a person
    m-l is completely correct about the word “bring” in English. You can “bring” a person to a party or to a person’s house, and it only means you have invited them. If you “bring” someone they probably travel in your car with you as well, since they do not know the way.
    The relationship between Vámbéry and Izhak sounds a little more complex.

    Besides experiences, knowledge of languages and manuscripts Vámbéry also brought something or rather someone else from Central Asia: a young mullah of Khiva named Ishak, or in Hungarian Izhak. They had travelled together from Khiva as far as Istanbul. It was only there that Vámbéry exposed himself, telling that he intended to go home to the infidel Frengistan instead of Mecca. Izhak, who by that time considered Vámbéry as his master and teacher, did not want to part him, but in spite of all his fears he decided to follow him.

    Vámbéry is the teacher and he knows the way, but Izhak has unique knowledge that makes him very popular with Vámbéry’s friends. It is possible that when Vámbéry “brought” Izhak, he made the travel arrangements or sponsored him in some way or was his mentor. These days you sometimes need someone to say they will pay your expenses in order to enter another country. It isn’t clear what else Vámbéry did, but at the very least, when Vámbéry “brought” Izhak, they traveled together, Izhak was unknown, and Vámbéry made introductions.

  13. “For at that time he was the only one in Europe to speak Turkic languages”
    How can that be known?

  14. I think read’s point is both apt and qualified to a point of being no longer apt.
    People- I think, in every culture- look on others of sufficiently foreign foreignness as being exotic “things” at first. There’s no more innate cruelty or hatred in this experience of distance than there is when someone stares at a three-legged dog or a car accident– though, to a stranger sensitive to,say, facial expressions, the surprise and curiosity of one’s hosts might feel tremendously like diminution and devaluation- like, in a word, dehumanization.
    The test of Vambery’s countrymen’s recognition of Izhak’s dignity and worth as a person would come as their perceptions of him came to be complicated by more contact with him: ‘Oh, at first he looked freakish, but what a fool I was to judge, even provisionally, another person by his looks!’
    So, from the point of view of the Hungarians, Izhak was an exotic “thing”– until their perceptions became educated, in those of them for whom that was possible, and they became unthinglike enough to respond to his humanity- his intelligence, kindness, linguistic gifts, aesthetic sensitivities, and so on.

  15. language hat, that second paragraph you quote unpacks the history of the understanding of how Finno-Ugaric languages relate to the Turkic family with admirable concision.
    I mean that I understand, a bit, the scholarly continuity, unraveling, and partial re-weaving of Finno-Ugaric and Turkish, as they are historically related, and, because I understand what you’ve quoted, and I’m a sucker for a good story, I really hope it stays ‘correct’.

  16. Is “Ugaric” completely wrong, or an old version of “Ugric/Ugrian”??

  17. @ Stuart: This is what contemporary literature asserted (and Kovács’s quoted monography of 2001 still asserts). And it is probable enough, if Vámbéry was the first European to cross the Oxus and learn Turkic languages on the spot.
    On the other hand, this fact immediately contradicts the assertion, for it proves that, besides Mollah Izhak, also Vámbéry spoke some Turkic dialects at least to some extent.
    @ deadgod: In the course of my Finno-Ugric/Ugrian studies, I have never encountered the version “Ugaric”. Nevertheless, I don’t find it wrong, for it comes from the name of the “Ugors”, the common linguistic ancestors of the Hungarians and of two small Finno-Ugric peoples along the river Ob, the Ostyaks (Hantis) and the Voguls (Manyshis).
    The paragraph quoted by languagehat does not refer in general to the complex history of Finno-Ugric and Turkic languages within the Uralic-Altaic group, but only to the specific relation of Hungarian to Turkic languages, conceived until late 19th century as a direct kinship, and nowadays rather as a “re-flection” of a Finno-Ugric language towards the far away Turkic relatives a long time after the separation of the Finno-Ugric and Turkic branches.

  18. michael farris says:

    I didn’t read the ‘something’ as being disrespectful. I’d say that this kind of construction in English, in which ‘something’ references a person, is just a stylistic device that simply tries to maintain suspense and/or conceal the identity of the person being referred to until the person can be properly introduced.
    “He brought his wife something else from his trip, her long lost, beloved brother who she hadn’t seen for years.”
    “Along with her diploma she brought something else back from Paris, her new husband.”
    Seeing as how something can reference people who are obviously loved and respected in these examples (and given marie-lucie’s example). I’d say there’s no foundation for assuming any disrespect toward Mr Izhak).
    I was more thrown off by the spelling Izhak. It seems simultaneously non-Hungarian and deeply anachronistic since I can’t imagine an English based spelling being used at that time in Central Asia or Hungary…..
    Was he really known as Izhak in Hungarian or Izsak or am I misunderstanding something?

  19. michael farris says:

    I didn’t read the ‘something’ as being disrespectful. I’d say that this kind of construction in English, in which ‘something’ references a person, is just a stylistic device that simply tries to maintain suspense and/or conceal the identity of the person being referred to until the person can be properly introduced.
    “He brought his wife something else from his trip, her long lost, beloved brother who she hadn’t seen for years.”
    “Along with her diploma she brought something else back from Paris, her new husband.”
    Seeing as how something can reference people who are obviously loved and respected in these examples (and given marie-lucie’s example). I’d say there’s no foundation for assuming any disrespect toward Mr Izhak).
    I was more thrown off by the spelling Izhak. It seems simultaneously non-Hungarian and deeply anachronistic since I can’t imagine an English based spelling being used at that time in Central Asia or Hungary…..
    Was he really known as Izhak in Hungarian or Izsak or am I misunderstanding something?

  20. michael farris says:

    Checking the Hungarian version, I see he was known as Izsák in that language. I would have used that spelling in English too.

  21. I agree with Michael Farris’s (first) comment.
    Otherwise I think there’s an awful lot of pickiness here about an extraordinarily interesting post/website/blog. Sharper than a serpent’s tooth, you lot.

  22. On the “brought something”: in feudal societies some people could be dependents, inferiors, or servants of others, and it looks as though Mollah Sadik was in that class. Hungary was famous for modernizing very slowly, and e.g. Haydn was a servant of the Esterhazys not too much earlier than that. (Even in Vienna Mozart was physically mistreated for refusing to behave as a servant.)
    I think that Read perceived an archaic form of relationship that we’ve mostly forgotten. Mollah Sadik wasn’t a thing or a slave, but he was a dependent: Izhak, who by that time considered Vámbéry as his master….
    And regardless of how feudal Hangary was or wasn’t, Izhak’s place of origin was much more so.

  23. Another rather similar case was the Armenian-Swedish d’Ohsson family, which is now part of the nobility. Two or three members of the famiy made contributions to orientalism (as it was called), and one contemorary member of the family is a musician. The founder of the Swedish family was an Armenian in the service of the Swedish Embassy in Istanbul. From the third generation in Sweden, Constantin Mouradgea d’Ohsson wrote a history of the Mongols which is still read.
    Link
    Link
    and the d’Ohsson was adopted; it’s quasi-Swedish but distinctly odd.

  24. The second d’Ohsson was involved in intrigues between Sweden, the Ottomans, and France during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods and had quite an exciting life.

  25. @ michael farris: You’re right. Now I have changed Izhak to Izsák also in the English post.
    @ A.J.P.…: I’m really fond of your new surname. And thank you very much for your appreciating words.
    @ John Emerson: An interesting article of an extremely interesting person and cultural setting. I will try to localize and read the Tableau général itself.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    Studiolum, thank you too for your own interesting article of an extremely interesting person and cultural setting (or even two such persons).
    Changing Izhak to Izsák: Not realizing that the zh in Izhak was supposed to represent the same sound as French j, I associated the name with the Hebrew Itzhak and wondered about it, so I am glad that you changed the spelling to one that is recognizably Hungarian. I don’t know Hungarian, but anyone familiar with the name of Zsa Zsa Gabor can interpret the letter sequence zs correctly.

  27. or even two such persons !
    thanks for responding, but i hoped Studiolum has changed just something to someone, sorry of course for being oversensitive
    and missing the finer English points, though i’d object to treating a person as treasure too. telling that he decided by his own will to follow the person he trusted and treated as his master, teacher after learning his then necessary deception is clarifying, good he was not bought then
    writing both something or rather someone else sounds now that, politically correct
    so Mr. Vambery was indeed a heroic explorer and an interesting person, but Mollah Sadik was a commodity, a servant or just some curiosity, another savage brought to civilization

  28. Studiolum: Thanks for the Izsák correction; I too was wondering about it. I’ll change it in my post.
    read, would you prefer that Studiolum had not written about the whole situation, since it bothers you so much to have to think about servants and Orientalism? You might also consider that his native language is not English, any more than yours is, and I don’t think you’d appreciate other people picking apart your English the way you’re picking apart his.

  29. oh i always ask people to pick apart my English, so that i could learn it better

  30. it bothers you so much to have to think about servants and Orientalism?
    obviously it doesn’t bother you someone being treated as an exotic animal or thing, that’s like the world order, ah? be like grateful we even talk about the whole situation, ah?
    the whole post sounding like that just b/c of one word

  31. @Studiolum, you seem to be working from some older publications when you wrote, “The paragraph quoted by languagehat does not refer in general to the complex history of Finno-Ugric and Turkic languages within the Uralic-Altaic group, but only to the specific relation of Hungarian to Turkic languages, conceived until late 19th century as a direct kinship, and nowadays rather as a “re-flection” of a Finno-Ugric language towards the far away Turkic relatives a long time after the separation of the Finno-Ugric and Turkic branches.”
    I’m not sure you can find a Uralicist today who believes that the Uralic family can be related to any other language family, and even the existence of an “Altaic” family is heavily disputed.

  32. Well, at the time of my Finno-Ugric studies the Ural-Altaic kinship was an established theory. Now as I am checking the very scholarly source of Wikipedia, it seems in fact that the Ural-Altaic marriage has come to a bitter end. But in the same column there appear the names of a number of hopeful new suitors so that the Uralic family does not have to feel orphaned.

  33. so Mr. Vambery was indeed a heroic explorer and an interesting person, but Mollah Sadik was a commodity, a servant or just some curiosity, another savage brought to civilization
    read: Perhaps it would be helpful to consider the story in the context of the times in which they lived, when master/servant or master/teacher relationships were quite normal. And the story does says that Izsák voluntarily went to Hungary and clearly did well there, so there is no indication he was treated like a “commodity” at any stage.
    May I suggest that you consider again what Marie-Lucie said, that the use of “something” is just am ordinary English literary device to create surprise when the “something” is revealed, and is not in any way a derogatory reference to the person involved.

  34. …is just an ordinary English literary device …

  35. i don’t object to the master/ apprentice, teacher/student senpai/ kouhai like relations, those are honorable relationships, and using the word something instantly reveals just that superior/ inferior meaning of relations of master/servants
    and not just only “something”, but writing “Tatar teacher” as if it can’t be a normal subject to be taught and learned and be written about just plainly
    it could be it was a citation, and i’m missing it but to me it sounds as if it was like diminutive even after correcting to the historical circumstances
    and it’s great that English transliteration can be changed back to the original Hungarian one, but referring to a person as something b/c he was a servant can’t be?
    isn’t it that, double standard or something? if not why would one write both something and someone in that sentence if only not to emphasize the misperceived point?

  36. “Tatar teacher” stands in quotation marks because he was popularly (and with appreciation) called like this by the contemporaries, probably because Tatar was the only Central Asian Turkic people widely known at that time in Hungary. However, the Turkic language he taught to Vámbéry’s friends was in fact mainly Chagatay and some other Transoxanian Turkic dialects, but no “proper” Tatar.
    (In a similar vein, the builder of Budapest’s first bridge in 1848, Adam Clark, “brought to Hungary” by Count István Széchenyi, was referred to as “the Englishman of Széchenyi”, although in the reality he was a Scotchman! Contemporary Hungarian society was apparently not interested in such fine distinctions.)
    As to the “something or rather someone” problem, I have already exposed my reasons. “Something” refers back to “experiences, knowledge and manuscripts” preceding it, and is intended simply a copula of continuation of the enumeration. In the Hungarian version this problem does not exist, as the term “egyebet” used there can refer to both things and persons. If a native English speaker proposes a better solution, I will replace it to avoid any misunderstanding.
    However, just to make it clear, as you can see from the appreciation of contemporary intellectuals, from his high status as the librarian of the Academy, as well as from the honors spontaneously and continuously given to his tomb since his death more than a century ago, you can clearly see that he was never considered a something.

  37. If a native English speaker proposes a better solution, I will replace it to avoid any misunderstanding.
    ha, my opinion doesn’t count, though misperception is mine, so for whom you will eliminate the misunderstanding, if not for ‘us’, the possible misunderstanding people
    if for the native English speakers it’s normal to refer to a person as to a something having the most flattering meanings
    Mr. Clark, i suppose though, would not have been referred as ‘something’ to be brought to Hungary
    so i always perhaps will have to translate the phrase calculating the historical master/servant conditions as people suggested already

  38. You are wrong, read, even if you refuse to acknowledge it no matter how many times you are told. It would be quite normal for someone to introduce an honored guest, the president of a company or a celebrity or what have you, by saying “And now we have something special for you tonight… Allow me to present Mister Famous Celebrity!” (Бурные аплодисменты.) You are making a mountain out of nothing at all.

  39. If your opinion did not count then I would have not made one correction and written two explanations thus far.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    More about “brought”: the article includes this sentence (earlier than the sentence previously quoted):
    “It was only in 2001 that literary historian Iván Sándor Kovács published his splendid summary and collection of documents on Mollah Sadik and on the other “dervish”, the orientalist Ármin Vámbéry who had invited him to Hungary”.
    So in this text, “brought” and “invited” are basically the same thing. There is no suggestion that the “Tatar” man was in any way forced to accompany Ármin Vámbéry. Note also that the text mentions Mollah Sadik first.

  41. michael farris says:

    I think read has already decided what everyone else was thinking and nothing will convince him otherwise. Who are native speakers to tell him there was/is no disrespect perceived in the sentence?
    Next thing he’ll be critiquing the Hungarian version and will attack Studiolum for using the indefinite(!) conjugation (hozott ‘brought something/someone’) instead of the definite hozta (brought him). How could you Studiolum!?!

  42. marie-lucie says:

    Since the words have been mentioned …
    What happens to …
    … “exotic” animals: they are put into zoos;
    … “exotic” people (if there is nothing else interesting about them): forgotten after a few months; (this is true in any culture, and not only about foreigners: see what happens to “celebrities” if they have no real talent);
    So what about the man known as Iszak:
    - an educated man speaking several languages in his own country, including the Chagatai literary language;
    - he learned Hungarian perfectly and also mastered French and German (any of these accomplishments as an adult would be a considerable feat);
    - sought as a teacher by the most eminent scholars in Hungary;
    - acknowledged as a gifted translator, was encouraged to publish his own translations (in the academic world, publishing is the mark of a scholar, so this means that he was respected as an equal by the Hungarian scholars);
    - named to the position of Librarian of the Hungarian Academy of Science (the director of this library, not just the person checking out books);
    - loved and respected both in life and in death: his burial in a mostly Christian country was conducted according to the rules of his Muslim religion, his tomb is still kept up with flowers by his admirers, even more than 100 years after his death.

  43. A perfect summary, Marie-Lucie! I myself have not yet considered all these achievements together, and now my appreciation to Mollah Sadik/Izsák – as well as to contemporary Hungarian society appreciating him this much – grew even more.
    Just one small addition: Izsák was not the director of the library of the Hungarian Academy of Science, but the librarian of it, that is, the person checking out books. However, as the Academy had only one librarian (the library being reserved only to the members of the Academy at that time), this was just as respected a position as being the director of the same library nowadays.

  44. J. W. Brewer says:

    In terms of the courteous reception Mollah Sadik got in Hungary, it was I believe toward the end of his life that some segment of the Hungarian intelligentsia started to get excited about the Pan-Turanian idea (known to wikipedia at least as merely “Turanism”) that the Magyars were ethnolinguistic kin not only to the Turkic/Altaic types but others as far flung as the Japanese. Like pretty much all speculative theories about the ancient or distant connections of any East European ethnolinguistic group, this of course had political implications that were variously comical and unsavory.

  45. Pan-Turanism, a popular idea among Young Turks at the turn of the century, came into vogue in Hungary only in the 1920s, and it remained the creed of a minority even within the extreme right wing (but they were, in fact, comical enough to win a fame that has lasted ever since). It had no traceable influence after 1945.
    The idea of Finno-Ugric/Japanese kinship was first proposed by Heinrich Winkler in his Der uralaltaische Sprachstamm, das Finnische und das Japanische of 1909. Its only important promoter in Hungary was Vilmos Pröhle, whose theories, first published in 1917, became really explicit only in the second edition of 1943 (when Hungary was allied to Japan in WWII). Nevertheless, neither this theory has ever become really popular in Hungary. The idea has been recently proposed again in a number of publications by the Australian Hungarian émigré and Japanese scholar Lajos Kazár, but it has no real influence in Hungary. Perhaps its only real product is the anti-nationalist mock slogan “Hungarian-Japanese common border!”

  46. Hungarian-Japanese common border
    Within third-eye sight of the Bohemian coast.
    (I would remind that geographical separation is no argument against the possibility of historical connection between languages, just as wishful thinking is no argument for anything other than one’s resistance to empirical compulsion.)

  47. studiolum, I don’t remember where I (probably mis-)remember “Ugaric” from. It sure looks like a garbling of the perfectly memorable ‘Ugric/Ugrian’.
    The paragraph [refers] only to the specific relation of Hungarian to Turkic languages[.]
    That’s true; I carelessly (and ignorantly) synecdoche’d your “Hungarian” for ‘Finno-Ugric’– that is, I (mis)apprehended the part for the whole.
    I take it from your comment, and your exchange with Christopher, that the Finno-Ugric family has much contested relations with the Turkic family, in a likely (?) chimerical larger unity (the fabled “Uralic-Altaic group”).
    There might be a line of suitors at the altar, but you’d not want ‘to marry’ a sister, right??

  48. deadgod:
    The notion that there is any connection between the Uralic (Finno-Ugric plus Samoyedic) languages and the Altaic (Turkic plus Mongolian plus Manchu-Tungus) languages has been pretty much abandoned: the groups have surface similarities like vowel harmony, but no real evidence of common descent.
    The real issue nowadays is with Altaic: is it a true family, or merely a bunch of neighbors who have heavily influenced each other over time? The primary argument for the latter case is that Turkic-Mongolian connections are easily found, and Mongolian-Manchu-Tungus ones almost as easily, but few connections between Turkic and Manchu-Tungus. What’s more, even those who believe firmly in Altaic as a family argue among themselves about the admission of Korean and/or Japanese to the group.

  49. Michael Fairies, read is ‘she’, not ‘he’.

  50. michael farris says:

    Thanks for the correction. Duly noted.

  51. I’ve duly noted that, too. That and finding out that Molly Moody is a he and not a she, as someone was saying on another thread. For some reason I have always found it disconcerting to deal extensively with people on the internet whose gender I do not know. I suspect that the reason for this is that English – and every other language I speak – pretty much requires a gender distinction to be made when using a third person singular pronoun. I wonder if not knowing my interlocutor’s gender would bother me at all if my native language were one that did not make a gender distinction in the pronouns.
    In read’s defense, I’m a native English speaker, and I definitely got the “exotic foreigner as curiosity” impression when I first read it. (The use of the expression “Tatarman” did nothing to dispel this feeling.) I’m grateful to the many commentors here who have laid out the evidence in a way that shows that he was a respected member of the academic community.
    @read — how should I pronounce the name that you use here? If it is an English word, there are two ways to pronounce it, and if it is not English, there are many others.

  52. David Marjanović says:

    the Ural-Altaic kinship was an established theory

    Dirty little secret: it actually never was. As far as I know, there never was a detailed hypothesis to begin with, no list of common innovations beyond features that happen to be lacking in Indo-European, no attempts at reconstructing the last common ancestor…
    (I say “hypothesis” because a theory would be something bigger, like the theories of evolution, relativity, quantum electrodynamics…)

    The primary argument for the latter case is that Turkic-Mongolian connections are easily found, and Mongolian-Manchu-Tungus ones almost as easily, but few connections between Turkic and Manchu-Tungus.

    That’s no longer true. I can send a pdf of the 270-page introduction to the Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages (S. Starostin, A. Dybo & O. Mudrak 2003) to interested parties.

    What’s more, even those who believe firmly in Altaic as a family argue among themselves about the admission of Korean and/or Japanese to the group.

    For Korean that hasn’t been true for decades. People do quarrel about Japanese, but there the question is whether it’s Altaic, close to Austronesian, or “both” (Altaic with a big fat close-to-Austronesian substratum).
    I recommend this hefty book chapter.

  53. @read — how should I pronounce the name that you use here?
    Thanks for asking; I’m curious too.

  54. if it is not English, there are many others
    i did not think about that, really how in other languages? like re-ad maybe if in our pronunciation, maybe i should start using that or just translate it to unsh
    i took the handle from the site i used to comment at, there was a button read more after the post if it had a hidden part like here continue reading, so i guess it’s read as in to read
    in my language there is no distinction of gender for the verbs and pronouns, khun – human – is just a person first, so to say woman have to put an adjective emegtei khun, man – eregtei khun, the core of the words em, er can be used as woman, man too, but they are not used in the regular talk
    so one of the most difficult things to learn when using English is this little specifications, for the verbs to not forget whether the subject is plural or singular, for example, b/c in my language there is no difference whether many did something or just someone alone, the action itself is like one and English irregular verbs are more like naturally sounding to my ears

  55. what’s wrong with html today, my tags keep turning invalid, i’m sure i wrote them correctly

  56. marie-lucie says:

    DM: I can send a pdf of the 270-page introduction to the Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages (S. Starostin, A. Dybo & O. Mudrak 2003) to interested parties.
    I am interested. Thank you for the link too.

  57. Those are some extraordinary photos of the Velence cemetery. Quite interesting as well the one of Vámbéry as a dervish. So that’s how they traveled safely in the days before passports and consulates.
    read is the one person here whose blog I want to read. She knows some unique Mongolian language resources — dictionaries, music, poetry — and has an interesting world view that we would be better off if we understood more of: in particular, her comments about “master/ apprentice, teacher/student senpai/ kouhai like relations, those are honorable relationships.” I would like to know more about the Mongolian meaning of this — but she has no blog.

  58. Thanks, John C. and David M., for making clear how unclear the existence of the “Altaic” language family is.
    These “wordlist etymology” arguments are bedeviled by reliance, on one side, on ingenuity in the presence of just/not enough data, and skepticism that relies on the fact of that same tantalizing nanocosm of evidence triumphantly to declare ‘doubt’- and every hint of tentativity is a possible first stumble into a downward spiral of academic defeat. It’s tough to get away from perception being governed by confirmation bias in these conflicts.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    Thanks, John C. and David M., for making clear how unclear the existence of the “Altaic” language family is.

    Don’t confuse Altaic with Ural-Altaic. The latter is most likely nonsense; the former looks fairly convincing by now, although of course a lot of work remains to be done.
    Where do you get “wordlist etymology” from? Ural-Altaic was supported by typological similarities /(vowel harmony, agglutinating with suffixes rather than prefixes, lack of gender – seriously), not so much by words as far as I know; for Altaic, it’s the good old Comparative Method®.

  60. Where do you get “wordlist etymology” from?
    Dybo/Starostin (in the book chapter (?) you link us to above) quote the (I guess) sarcastic “wordlist linguistics” from Vovin’s review of EDAL on page 245 (page 127 of the linked-to document). I didn’t mean to be sarcastic; I should have put the phrase I used in single (scare) quotes, rather than double (quotation) quote marks.
    The point being that the word lists are used to try to discern ice cubes at the tops of icebergs broken off from the long-since-melted ice continent of a family of languages, so the word lists are understood to be lexical diagrams of sisters/cousins, say, with their mothers erased. Two metaphors, I trust not confusingly mixed, for ye goode olde Comparative Methode. ?

  61. David Marjanović says:

    I should have put the phrase I used in single (scare) quotes, rather than double (quotation) quote marks.

    I wouldn’t have understood that. This convention is not very widespread. :-)

  62. I would like to know more about the Mongolian meaning of this
    master/apprentice, teacher/student, senpai/kouhai relations are very honorable, we call it bagsh ( teacher) shaviin (student) barildlaga (chain/relation), people regard their teachers very high, the same level of respect one pays to one’s parents
    well, that’s it perhaps

  63. Thanks, read, but I still wish you had your own blog. It is very easy.

  64. i’ve read your blog, it’s a lot of work and research
    i have a blog page where i put things i want just to remember, it’s just notes for self, memo
    and not much about my culture or language or people, b/c i don’t take memos on myself b/c i know all that anyway, right?

  65. My blog isn’t work because I just write about something I’m already thinking about. When I wrote about the Mongolian music, I had seen all the videos already. I just put them together so other people could see them (and so I can find them again easily).
    I have another personal blog page too, to take notes about things I want to remember.
    The blog I link my name to here is just an introduction, like a business card, so people can know something about who I am and what I think about.

  66. So that’s how they traveled safely in the days before passports and consulates.
    Actually, the existence of an Ottoman consulate in Tehran contributed a lot to the success of Vámbéry’s travel. The head of the embassy belonging to his influential Istanbul network, he could spend there several months incognito by giving religious advices to the large number of pilgrim groups which on their way back from Mecca to Central Asia considered it as a must to visit “the Khalifah’s house” in Tehran, and could choose the best one (a group from Khotan) to join and go to Central Asia.

  67. The Tatarman of Vambery
    Sounds like an undiscovered William Barnes dialect work about a man who sells potatoes in Wembury.

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