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April 4, 2013
Krista Sue-Lo Twu | Associate Professor | Department of English | 218-726-6598 | ktwu@d.umn.edu
Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann | Communication Associate | External Affairs | 218 726-7111 | kmcquill@d.umn.edu


14th Annual Jankofsky Lecture: Appropriating the Past: Language, Archaeology, and Ideology in South Asia

DULUTH, MN – Hans Henrich Hock, professor emeritus of Linguistics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will present the 14th annual Jankofsky Lecture on Thurs., April 11 at 4 pm, in the UMD Library Rotunda. His lecture is entitled "Appropriating the Past: Language, Archaeology, and Ideology in South Asia." The event, sponsored by the Department of English, is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.

Shaping history for nationalist or other ideological purposes has a long and sad history. 19th-century Europe witnessed the growth of an especially notorious instance of "massaged" history. The scholarly recognition that Sanskrit and most languages of Europe are related, descended from a common ancestor ("Proto-Indo- European"), and Schlegel's claim (1808) that the Indo-European languages are superior to all others, including Semitic, set in motion the development of what Poliakov (1971) calls the "Aryan Myth"—the idea that not just in their language but in their "essential" characteristics, the Indo-Europeans, identified as "Aryans," were superior to all others, especially the Jews. Only a few linguists, especially Pott (1856), spoke out against this misuse of linguistic prehistory.

Present-day South Asia witnesses a resurgence of attempts to reshape prehistory to suit ideological agendas. The debate again centers on the "Aryans," this time defined as speakers of Sanskrit and its descendants. Groups that resent a perceived dominance of "Aryans" wholeheartedly embrace the linguistic hypothesis of an origin outside South Asia and interpret it to prove that "Aryans" conquered and subjugated the indigenous people. Various nationalist groups, including the virulently anti-Muslim Hindutva movement, just as emphatically reject this perspective and, in the interest of bolstering their view, reinterpret linguistic, archaeological, and general prehistory. This talk will address these arguments, their motivations, and their relative merits.

The Jankofsky Lecture Series was established in 2000 when a former student anonymously donated funds to the UMD English Department as a tribute to Professor Klaus Jankofsky's career of outstanding teaching and scholarship in the field of medieval and renaissance studies.

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