By Thomas R. Trautmann
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Additional info for Languages and Nations: The Dravidian Proof in Colonial Madras
The sanguine ﬂood of Roman glory not only swept away ancient nations but obliterated the accumulated records of the primeval times. The Roman warriors trod under foot the arts and sciences of Etruria and left nothing but the fragments of their vases to demonstrate the existence of former civilization.
Even before a satisfactory and unitary scientiﬁc standard of etymology had been found through the recognition of lawlike regularity in sound shifts within languages, beginning with Grimm’s law in the early nineteenth century, the word list was the means to new discoveries that have endured. Simple as its form is, outmoded as is the biblical frame of historical time within which it was conceived, lacking as it does a method of determining which similarities count as signs of relationships and which do not, or a method of discerning relationships among words that do not look similar yet are cognate (the greater analytic power achieved when comparative philology arrived at the laws of sound shifts)—despite all these shortcomings, the method of the word list, even in its simplest, eighteenth-century form, must be close enough to the truth of things to have been able to deliver so much knowledge that was new and lasting.
W. Leibniz, published in 1718, shortly after his death, is of critical importance and may well be the model for subsequent lists, including Marsden’s. The text in question is Leibniz’s “Appeal concerning languages of 9. v. ” His contribution to the question of Roma origins has not been previously noted. ” His request for information amounts to instruction to travelers about how such linguistic specimens should be collected (Leibniz 1718:49). , Slavic) family, and of the Wallachians, Cettos and Livonians, Turks, Persians, and Chinese.