Eurasianism versus IndoGermanism: Linguistics and mythology in the 1930s’ controversies over European prehistory

Stefanos Geroulanos, Jamie Phillips

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    In 1935, the Russian linguist Prince Nicolai S. Trubetskoi and the French mythologist Georges Dumézil engaged in a vicious debate over a seemingly obscure subject: the structure of Northwest Caucasian languages. Based on unknown archival material in French, German, and Russian, this essay uses the debate as a pathway into the 1930s scientific and political stakes of IndoEuropeanism – the belief that European cultures emerged through the spread of a single IndoEuropean people out of a single “motherland.” Each of the two authors held strong commitments to visions of European order and its origins – in “Eurasia” for Trubetskoi and a Northern European Heimat for Dumézil. The North Caucasus, long a privileged site for Russian and European scholars, now became key to the renegotiation of the origins and reach of imagined prehistoric IndoEuropean conquerors, but also the 1930s’ debate over the value of different disciplines (linguistics, mythology, archaeology, folklore studies) for the origins of language, myth, and the European deep past. As a moment in the history of modern speculations about prehistory, pursued in the shadow of Nazi scholarship, the debate transformed fields of research – notably linguistics, comparative mythology, and structuralism – and the assumptions about the shape of Europe.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)343-378
    Number of pages36
    JournalHistory of Science
    Volume56
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

    Keywords

    • Comparative mythology
    • Fascism
    • Georges Dumézil
    • History of structuralism
    • IndoEuropean linguistics
    • Linguistics
    • Nicolai S. Trubetskoi
    • Nikolai Marr
    • North-West Caucasian languages
    • Prehistory

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • History
    • History and Philosophy of Science

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