Date: Tue, 4 Mar 1997 15:34:06 +0100 (CET)

From: Claus-Peter Zoller

The van Driem Enigma
Or: In search of instant facts

George van Driem and Suhnu R. Sharma published in the last issue of the Indogermanische Forschungen the first part of an article ("In Search of Kentum Indo-Europeans in the Himalayas"; IF 101:107-146) which not only tries to refute my claims on archaic words in Bangani but moreover attempts to discredit my character. The gist of their article - if I understand correctly what is said more or less overtly as well as between the lines - is (1) that I manipulated the Banganis with the help of alcohol in order to get pseudodata with which I tried to lead scholars up the garden path. Besides, they claim that I am not a qualified field researcher and that I "misheard" the crucial words in the examples quoted by me. Since all the words I "misheard" are - with a few exceptions - those for which I have suggested exceptional antiquity, their suggestion that I "misheard" them intentionally is more than obvious. (2) Since my claims could have fairly far-reaching scientific consequences, they felt it was their mission to verify them. Thus, they decided - at least this is what they say - to go to Bangan and conduct an objective and independent examination of my data. Since they describe themselves as qualified field-workers - in contradistinction to me - they imply that their "findings" must have authoritative status. Moreover, they contend in a very self-congratulatory tone, that they were able to procure enough evidence to show that I have published false data and that consequently all my claims are unfounded.

In response to all these accusations I allege that all their claims are wrong and baseless, and that their article is a collection of untruthful statements. Moreover, I allege that both van Driem and Sharma display in their article a lack of knowledge of even the most basic and elementary facts of Indo-Aryan, especially Pahari linguistics. Since the editor of Indogermanische Forschungen has accepted a detailed rejoinder from my side I will concentrate here only on some of the most crucial points and will not, for instance, elaborate at this moment on the question why their article only partially tries to maintain a scientific tone and frequently lapses into a language of hatred.

Of course, I cannot produce here counterproofs against the "counterproofs" of the two authors, but can only refer to the elaborate and serious fieldwork on Bangani conducted by Professor Abbi from the Jawahar Lal Nehru University in New Delhi. A short description of her work can be found at this webpage. What I can do, however, is to point out some of the crassest untruths, manipulations, and distortions produced by the two. Unlike the archaisms, for which I still claim - even if I may be again accused of mystification - that some of them cannot be verified without a certain investment of time and effort, I maintain that all the following points can easily be examined by everybody who wishes to.

(1) They claim to have visited Bangan in December 1994. This is not the truth. They never put a foot on Bangani soil. Bangan consists of the three belts called Kothigar, Masmor, and Pingal. However, the two places in which they stayed according to their own description, "Mori-Valti" and "Montar" belong to the belt called Shiktur. Since the deities (and thus the people - at least to some extent) of Bangan and Shiktur traditionally preserve unfriendly relations, it is a mystery why the authors undertook this long journey and stopped just outside the area, as if they lost heart at the last moment.

That this fact is more than an isolated error, that the two, although claiming to be the true competent field linguists, in fact were confused about the basic geographical realities, that they apparently did not know where they were, and that they claimed to have been in places where they never were, may be illustrated here with two examples:
(1a) They locate a village named "Bagi" in the belt "Garugarh" in a valley to the left side of the Tons river (1997:109). Actually, "Bagi" belongs to the belt Shiktur. But the truly embarrassing point for them is the fact that "Bagi" is located on the right side on the Tons river just a few hundred meters away from the farmstead "Mori-Valti" where they stayed most of the time. That means that every day they had the village right under their noses without realizing this.
(1b) While commenting on a Bangani utterance published by me, they say (on page 133) about a locality called "Gorie-Naoni" that "We have personally visited the gently sloping area known as "Gorie-Naoni."' This is not true. "Gorie-Naoni" is neither gently sloping, nor has it been visited by the two. "Gorie-Naoni" is so far away from the two places they stayed that it never could have been visited by them within the short time they spent in the area. In December it is frequently under snow, there are no villages in the vicinity, and only during the summer months is it visited by shepherds and hunters. The most effective test would be to ask the two for a detailed description of this locality.

(2) They claim to have conducted their field-work in an independent way. This is not the truth. Despite their effort to make fun of my remark (136-37) that the branch office of the South Asia Institute would be glad to offer assistance to linguists working on Bangan, they did exactly this and made use of the assistance of the institute - of course, without mentioning this anywhere in their article. If their intention to conduct a real independent examination had been sincere, then they should have gone into villages never visited by us and worked with families with whom we never worked. However, they did not do this. Instead, they asked in the branch office for the address of a Bangani who had worked with us, and went to "Mori-Valti," introducing themselves at Roshan Singh Cauhan's place as friends of ours. They assert in their article that my portrayal of the Banganis as suspicious towards outsiders cannot be true, since they found them very friendly and open. This, however, is no surprise and will happen to anybody who introduces himself in the area as our friend. This latter fact, of course, has been withheld by the two explorers.

Although the two spent more than two full days in "Mori-Valti" (and one or two hours in "Montar"), they were apparently unable to sort out the basic facts relating to their informants and of the family of their host. To give just two randomly selected examples: Contrary to their description of Roshan Singh Cauhan's "sons... and daughters-in-law" he has only one son and only one daughter-in-law. And: among the four names they are able to produce of persons with whom they claim to have worked, namely, Roshan Singh Cauhan, his son Harpal, and his younger brother Jay Singh, plus one Anand Singh, two names (or 50%!) are falsely given: There never was an Anand Singh working with them, and Jay Singh, who lives one day's journey away from "Mori-Valti," has never in his life met the two members of that expedition. Thus, the two explorers had not only no overview of the geographical surroundings in which they stayed, but they had also only confused ideas about the family of their host. Should they not, since they claim to be "real" field linguists in contradistinction to me, have been able to produce correct information on such basic points? For me this is an enigma. However, that also this is more than an isolated incident and that they are dilettantes ignorant of the field of Indo-Aryan linguistics will be demonstrated below on the basis of a few examples (a detailed description will be found in the next issue of Indogermanische Forschungen).

Their statement on the very first page of their article that "In Bangani, as in Hindi" the palatal and the retroflex sibilants "have merged to yield one single modern phoneme" sound sensational, but contradicts the most basic textbook knowledge - and is just plain wrong. Should they not have known that the West Pahari languages, to which Bangani belongs, have preserved two voiceless sibilants, whereas Hindi had only one sibilant through most of its history (and, in fact, a number of rural Hindi dialects still have only one sibilant) until the second sibilant was introduced by loan words? On page 108 they try to make their readers believe that Bangani is most closely related to "The distinct Western Pahari language spoken south of the Tons river, in Jaunsar and Bavar." They obviously do not know that in Jaunsar and Bavar several languages are spoken; and they obviously do not know that the languages of Jaunsar and Bavar are not pure Western Pahari, but either mixed Western and Central Pahari or, in the opinion of some, basically Central Pahari languages. They have compared Bangani with them simply because they do not know the names of the languages spoken north and west of Bangan, with which Bangani is, in fact, quite closely related. In addition, on the first page they state that Bangani has one "low tone." Thus, they obviously could not discover more Bangani tones within the short time of their stay. Apart from the fact that they have frequently misplaced their "low tone," they obviously do not understood anything at all about Bangani tonology. Thus, there is not one, but four tones in Bangani, and they are not "low," but they are all high tones of a contour tone system. Although it is not surprising that the authors were unable to discover more than one tone, it is surprising and, in fact, shameful for them that, due to their zeal to "normalize" my IPA transcription with the Indological system of transliteration (their frequent confusion between transcription and transliteration will be described in my forthcoming article), they wiped out a whole class of emically distinct consonants. They failed to recognize one of the most intrinsic features of Western Pahari languages, and thus also of Bangani, namely the emic opposition between palatal and dental affricates. How seriously would someone be taken who failed to recognize the distinction between dental and retroflex stops in Sanskrit? By eliminating this distinction - which, by the way, is not found in the Jaunsari languages - they have seriously corrupted my presentation of Bangani utterances. Therefore, I also allege that they were not in a position to seriously discuss Bangani words with Bangani speakers.

In the beginning I referred to the extensive work done by Professor Abbi on Bangani. Although I will comment in detail in my forthcoming article on the technique used by the two authors - namely, to replace the relevant words in my examples with more or less similar sounding other words (thus "proving" my subnormal hearing ability) - I will demonstrate later the wonderful effectiveness of their approach with two examples. But before that, a few words about their working technique and special rhetoric. Reading their article, surely almost everyone must get the impression that they were a well-established team, competently analyzing my "mistakes" and deconstructing my claims. Far from it - it is only an illusion. All the Banganis interviewed by us after their visit gave the same description: van Driem will be remembered by the Banganis for his conspicuous taciturnity. Despite van Driem's claim to be able to speak Hindi, Roshan Singh Cauhan, who was the most important informant for the two, and on whose statements their article almost completely rests, denies that van Driem ever interrogated him personally. His interlocutor was Sharma, whereas van Driem preferred conversation with Cauhan's young son Harpal. Harpal, on the other hand, compared van Driem's Hindi with the broken Hindi he heard used by western mountain trekkers and seekers of alternative lifestyles. Whether this is a fitting comparison or not, the fact remains that Sharma acted as an interpreter for van Driem and was carrying out the latter's instructions. Therefore, the scenes they mention where they claim to have laughed heartily over the "discovery" of yet another "mistake" of mine, are pure products of fantasy. The occurrence of such scenes has been emphatically rejected by their Bangani informants as wishful thinking.

In their grandiose effort to continually present themselves as splendid stars and moralizers, and us as incompetents they have not shrunk from further distortions. Do they really think that they can convince the readers that the long years of work on Bangani are based on drinking sessions? These tasteless utterances of theirs have been wilfully invented. On the other hand, however, they have not only withheld information on how they freeloaded on the infrastructures offered by the branch office of the South Asia Institute, they have also "forgotten" to mention that at least one of them indeed enjoyed the locally brewed drinks. Or take their self-praise (p. 120) "that Zoller was not wont to ask the type of probing questions we did." Their probing questions, according to Roshan Singh Cauhan, mainly consisted of asking Bangani basic vocabulary for body parts, agricultural items, etc., repeating a work done by us many years before. What Mr. Cauhan in fact had told them expressis verbis, was that we concerned ourselves with recording old stories and old songs. Now, this is true. But is this less probing than asking the Bangani word for "nose"?

When we explained to Roshan Singh Cauhan how he had been quoted in van Driem and Sharma's article, he was deeply shocked and said that he had been misunderstood and misinterpreted on many points. It was therefore decided to record an interview with him. This was done on 10 January 1997 in the language laboratory of the Jawahar Lal Nehru University in New Delhi in the presence of several independent witnesses. The interview, which was conducted in Hindi, was simultaneously translated into English. Anyone who is interested in the interview and who wants to see how Mr. Cauhan's personal statements deviate from the distorted presentation in the article is welcome to receive a free copy from us. Apart from the fantastic number of mistakes and mispresentations mentioned above, Mr. Cauhan's utterances with regard to the archaisms were also frequently misinterpreted. In several cases the alternative interpretations offered by the two are not only the result of one, but of a series of misunderstandings between them and Mr. Cauhan. This will be described in my forthcoming article. Here I would like to draw attention to just two examples:
(a) On pp. 124, 128, and 129 the two authors exchange several different words, for which I have suggested a possible archaic backgound, with one and the same "Hindi" word 'to count'. This raises the question of how I could "mishear" the "same" word in several different ways. Or could it not be that the two authors occasionally went too far (in an unimaginative way) with their technique of arbitrarily exchanging one word with another similar sounding one?
(b) In the example discussed on pp. 127-28 they have exchanged my garsina 'to be terrified' with a garzina 'to freeze in one's tracks'. In other words, they have changed the form of the word but retained more or less the same meaning. Then they suggest to look for connections not with IE 'starren,' but with Hindi garjna 'to roar, bellow, thunder.' The delightful aspect of their conjecture now is this: there is a Bangani gardzina 'to roar,' which is the equivalent to Hindi garjna . However, one can see on p. 128 that the two give the meaning 'to freeze in one's tracks.' Now, this is not the result of some strange semantic development in Bangani, but the result of a complete failure of the two authors to understand Mr. Cauhan. Of course, Mr. Cauhan knows garsina 'to be terrified' as, indeed, most Banganis do. However, he objected to the example, because, according to him, wild boars do not show fear, but rather roar. This was what he attempted to communicate to his visitors, but they took him to mean that garsina does not exist. The fact that the authors retained the meaning in their manipulation but changed the pronunciation clearly shows that they went only half way in discarding my Bangani word. Thus, here they have produced an unintentional but clear proof of the existence of at least one of the words whose existence they try to deny so fanatically.

Claus Peter Zoller

Claus Peter Zoller e-mail:
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