A 200,000-year… (hi)story
Here’s the full transcription of our video-interview with Salvatore Dedola (watch the video), the rebel scholar seen on « Sardinia Temple of the Waters » documentary (click here to watch a preview of the documentary).
Good morning, friends. We are here with Salvatore Dedola who is going to give us an interview, letting us explore the heart of his research.
Salvatore, as a linguist, try to introduce yourself with three words.
Well, let’s say… scandal, method, interpretation. Just to be clear: you can only be scandalized when it happens to face certain unacceptable etymological studies. For example… when a linguist affirms that the Sardinian surname “Madeddu” originally meant “urinal”, it doesn’t make a lot of sense because family names originated from ancient first names… we can imagine that a mother, a father name their son with care, rather than choose offensive names. It seems unlikely to name a child after a… “urinal”. This is a taste of what scandalizes me and makes a scandal of the works containing such nonsense. Then, an example about the “method” is the first name “Mariano”. It’s well known, here in Sardinia, mainly thanks to Mariano IV of Arborea (the author of the legal code “Codice Rurale”, later transformated and incorporated by her daughter Elianora in the more comprehensive code “Carta de Logu”). Well, in his time the cult of the Virgin Mary was not wide-spread in Sardinia, so it’s very hard to support certain etymological analysis relating “Mariano” to the Virgin Mary. There was no kind of christian saint-related name in Sardinia, in that time: I’ve shown it in my books. I found that it’s more useful to analyse those names referring to the ancient language widespread in Sardinia – a Semitic one, in my opinion.
What’s happened after you formed as an indo-europeanist, some 40 years ago?
I have been following that kind of academic education for 32 years without blinking an eye, but this didn’t stop me from doing my work of linguist. Their theories were incorrect… I only realized it after all these years. Considering that the language emerged about, let’s say, 200,000 years ago, when Homo Sapiens evolved, then the language evolution continued with the Cro-Magnon people, 40,000 years ago…We’re talking about ice age, so how could language originate in ice covered areas of the planet, where humans couldn’t even survive? According to the current most reliable studies, the origin of humans occurred in East Africa; and I suggest that the language first evolved in southern areas of the planet.
Who was Max Leopold Wagner and what does he represent to you, today?
Wagner was a German scholar, born in the late 1800s, who made a huge study of Sardinian language. He’s generally identified as the greatest researcher in this field because of the systematic nature of his work… he’s followed as a kind of a guru. Yes, he did a great deal of work about Sardinia, but we have to move forward and we can also question it. I used to admire him, in the past… but after examining in more depth his studies, I realized the weaknesses of his “Sardinian” works … just for instance: the 100% ideological concept of an eternally colonized Sardinia. A Sardinia culturally colonized by the Italics, the Catalans, the Iberians in general, and so on. This is what he claims, and we can refute it. I did refute it in all my books: it’s not correct to talk about an Italic “influence” – I’ve shown that Sardinian and Thyrrenian people have simply coexisted as equals, both before and after the Roman period. And the reign of Arborea had good relations with Catalonia, for example, in the centuries before Eleonora. The marriages between Sardinian and Catalan princes/princesses were often celebrated… there have always been many connections, but not in the terms illustrated by Wagner… Wagner talks about colonization, imposition. A language cannot be imposed, unless you expel most of the people from their territory, for example. On those grounds alone, we would found enough to suggest that Wagner’s theories are so weak… and there are even further arguments and evidences.
When did your curiosity grow and how did you see that something was not right with academical doctrine? What were the most obvious inconsistencies?
This arose when I joined the Club Alpino Italiano. I’ve walked a lot in the mountains with the help of topographic maps – like this one – where there are tons of place-names needing to be interpreted and translated, but I couldn’t do it because a lot of them were inexplicable..!, just like the other linguists said. And actually Wagner never approched these place-names because they were… obscure, in his eyes. Even back then, I used to do many reports – like these – in order to distribute them to the tourists, since I had already graduated and I was a tour guide. In such reports I described the mountains and all the places in geological, botanical and linguistic terms… I wanted to find and to explain the etymologies of the places we visited. That was exactly the problem: the place-names were so weird that I ended up avoiding to translate them. This has gone on for 32 years… during which I wrote in the mould of Wagner. Soon as I figured out it was a disastrous way, I just started all over again. In my book “La Toponomastica in Sardegna” (“The Toponymy in Sardinia”) I illustrated an effective method to approach toponyms. Of course it’s really complicated to deal with an investigation on toponyms … so I’m not going to explain it right now… bear in mind that, right from the beginning, many of the transcriptions you find on the maps are corrupted. I cut my teeth on those kinds of matter. By then I moved on and I explored anything else related to Sardinia – again from a linguistic view – and I wrote the books about Sardinian breads, flora, surnames, religion and so on … and here I am.
So can you affirm to have figured out an extensive solution than the Wagner’s method which… let’s say… slowed you down for a while?
Exactly, with Wagner I just couldn’t move on. It has been quite an effort to go against the principles of such masters and any kind of dull interpretation. Particularly on place-names, a dull interpretation is the first trap into which we should not fall.
Which kind of barriers and limits did you find?
I firstly found instrumental barriers. When I started to do my independent research without the help of the other linguists (after I knew their works and realize they were unacceptable… they couldn’t help me), there were neither a dictionary nor a grammar of Semitic languages, in Sardinia’s libraries… including the university libraries in Cagliari. From such detail you can get that teachers only used Greek and Latin books for the etymologies. I’ve overcame this obstacle buying by post all the dictionaries I was needing … So I began to study in more depth. Thank to those books I’ve been able to completely translate the Sardinian language; but… the academics who got to know my work started to keep me out from their territory, specially when students invited me to lecture and so on. It was forbidden to talk about me and my activities.
Somebody once said: « a growing tree doesn’t miss its roots” … during your investigation on how the roots of the languages are usually explained, you highlighted lots of sterotypes, exploitations, sometimes superficialities…… on this point, why is it so important today (specially to Sardinian people) to care about the origin of words, and so about the origin of cultures?
There are many people interested in the peculiarities of the Sardinian language, aiming to investigate. But then what happens..? They usually take Wagner as a baseline for their research, so they use the standard tools; Wagner’s tools are standard, and many people use them as they were the only chance to learn about Sardinian matters, unfortunately.
So, you mean, it is fine to explore a culture with an etymological method and approach which should be a scientific one… beyond the standard view of Wagner that is accepted by many but leading nowhere, as far as you have seen…
Exactly, such standard view indeed leads nowhere.
How many Sardinian words did you translate with your method, until now?
Then in all your books, which are ten plus the Encyclopedia coming out soon, you covered about 15,000 words…
Yes, moreover I’m also analysing and revising “ab imo” the entire Wagner’s dictionary; I’m halfway through this. So I’m also going to publish the New Etymological Dictionary of Sardinian Language, you can guess I’ll cover tons of words.
Now, tell us, in a nutshell, about your vision.
My vision overturns the indo-europeanists’ one. I’ve already mentioned that according to the most reliable studies the origin of humans occurred in East Africa: then humans arrived in Sinai, in the Fertile Crescent and spread from there to the East, reaching the Iranian highplains and the Indian area.
Humans also advanced further North, to Turkey, moved over the Caucasus and then they reached the northern plains (Ukraine etc..). They also travelled to Greece through Turkey and Balkans, and also to Italic area and Sardinia. Clearly, since this happened during the ice ages (as claimed by the mentioned studies) humans must have crossed the ice-free territories. So I’m pointing you to the ice-free areas, in order to retrace the steps of the humans and the origins of the language.
Can you tell us about your method and the reasons why in your books you have chosen a comparative/refutative analysis with regard to certain authors?
My studies have shown that Sardinian is an ancient language, I mean… Sardinian dates back to the origins of the language, roughly 200,000 years ago or, at the very least, 40,000 years ago as I previously said. It was back when, in the Mediterranean areas, people spoke a common language, a mother tongue, a Ursprache (in German) …which then turned into different variants. Sardinia was not colonized by Italics, Iberians etc., which brought here their own languages. There was a Mediterranean Ursprache. This is my view and in my books I try to explain it… it’s easy in my opinion… it’s nothing weird… whereas my opponents assert that Sardinian is the product of colonization, plain and simple. According to their view, ancient Sardinian people couldn’t speak or at least their own language has been deleted – clearly with violence – by all kinds of invasors. Somebody claims that even Basques invaded Sardinia. In their opinion, people came from all around to invade Sardinia and wipe out its language. I don’t think so; I believe that Sardinia had its own language and still got it. The ancient Sardinian language is never really dead. I explain this in my books and I refute the colonialist theories because they’re merely ideological… such theories leads nowhere except to destroy a culture.
We can therefore say that the pan-Mediterranean language, a common language spoken by all Mediterranean people, is still found today in Sardinian language.
Yes, it is still alive in Sardinian language and also in Italian. It’s not accurate to affirm that Italian language comes from Latin / has originated under Latin “influence”. Italian still keeps, just like Sardinian language, a floor of Sumerian and Akkadian words. Latin was a variety of the Mediterranean Ursprache, too… it’s a deeper approach; Latin it’s not the language which generated the so called Romance languages, no way..!
The way you passionately talk about this matter may be received by someone as an attempt to present your view in absolute terms, as the only reliable explanation, let’s say… But, in actual fact, this possible impression collapses facing several things, for example you constantly call for debating with other scholars or anyone interested… Is there anything you would like to say about it?
Well, I communicate with anyone who contacts me through my Facebook profile, in addition to the people who come to my conferences; I strongly wish to communicate, particularly, with young linguists, because the younger scholars, above all, have more opportunities to create and propose new paths.
Over these 40 years of research you published several books on different themes… you wrote about the flora, the breads, the surnames, as well as the walking tours in Sardinia and also the pre-Latin grammar and toponyms. You even wrote about religion, the book on the pre-Christian monoteism. What are your next steps? We know about the forthcoming publication of your Sardinian Encyclopedia, and your Etymological Dictionary is in preparation… when will you be satisfied?
In a year and a half, once I complete the Etymological Dictionary – I think I will name it NuDELSa: Nuovo Dizionario Etimologico della Lingua Sarda [New Etymological Dictionary of Sardinian]– I will fulfill a dream of mine. I’m already working on it, I’m halfway done: it’s the Etymological Dictionary of Sassarese [the language of Sassari].
Beyond the context of the so called “rigged translations », given by those who have a tendency to bring the Sardinian origins to the Latin/Greek influence… is there a widespread support of your translations and interpretations? Do you know any other researcher who developed a vision like yours?
Only a few, unfortunately. The most recent one became my Master: Giovanni Semerano. His views are pretty close to mine. He was a highly cultured man.
Can we say that you are helping even the non-specialists to understand that it is possible to think about a path free from any “apologia of the conquistador”?, to find an approach which goes beyond the culture of domination, looking at Sardinian people (and not only) through new eyes?
A “theory of the conquistador”, a theory that says Sardinians always receive more than they give… it’s obviously unscientific. I try to reverse such view, by showing, e.g. that a language never dies as long as it’s still used by a majority of the people (there is a significant historical documentation about it). But it seems like there are many maniacs who aren’t able to find a scientific method for their studies. And then I want to conclude the interview precisely going back to: scandal, method, interpretation. If you don’t get scandalized by the controversial aspects you may encounter, with no solid method to organize an in-depth research and study, without interpretation and intuition… it’s not possible to make an effective work about the origins of a language, as in the case of Sardinian.
Thank you so much for your time, Salvatore, and keep up the good work.
Thank you, too.