Friday, December 01, 2006

The Zuni-Japan connection

The Zuni language, spoken by a Native American people in New Mexico and Arizona, is considered a "language isolate"—a language that linguistically is completely unrelated to any other known language (or at least no general consensus exists among linguists as to which linguistic family the language in question belongs).

A common explanation for language isolates such as Zuni and Basque is that the prehistoric speakers of the language had originally colonized a much larger area but were later wiped out or assimilated—except for a small enclave—by another people who spoke a different language. In short, the speakers of the language isolate are the descendents of that small surviving enclave.

However, in her book The Zuni Enigma, anthropologist Nancy Yaw Davis proposes a much more radical theory for the Zuni people's linguistic and other differences from surrounding Native American peoples: Their language and culture are the result of a merger with a group of thirteenth-century Japanese pilgrims.

The theory is controversial to say the least, but there you are.

You can read can excerpt of The Zuni Enigma online.

—Mellow Monk

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