A Small Tip of the Hat to the Remarkable William Jones


One of the interesting and for once positive unintended consequences of a monumental event like the British conquest of India, was how in their need for administrators, various brilliant young (mostly) men were launched into an alien culture with, as it turned out, a lot of time on their hands.

One such was William Jones, who was born on this day in 1746.

I gather from the Wikipedia article he is not in fact the first person to notice a link between Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit, that honor goes to a Jesuit missionary, Gaston-Laurent Coeurdoux. But, he followed close on, really in many ways, overlapped the Jesuit’s work, and it is Jones’ investiagtions that lead to the explosion of scholarship that confirmed this fact, and more, leading to the widely accepted theory of a proto-Indo-European language.

He also was a principal in laying the ground for an academic study of Buddhist origins, making him more personally important to me.

But the big thing was that connection of languages.

My understanding is that he was listening to children playing some game that involved counting, when the dime dropped.

Our language is related.

And, for many who followed, much would come out of that insight…

In recent years Jones and his compatriots have been largely ignored, that is when not vigorously castigated for the various sins of empire. Most notable among this contemporary critique are the now standard positions articulated by Edward Said in his monumental “Orientalism.”

While I think there is much to the argument, there is also more to the story than can be encompassed by any over arching theory of human behaviors. And, I suspect, a more generous age than ours will probably revisit Mr Jones and his Asiatic Society associates with a bit more gratitude for some amazing work.

Giving us hints at deep connections we all share.

Intimations of something that may even, in the last analysis, be what saves us…

Our connections…

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