In his book Orientalism from 1978, Edward Said slammed what he considered to be the “racist ethnocentrism” of Europeans. Said argued that Western stereotypes of the “Orient” and Asia date back to ancient Greece. The only problem with Said’s claim is that it is utterly false, as is the entire basic premise of his book.
Probably all nations in the world are “ethnocentric” to some degree. This is not a specifically “European” quality; it is a human one. If anything, Europeans have not infrequently proved to be less ethnocentric than many other cultures.
The conclusion we can draw from these examples is this: Most Asian nations, and probably most nations elsewhere in the world, too, were simply too subjective and too ethnocentric to invent comparative linguistics. Treating their own language on the same level as those of alien peoples was mentally impossible and just wasn’t done.
Contrast this with the genuine curiosity, openness and much more objective attitude displayed by linguists such as William Jones and we realize that Europeans invented comparative linguistics because they were the least ethnocentric of the major civilizations. It is likely that this heritage of greater scholarly objectivity was a major contributing factor to the emergence of modern science in Europe.
Needless to say, this insight completely blows away the main arguments presented in Edward Said’s Orientalism. The entire basic premise of his book is wrong and can easily be shown to be so. It is unfortunate that he and his disciples have been allowed to spread demonization and falsehoods against European and Western scholars for so many years relatively unchallenged.
Read the rest at Europe News.