Dr. Eugene Valberg on African languages

At the 2008 American Renaissance conference, Dr. Eugene Valberg spoke about African languages.  Having spent many years in Africa, and being a particularly bright individual, Dr. Valberg is certainly more qualified than most to speak on this subject.

The main points Dr. Valberg made were as follows:

a)  Native African languages have very limited vocabularies.   He recounted how native Africans expressed wonder that a speaker of English would ever need an English dictionary.   He seemed to be saying that this is, at least in part, a reflection of the simplicity of the African mind.  As I remember, this was strongly implied, if not stated explicitly.

b)  Native African languages lack words for abstract concepts.  Instead, they borrow words for concrete ideas and clumsily use them to approximate abstract concepts that more advanced peoples had introduced into Africa.  One example is the word “obligation”, which one African language attempts to convey through the words “to tie together one’s feet”.

c)  African languages do not include terms of precision.  For example, there is typically no way to say “the fruit is half way up the tree”; either it is up the tree or it is not.  This is a product of the African mind seeing things in absolutes.

While I do not claim to be as knowledgeable about African languages, and African mentality, as Dr. Valberg, I have had my doubts as to the accuracy of his claims.  Firstly, I find it hard to believe that all of the hundreds (if not thousands) of tribal African languages suffer from every one the above deficiencies.  Certainly some of them are more sophisticated.  Lurking in the back of my mind was the suspicion that Dr. Valberg was seeing things in absolute terms, ironic as this would be.

I recently met a gentleman who is from Southern Sudan, near Uganda.  He is a speaker of Kuku so I availed myself of the opportunity to get his perspective on the above questions.  First I asked him how many words, excluding recent foreign loan words, are in Kuku.  He guessed that Kuku has around 1,000 words and that there is no need for a Kuku dictionary for native speakers.  On this count, he was in agreement with Dr. Valberg – though he would probably disagree with his explanation.  As for me,  I do not doubt that traditional African’s are of simple mind compared to more technologically advanced peoples.  However, I think a limited vocabulary necessarily goes hand in hand with non-literal languages.  I would wager that pre-literate European languages were also limited in their vocabulary.  Therefore, I do not see a paucity of vocabulary as clear evidence of racial disparities.  Of course, the fact that they were, until recently, non-literate, does bolster the other evidence we have concerning their mental abilities.

I asked the man about words for abstract concepts such as “responsibility”.  At first, he was not sure how to answer.  In all fairness, he is rather rusty since he has few opportunities to speak his native language these days.  He did tell me that there certainly is a word for “trustworthy” and he gave me an example of a man who has promised to marry somebody.  If he keeps his word, then he is trustworthy.  In other words, he has honored his responsibility.  Every society on Earth has laws against aggression and theft – even in Africa.  What is a criminal if not one who has shirked his social responsibility?  Yes, there is a difference between a good citizen whose motivation is altruistic and linked to a higher goal versus a good citizen who’s motivation is simply fear of punishment.  This distinction merits further study and it is very possible that language differences would throw light on such distinctions – but Dr. Valberg’s presentation is, at best, skeletal in this regard.  So, while I am not saying he is wrong, I am saying that he needs to elaborate much more and flesh out his theories.

I have pointed out to Dr. Valberg that even advanced languages had to borrow mundane terms, early on, to convey abstract concepts.  For example, the word for “forbidden” in Hebrew literally means “tied”.  The word for “obligation” is closely related (and probably derived) from the word for affection/love.  As for “responsibility”, I do not believe there is even a word for it in ancient Hebrew.  Modern Hebrew uses a term that is derived from the word for “end” as in “the buck stops here”.

What about English?  A good place to start would be the word “responsibility”.  It is derived from the word “response”, which simply means “an answer”.  Apparently, its current connotations are very recent.

The word “responsibility” is surprisingly modern. It is also, as Paul Ricoeur has observed, “not really well-established within the philosophical tradition” (2000: 11). This is reflected in the fact that we can locate two rather different philosophical approaches to responsibility.

The original philosophical usage of “responsibility” was political (see McKeon, 1957). This reflected the origin of the word. In all modern European languages, “responsibility” only finds a home toward the end of the eighteenth century. This is within debates about representative government…

What about the word “obligation“?

c.1300, “to bind by oath,” from O.Fr. obligier, from L. obligare, from ob “to” + ligare “to bind,” from PIE base *leig- “to bind” (see ligament). Main modern meaning “to make (someone) indebted by conferring a benefit or kindness” is from 1560s.

So it turns out that it comes from the Latin word “ligare” – to bind.  Indeed, it would appear that Dr. Valberg should have been obligated to look up the etymology of European words before making generalities about African ones.

I asked the man about expressing the concept of a fruit being only three quarters up a tree.  This question took him off guard and his response led me to concede this point to Dr. Valberg.  He explained to me that, in Kuku, one cannot state that a glass is only partly full.  Either it has contents or it does not.  Kuku speakers have no concept of fractions.

In conclusion I’d like to say that arriving at the conclusion that H.B.D. is real and that humans are not all the same is a great milestone in anyone’s life.  That being said, we should not get carried away and assume that every racial difference that could exist actually does exist.  When we find ourselves amongst our own, as in an American Renaissance conference, it is easy to get caught up in the cheerleading mentality.  Once this state is reached, we sometimes find ourselves shouting “Amen” and “Hallelujah”!  Our cause would be better served by stubbornly clinging to our skeptical natures even when in the company of friends.

About jewamongyou

I am a paleolibertarian Jew who is also a race-realist. My opinions are often out of the mainstream and often considered "odd" but are they incorrect? Feel free to set me right if you believe so!
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14 Responses to Dr. Eugene Valberg on African languages

  1. Patrick says:

    http://www.etymonline.com

    for those interested in studying roots of words

  2. Ryan says:

    I agree about not assuming the worst about others. When I come across commenters who do and who sound very ignorant, it actually hurts our viewpoint because like it or not, guilt by association is part of our culture.

    Unfortunately I think a lot of race realists are confronted with ignorant as well as intelligent followers who aren’t always on the same page. I’ve heard that there is a lot of infighting which keeps them seperated, unlike the left who for some reason has no problem being lumped together with Black Nationalists, Lesbians, Feminists, the Handicapped, Latino Groups, Gays, the Transgendered, Socialists, Marxists, and Communists and every other race/fringe group that wants the West to fall but in the meantime wants money and power.

  3. i also agree with ryan doctor eugene speech was fascinating and a lot of people are really ignorant and racist .

  4. South African says:

    Valbergs examples for zulu were all wrong. There are ways of saying half way up and telling someone to be more precise. There are words for the past and future. There are words for the different shapes. there are many concepts that are found in zulu and other African languages that are not found in English. Ubuntu being a well known example and is something racists like him lack. You can’t always translate directly from one language to another, just because modern english has a word for one concept doesn’t mean every language has the exact same word. That’s an abstract concept he hasn’t grasped yet. There are many words in zulu you have to explain in english because there is no equivalent. Also African languages are very big on proverbs and sayings which are entirely abstract.

    To the writer above your example of asking 3/4 way up was not a fair question. Most languages don’t naturally have fractions apart from a half in the vocabulary. I also doubt the kuku language has only a thousand words since zulu has 19 000. There would be like a 1000 commonly used words maybe. Even words used by germanic languages such as afrikaans for latin concepts use crude commonly understood concepts or just take the latin word directly. Afrikaans uses afrikaanized english words for those concepts he accuses Africans of not having like motivation and precision. For his age he is very childish.

    • oogenhand says:

      It is possible to argue that certain languages like Chinese, Arabic and English are decadent/degenerate. They have a very hard time to incorporate new structures.

      Constructed languages obey three laws:

      – It is not possible to make a language that is easy to everyone.
      – It is not possible to make a language that can pass as natural.
      – It is not possible to make a language that screws things up more than natural languages.

      This makes it highly probable that “natural” languages were screwed up by a supernatural event (nudge, nudge…)

  5. Mrs. Carter says:

    I cannot believe this Valberg would be invited to speak about Africans and their languages. This man is shameful and just downright un-worthy to speak on Africans and their communication system in all its contexts.

  6. Wilson says:

    The only proper African language is Afrikaans. All the bantu languages are only half-languages, since none of them developed into a written form. Bantu languages only became written when Europeans arrived and tried to developed those languges into a written form using the Latin alphabet. However, this is an unnatural process and certain bantu languages today have discrepancies between their indigenous spoken form, and the artificial written form developed by Europeans. This is why “Zulu” and “written Zulu” are sometimes considered different languages, and why many Zulus cannot even write in their language.

  7. Etienne Forest says:

    I live in Japan. The world responsibility in Japanese (or Chinese) contains the world “blame”. Indeed that reflects a very different view. The differences are exacerbated by Japanese cultural imperatives such as maintaining harmony. Thus responsibility is diffused here. This leads in many cases to an unwillingness to take or assign responsibility in the Western sense.

    So the average Japanese does not fully understand the Western concept of responsibility but we do not understand automatically theirs either. Intelligent people, if they look into it, or if it is explained, can understand the difference. Anyway one cannot call the Japanese inferior because they do not have concepts that exists in the West.

    However irrespective of intelligence level, these differences certainly make me very nervous about multiculturalism and other hyper-tolerant Western ideology.

    • jewamongyou says:

      This particular cost of multiculturalism manifests itself strongly in the workplace. Different cultures interpret rules differently. In much of the world, rules are merely suggestions, not to be take very seriously. But in the West, they are to be taken seriously (most of the time). So what happens when your boss is African, and ignores rules when they’re inconvenient? What happens when your boss is Asian, and enforces rules even when they’re inappropriate rules? Of course, these things can happen even in a homogeneous environment, but workplace diversity can make it a lot worse.

    • Annes Ballpen says:

      western ideology is 100 % jewish. They so called “free” west has been brainwashed with jewish owned media, hollywood ,academia, publishing, banking …..especially thru the social sciences like freudian psychoanalysis, frankfurt school, new york intellectuals they have subverted the west

  8. Raphael Bhembe says:

    I listened to Dr. Valberg’s lecture with an open mind. He is very wrong in his conclusions! Language is expressed in culture. And this phenomenon holds strong in many African languages. You cannot study African languages apart from their culture, unless your sole interest is Linguistics. I will give you a quick example. Here is how Dr. Valberg reasons: 1)Half-way through the talk, he implies that African languages have “no concept of insurance.” Why? 1) Because there is no original word to describe it in an African language, and, 2) When a group of Africans were asked to pool in money for an insurance fund, they refused. 3) So Africans have no concept of insurance. In my opinion, the first two are premises are true, but the conclusion is very wrong. That is because the concept of insurance is not to be found only in the language, it is expressed in the culture. In most African languages, we say, “today it is me, tomorrow it is you” This means that if there is a tragedy in my family, you have a moral obligation to help me through the difficult time. When tragedy befalls you, you can count on me. I will in turn help you. This applies to death, sickness, sudden loss of a job, etc. This is insurance. The School of Oriental and African Studies in London offers a BA program in African Language and Culture. This institution understands that knowledge of an African language is not complete without knowledge of its Culture. In conclusion, Dr. Valberg’s analysis of African languages is mis-informed, very shallow and neglects an important aspect.

    • jewamongyou says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think you have a valid point. What drives Dr. Valberg, and others, to such conclusions is Africa’s poor track record when it comes to preventative maintenance, investment for the future and taking care of each other. However, a big part of the problem might be the fact that tribal identities (within which the attitude you describe “Today it is me, tomorrow it is you”) are being destroyed in favor of artificial national identities. This “national identities” are not blood ties. They are not powerful enough to make people sacrifice for others as they would for members of their own tribes. Ideally, “Tribe” and “nationality” would closely correspond to each other.

      • Raphael Bhembe says:

        Thanks. Reading your comment took me far back to an era that I never lived in. I ‘miss’ the days before Stanley Morton came to the Congo to destroy over 450 local chiefdoms. I imagine the chiefdoms were a beautiful system of governance which enabled African tribes to co-exist peacefully. I agree with you, national identities are fake. A typical African identifies more with his tribe than his nation. A word about future investment. I used to think that Africa’s poverty is due to corruption, bad leadership, lack of vision and so on. I have undergone some intellectual conversion about this. It turns out that corruption and bad leadership are a small fraction of the problem. And now I know that in this world some countries are so powerful that they can devise structures to keep other countries under perpetual poverty. The bigger and serious reasons why Africa is poor are these: irresponsible lending of money to African governments by Western governments; African governments are in huge debt to Western governments; since the slave trade era the Continent still exports unprocessed materials which have less value (tobacco, cotton, tea, coffee, cocoa, et cetera) and even less because market prices are dictated; there are millions of US dollars stolen by African leaders sitting in Swiss accounts – why do these banks co-operate in this?; general elections in Africa almost always lead to post-election instability (not necessarily post-election violence); the idea of democracy is stupid at its foundation. I think Plato did not favour it either. You become a leader just because the majority has voted you? Even more stupid because African countries were pressurized to go democratic without adequate preparation. I remember the dramatic period before Malawi embraced democracy. If you asked an average person on the street what democracy meant. They were likely respond in this way: end of poverty; free farming supplies; jobs, etc. This is not because these people are stupid. Democracy came as a big lie to Africans. And sadly, it is still not understood in Africa.

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