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Japhetic theory

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Japhetic theory is a term used to describe a linguistic theory developed by the Soviet linguist Nikolay Yakovlevich Marr (1864–1934). In linguistics it can be compared to Lysenkoism in biology: a theory that was promoted and supported for ideological rather than scientific reasons, because it was thought to represent "proletarian science" as opposed to "bourgeois science."


Marr adopted the term "Japhetic", from Japheth, the name of one of the sons of Noah, in order to characterise his theory that the Kartvelian languages of the Caucasus area were related to the Semitic languages of the Middle East (named after Shem, Japheth's brother). Marr postulated a common origin of Caucasian, Semitic-Hamitic, and Basque languages. This initial theory pre-dated the October revolution. In 1917, Marr enthusiastically endorsed the revolution, and offered his services to the new Soviet regime. He was soon accepted as the country's leading linguist.


Under the Soviet government Marr developed his theory to claim that Japhetic languages had existed across Europe before the advent of the Indo-European languages. They could still be recognised as a substratum over which the Indo-European languages had imposed themselves. Using this model, Marr attempted to apply the Marxist theory of class struggle to linguistics, arguing that these different strata of language corresponded to different social classes. He even claimed that the same social classes in widely different countries spoke versions of their own languages that were linguistically closer to one another than to the speech of other classes who supposedly spoke "the same" language. This aspect of Marr's thinking was an attempt to extend the Marxist theory of international class consciousness far beyond its original meaning, by trying to apply it to language. Marr also insisted that the notion that a people are united by common language was nothing more than false consciousness created by "bourgeois nationalism".

In 1950, after Marr's death, his claims were officially discredited as a misrepresentation of Marxist theory in an article written by Stalin. Since then, the Japhetic theory has been seen as deeply flawed, both inside and outside the former Soviet Union.


  • J. V. Stalin, Marxism and Problems of Linguistics, first published in the June 20, July 4, and August 2, 1950 issues of Pravda; reprinted by Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow. online version (

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Japhetic theory. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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