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Asko Parpola

Asko Heikki Siegfried Parpola
Born July 12, 1941, Forssa

Master of Arts 1963, Licentiate 1966, PhD 1968 (Sanskrit and comparative Indo-European linguistics), University of Helsinki

Emeritus professor and docent in Indology, University of Helsinki 2005–
Research Fellow 1968–72, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), Copenhagen
Acting professor of Sanskrit and comparative Indo-European linguistics 1972, University of Gothenburg
Research Fellow 1972–74, Humanities Research Council of the Academy of Finland
Senior Research Fellow 1974–1981, Humanities Research Council of the Academy of Finland
Acting professor of comparative religion 1977, University of Helsinki
Professor of Indology (personal chair), University of Helsinki 1982–2004
Visiting scholar 1987, Churchill College, University of Cambridge 1987
Visiting scholar 1999, Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University 1999
Visiting scholar 2006, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto
Hermann Collitz Professor, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Linguistic Society of America/Stanford University 2007

Research themes
Vedic research (the Veda is India’s oldest known literature and religion)
The riddles of the Indus Civilization: writing, language and religion
The prehistory of Aryan languages in the light of archaeology and historical linguistics

Publications, research projects and other academic activity

Awards and special achievements
University of Helsinki Master’s Thesis Prize 1963
First Class Knight of the White Rose of Finland 1990
Alfred Kordelin Foundation lifetime achievement award 2003
Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland
M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award 2009
Honorary member of the American Oriental Society
Indian Presidential Citation of Honour in Sanskrit Studies 2015

Photo: Juri Ahlfors
Written by Asko Parpola, (Olli Siitonen ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

The jigsaw puzzle of Aryan prehistory

The study of the Vedic tradition and the Indus Civilization has also required research into the appearance of speakers of Sanskrit, i.e. Old Indo-Aryan, in South Asia. Sanskrit belongs to the Aryan or Indo-Iranian languages, which are part of the Indo-European language family. In 1986, Sir William Jones noted that Sanskrit, both in relation to its words and suffixes, was so similar to Greek and Latin that a philologist could not avoid concluding that they sprang from the same proto-language, which was perhaps no longer in existence. Historical linguistics was born shortly after this. Moreover, researchers began to search for the original homeland of the Indo-Europeans, and even today there is still no consensus on the matter. The nationalists now in power in India claim that Sanskrit was already spoken by the Indus people: the Aryans did not come from elsewhere; rather, they originated from India.

The lid of an urn with a horse-shaped handle found in Gandhara, North Pakistan and dated at around 1000 BC. Photo: Asko Parpola, 2004.

The oldest text of Vedic literature, the Rigveda, has been traditionally dated slightly later than the Indo-Aryan language of the rulers of the Syrian Mitanni Empire of 1500–1300 BC. As the Aryans were nomads upon their arrival in South Asia, it has not been possible to trace clear archaeological evidence of their appearance. Important clues about the prehistory of the Aryans are old Aryan-derived loan words in Finno-Ugrian languages, such as the Finnish word sata '100', which corresponds to śata in Sanskrit. They have been a starting point for the jigsaw puzzle I have been working on since 1973, in which I have attempted to piece together Eurasian-wide archaeological and linguistic reconstructions, partly in cooperation with the archaeologist Christian Carpelan. I present what I feel to be a satisfactory conclusion in my book The Roots of Hinduism (2015).

Photo: Asko Parpola.


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