There is no RationalWiki without you. We are a small non-profit with no staff — we are hundreds of volunteers who document pseudoscience and crankery around the world every day. We will never allow ads because we must remain independent. We cannot rely on big donors with corresponding big agendas. We are not the largest website around, but we believe we play an important role in defending truth and objectivity.
If everyone seeing this today donates $5, we will meet our goal for 2018.
| Fighting pseudoscience isn't free.|
We are 100% user-supported! Help and donate $5, $20 or whatever you can today with !
| Fiction over fact|
|How it didn't happen|
The 1421 theory claims that the Chinese (specifically, the fleet of the admiral Zheng He) reached the Americas in 1421 — before Christopher Columbus, and that various Native American peoples descend from the Chinese and speak Chinese. Historians generally regard the 1421 theory as pseudohistory based on nothing more than speculations, assertions, and sloppy research.
The Apache Speak Chinese
One claim by supporters of the 1421 theory is that the Apache speak Chinese. The "evidence" for this claim is the following bit of hearsay from the 1918 book History of Arizona by Thomas Edwin Farish:
“”The Tartar Chinese speak the dialect of the Apaches. The Apaches bear a striking resemblance to the Tartar. About the year 1885, W. [William] B. Horton, who had served as County Superintendent of Schools, at Tucson, was appointed Post Trader at Camp Apache, and went to San Francisco to purchase his stock, where he hired a Chinese cook. His kitchen adjoined his sleeping apartment, and one evening while in his room he heard in the kitchen some Indians talking. Wondering what they were doing there at that hour of the night, he opened the door and found his cook conversing with an Apache. He asked his cook where he had acquired the Indian language. The cook said: 'He speak all same me. I Tartar Chinese; he speak same me, little different, not much.' At Williams, in Navajo County, is another Tartar Chinaman, Gee Jim, who converses freely with the Apaches in his native language. From these facts it would seem that the Apache is of Tartar origin.
From the fact that the Apache language was practically the same as that of the Tartar Chinese, color is given to the theory advanced by Bancroft in his “Native Races,” Volume 5, p. 33, et seq., that Western America was “originally peopled by the Chinese, or, at least, that the greater part of the new world civilization may be attributed to these people.”
Apache is, in fact, completely unrelated to Chinese. It belongs to the Athabaskan language family, which also includes Navajo, and has no connection to the Sino-Tibetan languages. Consider the following translations of the Lord's Prayer in Mandarin Chinese and Coyotero Apache:
|Chinese||Chinese (Pinyin)||Coyotero Apache|
|wǒmen de tiānfù, yuàn mí de míng shòu xiǎnyáng, yuàn mí de guó láilín,
yuàn mí de zhǐyì fèngxíng zài rénjiān, rútóng zài tiānshàng.
|NohwiTaa yaaká'yú dahsíndaahíí Nizhi'íí dilzîhgo bígózîh le'.|
Nant'án nlîîhíí begodowáh.
The two languages are obviously completely unalike. While old stories like the above might be useful as an illustration of mutual intelligibility of two languages already known to be closely related, or as evidence pointing to a particular genetic affiliation of a long since dead language about which little or nothing is known, it is hardly possible to cite such anecdotes as "proof" that speakers of two languages that are still very much alive and that are known to be totally unrelated and mutually unintelligible can communicate with each other. Indeed, there is a significant body of texts in Apache which clearly shows a language totally dissimilar to Chinese. A time span of slightly over a century is insufficient to obliterate any trace of relationship between what were initially mutually intelligible dialects. There are multiple possible explanations for the discrepancy between Farish's anecdotes and the attested history of Apache.
First, Farish might have simply misremembered the stories. He does not clarify the sources of the anecdotes; he may have witnessed them personally or read or heard them from someone or somewhere else. It is entirely possible that the original accounts did not involve Chinese-speaking Apaches, but merely acquired this form in Farish's mind over time. This seems possible, given that Farish is apparently basing his claim on second-hand stories and does not appear to have first-hand knowledge of the languages in question. Alternatively, the so-called "Tartar Chinamen" may in fact have been Navajo and/or Apache pretending to be Chinese, for whatever reason. Perhaps they were playing pranks on unsuspecting outsiders, in which case they probably laughed heartily at the men's gullibility.
The ability of "Gee Jim" to communicate with the Apache may also be explainable by the fact that Navajo is quite close to Apache. Consider the maps on the right, which show the current and historic territories of Navajo and various Apachean languages. As can be seen, Navajo is geographically quite close to Apache; in addition, Navajo County and Apache County are adjacent to each other. One site dealing with Native American languages states: "Actually, there are at least two distinct Apache languages: Western Apache and Eastern Apache. The two are closely related, like French and Spanish, but speakers of one language cannot understand the other well–in fact, Western Apache is closer to Navajo than to Eastern Apache." In other words, Apache is fairly similar to Navajo. The ability of Gee Jim (a Navajo County resident) to communicate with the Apache may be because of his actually being a Navajo; communication may have been possible due to the similarity of Navajo and Apache and/or his being able to speak both languages.
It's not as if linguists are closed-minded dogmatists who categorically refuse to consider any evidence that might significantly change their picture of Amerindian linguistics. For instance, the linguist Edward Vajda has proposed, on the basis of comparative evidence, that the Na-Dene languages (which include Apache) are related to the Yeniseian languages of Siberia, a proposal which has met with not insignificant approval within the linguistics community. If linguists are capable of coming up with and seriously considering the idea of Apache being distantly related to obscure Siberian languages with very few speakers, it is not likely that they would completely gloss over something as obvious and in-your-face as Apache being identical to Chinese.
- 1421 Exposed
- The book '1421, The Year China Discovered America' is a fairytale & a fiction
- How Not to (Re)Write World History: Gavin Menzies and the Chinese Discovery of America
- Book review
- 1421, a rebuttal
- 1421: The Year the Chinese DID NOT Discover America
- 1421, Language Log
- 1421 Update, Language Log
- Fantasy Land, 1421: The Year China ...
- 1421, the Year China Provided Grist for Crackpottery, Christopher Culver
- History of Arizona by Thomas Edwin Farish, 1918, Volume VII, Chapter I. Indians of Arizona.
- William B. Horton, de.wikipedia.org.
- Apache, Ethnologue.
- Apache, Native-Languages.org.
- Donald Trump has read a lot of books on China: 'I understand the Chinese mind' by Tony Pierce (May 3, 2011 | 4:05 pm) The Los Angeles Times.