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The term Aryan comes from the Hindu Vedas, in which it describes the "noble one" and may in fact be a derivative of the name used by the Proto-Indo-Europeans for themselves. The Aryans are speculated to have been a group of nomadic Indo-Europeans who supposedly settled in or were native to India sometime in 1500 BCE. It is unsure where they originally came from, but it was most likely the steppe, near the Caspian Sea (later occupied within historical times by the Scythians).
The term survives to modern times in the autonyms of some Aryan descendants, most notably in the name of the Indo-Iranian-speaking Middle Eastern country known as Iran. It may also underlie the name of Ireland (Irish: Éire, gen. Éireann), but there are other, competing etymologies.[note 1]
The Aryans brought with them their indigenous religious beliefs, which then fused with the native beliefs. Much has been made of the connections between Indra and Thor, for example. They also brought their own language. The original understanding of the relationship between India and Europe actually came about once haughty Europeans realized that their languages were all related to Sanskrit.[note 2] You would think this would have tamed their racist colonialism, but apparently not.
No, they weren't Nordic
Contrary to the Nazi meme, there is no reason to believe that the Aryans were blond or blue-eyed, or indeed ever bore any relation to any European ethnic group at all. Nor is there any reason to believe that the Aryans ever came to Europe before early historic times, at least not until Neolithic immigration from the Russian steppes to Europe and the adoption across the continent of Proto-Indo-European dialects[note 3] by the fair-skinned European natives.[note 4] The only people who have a claim to the "Aryan" ethnicity are the central and south Asian groups who live in areas like India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran ("Land of the Aryans"), and parts of the former Soviet Union. Modern European natives are a rather mixed-up lot, with many having ancestry traceable back thousands of years by way of their genes, though with bits and pieces of various other groups from around Europe, western Asia, and North Africa (not to mention some Neanderthal ancestry); their genetics tend to be much less Aryan than their languages.
In conclusion, Hitler was a moron, Jesus was a Jew, and unless you are Indian, Iranian, or Romani,[note 5] quit calling yourself Aryan! In fact, so far, no substantial proof has been provided that the Aryans, as a distinct group, ever existed.
- Who were the Aryans?, The Straight Dope
- Another frequently encountered explanation derives the name from Proto-Indo-European **piHwer-, meaning "fat" or "fertile"; this would make the name cognate with Greek Pieria. Initial *p- is regularly lost in Celtic languages: PIE *ph₂tḗr, "father"; Irish athair; *pisk-, "fish"; Irish iasc.
- Sanskrit looks startlingly similar to Greek and Latin in many grammatical structures (the noun declensions are very Latinate, if a bit more complex, and the verbal system is very close to Homeric Greek) and was once rumored to be mutually intercomprehensible with, of all things, Lithuanian, one of the most complex and primitive Indo-European languages surviving into modern times.
- Celtic over a wide area from Anatolia to Britain and Spain; Italic in Italy; Hellenic in Greece, western Anatolia, and the southern Balkans; Germanic in Scandinavia; Slavic in what is now Western Russia; and many other languages of unknown relation (though Phrygian is thought to be ancestral to Armenian and Illyrian to Albanian).
- The original languages of Stone Age Europe survived in historical times only in small pockets -- Etruscan in Italy until Roman times, Basque in Spain and France into modern times, Finno-Ugric languages in Northern Europe and a large pocket in Hungary and Romania (where they represent a historic migration). Neal Stephenson's fictional Qwghlm language from Cryptonomicon is probably intended to be one of these as well.
- You can taste the irony as Hitler ordered the killing of Roma in the Holocaust.
- Ishaan Tharoor (December 15, 2011). "The Aryan Race: Time to Forget About It?". http://world.time.com/2011/12/15/the-aryan-race-time-to-forget-about-it/.