The Sociological Review

Date: 1919

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Of the various physical characteristics which mark off the different branches of mankind from each other the colour of the skin is that which most easily attracts the eye of an observer; hence it was most natural that the early attempts to classify the races of man should have been made upon this basis. In the 18th century Linnaeus assigned to "Homo Europaeus albus" the position of being one of his four primary divisions of the human species. The name was not strictly accurate, however, as under it there had to be tabulated the populations of North Africa and South-western Asia, which were little if any darker than the peoples of Southern Europe. In the early 19th century Blumenbach gave to the white-skinned peoples of Europe, Asia and Africa the name Caucasian, after a skull from Georgia which he greatly admired. This name has lasted long, and is still in use, but since it has to include such peoples as the dark Arabs and the fair Swedes, some further division of the white race was recognised to be a necessity. This step was taken by Huxley, who in 1870 divided into two stocks "fair whites" (xanthochroi) and "dark whites" (melanochroi). The two stocks overlapped in Central Europe, and Celtic speaking peoples were found belonging to both. Of these two Huxley supposed that the xanthochroi of Northern Europe were the original stock and that the melanochroi of the Mediterranean area were produced by intermixture between the former and a brown race. At this time, however, the problem of devising a satisfactory method of classifying the population of Europe was complicated by that confusion between philological and anthropological terms which has wrought such dire havoc with ethnological nomenclature. Comparative philology had made it clear that with few exceptions all the languages of Europe could be traced back to a single ancestral stock, offshoots of which had also found their way into Persia and India. This family of languages received the names "Aryan," "Indo-European" or "Indo-Germanic," and it began to be readily assumed that there must have existed an Aryan race, a doctrine which still lingers in modern geography books. No one, however, could say whether the early Aryans were dark whites or fair whites. Max Müller ventured to launch the opinion that their original "habitat" had been "somewhere" in Asia, though he later abandoned the hypothesis that an Aryan race had existed. With the exception of Greek and Albanian, the Aryan languages of Europe fall into four groups—Romance, Celtic, Teutonic, and Letto-Slavic.

It has of course always been known that the Romance languages owe their present distribution not to the circumstance that they were carried to the lands in which they now prevail by a single race, but to the fact that these lands were once under the influence of a common civilization. Hence, although we meet the expression "Latin race" in newspapers and reviews, we do not encounter it in manuals of ethnology. The origin, growth and distribution of the Celtic, Teutonic and Slavic branches of the Aryan family are, however, shrouded in much obscurity, and this fact has enabled writers to employ these terms now in a linguistic and now in an ethnological sense. The tall fair-haired barbarians who swarmed down from the Alps upon the Italian plains were called by the classical writers Celts, though in the first century before the Christian era, at the time of Cæsar’s conquest of Gaul, a distinction between the Celts and the Teutons began to be made. The Slavs do not, however, figure prominently in European history till Byzantine times. The precedent set by the classical writers was followed, and it was customary to regard the Celts as a fair-haired race, till about 1850, when Broca, who was then conducting his anthropometrical researches into the composition of the French nation, showed that the Bretons—the only Celtic speaking people on the continent of Europe—had dark hair, from which discovery it followed that a distinction must be made between the use of the word Celtic as a linguistic and all anthropological term.

The recognition of this fact has simplified the work of subsequent investigators, and in the two most comprehensive attempts to classify the European peoples which have been made in recent years, those of Ripley and Deniker, "Celtic" does not appear as a racial term. These two investigators, fully alive to the errors into which their predecessors have fallen through failing to distinguish clearly between language and race, have attempted to systematize the European peoples solely by the use of physical criteria. Their results are at first sight strikingly dissimilar, although they have been reached by the use of almost identical material. Professor Ripley recognises three European races: (1) a tall, fair-haired dolichocephalic race, which predominates in the countries bordering upon the Baltic and the North Sea, which he names the Teutonic race; (2) a brachycephalic race of medium height, brown hair and eyes, stretching from Brittany through the highlands of Central Europe, the plateau of Central France, the Auvergne and Vosges through South Germany, Switzerland, the Austrian Empire and the Balkan states, across the sea of Marmora, through Asia Minor and Armenia to Persia and Afghanistan. This race he names the Alpine; and (3) a short, dark-haired, dark-eyed dolichocephalic race, which is found in the lands lying round both basins of the Mediterranean and which is found in its greatest purity in such isolated areas as the island of Sardinia. The existence of this physical type in the Iberian peninsula, Italy, Greece and North Africa has been recognized by the Italian craniologist Professor Sergi, who has named it the Mediterranean race, a name retained by Ripley. The scheme of classification adopted by Deniker, the late Librarian of the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle at Paris, is somewhat more elaborate than Professor Ripley’s. This authority postulates the existence of no less than six primary and four secondary races in Europe. It is possible to some extent to equate the two schemes. Thus Deniker has a Nordic and "sub-Nordic" race corresponding to Ripley’s Teutonic, a Cévenole or Occidental and a Dinaric or Adriatic corresponding respectively to the Western and Eastern ends of Ripley’s Alpine, and two more which correspond to the Mediterranean race.

Can the more elaborate scheme be said to possess any advantages over the simpler one? By the recognition of an Adriatic or Dinaric race the taller portion of the brachycephalic race prevalent throughout Central Europe which occupies Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania is differentiated from the shorter portion in West and Central Europe. It is impossible, however, to suppose that Deniker’s six races and four sub-races ever existed as independent types, rather it appears that they represent local combinations of physical traits. With Ripley’s three races, however, the case is somewhat different. It seems that they can put forward some sort of claim to have had an objective existence.

This does not mean that if we take a given area in Northern, Central or Southern Europe we shall find that in any particular area a majority of the inhabitants possess all the characters of the ideal racial type. All we can say is that some of the various characters which go towards making up the racial type are possessed by the majority of the population. For instance, in a given area in Northern Europe 60 per cent. of the population may be tall and 60 per cent. may be blonde, but not more than 20 per cent. need be tall blonde. The pure racial type has dissolved like a lump of sugar in a cup of tea. Ripley accounts for the present population of Europe as follows. In very early times there existed two races of man—a long-headed African race and a broad-headed Asiatic one. In Quaternary times the various migrations of African longheads invaded Europe by the three routes then open to them; that is, across the land bridges which then connected Spain with Morocco, Tunis with Sicily, and Cyrenaica with Greece.

The palæolithic races of Europe were all long-headed, broad-headed skulls becoming common only in the Azilian or Mesolithic period. We must suppose that the long-headed population of Europe ultimately developed, probably under climatic influences, into two types, one tall and fair in the North, and another short and dark in the South. The population of the Mediterranean basin seems to have remained substantially unchanged since Neolithic times and the present distribution of the Mediterranean race to have been then already achieved. No remains of Pleistocene man have as yet been forthcoming from Ireland, Scotland, or Scandinavia, but the basin of the Baltic has been surrounded since Neolithic times by a tall, long-headed population. The round-headed race of Central Europe which has become wedged in between the two long-headed races is regarded by most authorities as an intrusive Asiatic element, though the alternative theory that a mountainous environment induces brachycephaly has been maintained by Professor Ridgeway. On the former theory the existence of the short-headed race of Central Europe is to be accounted for by successive waves of migration from Asia into Europe from Neolithic times onwards. It has its counterpart in the broad-headed element found in the highlands of Asia Minor, Persia and Afghanistan. The Mediterranean type is also represented in Southwestern Asia.

Professor Ripley’s hypothesis of the origin of the European peoples appears to fit the facts as well as any other which has been advanced up to the present, and his three types certainly have some claim to the possession of an independent existence. The names which he assigns to them are, however, not entirely above criticism. He calls his northern race the Teutonic. The defect of name is that in popular etymology it includes all peoples who speak Teutonic languages, the English, Scotch, Irish, Flemings, Dutch, the Germans, Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes. Now these peoples embrace a very large population which does not correspond physically to his Teutonic type. For instance, the Alpine type predominates in South Germany, German-Austria and German-Switzerland, and Teutonic-speaking people of Mediterranean type are found in England and Ireland, while the physical type which Ripley calls Teutonic is found in the Hebrides, in what were the Baltic provinces of the defunct Russian empire, and in Finland, in which countries Celtic, Slavonic, and Finno-Ugrian languages prevail. If we consider these facts it becomes clear that the use of the term word Teutonic, both as a linguistic and as an anthropological term, may beget as much confusion as the similar misuse of the terms "Aryan" and "Keltic."

When therefore we come to choose in which sense we shall use the word Teutonic there can be little doubt that the linguistic one will be the wisest, since it has been hallowed by long use. We must then find an alternative name for the blonde dolichocephalic race of Northern Europe. Deniker calls it the Northern or Nordic race, and this term, being a geographical one, involves no question-begging assumptions with regard to languages, etc. The name Boreal has also been suggested, but it is somewhat ugly and perhaps has too much of an Arctic sound about it. Ripley gives a geographical name to the broad-headed race of Central Europe by calling it the "Alpine." Some writers have called it Celtic or Celto-Slavonic, but both these terms are misleading since its members speak a Celtic language in Brittany, Romance languages in Central France, Northern Italy and Roumania, a Teutonic language in South Germany, Switzerland and Austria, a Finno-Ugrian one in Hungary, and Slavonic ones in Eastern Europe. The term Alpine has this in its justification that the Alps are the most striking physical feature of the part of Europe which the race inhabits; one cannot but feel, however, that it is a somewhat narrow one to apply to a physical type which stretches from Brittany to Afghanistan. The term Celtic has been suggested owing to the belief that this race brought Celtic languages into Western Europe and Celto-Slavonic as embracing its most westerly and most easterly limits in Europe, but both are unsatisfactory, as Celtic and Slavonic languages are spoken by peoples who do not belong to it. To rectify the narrowness of the name "Alpine" the term "Alpine-Armenoid" has been devised, "Armenoid" referring of course to the brachycephalic substratum of the population of Anatolia, a population which may with some probability be identified with the ancient Hittites. Its chief defect is of course its clumsiness. The term Eurasian would have been a good one to express the geographical distribution of this race, but unfortunately it is needed for another purpose. On the whole it seems best to use the term "Alpine-Armenoid" when we wish to speak of both its European and Asiatic halves, and "Alpine" when we are confining ourselves to the European one. As to the third of the three great European races the term "Mediterranean" in every way suits it. It indicates its geographical position, and begs no question with regard to language. If then ethnologists would agree to denominate the three main physical types in Europe the Nordic, Alpine or Alpine-Armenoid and the Mediterranean, and to use the terms "Celtic," "Teutonic" and "Slavonic" solely as linguistic terms as is now being done with the term "Aryan," an immense amount of confusion would be saved. By persisting in their use as racial terms we are only inviting confusion, as all must admit when we reflect that Celtic languages are spoken by peoples of Nordic type in Scotland, Mediterranean type in Ireland, and Alpine type in Brittany; Teutonic languages by peoples of Nordic type in Britain, Holland, Scandinavia and North Germany, and by members of the Alpine race in South Germany, Switzerland and Austria, while Slavonic tongues are spoken by Nordic peoples upon the shores of the Baltic and by Alpine ones in the Balkans, and, lastly, we find the Romance languages spread among the three races. These are spoken among peoples of Nordic type in Northern France and Belgium, among peoples of Alpine type in Central France and Northern Italy and among peoples of Mediterranean type in Southern France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. When we have got the distinction between race and language clearly fixed we may turn to consider the question among which of the races in Europe did the various linguistic families originate. We know of course that the source from which all the Romance languages have sprung was the speech of a people of mixed Alpine and Mediterranean race in Central Italy. Again there can be little doubt that Celtic tongues were introduced into Western Europe by a migration or migrations of the Alpine race, but whether the speakers of the original Slavic dialects were members of the Alpine or of the Nordic race does not seem to be clear.

Teutonic speech seems to have been communicated to peoples of Alpine stock by southerly and westerly migrations of the tall, blonde dolicho-cephals of Northern Europe. These problems are, however, all subordinate to the main one in the relations of race and language in Europe, viz., to which of the three European races must we ascribe the original introduction of Indo-European languages into our continent?

Max Müller, after he had abandoned his belief in an Aryan race, said that it would be just as sensible to speak of one as to speak of a brachy-cephalic grammar or a dolichocephalic dictionary. Nevertheless, although we cannot speak of an Aryan race, it is obvious that the tribe which spoke the original Aryan dialect must have existed somewhere. That they were a pastoral people is admitted, and so far as geographical considerations go their "habitat" might have been anywhere between the Carpathians and the Pamir. The fact, however, that comparative philologists regard the Baltic group which comprises the Lithuanian, Lettish and now extinct old Prussian languages as the most archaic branch of the Indo-European family has led to the belief that the locality of this people may have been somewhere in the neighbourhood in which tongues have been spoken. If this inference is correct it seems that the original Aryan-speaking people belonged most likely to the tall, blonde North European race, which since the close of Neolithic times has dwelt round the basin of the Baltic. These Nordic peoples would have passed on Indo-European languages to the Alpine race who would diffuse them throughout Central Europe and into Southeastern Europe; offshoots of the Alpine race migrated both in historic and prehistoric times into the Iberian peninsula, into Italy and Greece, and very likely brought Indo-European languages with them. If, however, on the other hand, it were shown that the Indo-European languages originated among a people of Alpine stock then the history of their diffusion must have been somewhat different, and their introduction into Northern Europe have been due to a northern migration of a part of the Alpine race. That such a movement must have at one time taken place we know from the fact that a considerable proportion of brachycephaly is found in Denmark and Southern Norway. The third alternative that Aryan languages were first spoken by peoples of Mediterranean stock seems to be the least probable.

The only non-Aryan language in Western Europe is Basque, spoken by a people dwelling on both sides of the Pyrenees. There seems little doubt that it is the last remnant of a great family of agglutinative languages which prevailed widely throughout Europe and probably also on the Southern shores of the Mediterranean in Neolithic times.

Having considered the question of how far languages and race are coterminous in Europe, we may turn to the question of their relation to what we call nationality. The outbreak of the late war found Europe divided into twenty-one different States; of these ten, viz., the German Empire, the kingdoms of Italy, Belgium, Norway, Greece, Roumania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro, and the Principality of Albania—had existed as independent political entities for less than a century, and of the remaining continental States only Spain and Portugal retained the frontiers with which the Congress of Vienna left them a century ago. In no single case was language absolutely coterminous with nationality, that is to say was one language spoken by all the inhabitants of a single political organism and by no one else. Norway and Sweden appear to furnish the nearest approach to this ideal, as with the exception of the Lappish element in the North of the Scandinavian Peninsula which is of alien race as well as of alien speech the languages which take their names from these States are more or less coterminous with the States themselves. This is also practically true of Holland, but in other cases the ideal (if it be an ideal) is rarely even approximately reached. Thus we see that while the French nation is ethnologically made up of the three Great European types we find that in the political organism which we call France there exist strata of speech which enable us to reconstruct something of the linguistic as well as of the anthropological history of the continent. In the south-west corner of the country we still find a vestige of some pre-Aryan linguistic family brought in probably by the Mediterranean race which ultimately broke down in this part of Europe before the invasion of Celtic-speaking tribes belonging to the Alpine race; their language in its turn gave way except in Brittany before Latin, another language of the Indo-European family which in a modified form spread over practically the whole country.

We are, however, reminded of the fact that peoples of Teutonic speech overran the country in the 5th century on the withdrawal of the Roman legions by the circumstance that Flemish, a Teutonic tongue, lingers, especially in place names in Northeastern France. But the bulk of the Teutonic as well as of the Celtic tribes changed their own languages for a Romance one; in the former case the conquerors adopting the speech of the subject people, in the latter the conquered accepting the language of the conquerors.

On the other hand the French language is spread beyond the political boundaries of the country into the territories of all its Eastern neighbours in Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, Switzerland and into the Val d’Aosta in North-western Italy. The relation of the late German Empire to language and race is less complicated, but still presents some features of interest. Only two instead of the three great European races are represented, the Nordic and the Alpine, while traces of the pre-Aryan and Celtic tongues which must once have been spoken over a large part of the country have vanished. Within its limits were to be found, however, another Teutonic language, viz., Danish in Schleswig, and representatives of two other branches of the Indo-European on the Western and Eastern marches of the Empire respectively, viz., French in the part of Lorraine annexed in 1871 and Polish in the Eastern provinces.

When we turn to Eastern Europe the problem of the relation of nationality to language and race becomes far more complicated. Three instances, however, especially arrest our attention—Hungary, Roumania and Bulgaria. The Hungarian language belongs to the Finno-Ugrian stock, and was, of course, brought in by one of the numerous tribes of Mongoloid origin who wandered into Eastern and Central Europe during the Dark Ages. This language is now, however, spoken by a people who approximate to the Alpine type of Central Europe and have lost their Asiatic features. On the other hand, the Bulgarians, another Finnic people, have settled in the Eastern half of the Balkan Peninsula, and have exchanged their original language for a Slavonic one; while the Roumanians physically resembling their neighbours of Slavonic speech have exchanged a Slavonic tongue for a Romance one.

We see thus that in the history of Europe the races appeared first, the languages second, and the nationalities last. The three great European races have been established roughly in their present position since the Bronze Age, perhaps even since the Neolithic. The great linguistic divisions, Romance, Celtic, Teutonic, Slavonic, and Finno-Ugrian, occupy approximately the same geographical areas which they occupied a thousand years ago, but nationality is a phenomenon which scarcely existed before the Renaissance. Political accidents have determined why certain linguistic areas have attained to the dignity of independent States while others have been divided between two or more States and others again are in the position of submerged nationalities. This may be best illustrated by the political history of the Iberian Peninsula. The physical characters of the inhabitants of this part of Europe are remarkably uniform, the population being dolichocephalic and brunet. There is not a single brachycephalic province in Spain. Throughout the Peninsula four languages are spoken, the pre-Aryan Basque in three Northern provinces, Guipozcoa, Viscaya and Alava, and three Romance tongues, Catalan in the Eastern portion of the Peninsula, Castilian throughout the centre from north to south, and Portuguese in the west extending across the Northern frontier of Portugal into the Spanish province of Galicia. If race in the physical sense was to decide political boundaries then the whole Peninsula ought to be under a single Government; if language, then (setting aside the Basques) we should have three States, viz., Portugal, Castile, and Catalonia. As a matter of fact, we have two—Portugal and another embracing Castilians and Catalans which we call Spain. When we look into the cause of this we find that it is due to a marriage contracted in the 15th century between a Queen of Castile and a King of Aragon; if, on the other hand, as Freeman has pointed out, Isabella of Castile had married the King of Portugal instead of the King of Aragon, we should still have had one race and four languges in the Peninsula, but different nations from those which we find to-day. Since the inhabitants of Portugal and Castile would have formed a nation which we should still probably call Spain, while Aragon and Catalonia would have either formed a separate nation or would have become absorbed into France.

A nation, it seems, may be formed in two ways; either a political accident has forced a group of people to live under a common government or else a common language, and more especially a literature, has produced a common social consciousness which makes those who speak the tongue and read the literature desire to form an independent political organism. The relation of nationality to language and race ought to be carefully considered at a time when so many are clamouring for the drawing of political frontiers along what are miscalled ethnological boundaries.


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Chicago: The Sociological Review in Source Book in Anthropology, ed. Kroeber, Alfred L., 1876-1960, and Waterman, T. T. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1920), Original Sources, accessed September 22, 2023,

MLA: . The Sociological Review, Vol. 11, in Source Book in Anthropology, edited by Kroeber, Alfred L., 1876-1960, and Waterman, T. T., Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 1920, Original Sources. 22 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , The Sociological Review. cited in 1920, Source Book in Anthropology, ed. , University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. Original Sources, retrieved 22 September 2023, from