25 Aug 2008

What do I "know"?

Both Mehri wēda and Akkadian wadū (variant of idū) make it uncertain whether it's appropriate to reconstruct *w- or *y- as the first radical of the Proto-Semitic (PSem) triliteral meaning “to know”[1].

Considering the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root *weid-, it's just too tempting to wonder if there's a connection. If the original PSem root had *w-, then it would predictably become *y- in Western Semitic languages as is the case with other Iw-verbs like *wθb “to sit”.

The question is: What, if any, PSem form can plausibly account for the semantics and phonetics of the PIE root if this was indeed a Neolithic loanword? So I've been consulting a handy pdf called Semitic Binyanim for a hint at a sturdy answer. One form that may fit could be the active G-stem participle which is reconstructed to be of the vocalic structure of CāCiC-. So in theory, I'd then expect *wādiʕ- “knowing” and this would be one option to explain the PIE root, if correctly formed that is, since PSem appears to correlate with PIE *ei also in the equation of PSem *θalāθi = PIE *treis “three”. I really need to find an in-depth book on Proto-Semitic grammar though...

[1] Bibliographic Bulletin (1982), University of Virginia, p.193 (see link).


  1. I have some trouble with the *ā ~ *ei correspondence. I can think of some thing though.
    *ā may have been /æː/ in some contexts, as in arabic, which could have sounded like /eː/ to the indo-europeans. /eː/ has a tendency to diphthongize into /eːj/ or /ej/ (as it has done in my native languages, Dutch).

    This though, would imply thaty indeed *ei diphthongs in indo-european itself may have come from an earlier *ē. I'm not sure what kind of repercussions this would have.

    But explaining it in a different way would make it rather difficult to explain in my opinion. If you have a plausible explanation to go from *ā to *ei that isn't the same as mine, feel free to explain ;)

  2. Just for the fun of it, I looked up this root in my Arabic dictionary, and was surprised to find out it exists but with a VERY different meaning.

    to put down, lodge, deposit (s.th.); (usually only in imperf. and imp.) to let, leave; to leave off, stop, cease; to give up, omit, skip

    and that's just for stem I.
    stem two II to see off, bid farewell
    IV to put down, lay down
    X to lay down, put down, place, lodge, deposit

    and the list goes on, because mister Hans Wehr decided that making a short entry in his lovely dictionary would never be enough.

    Just in case your wondering, the yadiʕ- variant doesn't exist in Arabic at all.

    It's hard to imagine 'to know' developed into this word, so I wonder what happened here.

  3. Phoenix: "I have some wtrouble with the *ā ~ *ei correspondence."

    Yes, you should! It's total crap! Even *I'm* disgusted by my own words! Thanks for calling me on it. ;)

    So here's the new explanation. These diphthongs are either the result of a Proto-Semitic diphthong (e.g. PSem *waynu > PIE *wóino-) or are a reflection of palatalization of the preceding consonant in the PSem word (e.g. PSem *gadyu "kid goat" > PIE *ǵʰáido-). This then would imply that *ei in PIE *treis "three", if indeed from the root PSem *θalāθ-, is specifically from the unmimated genitive form *θalāθi.

    If this makes more sense, then the vowel length in Proto-Semitic would have no effect in Mid IE... and I've already asserted that there was no length contrast at this stage of Pre-Indo-European anyway. There's more to this and I'm going to write a new blog pronto... yes, more on Indo-European/Semitic contacts. (My readers must be bored of this already, hahaha... Well, tough nuggies, folks!)

    Phoenix: "*ā may have been /æː/ in some contexts, as in arabic,[...]"

    I think the PIE data suggests that PSem *a, regardless of length, was simply a front vowel.

  4. Just to make sure others aren't confused (because sometimes *I* am and I sympathize with that, lol), Mehri is not the same thing as Arabic, but it is a Southern Arabian language. The triliteral wdʕ is confirmed by Johnstone/Smith, Mehri Lexicon and English-Mehri Word-list (1987), p.421. As you can see in the entry, Mehri even shows archaic alternation of PSem *w- and *y- apparently, which works nicely for my nefarious purposes.

    As for Arabic, any reflex of PSem *wdʕ/*ydʕ is doubted in Botterweck/Ringgren/Fabry, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (1974), p.449.