3 Nov 2008

Still on the hunt for Semitic-PIE connections

I don't know why but I'm hooked on the eastern European Neolithic lately. Ever since I've overcome my denial that Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and Proto-Semitic (PSem) not only had linguistic and cultural contact with each other due to intercontinental trade between the Balkans and Anatolia but that these prehistoric contacts must have been significant enough to affect PIE in a way that linguists could only describe as "intensive contact" by all the markers linguists would use to define something as such, I've been on the neverending hunt for more evidence of Semitic loans in Proto-Indo-European. And not only that, but within the precise context of my pre-existing theory of Mid IE which I've independently arrived at by my own internal reconstruction of PIE proper. I was always dismayed by Allan Bomhard's ignorance of possible IE-Semitic loans in his rush to reconstruct Proto-Nostratic in Indo-European and the Nostratic Hypothesis (1996), but now I'm even more dismayed as I find other hints at this apparently extensive intercultural communication.

I think I've noticed another possible loan from PSem into PIE. Compare PIE *mesg- (possibly pronounced [mezɢ̰-]) "to dip in water"[1] with PSem *māsiʔu, active participle of triliteral root *msʔ "to wash"[2]. Interesting? I think so. The link would suggest that it entered Indo-European via Mid IE *mesg̃a-. The reinterpretation of Proto-Semitic glottal stop as a creaky-voiced *g̃ by Mid IE speakers makes better sense if we theorize that word-medial glottal stops had already softened to a velar /h/ in Indo-European before contact with Semitic. I believe the other loans I identify in my pdf so far also suggest that this was the case. It all seems good but I admit there's one slight problem. Since I've already theorized that uvulars were only allophones of their velar counterparts at this stage, I've apparently treed myself into a logical pickle and I can't quite account for the source for the added uvularization (i.e. the velar stop is "non-palatalized" according to traditional PIE notation, thus according to the reinterpretation of the sound system I stand by, the *-g- in *mesg- would appear to be a uvular creaky-voiced stop). Hmmm, perhaps I'm still missing something in my theory. Exciting!

[1] Adams/Mallory, Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture (1997), p.160 (see link).
[2] Greenfield/Paul/Stone/Pinnick, Al Kanfei Yonah: Collected Studies of Jonas C. Greenfield on Semitic Philology (1991), p.471 (see link).


  1. PIE *mesg is usually linked with Proto-Uralic *mos'ki (Sammalahti's reconstruction), to wash. It doesn't seem to be a likely borrowing from PIE to PU. Could it be a borrowing from PIE to PS?

  2. A simple glottal stop (not a huge step up from no sound at all) being loaned as a creaky voiced velar stop (a very complex consonant) sounds like, to put it lightly, the kind of a correspondence I'd like to see more than one lexeme pair supporting. I do remember seeing a PAA reconstruction with *q > PS *ʔ (which might help), but to my chagrin I can't relocate it. :/

    It doesn't help either that your reference mentions the root shape *msy too.

    The opposite direction of loaning sounds marginally better, tho.

  3. I admit I've backed myself up against a wall here because I still have to look into these uvulars (i.e. the *g in *mesg-, *yeug-, etc) that appear in places that I wouldn't expect based on my theories of Syncope and Mid IE velar/uvular allophony. I have some ideas that I need to test out still.