Jul 31, 2010
Browsing the web as usual I came across something that captured by attention. It turns out that Edward Sapir in his 1937 article Hebrew "Helmet," A loanword, and its bearing on Indo-European phonology had reconstructed a Philistine word *kaubaɣ- 'helmet' based on the Christian story of Goliath (1 Samuel 17:5). There in Samuel, the word for 'helmet' is recorded as either kōbáʕ (כובע) or qōbáʕ (קובע), a rather curious word of non-Semitic origin whose mystery has cultivated much academic curiosity. It's certainly connected with Hittite kupahis 'headdress' although exactly how this word was transmitted between Semitic and Anatolian groups is a riddle to solve. Note easterly Hurrian kuwahi too although seeking an origin of this word in Eastern Turkey seems most unlikely despite what Puhvel suggests (see Puhvel, Hittite Etymological Dictionary: Words beginning with K (1997), p.257).
Quite eerily, I've already suggested a Minoan word for 'head' or 'summit', *kaupaθa (read Paleoglot: A hidden story behind Cybele the Earth Mother?), but I was ignorant at the time of Sapir's published hypothesis. This Minoan etymon is my attempt at better explaining (via expected Etruscan *caupaθ) the source of both Germanic *haubida- and Latin caput in a way that an over-cited Indo-European root (*)*kaput- just can't convincingly accomplish without fiddling with the phonetics. Surely, given this particular set of uncannily similar yet phonetically irregular reflexes, we should seriously be thinking about recent loan transmission rather than leaping to the comparatively more contrived assumption of some long-ago Proto-Indo-European utterance. Add to this Greek κύπτω (kúpto) 'to bend forth, stoop forth' for which Beekes fails to find a credible Indo-European etymology and suggests Pre-Greek origin, much to my bookish delight. Nonetheless, some do try even to loosely etymologize the aforementioned Philistine word in Indo-European terms with no noteworthy success.
Matching the spirit of Sapir's whimsy while in honest desire to crack this Mediterranean puzzle, I wonder sometimes about the elusive Philistine language and its origins which scream 'Aegean' all over it. Unfortunately, the Philistine civilization also still screams 'mystery' all over it and with no forthcoming answers in sight. We must remember though the mention of the *Pirastu [prst.w] in Egyptian records, one of the 'Sea Peoples' listed to have attempted a minor coup on Egypt at the end of the 2nd millennium BCE.
Now, would it be unfathomable to posit the idea that the Philistine language could be a direct descendant of Minoan (or perhaps a Minoanized language) in which the word for 'head' (and subsequently for 'headdress' through metonymy) became, for the sake of public brainstorming, *kopað in this dialect? Semites, Hittites or some other intermediary might perhaps have misheard the voiced dental fricative /ð/ as a voiced pharyngeal fricative /ʕ/ (ie. ayin) or a voiced glottal /ɦ/. Stranger things have happened in loanwords, eg. the Semitic name of the famed North African city of Carthage which entered into Greek as Καρχηδών (Karchēdṓn), into Latin as Carthāgo, and into Etruscan as *Carθaza.