20 Oct 2010

Indo-Aegean kinship terms

Coincidental to the previously mentioned *pR-reduction in Etruscan, I've long noticed that if the Etruscan word for 'brother' which is generally accepted to be ruva (nb. inscription TLE 232) were instead *pruva, it could relate nicely to the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) equivalent *bʰráhter-. Of course it's ample speculation but I'd like to explore a possible set of Indo-Aegean kinship terms because, for anyone really knows, there may be some gold in that river of speculation.

Remember that I reason that the Indo-European language family is quite distinct from the Aegean language family but that nonetheless an ultimate pre-Neolithic relationship exists between them. I estimate that these two families would have diverged at most 9000 years ago. To reconstruct Proto-Indo-Aegean accurately, we need to first to reconstruct pre-stages of both Indo-European and Aegean first. This is an unending series of refinements, to be sure.

Reconstructing Pre-Indo-European kinship terms

Internal reconstruction shows that PIE's kinship terms are mostly unanalysable save for their oft-employed kinship suffix *-hter-. I sense that these kinship terms are largely preserved from prehistoric times but that their shared characteristic suffix has been added quite recently in PIE's development by false segmentation and subsequent analogy from the only truly analyzable term in this set, *ph₂tér- 'father; provider' (< *peh₂- 'to feed, provide' plus actor suffix *-tér-). If *ph₂tér- were a like replacement for a reduplicated nursery term, *pápa-, pre-existing in the language then *máh₂ter- could easily have been coined by analogy to replace earlier *máma-. In turn, our analysis of PIE *bʰráhter- and *dʰugh₂ter- suggest that the inherited stems from the earliest recoverable period are *bʰrah- and *dʰug-. We should consider that they once existed in isolation without the suffix.

Thus, I choose to reconstruct earlier Mid Indo-European nominative case forms *baráhʷa-sa and *déug̰a-sa since Syncope operates in the earliest part of the Late IE period, resulting in *brāu-z and *deug̰-z . Note that at this stage, the feminine is indistinguishable from the masculine since both are just subsets of a common animate gender. Then we can see how original *brau- plus kinship suffix *-xter- could be mashed together as *brá-xter-, shaped in both vocalism and accent position by analogy with 'mother', while *deug̰- adopts the zerograde and accent placement seen in 'father' to result in *dug̰-xtér- (and then due to regressive spread of uvularity from *x: *duɢ-xtér-).

Brother to mother as daughter to father. They say blood is thicker than water afterall, so why not also their associated labels?

Reconstructing Aegean kinship terms

On to the Aegean family, Etruscan ruva 'brother' and seχ 'daughter' might temptingly be derived from Proto-Cyprian *pruwa and *sikʰ with little hyperbole, in turn from Aegean *parówa 'brother' and *síka 'daughter'. The aforementioned Etrusco-Rhaetic *pR-reduction would take care of the missing *p in the first term and Cyprian Syncope follows my currently prescribed rules. The avoidance of word-final vowel loss in *parówa is understandable when compared with the expected Cyprian result, **pruw, which proves to be an awkward shape even by the phonotactic rules of later Etruscan (ie. word-final *-uv is entirely unevidenced in Etruscan as far as I know). I have yet to confirm these two kinship terms in Minoan but I would expect they'd be identical to these Aegean protowords unless I've erred in my extrapolation.

The Proto-Aegean words for 'father' and 'mother' are based on stronger evidence. Minoan
a-ta-i is attested consistently on multiple libation tables and I do believe it's referring to their great Mother Goddess. The father term, *ápa, was likely in Minoan vocabulary as well, at least if we are to analyse Hittite god Appaliunas in Aegean terms: *ápa 'father' (Etruscan apa) and *launa 'leonine; of lion(s)' (Etruscan lev 'lion, lioness'). So I feel pretty secure in suggesting Aegean *ápa 'father' and *átai 'mother'. This results in Proto-Cyprian *apa 'father' (resisting syncope as a nursery term) and *ati which spawns identical Etruscan terms.

Are there Indo-Aegean kinship terms here? What can we conclude?

If we indulge further and compare our internally reconstructed terms in both language groups, the Mid IE kinship package (*pápa- 'father', *baráhʷa- 'brother' and *déug̰a- 'daughter') start to bear strong similarities to the Aegean set (*ápa 'father', *parówa 'brother' and *síka 'daughter'). We might assume that 'mother' has been replaced in Aegean and that Pre-Aegean *d, having first become *t by systematic devoicing of all inherited stops, lenites to *s before a front vowel.

For now, there's little to conclude with certainty other than that a relationship between Indo-European and Aegean kinship terms is within a realm of plausibility. However, this mental exercise opens our minds to new possibilities to investigate. Can we find other examples of Aegean palatalization in other shared words? Why would the word for 'mother' be replaced in Aegean and where does *atai come from? If correct, are there social or cultural implications to this kinship replacement? Or is there a simpler explanation for these similarities?

As always, more information is needed and these further questions will help confirm or reject what are for now admittedly shallow hunches. Open brainstorming like this however is still a constructive process, even when all we have is hunches... especially when all we have is hunches.

(04 Nov 2010)
I decided to add something to "[...] while *deug̰- adopts the zerograde and accent placement seen in 'father' to result in *dug̰-xtér-." In light of commenter input, I felt the need to elaborate that *dug̰-xtér- becomes *duɢ-xtér- by assimilation of the velar stop by uvular laryngeal *x. (See comments below.) In traditional notation, by this assimilation, an unevidenced palatal is therefore avoided.


  1. Fascinating topic. However, I'm a bit confused: where do you get the labialization for the laryngeal in Middle PIE *baráhʷa-sa and the *u in Pre-Late PIE *brāu-z - why does it vanish in the Late PIE *bʰráh₂ter-?
    Also, I thought the *g* in *dʰugh₂ter- was "palatal" (i.e., *g as opposed to *G). Am I missing something here?

    Also - this may be irrelevant, but then again I'm not wholly sure ,- how do the Anatolian variants of SON and DAUGHTER come into play? Are they just innovations?

  2. "[...] where do you get the labialization for the laryngeal in Middle PIE *baráhʷa-sa[...]"

    It's Laryngeal Vocalization, just before Syncope. It's just a case of deaspiration. See Lingua Files: Diachronic development from Indo-Aegean to Indo-European [pdf].

    "Also, I thought the *g* in *dʰugh₂ter- was "palatal" (i.e., *g as opposed to *G). Am I missing something here?"

    It's traditionally a "non-palatal" and reflected as -h- in Sanskrit. Traditional *-gh₂- shows uvularity spanning the whole cluster in my revised notation and this only makes perfect phonetic sense.

    To be clear, **in traditional notation terms**, my suggestion looks like this: eLIE *dʰeuǵ- > *dʰugʰ-h₂tér-. Note the imaginary "de-palatalization" and spontaneous "aspiration" that shows how much traditional notation continues to obscure the true nature of Proto-Indo-European.

    In the revised phonology: eLIE *dʰeug̰- > *duɢ-χtér-. Now we see that the uvular feature of (*h₂) spreads to the previous dorsal stop.

    It gets further complicated by the fact that I question the existence of traditional "non-palatal", "non-aspirated" *g which would correspond in the revised notation to a doubly marked creaky-voiced uvular stop.

  3. For those totally confused by what I just wrote, please consult my pdf located in my Lingua Files section under A revisal of the Proto-Indo-European sound inventory where I show clearly the equivalences of each of these revised stops in their more familiar notation in red.