4 Oct 2010

Vetch and pea sail to Italy

There are many things to discuss lately. For example, on Phoenix's blog, Proto-Indo-European reduplication is revisited and I might have a few more thoughts on this. However, for now I'll complete the short thread concerning my previous suggestion of Aegean roots for 'pulse' and 'vetch', this time slightly modified to *árapu (> Minoan *árapu > Gk ὄροβος 'bitter vetch') and derivative *árapinta (> Minoan *arápinta > Gk ἐρέβινθος 'chick-pea').

What I wanted to share is that there are further interesting comparanda apparently isolated in Western Europe that many other scholars also believe are indicative of some sort of substrate, although no one is very specific about its transmission. Of course, as always, it's this vagueness that drives me nuts, so let's explore this more:
  • Latin ervum 'pulse, bitter vetch'
  • Germanic *arwītō 'pea' (hence OHG arawiz)
As anyone can see, it's relationship to Gk ἐρέβινθος is clear. Yet trying to explain this away with Indo-European roots isn't the solution here. Some Indoeuropeanists have nonetheless attempted to reconstruct some ridiculous roots like (*)*orgʷindʰ- or (*)*h₃ergʷindʰ, for example, which fails to address the incoherence of Germanic *-w- beside Greek -b-, not to mention the erratic vocalism (ie. Germanic *ar- vs. Greek er-)! Surely a substrate word must be at work here, not an inherited Indo-European root with a whack-load of irregular sound changes.

Then there's also Latin arbōs ~ arbor 'tree'. According to the OED, Latin arbōs is of "unknown origin". As usual, some obsessive Indoeuropeanists have attempted to explain this word away as yet another IE root (eg. Julius Pokorny and *erəd- 'to grow'). These numerous "Western IE" roots fail to convince and it's interesting that arbōs is localized purely within the Italic branch. For that matter, what other Italic cognates exist alongside this Latin term, if any?

I'm also interested in the history of Latin herba 'grass'. If we include this and arbōs as part of the substrate evidence, could the meaning of this underlying root be more general such as 'sprout', I wonder. I'll have to look further and see what other ideas have been published on these interesting words.

If we trek onward and theorize an Etrusco-Rhaetic cognate in Italy, and given my latest rules of sound correspondence, we should then expect *arpu 'sprout', which would explain both ervum and arbōs in Latin, and *arpintʰ 'pea', which would explain Germanic *arwītō (perhaps via a Venetic intermediary, *arwi(n)ton).


  1. On the "chick-pea" / "pea" family, even Pokorny, despite valiantly trying to reconstruct a common PIE ancestor, admits that it ould be a common, Eastern Meditteranean loan: "Wahrscheinlich Entlehnungen aus einer gemeinsamen, wohl ostmediterranen Quelle, aus der auch ai. aravindam `Lotosblume' stammt." I couldn't find anything useful on the etymology of aravinda, only that Lubotsky doesn't have it - meaning that it's probably not inherited from Indo-Iranian. But I was intrigued by a Hesych gloss Pokorny quotes: "λέβινθοι ἐρέβινθοι". This looks like one of the forms with /l/ besides /r/ that crop up elsewhere among Greek substrate words, like the lily words you wrote about.

  2. Interesting find. I didn't notice that before but clearly there must also be a connection to this. Liberman thinks that the source of aravinda is "too obscure" to be exploited in etymologies like that for Germanic *arwītō (see Liberman, An analytic dictionary of English etymology [2008], 6th ed., p.173).

    I wonder too if these r/l alternations in "Pre-Greek" loanwords might help identify Minoan r as an alveolar tap, like the -t- in Canadian English city /ˈsɪɾi/.