28 Feb 2011

A European 'wolf' wanderword

My prior comments on Lupercalia and Etruscans bring up an interesting potential wanderword in Italy. While some mentally ill surfers enjoy preying on random bloggers with the bait of aimless opinions and fake interest to lead one's readers off topic, the delete button prunes away the rubbish in seconds. Another blog with a lower bar of entry can suit these persons' needs if that sort of discussion is so pressing for them. For me however, the relatively virgin topic on the origins of the Lupercalia festival and wolf themes is more satisfying.

The real questions that need to be investigated are:
  • What was the Etruscan word for 'wolf'?
  • Was an Umbrian loanword involved (and what was its word for 'wolf')?
  • Why do so many religion-related terms from Umbrian appear to be loaned into Etruscan?
    Does this say something specific about the nature of early Etruscan-Umbrian relations?
  • Did Etruscans bring these themes to Italy from Lydia?
    Were they organic to Italy itself?
  • When did the aforementioned lupus/lupu pun first surface?
    Did the wolf-Hades theme originate with the wordplay?
    Or did this wordplay only accommodate a pre-existing theme perhaps?
  • Is this Etruscan theme founded on an older Egyptian chthonic canine motif seen in Anubis?
Just to scratch at the surface of this topic, some scholars would like to see an inherited Proto-IE reconstruction to account for all the European wolf terms. This certainly seems superficially well-grounded; the root *wĺ̥kʷos has a great amount of data to support it. I won't question the existence of the root either but I must contemplate: Are all the cognates truly accounted for by this reconstruction or is it simply an all too convenient way to gloss over hidden details of 1st millennium BCE cultural-linguistic interactions between Etrusco-Rhaetic peoples and the Indo-European Italic-speaking population?

Many irregular sound changes are present in European words for 'wolf' but the unfirm cognates are somehow tolerated by Indoeuropeanists. Hotwords like taboo are the usual exit door in journal articles to escape the mind-boggling complexities of the topic in 10 pages or less but key problems remain:
  • Germanic *wulfaz has an *f when *hw should be reflexed.
  • Latin lupus 'wolf' is waved away as random metathesis due to taboo.
  • An obvious Latin doublet, lupus 'wolf' and volpēs 'fox', is left unexplained.
  • How might Greek ἀλώπηξ (alōpēx) meaning 'fox' be related?
  • And what too about Luwian ulipna-/walipna- 'fox'?
    Why that unexpected -p- again?


  1. IE animal names certainly seem to be a tricky lot, don't they?

    Germanic *wulfaz looks for all the world like a borrowing from Latin vulpēs prior to Grimm's Law. The irregular p of lupus is generally taken as evidence that the word is borrowed from Osco-Umbrian (where PIE regularly gives p).

    I suggest that vulpēs originally had a more general meaning of any wild canine. Germanic borrowed it to mean specifically "wolf", and Latin speakers later borrowed lupus from their neighbours to refer specifically to wolves, restricting vulpēs to referring only to foxes.

  2. Ketsuban: "Germanic *wulfaz looks for all the world like a borrowing from Latin vulpēs prior to Grimm's Law."

    I was thinking along those lines but since that shift took place by the mid-1st millennium BCE already, dare I say, Etrusco-Rhaetic intermediacy is one solution, through Umbrian.

    What I find interesting though is the second vowel in vulpēs. Would the expected Umbrian reflex of *wĺ̥kʷos not be *volpos? Meanwhile, Etruscan tends to alter Italic loans in -os or -us with -e (nb. The Bonfantes have mistaken this for some special "nominative ending" in names.). So is an Etruscan word *vulpe in order?

  3. This rabbit-hole just keeps getting deeper.

    • What are the interactions between Latin hircus "he-goat", "Sabine" fircus "ibid.", Latin (h)irpex "harrow" and Oscan hirpus "wolf"?
    • What's going on with the Indo-European languages with wolf/fox doublets not unlike Latin's lupus and vulpēs (e.g. Lithuanian vil̃kas and lãpė, Greek lukos and alōpēx/alōpos, Avestan vəhrka- and urupis/raopis, Sanskrit vrka- and lopāśá-ˌ and possibly Luwian walwa- and ulipna-)?