5 Mar 2008

Lehmann's dismissal of PIE *swe

Under the heading 4.3.4. The Reflexive and the Reciprocal, the cited author named Winfred Lehmann who was coincidentally the former director of the University of Texas' Linguistics Research Center until his passing in 2007 writes: "As indicated above, § 4.1.5, the categories for reflexivity and reciprocity are commonly expressed with verbal affixes in OV and also in VSO languages. Only in SVO languages can we expect to find pronominal forms for use in expressing these categories." I've bolded the part of his statement that irks me a bit. The author subsequently explains how the mediopassive category of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) verbs is used and then finally more crazy ideas are claimed: "In PIE, as in many OV languages, there was no reflexive or reciprocal pronoun. In the dialects an adjective *sew(e)-, meaning ‘own’, was taken over as a reflexive adjective; it was also adapted as the basis for the reflexive pronoun." Eeeek! Here are the problematic assumptions I see:

1) Bizarre reconstructions like 1ps subjunctive **-oxoi and 1ps optative **-yeʔxo are first assumed.
2) A mediopassive affix **-o- is extrapolated from #1 for PIE (and Pre-IE).
3) It's claimed that only SVO languages are expected to have reflexive/reciprocal pronouns.
4) Since PIE was not SVO and based on #2 and #3, *swe cannot be a reflexive pronoun.
5) Since it's not a pronoun, it cannot have originally meant 'self'.
6) It must mean 'dear' based on the Greek example of philos.

Holy non sequitur, Batman! First of all, the 1ps subjunctive is typically understood to simply be *(-o)-oh₂ (although Jasanoff convincingly argues for a purely "athematic"[1] *-oh₂ in the earliest stage of PIE, contrasting with present indicative *-mi) and the 1ps optative is normally *-yeh₁m. So Lehmann first forces us to swallow his unique brand of PIE. Since Anatolian, Italic and Celtic share a mediopassive in *-r due to their geographic proximity to each other during their development in the PIE speech area, it's immediately clear why a language would expand the usage of the ending *-i seen in the active to the mediopassive by way of paradigmatic levelling. It's not clear however how or why a language would adopt a suffix *-r ex nihilo specifically for the mediopassive and replace a former *-i. This is why many IEists bow to common sense and recognize that the r-mediopassive is the true archaicism here, hence 1ps mediopassive *-h₂ór. There simply is no affix **-o- seperate from the following *r and it needs to be explained why there is no sign of this *-ór element in the 1pp and 2pp counterparts. Already Lehmann's theory tormented by his hyperanalysis is falling apart.

As for assumption #3, the SOV languages that I'm aware of do indeed have reflexive morphemes other than affixes but some may argue pedantically about what qualifies as a "reflexive pronoun". Whatever. The point however is that the unmarked word order of the language (whether SOV, SVO or VSO) has no bearing on the presence or absence of a reflexive pronoun or its equivalent. In Japanese, there is zibun; in Burmese, there is ko; in Turkish, there is kendi. All of these languages put the verb at the end of a sentence and all of them avail themselves of morphemes other than verbal affixes to convey the reflexive. So again, I fail to understand Lehmann's train of reasoning.

Given this, we can't justify the wholesale dismissal of the PIE reflexive pronoun (or whatever one prefers to call this morpheme). Regardless, *swe is still reconstructable for PIE and it still demonstrates a reflexive sense throughout the entire family from Germanic to Indo-Iranian despite the coexistence of a mediopassive. It's proposterous at this point to claim that all these branches somehow developed the meaning of 'self' in tandem without this all deriving from an available reflexive word in PIE! Talkin' about denial.

What we might come to conclude is that Lehmann put the cart before the horse and where the wild passion of his meandering argument lied was in comparing the semantics of Greek philos to PIE *swe. Yet this, like all the other claims are empty assumptions that haven't been proven. They're merely impressive connections that ignore so many other better possibilities in the process. One need not have to think long and hard about how a reflexive word can used to good use even in a language with a mediopassive that often covers reflexive actions. Consider for example a verbless phrase like "One's own horse." Can someone please tell me how to avoid using *swe or any of its related forms in this context? Or what so many other contexts where reflexive pronouns can add value?

Then there is the matter of the etymology of *swesor- "sister" which has already been determined rather brilliantly to derive from *swe and *-sor-[2], the same feminine ending seen in the ancient stem *kʷetwor-sr-es, the feminine form of "four" preserved in Celtic languages. The word "sister" probably literally meant "one's own girl" and may reflect patriarchal attitudes in prevailing Indo-European cultures at the time concerning patrilineality, kinship, and societal roles.

In light of this, to say that "statements in the handbooks ascribing a reflexive pronoun to PIE must be revised" is hasty bunk. Don't dare touch my *swe, people!

[1] By "athematic", I mean this in terms of traditionally theorized PIE grammar. In Jasanoff's view however, thematic verbs (e.g. *bʰér-o-h₂ 'I carry') are underlyingly the original subjunctive forms while athematic verbs (e.g. *h₁éi-mi 'I go') are archaic presents. Over time, Jasanoff presumes that as subjunctives became presents in their own right, they developed "doubly marked" subjunctives (hence the original subjunctive *bʰer-e-t(i) was replaced by a hypercorrected *bʰer-e-e-t(i) -> *bʰer-ē-t(i)). Thus by comparison with the traditional "thematic subjunctive" *-o-oh₂, Jasanoff's new interpretation of *-o-h₂ is relatively "athematic" although ironically the *-o- here is still the distinctive thematic vowel of the subjunctive seen in the "athematic verbs" of the traditional theory. Sorry for the confusion but this is a confusing topic that's hard to explain without juggling between two very different accounts of PIE grammar, traditional and progressive.
[2] This theory was published by Benveniste in 1969 (link).

(Mar 05 2008) I decided to add footnote #1 because my use of "athematic" is ambiguous here. Also updated **kʷetwe-sor- to proper *kʷetwor-sr-es in light of OInd. cátasraḥ. I guess my memory is failing me. Good thing I crack the whip on myself and verify details like this. Oy veh! (To add though, this "feminine" numeral form is certainly post-PIE because feminine gender is not reconstructable for the earliest stage of PIE and was no doubt built on a noun *sor- "woman" existing at the time.)
(Mar 05 2008... later on that evening) Damn! I've been punked, yo! By IEists! Szemerenyi reconstructed *kʷete-sor- (1977) in Studies in the Kinship Terminology of the Indo-European Languages (see link). No wonder I'm confused. Oh well. This is all just fun trivia because this post-IE numeral form really has nothing to do with PIE itself anymore. But now I know I'm not forgetful, arrrgh! :)


  1. I absolutely can't think of a single SOV language that doesn't have a reflexive pronoun. It's hard to figure out what Lehmann was thinking when he wrote that. It really makes me wonder if he's actually learned a real indo-european languages besides a reconstructed one. Because what exactly he's basing this on is absolutely beyond me.


  2. Phoenix: "I absolutely can't think of a single SOV language that doesn't have a reflexive pronoun."

    I do in fact approve of the way this author analysed PIE grammar in depth and there's still a lot of value in these texts. However this particular point just isn't sound right to me. I feel compelled by his work to psychoanalyse Lehmann as a highly detail-oriented fellow comrade that in this particular case got sucked into the trap of "terminological reification". (Ah, to err, so human.)

    By the way, according to Morphologie: ein internationales Handbuch zur Flexion und Wortbildung, Japanese zibun is *not* a reflexive pronoun because it doesn't show "morphological variation" and "cooccurs with all variants of person and number of its formal antecedent". The first argument is unfair because even Japanese non-reflexive personal pronouns like watashi, anata, etc. fail to show "morphological variation" either! To add, plural number is typically unmarked throughout Japanese! So the only criteria to claim that zibun isn't a reflexive pronoun in this sense is because it's used for all persons rather than for just one as with English "myself" which is specifically a first person reflexive. Yet "myself" is transparently "my" plus "self", the latter clearly being used as a reflexive for all persons although, again, not a "pronoun" per se. (But then why does it have to be a "pronoun" to validate reflexive usage in a language??)

    Go figure. This nitpicking seems a little anal in my view. PIE *swe is still a reflexive of some sort at that stage, not just in post-IE, and giving it a value of 'dear' makes my head spin.

  3. Last post on the 6th of March, 2008. Where was I on the 6th of March, 2008? In the desert of Southern Utah hiking around in my wilderness rehab... long time ago for me.

    Anyways, I'm new to comparative linguistics, but I'm a linguistics major in college and I am finding your work REALLY interesting. I've actually been reading it non-stop since last night (except to sleep of course) and I'm glad I had to take the day off today cuz I left my work uniform in another town so that I could read more. I've been looking for information on pre-PIE for a long time, and I'm very happy that I found some here. I've read probably 15-20 of your posts so far and I also read your Diachrony of pre-PIE, and your reconstructions really don't seem far fetched to me at all. Then again... neither did a Nostraticist's (I don't remember which one's) pdf on Etruscan being related to a group of Caucasian languages based on a theory involving sheep-counting suffixes. Seeing your rather extensive criticism of Nostraticists methods (and that having been the only article of theirs that I'd ever tackled) I decided to Google your name to see what the rest of the linguistic community has to say. I found a website that led to some other pages with some rather childish criticisms of you from "academics". I have of course run into that kind of behavior when discussing politics with supposed "academics" though, so I sympathize with the boat your in.

    While I'm no comparative linguist myself, and new to college as well, I like your reconstructions and I don't really see anyone else on the net trying to tackle pre-PIE as extensively as you are. I think it also irks "academics" that your blog doesn't use the kind of "academic" language that they'd prefer, which to them makes you seem less professional. To me though, it's really kind of refreshing. I get very tired of renting books from the library that are written in such incomprehensible English that I lose interest in the very thing I spent my time trying to get after the first page.

    All beside the point however; the point is, I like your work, and I actually had a proposition for you. I don't know what your opinion is on conlanging, but it's a hobby of mine as well as writing. I was originally interested in creating a family of languages descended from Umbrian, but I wasn't satisfied with the sound or the amount of data on the language and so for now I'm interested in a sister family to Indo-European, perhaps derived from the first or second stage of PIE, maybe before Semitic borrowing. If you'd be interested in helping me out with some more data on the grammar of these stages and some more vocabulary that would be awesome, but the language isn't going to be a part of the book beyond a couple of phrases and names. If you're not interested that's ok too.

  4. Thanks for the support.

    Sheep-counting suffixes and Etruscan? That could only be Ed Robertson. Indeed, it's an interesting article but the liberal way in which he connects Etruscan to languages in the Caucasus without sufficient justification irks me a little. Fundamentally this work rests solely on the assumption (a big assumption) that if Etruscan is non-IE, and if Basque is non-IE and if Nakh-Daghestanian is non-IE, then they all must be a priori part of a single non-IE grouping. That's not how logic works. One needs to show how an entire system of a language (its vocabulary, declension, conjugation, etc.) can be traced, in all its workings, to an older system to which these other systems might belong. Robertson hasn't done that to any appreciable degree.

    Conlangs are something that I've always enjoyed as a spectator but not as a creator because I'd much rather research real historical languages. Afterall reality is stranger than fiction anyway. But I'd love to share whatever I know if it helps someone out. Being so caught up on Etruscan, I still haven't explored one idea that cropped up a while back, the notion that Cyprian branched away from a common Indo-Aegean stage much earlier than Minoan. If so, there'd technically be no single Aegean branch as I had first thought. I should get up off my ass and resolve that hanging question once and for all.

  5. I agreed. I was actually discussing it with my friend (who has no interest in linguistics at all), and I remember that that was the sole (or at least the primary) piece of evidence that he used for his theory. I'm not an expert, but basing a linguistic relationship off of similarity in numbers is very misleading. Take Brahui for example: asi, era, musi, char, panch, shash, haft, hasht, no, dah. Obviously everything after "three" is Indo-European, and borrowed from Dardic and Iranian. So, using the kind of logic (although interesting) that there was in the article you could assume that Brahui, if it were an undeciphered language as scantly attested as Etruscan, is actually Indo-European, when it's obviously Dravidian...

    Anyway, like I said, any help would be much appreciated. I'm not writing the conlangs to break linguistic frontiers though, just to make the setting of the book as detailed as possible. I think it helps to bring it to life, and will give something for a section of the audience that usually winds up disappointed.

    When do you believe that Cypriot and and Minoan might have branched off from Indo-Agean? Is this before the period of Semitic interaction? Cuz I really liked your reconstructions for "mother", "father", "brother", and "daughter", and the idea of those words existing in a divergent branch without the final suffix I think is pretty cool.

  6. Yes, a numeral system can't prove a genetic relationship of one language with another although it can still inform us of ancient areal influence.

    In the case of Etruscan numerals, we can see that both Ugaritic and Egyptian languages have shaped the history of Etruscan during the second millennium BCE. Compare Etruscan śar 'ten' with Ugaritic *ˁašaru and Etruscan semφ 'seven' with Egyptian *safḫu. These facts support Herodotos's claim of Etruscan origin in Lydia.

    "When do you believe that Cypriot and and Minoan might have branched off from Indo-Agean? Is this before the period of Semitic interaction?

    It seems to me that if there are on the one hand common words between Indo-Aegean languages but no common Semitic loans, it suggests that Minoan and Cyprian must have branched before this. If we date Semitic influence to around 5500 BCE, we may surmise then that Indo-European was already distinct from the Aegean languages by then. However, I also believe that the earliest possible onset of this division is 7000 BCE. My thoughts on Minoan as expressed in my previous entry hasn't changed. I'm left to wonder about the nature of the Minoan -si/-ti endings and whether, shock upon shock, it has something to do with the early formation of the primary endings in Pre-Proto-Indo-European. Etruscan however lacks all trace of these personal endings.

  7. Doesn't Egyptian form it's own branch within Afro-Asiatic?

    By the way, the idea that 3, 6 and 7 are inherited from Proto-Semitic is fascinating to me. So would the Indo-Aegean system have been something like 1, 2, 2+1, 4, 5, 5 + 1, 5 + 2, 4 x 2, 9, and then 10? Cuz if it was, that's a funny way to count (not to say that it doesn't exist elsewhere, cuz I have no idea if it does). I'd also like to read some more about your reconstructions for Proto-Steppe...

  8. Yes, Egyptian is an Afro-Asiatic language.

    I'm not sure why you suggest such a thing for a numeral system. The borrowings can say scant anything about the previous numerals or their pattern. They speak more on early number symbolism, I believe, since "6" and "7" are very important to the calendar system where the year typically has between 12 and 13 months (13 = 6 + 7). Three is an early solar and seasonal symbolism, as we can see in Egyptian mythology with its three incarnations of the sun (Khepri, Ra and Amon) or the three seasons of the year as per ancient Greek thought.

    It's difficult to say what the numerals were before the borrowings with any degree of certainty, but it's always fun to explore the possibilities nonetheless.

  9. Actually, speaking of "3", "6" and "7" in Indo-Aegean specifically, I fear that none of the numerals present in Aegean or Indo-European are anything but later borrowings.

    In Etruscan, 'three' is ci. I have a feeling this is a borrowing from an unattested Hattic *kik (cf. Hurrian kig). I believe Minoan 'three' was likewise *ki. If Aegean borrowed from Hattic and Indo-European from Semitic, there can be little else to determine the original word for 'three' in Indo-Aegean.

    I trace Etruscan śa and semφ to Egyptian and believe that Minoan had the same numerals, *sayá and *sápa, perhaps additionally borrowing the numeral 'five' from Egyptian which may be written in full as ta-ya in HT Zd 157+156 (cf. Egyptian ṭīyu, presumably pronounced something like /ˈtɛjə/ at the time). As I said, Proto-IE borrowed its respective 'six' and 'seven' from Proto-Semitic.

    So these are unfortunate gaps in this numeral system that I have trouble rectifying.

  10. Ah... I haven't read anything about Hattic and Hurrian being related before? I assume you have posts about this?

  11. I never said that. Hurro-Urartian (in eastern Turkey) and Hattic (found more in west/central Turkey) are two separate language groups. I'm simply saying that if there is a link between Hurrian kig and Etruscan ci, then it's likelier through a Hattic intermediary. As far as I know, no one knows what the numerals were in Hattic. If I'm wrong about that, let me know.

  12. I guess when one sees two languages compared that way the normal reflex would be that someone is positing a relation between the two besides lexical borrowing. I apologize.

  13. Those kinds of assumptions can get you into hot water but no worries, mate. Turkey was a very complex linguistic area in the Bronze Age. Tonnes of very distinct language families with no close relationships.

  14. Ok well, I'm no expert at all with comparative linguistics like I've said, but I read somewhere that someone had reconstructed Proto-Finno-Ugric "kakte" for "three". As far as Finnic and Saami languages are concerned it doesn't change very much, but Permic languages like Udmurt and Komi have "kik". So, is this a coincidence, or do you think that all of these languages might have been interacting at some point, or maybe that "ci" in Etruscan is an example of loaning into Hurrian/Hattic from an original Indo-Aegean numeral?

    That's probably a serious stretch, but I just wanted to get your thoughts on it.

  15. Somehow I was able to access what seemed like personal messages between you and a gentlemen named "Piotr" by googling "Proto-Steppe". I'm playing with the idea of a language family descended from an intermediary group of dialects between Altaic-Gilyak and Indo-Aegean. I'm probably going to go with something descended directly from Indo-Aegean or Aegean.

    Anyways on topic, I don't know why those emails on Yahoo are accessible to the public, but, this was the numeral set you gave for Proto-Steppe when comparing it to Proto-Dravidian:

    Steppe Dravidian
    1 *t:u *oru
    2 *t:ui *iru
    3 *kul *mu-
    4 *nil *na:lu <--- !!!
    5 *kit:u *cay-
    6 *ru *a:rru <---
    7 *rara *eRu <---
    8 *munra *eNTu <--- if *m > NULL
    9 *nukura *toL
    10 *t:ukam *paTTu

    So... is this still the theory? I mean, the emails are dated to August of 2000...

  16. Sheesh! That was 12 years ago but at the time I figured it was worth a shot testing ideas even if I sounded silly to some. Still do. These were ideas to spark discussion, if nothing else, and I've always accepted that it's quite hard to prove (whatever "acceptable proof" means to one person or the next). I still do think that a relationship between Altaic-Gilyak, Indo-Aegean and Boreal (-> Uralic, Eskimo-Aleut) is the most reasonable probability.

    My position on *kul has changed considering that there is no common word for "three" detectable between Aegean *ki and Indo-European *treis and so if I can blame *ki on Hattic, I have a more plausible etymology in the sense that it requires less of a time span (and therefore more acceptable by Occam's Razor). Of course, it all depends on whether you feel that a Hattic borrowing from the Hurrian number set is historically plausible enough or not. On the surface, I see no problems lest a relevant fact surfaces to shatter this scenario.

  17. Oh by the way, Nate. For future reference, *kakte means "two", not "three".