27 Aug 2008

Determining typical forms behind Semitic verbal loans in Pre-IE

If one looks to Norman French and Middle English as a typical example of intense linguistic contacts between two historical languages in order to understand better the Proto-Semitic and Proto-IE contacts during the Neolithic, one may notice that only a small number of verbal forms in French loans typically surface in English. For example, many verbs were simply borrowed from the presentive form (c.f. French (il) part vs. English to part). However there are also many verbs which were borrowed into English based on French infinitives (c.f. French rendre vs. English to render which fossilizes the infinitive ending in -re).

Given that, I start to wonder if maybe it would be more organized on my part to compare Semitic and PIE verbs according to only a few specific verbal forms. So I've been thinking about how to answer the question “If I were to pick only two Proto-Semitic verb forms as sources of PIE loans, which would I pick that would fit most or all of the data the best?”

Based on the handy Semitic Binyanim pdf, my answer at this point would now have to be: 1) the nominative-declined active participle of the shape *CāCiCu and 2) the nominative-declined infinitive of the form *CaCāCu. This could account for almost all Semitic verbal loans that pop up in Mid IE, if we assume that Mid IE speakers simply ignored vocalic length (i.e. interpreting both PSem *a and as MIE *e), that MIE employed a fixed penultimate accent, and that the rule of Proto-Semitic accent by contrast was that it was to be either placed on the first available non-wordfinal “heavy syllable” (i.e. CV: or CVC) from left-to-right or on the initial syllable by default. Predictably, the irregular essive verb *yiθ (becoming PIE *h₁es-) would be an outlier from this general pattern and “to be” is a rather oddball verb cross-linguistically speaking.

So, I guess I need to update my SemiticPreIEloans.pdf document on esnips to reflect this. I hope that sounds a bit more organized than what I've been saying so far. Little by little, I'm gettin' there hopefully. Cross fingers.


  1. Choosing those two version seems quite plausible, although I'm a bigger fan of using the verbal noun (in Arabic at least it's not an infinitive), simply looking at its incredibly popular use in Arabic. It makes sense to be used as a verb form.

    As for the active-participle, it's a bit more difficult, but the examples do seem to point towards that.

    I would actually expect to also see some other derived stems. It hasn't been the first time that I've flirted with the idea that the S-stems are somehow the origin of the *s-mobilée. But altogether, I highly doubt that only the Base stem verbs were loaned, into Indo-European.

    I'm not sure if Proto-Semitic had the 'full paradigm' of these forms. In Arabic and Hebrew it happens rather often that the base form doesn't exist, and that another stem forms the basic meaning of the verb. For example the root BYN 'to understand' in Hebrew occurs in the hif`el form in it's standard meaning. there's no fa`al

    As I said, I'm not sure of the situation of Proto-Semitic :D

  2. Explain more about this. What do you mean by "verbal noun"? It seems to me that what consitutes a Proto-Semitic "verbal noun" is a little hazy. For example, how do you distinguish that from an "active participle"? (I could be missing something since Proto-Semitic admittedly isn't my forté so I'd appreciate an interesting answer.)

  3. A Active Participle is what is, a participle. For example in Arabic from the root drs we form daaris'learning' but also 'student'

    The verbal noun though, which the PDF you mention calls an infinitive would be dars 'lesson' or 'learning' as in the action.

    A function of this verbal noun is pretty different from how we would use an infinitive.

    yuriidu 'an yaḏhaba 'ilaa l-madiinati
    'He wants to go to the city'
    Though literally:
    He wants that he goes to the city

    Using the Verbal Noun of ḏahaba 'to go' aḏ-ḏahaab:

    yuriidu ḏ-ḏahaaba 'ilaa l-madiinati
    'He wants to go to the city'

    He wants the going to the city.

    The function of the verbal noun here is quite similar to what we call an infinitive.

    but ḏahaab can also simply mean 'A trip'

    So ḏahabtu 'ilaa ḏahaabi 'I went on a trip' Would be perfectly acceptable (albeit a bit artificial).

    So the meaning of the Verbal Noun is wider than that of an infinitive.

    Are you know to Irish? Irish has verbal nouns instead of infinitives, Arabic verbal nouns work very similar.

    Either way my point was, using a verbal noun, or infinitive, whatever you want to call it for loaning words seems quite plausible, especially due to absence of an infinitive in Indo-European, a verbal noun would often end up in a place where Indo-Europeans would use a normal verb.

    But the present participle is just really always referring to a person or a thing. As with daaris which specifically means 'student' or 'one who is learning', how would that ever be loaned as a verb in Indo-European? The semantics wouldn't make much sense.

    Difficult to explain all this, but I hope it helps ^^