21 Jan 2009

Mediterranean wanderwort fiesta

Back at Abnormal Interests, Duane Smith has been talking off-and-on about a few interesting terms that appear to have made their rounds across the eastern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea and Near East, diffusing into a number of language families along the way. These words can serve as an inspiring focus of new conversation. The headings below are linked back to Duane's scholarly entries which I would suggest readers have a gander at:

q-n(-h) 'reed':

  • Semitic: Biblical Hebrew קנה (qnh), Ugaritic qn, Akkadian qunû, Aramaic קנה (qnh), Arabic قنا (qana)
  • Sumerian: Sumerian gina
  • Indo-European: Greek κάννα (kánna), Mycenaean ka-ne-ya 'related to reeds, made of reeds'
  • Egyptian: Egyptian qn 'reed mat'
ʔ-g-n 'bowl':
  • Semitic: Akkadian agannu, Aramaic אַגָּנָא, Hebrew אַגָּן, Ugaritic agn, Arabic إجانه 'urn, amphora' (ijjāna), Phoenician & Punic ʔgn
  • Indo-European: Hittite aganni, Greek ειγαν
  • Egyptian: Egyptian ỉkn, Sahidic Coptic aqan (aqan)

      With what I've learned so far about the evolution of the Ancient Egyptian language as it evolved into Coptic, I'm going to go out on a limb and deduce for myself that the vowelless transliterated words qn and ỉkn were probably pronounced around 1500 BCE something like *qánә 'reed' and *ʔәkánә 'basin, bowl', both matching the vocalisms of the other reflexes as well as accounting for the later Coptic result.

      I suppose what piques my interest about these particular words is their potentiality for being bona fide Minoan or Etrusco-Cypriot words, and by extension, evidence of the importance of a "Proto-Aegean" family in the second millenium BCE preceding the rise of the Etruscan civilization in Italy. Moreover, the first wanderwort skeleton, q-n(-h), reminds me a lot of the cityname Knossos as it is named in Greek whose ultimate source and underlying meaning is uncertain. Did it perhaps once mean 'City of Reeds'? Might we suppose Minoan *Kanózi behind the Greek name? Note HT 97 KA-NU-TI, written in Linear A script and which immediately precedes PA-I-TO (= 'Phaistos'?). And concerning ʔ-g-n, could it by chance be connected with the Etruscan hapax ucntm in TLE 87? The full sentence appears to be Ucnt-m hecce and could very well mean "And (-m) [it] was placed (hecce) in a bowl (ucn-t)", leaving a new word *ucan 'bowl' to add to my growing language database. The meaning of course needs to be verified with further instances in the future but for now I can always amuse myself with the tempting thought that it further derives from earlier Proto-Etrusco-Cypriot *ókano.

      As yet, the academic study of the Minoan language and the exact origins of the Etruscan language are kept in the fetal stage, but perhaps more fact-focussed discussions like this can bring this baby to term sometime in the next century.

      (Jan 22 2009) On further reflection, a Minoan cityname *Kanózi (rather than *Kanósi) would better explain both the Linear A spelling of KA-NU-TI and the Greek reflex. Furthermore, some evidence of s/t alternation in Minoan spelling can be seen in the verbal ending -si/-ti (eg. kana-si and umina-si on the one hand but also kana-ti) suggesting an underlying phoneme /c/.


      1. Glen, may I repost this on AegeaNet? Very thought provoking.

      2. Yes, absolutely. Feel free. Maybe others have even better ideas of their own to add to this puzzle.

      3. Does the Wanderwort *'gn ring any Tyrrhenian bells? ( http://www.telecomtally.com/blog/2009/01/friday_culture_word_nktin.html#comments )