26 Oct 2009

Searching for an etymology for Germanic *handuz 'hand'

First, let's get nonsense out of the way by letting a published author state the obvious about origins of the Proto-Germanic etymon *handuz 'hand' that are most implausible yet unfortunately popular among idle hobbyists online. In the words of A. Seidenberg in km, a widespread root for ten (1976):
"The effort to relate km or kmt to *handus, or, more generally said, to see a reference to the hands in the number words, is also ad hoc: there is not the slightest evidence, apart from similar speculations on the other numbers, that the Indo-European number words are derived from finger-counting."
These comments on poor methodology are as true today as they were then, regardless of whether this old tomfoolery is resurrected on page 316 of Mallory/Adams in The Oxford introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European world (2006 ), albeit subsequently with mild argumentation against the idea.

What then is the current etymology? Apparently no consensus exists yet. For example, The Barnhart dictionary of etymology‎ (1988) says that no cognates of hand exist outside of Germanic. While it's immediately tempting to see an origin in PIE *gʰend- 'to grasp' which yielded Latin praehendere, Greek χανδάνειν and Gothic bi-gitan, formal sound correspondences between PIE and Proto-Germanic forbid us to assume a direct connection with the Germanic root. One would expect a hypothetical PIE u-stem **gʰóndus 'grasper; hand' to end up as **gantuz in Proto-Germanic but certainly not *handuz which rather suggests a non-existent PIE stem **kondʰ-u-. Evidently, these are not the plosives we're looking for and no direct link to Proto-Indo-European appears sensible.

So I had a sudden brainwave and the more I think about it the more sense it makes, although it's frustratingly hard to substantiate. Since there are already a few known Proto-Germanic terms borrowed from Latin in the early first millenium BCE after Grimm's Law had taken place (cf. Ringe, From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic (2006), p.296), it makes me wonder if one of them might have been our Germanic word in question.

For this crazy idea to stick, we require a Latin word *handus, but as the reader can tell by the asterisk, it doesn't exist (at least as far as I know). On the other hand, prae-hendere 'to seize, to grasp' does indeed exist and the prefix prae- 'before' is secondary. From this implied Latin verb root *hend-, we are certainly free to muse light-heartedly on how we can obtain *handus 'grasper' from it, and very curiously, noting on how it rhymes with the attested Latin word for 'hand', manus. It taunts me with the image of a northern Germanic community with a high degree of Latin bilingualism, inventing new words and idioms out of a faraway language. If only my Germanic-influenced Latin word *handus for proper manus were attested in Roman records, I might develop something more out of this thought.

24 Oct 2009

Nipping the PIE ergative *-s theory right in the bud

Recently a commenter brought up the "PIE ergative theory" and this was woven into another idea about Indo-European's purported connection with North-West Caucasian in remote prehistory. I don't have a problem with the idea that PIE might have had contact with NWC (note: not a genetic relationship, just contact). If a form of Pre-Proto-Indo-European were in the steppelands of Western Asia circa 7000 BCE entering into Europe, this wouldn't be surprising at all and would even be expected. It's fair to say that this hunch is reasonable given what little we know at present about the linguistics of this time period and region. Allan Bomhard had theorized just such a contact in Indo-European and the Nostratic Hypothesis (1996) but he could do little with it other than comparing some choice Proto-Circassian words with those of PIE. Nonetheless, some ideas, even those concerning protolanguages and prehistory, can be immediately rejected with available evidence.

The view that PIE case endings, nominative *-s and genitive *-ós, are somehow related by a magical ablaut and stemming from an ergative case came about from the fact that, based on the wealth of data from world languages that we now have, nominative cases which mark the subject of a sentence are supposed to be unmarked cases. The ergative theory seemed to help solve this problem for some since it provided a specific pathway for this unusual marking to develop. Yet it now has a strong disproof based on the very topological issues it was based on. Witness page 56 of Archaic Syntax in Indo-European - The spread of transitivity (2000) where the theory is artfully destroyed in a pair of brief sentences:
"Yet cross-linguistic analysis has pointed out that ergative marking affects first of all inanimates, and only later animates. The 'ergative' marking patterns of Proto-Indo-European therefore do not fit the noun hierarchy as proposed by Silverstein (1976) and therefore no longer support the traditional ergative hypothesis for Proto-Indo-European."
That's what I call cerebral zing. As some often do when they find themselves on the wrong side of Athena's heartless sword, they pick up the fragments of their precious theory, caress them, dote on them, even try to glue the shattered remains back together again in order to breath life back into them by whatever unnatural means necessary. Let's move on. This ergative theory is going nowhere and we're left with only what I've said all along: The PIE nominative comes from an encliticized version of *so, formerly an independent, uninflected definite article (later absorbed into the paradigm of *to- 'that' only to mark the animate nominative). Read Christa König who writes in Case in Africa (2008), p.180:
"A marked-nominative case can go back to a former preceding definite element, resulting in stress and vowel change in the head noun, and the nominative is marked by vowel change and vowel reduction. Evidence for this pathway comes from Berber languages."
She then goes on to explain a pattern that is precisely what I predict for Pre-PIE: "In some Berber languages, case is only encoded with definite nouns, in others with all nouns." A similar pattern is observable in Ancient Etruscan, a language whose nominative and accusative cases are unmarked for nouns but marked in definite postclitics, implying that an overt distinction between subject and object is only found in definite nouns. And let's face it, isn't it a lot less taxing on the brain to derive nominative *-s from pre-syncopated Mid IE animate definite article *sa (> PIE *so) than to try and turn the entire Indo-European case system on its head just to unravel the mysteries of this one suffix? Rest your weary heads, my stoic brethren, and heed Occam's Razor.

15 Oct 2009

Prehistoric isoglosses in Proto-Steppe

As you can see, I've been pondering on Proto-Steppe today. Many people refer to this early hypothetical language set most sensibly around 9,000 BCE as Indo-Uralic and it's called this because it's the common ancestor of both Proto-Uralic (PU) and Proto-Indo-European (PIE) afterall. However I still prefer my own term Proto-Steppe a) because it's more descriptive of the likely region where it was spoken and b) because PIE and PU aren't the only language groups implicated in the grouping. I made this simple isogloss map to show at a glance how I would explain Proto-Steppe's development into the later proto-languages known and studied and it relates, as always, to the unpixelated view of the Wave Model of language change. Thus far, I've been satisfied with a 4-vowel system of *a, *i, *u and , forming a pleasant V-shape when you graph it out on paper using the dimensions of height and backness. V-shaped vowel systems are quite common around the world as far as vowel systems go.

Now to explain the three isoglosses I have on display above. I've been getting the impression for a while that Indo-Aegean (IAeg) and Altaic-Gilyak (AG) must have remained particularly close after diffusion of the Proto-Steppe community because I can think of at least two sure features that they share with each other that couldn't have been inherited from the parent language. One is the wholesale softening of word-final *-t to *-s as seen in the changes on animate plural marker *-it (n.b. further erosion of word-final *-s causes in turn Proto-Altaic *-r₂) and the other is an occasional correspondence of *a in IAeg and AG with Boreal *u in certain key words. I attribute this curious development to an original mid-central schwa which could sit equally in accented positions as well as unaccented ones.

Upon revisiting these ideas, I've just realized an interesting minimal triplet in Proto-Steppe that serves as a simple but effective argument to justify the necessity of at least four reconstructed vowels at this stage:
  • *ta 'from'
  • *tu 'you (sg.)'
  • *tə 'that (near you)'
The first becomes the source of the Indo-European ablative *-ód and Uralic partitive *-ta. The PIE form originated by agglutinating the postposition to the nominal stem in IAeg (thus *-ata), followed by Penultimate Accent Shift in Old IE which took the fixed accent off the initial (*-áta), then Syncope (*-ád̰) and finally Vowel Shift, yielding PIE *-ód with regular rules. The second and last examples show a vital difference between them since *tu becomes *tʷa (> PIE *twe, n.b. vocalism secondarily affected by *me < Proto-Steppe *mi 'I') while *tə becomes IAeg *ta without labialization of the preceding stop (>PIE *to-). This is explained if there was an unrounded vowel distinct from both low central unrounded *a and high back rounded *u, namely the mid central unrounded schwa which fits so nicely into an otherwise common 3-vowel system. Forms that suggest to some long-range linguists the apparent existence of a proximal demonstrative **ti on the Proto-Steppe level[1] are, I figure, caused by later analogical derivation out of inherited *tə since this proximal demonstrative is only evidenced in Boreal and AG while IAeg seems to preserve only *ta 'that' (> PIE *to- and Aegean *ta) with a distinct proximal counterpart *ka (> PIE *ḱo- and Aegean *ka). I take the IAeg evidence to show an original word *ka 'this' in Proto-Steppe since, if this is not so, the source of the IAeg form would remain much more obscure than that of Boreal and AG's *ti vis-a-vis the securely inherited deictic *tə. The Altaic forms with word-initial sibilant in place of expected *t- are surely caused by pre-Altaic palatalization before high front vowels as has also apparently occurred in its second person pronominal forms.

All these speculative ideas while interesting and worthy of discussion are however, of course, subject to some range of interpretation. Debate remains open.

[1] See, for example, page 2 of Frederik Kortlandt's article Indo-Uralic and Altaic [pdf].

12 Oct 2009

Comments on the Etusco-Latin tupi/tōfus connection

As probably some can tell by my previous explanation of the rules of this blog, I recently received a comment that irritates me for the reasons already mentioned: stubborn to facts, condemning the very act of speculation even when facts are present, and being all-in-all too stubborn to look up viewpoints that are contrary to one's own. The internet is not just a valuable tool of self-expression but a powerful tool for research. This is why I can't understand those who will take the time to comment but never take the same amount of time to do their homework. Evidently further facts need to be known by some readers here.

First, here's a portion of the aggravating comment I received in response to the connections made between Latin tōfus and Etruscan tupi but which I promptly deleted for being unnecessarily ornary and also thoroughly invalid:
"Between you claiming (with no proof) that word X is Etruscan and an ancient Roman claiming an Etruscan origin for word Y, the latter is naturally more trusted, more reliable. Let's take this way, how many scholars quote you for words claimed of Etruscan origins and how many scholars quote, let's say, Varro?"
In no uncertain terms, this naive person is evaluating statements based on popularity (ie. 'how many times they are quoted')! And notice the word "trusted". Does that mean "trusted by European society"? "Trusted by elites"? "Trusted by published scholars approved only by a handful of reknowned institutions"? "Trusted by democractic vote"? Trusted by whom? And why should we care about the trust of others when rationally evaluating for ourselves the validity of claims? Ugh, blind credentialism at its worse. Surely Varro et alia aren't trusted a priori based on valid Logic since all statements must be evaluated regardless of their source to avoid one of the most common and ugly pitfalls of reasoning referred to as argumentatum ad hominem (literally 'argument towards the person') or simply ad hominem. How can a competent reader ignore the myriad of tall tales woven by these same classical authors regarding eponymous ethnic origins and wild legends incorporating both gods and men? Ceteris paribus, authors (regardless of who they are or when they lived) can be both correct or incorrect. At face value we can't tell. So source is patently irrelevant no matter how artfully a heckler stands on his head. Nice try though. DELETE!

A related argument, invalid for the same reasons, I had already allowed through to my commentbox:
"No offense, I find far more reliable the glosses of ancient Latin authors who might have even heard Etruscan in their lifetime than the speculations of a modern blogger based on formal resemblances."
Offense or no offense, the statement is patently ridiculous for several reasons. It makes me frankly a little annoyed that the reader apparently fails to realize something he could have looked up for himself. The most important fact is that the relationship of Latin tōfus and Etruscan tupi cannot be labeled a "modern blogger speculation" at all since blogs hadn't been invented yet ** in 1932 when Fiesel's article entitled Etruskisch tupi and lateinisch tofus had been published in Studi Etruschi **! Yes, folks. This blogger speculation has been around for at least 77 years! Again, nice try but no cigar.

As far as I've personally read, this interesting connection remains unresolved which is why I find it's important to talk about it. Speculation-haters be damned. If only certain commenters stopped feeling the need to cast stones at new ideas when ironically unwilling to look up the absurdity of their own statements and views, but then maybe that would take a bit of the spice out of scholarly life. Can't have the good without the bad, I'm afraid.

Blogger lynchmobs - Get out the pitchforks!

Given recent comments, let's overtly explain what my intentions are as a blogger and how I moderate my blog against the general intrusions of internet nonsense. Paleoglot discusses comparative linguistics (most often on Proto-IE and ancient Aegean languages), but I will often speculate about things that are of interest to me based on existing facts. Please note the following:
  • Fact-based speculation and random speculation are not the same nor on a par.
  • Healthy fact-based skepticism is not equal to toxic absolutive skepticism based on petty feeling.
  • Speculation is not a danger to Reason for those with minds sophisticated enough to separate fact from fantasy.
  • In fact, without speculation, we lack a vital step in the learning process since speculation helps us reflect on the implications of new information.
  • We must have clear reasons for our objections, not just for our personal conclusions.
  • I reserve the right to delete comments that I deem unconstructive (whether abusive, factless or downright nutty).
  • I don't distinguish trolls from genuine but stubbornly ignorant persons - both are unworthy to have voice in an academic forum. (ie. This isn't a kindergarten.)
There are no quicker ways to make my trigger-happy finger delete your comment, besides being insulting to other commenters, than to have people repeat facts and references over and over, chastise me for merely blogging/speculating/expressing, or reducing one's rebuttals to vacuous denials of facts presented without further substantiation.

5 Oct 2009

The etymology of Latin tofus 'tufa' isn't written in stone

Authors Liddell & Scott in A Greek-English Lexicon, first published in 1819, claimed that Greek tophiōn (τοφιών) means 'tufa quarry', attested in Tab.Heracl.1.137, then further suggested that it be traced to Latin tōfus 'tufa' which in turn was stated to probably come from an Italic dialect.[1] However, the exact dialect remains unspecified and it's unclear why the source must be an Indo-European language, let alone precisely an Italic one.

It's often claimed that tufa, an Italian borrowing inherited from Latin tōfus, is originally from Greek tóphos (τόφος).[2] Yet *tophos is apparently unattested and theorized on tophiōn[3] which leads us to a reminder that conscientious authors must give proper courtesy to their readers by meticulously placing asterisks before any conjectural constructs to make clear distinction between fact and theory. It's possible that the spelling variant tōphus, alongside the other form tōfus, was introduced into Latin through hypercorrection and folk etymology with an imagined Greek source.[4]

At this point it should be known that Etruscan tupi is attested in the Tarquinian Tomb of Orcus (TLE 89) in the phrase Tupi Sispeś next to an image of a man carrying a boulder. It's no stretch of the imagination to read it as 'Rock (Tupi) of Sisyphos (Sis(u)pe-ś)' because of its obvious connection to the Greek myth of a sinner who in death was sentenced by the gods to Tartarus (the lower underworld) and doomed to push a monumental boulder up a mountain forever. Sadly, despite all the academic accolades of co-authors Etruscanist Larissa Bonfante and British Museum Head of Italian Collections Judith Swaddling, all the two experts can cook up in their 2006 book Etruscan Myths is a less-than-accurate translation, 'the *crime (or punishment)* of Sisyphos'[5], which simply overlooks the above facts and which thereby frustratingly obscures a source for these Latin and Greek words whose origins are otherwise unknown.

As I've remarked before on my blog, Etruscan p consistently shows lenition to a bilabial fricative /ɸ/ whenever it neighbours the high rounded back vowel u. Surely this phonological quirk is from whence the fricative ef and the aspirate stop phi of the respective Latin and Greek reflexes owe their origins. So it looks like we have a simple solution here. Alas, much like Sisyphos, I suppose we linguistic-obsessed souls are doomed to eternally strive for the heights of etymology with a boulder of unknowns strapped to our back. Ah, but what a fun and glorious torment life's mysteries are!

[1] Perseus Digital Library, excerpted from Liddell/Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (1940), 9th edition: Greek tophiōn (τοφιών) (see link).
[2] Skinner, The origin of medical terms (1961), 2nd edition, p.406 (see link): "Latin - tophus or tofus, from the Greek τόφος, a loose, porous, kind of stone (Hebrew, toph)." Note that Skinner mistakes Hebrew toph (תֹּף) as 'stone' instead of 'tambourine, drum'. The English term toph stone is rather from French tuf, again of Latin origin like Italian tufo/tufa, as properly explained a hundred years earlier in Arthur, Treatise on Architecture, Including the Arts of Construction, Building, Stone-Masonry, Arch, Carpentry, Roof, Joinery, and Strength of Materials (1867), p.123 (see link); Haubrich, Medical meanings: a glossary of word origins (2002), 2nd edition, p.242 (see link): "tophus is a Latinized version of the Greek tophos, 'a porous volcanic stone'".
[3] Valpy, The Etymology of the words of the Greek language in alphabetical order, with the omissions generally of plants and sometimes of the more uncommon animals (1860), p.171 (see link).
[4] Diab, Lexicon of orthopaedic etymology (1999), p.353 (see link): "NB: the spelling tophus perhaps was introduced into Latin as the more learned form, as though it were of Greek origin."
[5] Bonfante/Swaddling, Etruscan myths (2006), p.32 (see link).

2 Oct 2009

The diffusion of the Italian terms for 'wine' from Etruscan

Back in April, Duane on Abnormal Interests had been pondering on the origin of the wanderwort "wine". (See Abnormal Interests: Friday Culture Word: *wyn(?), wine.) The topic is a rich universe unto itself and it's easy to lose train of thought with all the details. Although there are a myriad of reflexes for "wine" other than those I include below (eg. Kartvelian *γvino-, Hattic windu, etc.), I will restrict my focus to the reflexes relevant to the spread of this Wanderwort during the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE into the European world, more specifically how it might have spread to Italy:
Babylonian īnu
Ugaritic yanu (written yn)
Hittite wiyanas
Mycenaean wóinos (written wo-no)
Etruscan vina ~ vinum
Latin vīnum
Umbrian vinu
A standard view is monotonously common and yet not well proven, that Latin vīnum and Umbrian vinu were inherited via a Proto-Italic form ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *wóino-[1]. Consequently, we're led to believe that Etruscan vinum, which was identical with the Latin, was simply borrowed. Since few IEists study Etruscan and since the academic standards among Etruscanists remains, shall we say, "much less strict" than that of IE studies, only a handful have enough gull or reason to question the received explanation.

Let's ask hard questions: Where does the final -m come from in Latin (n.b. final -s in the other reflexes attributed to Proto-Indo-European)? What exactly was the preform of this term in Proto-Italic that unproblematically accounts for both the Latin and Umbrian terms? Why would such an important ritual drink like "wine" be borrowed into Etruscan from Latin when everything else in the religious sphere (including the practice of hepatoscopy) appears to go in the reverse direction?

Is it not more likely that the Italic forms rather owe their existence to the Etruscan term? In favour of this opposing view is Carl Buck who refers to the un-Italic nature of the Umbrian term, concluding that it logically could only be borrowed from Latin, not inherited from Proto-Italic.[2] From this we may infer a straight pathway into Italic languages from a foreign source: Etruscan vinum → Latin vinum → Umbrian vinu. While others have arbitrarily assigned the meaning of 'vineyard' to the Etruscan hapax vinac, I prefer to pay proper attention to the larger context from which it comes, the phrase vina-c restm-c, which more sensibly reads as 'both wine and lees'. While the final -m in the Italian wine words are annoyingly mysterious from a Latin perspective, from the perspective of Etruscan grammar, the use of -um to derive mass nouns is suggested elsewhere (eg. *meθil 'a gathering' → meθlum 'people').

[1] Mallory/Adams, The Oxford introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European world (2006), p.164 where *wóinom is cited under Table 10.3 - Domesticated plants. Also read page 166 (see link): "The word for 'wine', *wóinom, is found in Lat vīnum, Alb verë, Grk oînos, Arm gini, and Anatolian (e.g. Hit wiyana-) and would appear to be old in Indo-European; it may derive from the verbal root *wei(hₓ)- 'twist', hence originally 'that of the vine' (see below)."
[2] Buck, A grammar of Oscan and Umbrian: with a collection of inscriptions and a glossary, from Languages of classical antiquity, vol 5 (2005), page 21: "U. vinu 'vinum' (and O. Viínikiís 'Vinicius', if related) must be borrowed from vinum, if the latter is from *u̯eino-, earlier *u̯oino- (οῖνος). For the change of u̯oi to u̯ei is probably Latin only (U. uocu : Grk. ϝοῖκος ?), and even if it were Italic, we should expect then U. *venu (65)."

Relevant links:

Latin vīnum is from *wóinom as well as Gk oinos (?!)
PIE *wóinos 'wine' is based on *wih₁ḗn- 'vine' somehow