30 Dec 2012

Aegean coleslaw, anyone?

After months of slacking off, I should probably get back to work and blog something. It's not as if I ever ran out of ideas. So today I want to talk about a package of vegetable terms that seem related but I believe may be misetymologized.

Let's focus on *kremus- 'onion', an unanalysable Proto-Indo-European root presumed to be a nominal derivative in *-us-, concocted to explain Old Irish crem 'garlic', Germanic *hramuson ~  *hramsaz 'onion, leek', Greek κρέμυον ~ κρόμυον ~ κρόμμυον 'onion', Polish trzemucha and Lithuanian šermùkšnis. The forced assumption here is that if enough branches of Indo-European exhibit a particular root word as we have here then it must be because it existed in the proto-language spoken over 6000 years ago. "Assume" makes an "ass" out of "u" and "me", as they say.

An alternative possibility that must always be kept in mind is that a word has merely managed to expand due to cultural transmission and dissemination from a substrate language that is not necessarily Indo-European. Lacking further knowledge on very historically important yet largely unknown languages like Minoan and Hattic, we can hardly pretend that we can so easily reconstruct many of these claimed Indo-European roots securely. So for the sake of further discussion, I present an alternative view of this particular root.

Instead of pushing the origin all the way back to Indo-European, why not a simpler alternative and presume a much later date, in the first millennium BCE? We could start with an Aegean root *harápʰa 'cabbage, kale' with a diminutive *harápʰazo 'onion, garlic, leek' becoming Minoan *harámpa and *harámpazo. This then can explain both the source of κρέμυον ~ κρόμυον with its unmotivated vowel alternation as well as the curiously similar forms κράμβη 'cabbage', ῥάφη 'a kind of large radish' and ῥάφανος 'cabbage' in a way that an Indo-European origin cannot. As Etrusco-Rhaetic speakers traded heavily in the Adriatic with the Greeks, their presumed cognate, *χramφza, would be quickly disseminated into Baltic, Slavic, Germanic and Celtic circles. Simple commerce and loanword adoption.

23 Dec 2012

Happy 13th baktun

December 23 2012 is the start of the 13th baktun according to the Mayan Calendar (using 584285 as the correlation constant). Some may have gone by the other popular correlation constant of 584283 making it December 21 2012. Either way, everything went by without a hitch. Peachy! Congratulations to all who have survived this precious moment. Lol. If we assume that an age lasts 13 baktuns (13 x 400 years = 5200 years), we might consider this now the Sixth Age.

Then again, the Mayans had also recorded extremely ancient dates into the far past like the alautun which equaled approximately 63 million years. So perhaps we lack some important facts about their conceptions of time and cosmos.

We shall now await the Unix apocalypse as the cycle of silly pop fears rolls onward. The Mayan calendar date for tomorrow, the 2nd day of the 13th baktun, will be 5 Imix 4 Kankin G1.