14 November 2017

Gaulish buððutton 'spindle; penis' (updated)


Gaulish buððutton 'spindle; penis'1 is attested on the spindle whorl Gallo-Latin inscription Moni gnatha gabi buððutton imon 'Come, girl, take my penis'2. The word must have designated the instrument itself and then applied to the male organ in a metaphoric way. 

English button is a loanword from Old French boton (modern bouton) 'bud; button; pimple, spot', itself from Late Latin *buttōne-, usualy regarded as a Germanic borrowing, but IMHO actually from Gaulish, which would be also the source of Germanic *buddōn 'bud'. Basque buztan 'tail; penis' is presumably a Celtic loanword, probably from Gaulish itself.



From this and other Insular Celtic words (Old Irish bot 'penis, tail', Middle Welsh both 'umbo, shield boss'), Matasović reconstructs a Celtic protoform *buzdo- 'tail'3, supposedly derived from IE *gwozdo- (Germanic *kwast(j)ō 'bunch of branches', Albanian gjeth 'leaf, foliage', Slavic *xvost 'tail'), assuming the original meaning was 'to sprout'.

However, it seems to be semantics doesn't fit very well, so I'd rather prefer a link to Slavic *gvozdis 'nail', conflated by Vassmer to the former.
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1 X. Delamarre (2008): Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, p. 92-93. 
2 W. Meid (1994): Gaulish Inscriptions translates the Gaulish word as 'kiss', cfr. bussu- 'lip'.
3 R. Matasović (2009): Etymological dictionary of Proto-Celtic, p. 85-86.

02 November 2016

The Indo-European horses (updated)


The common IE word for 'horse'1, reconstructed as *h₁ek´w-o-, is a loanword from the language spoken by nomadic shepherds of the Pontic-Caspian steppes, where the animal was domesticated around 4,000-3,500 BC2. This is a Wanderwort found in Caucasian *ɦɨ[n]tʃwi (~ -e) 'horse' (NCED 211) which also spread to Sumerian anše 'donkey' and Hurrian eššǝ 'horse'3.


















Interestingly, we find possible correspondences in Afrasian *ʕi(n)ʒ- 'sheep, goat' (Semitic, Cushitic) and *χu(n)ʒ(-ir-) 'pig' (Semitic, Chadic)', whose specialization could have involved phonosymbolism in the initial fricative. As pigs, sheep and goats -which together with cattle made up the Near East Neolithic package- were first domesticated around 9,000-8,000 BC in the Taurus-Zagros mountains area, I would identify the source language with Bomhard’s Proto-Nostratic4, which his collegue Kerns5 regarded as being part of the Dene-Caucasian phylum: 
I believe that Nostratic languages did not exist except as a part of Dene-Caucasian until the waning of the Würm glaciation, some 15,000 years ago.
In my opinion, this word would have designated some Pleistocene ungulates (i.e. hoofed animals) such as deer or boar as a derivative from 'hoof' or 'paw'. Hence possible Eurasiatic cognates would be IE *g´hes- 'hand'6, Caucasian *kwanVtʃˀe 'paw; knee' and Uralic *ki(n)tʃe/*ky(n)tʃe 'nail, fingernail, claw', the latter two with the nasal retained in some of the later Wanderwörter.
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1 In fact, the IE word has been used by defenders of the so-called Kurgan theory as part of the evidence supporting those people were speakers of PIE (i.e. the proto-language of the IE family). See J.P. Mallory (1989): In Search of the Indo-Europeans. Language, Archaeology and Myth, p. 143-185. 
2 The domesticated horse (Equus ferus caballus) is a different subspecies than the wild horse of the Eurasian steppes (Equus ferus ferus), also called tarpan (a Turkic word). There is also another horse subspecies native to the Euasian steppes, the so-called Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus Przewalski's), which has never been domesticated.
3 Luwian *aššu-/*azzu- 'horse' and Georgian aču/ačua 'interjection for calling horses' are loanwords from Indo-Iranian.
4 A. Bomhard (2008): Reconstructing Proto-Nostratic. Comparative Phonology, Morphology, and Vocabulary, vol. I, p. 235-241. 
5 However, and unlike proposed by Nostraticists, in my opinion this language couldn't be the common ancestor (Mother Tongue) of a plethora of language families such as Indo-European, Afrasian or Kartvelian, but rather the source of several Neolithic Wanderwörter. A. Bomhard & J.C. Kerns (1994): The Nostratic Macrofamily: A Study in Distant Linguistic Relationship, p. 153.
6 With suffixes -r-/-to-, the latter being a demonstrative.

10 October 2016

Latin costa 'rib; side, flank' (updated)


Latin costa 'rib; side, flank' has been traditionally liked by Indo-Europeanists to Old Church Slavonic kostĭ 'bone'1, although more recently De Vaan considers this etymology to be dubious, among other reasons because of semantic mismatch2

In fact, the Slavic word is undoubtedly linked to IE *H2ostH1- 'bone', although its initial velar stop can't be accounted for in the mainstream model. However, the amateur linguist Glen Gordon explains this alternation  *k- ~ *H2-3 as a consequence of an early borrowing from a femenine variant of Semitic *kˀa(w)ʃ- 'bow'4 (cfr. Phoenician qšt5), with a semantic drift 'bow' > 'rib' > 'bone'. 


In most Romance languages except Romanian, the meaning 'rib' of Latin costa was transferred to diminutive forms (e.g. Spanish costilla, French côtelette), while the main word specialized into geographical meanings: '(hill) slope' (e.g. Spanish cuesta) and 'shore' (Catalan and Italian costa), which spread as Wanderwort: Spanish costa, English coast, Dutch and Swedish kust, German Küste, Danish kyst, etc.

There's in addition Middle High German Gestade 'bank' and Old Irish ces 'flank, rump steak', césán 'flanks', which can't be readly derived from costa although they're semantically and phonetically close. This makes me wonder if all these words could be Semitic loanwords akin to or from Phoenician qsˁt 'edge, limit' (f.)6 < Semitic *qītʃˀ- 'end, to finish' < Afrasian *kˀajatʃˀ- (HSED 1562), with Latin and German having got the femenine variant and Goidelic the masculine one.
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1 A. Ernout & A. Meillet (1959): Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine, p. 146.
2 M. De Vaan (2008): Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages, p.140. 
3 Regarded by Gamkrelidze-Ivanov as different reflexes of a former *qʰ. T.V. Gamkrelidze & V.V. Ivanov (1995): Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans, pp. 111-113.
4 G. Gordon (2008): Possible Proto-Semitic Loanwords in Pre-IE. 
5 Mª J. Estanyol (2008): Diccionari abreujat fenici-català, p 113.
6 Mª J. Estanyol, op. cit., p 112.

07 October 2016

Latin voltur 'vulture' (updated)


Latin voltur, vultur 'vulture' is linked by scholars such as Mallory-Adams to Greek blosyrós 'terrible, fearsome' and blosyrōpis 'grim-looking' (seemingly from Aeolic in account of *w- > b-), thus reconstructing an IE protoform *gʷl̥tur-1.

However, the Latin word is most likely a loanword from Etruscan velθur 'hawk, falcon', attested in the gentilic Velθur-na, which is likely associated to the city of Capua (cfr. capys 'hawk, falcon'). On the other hand, if the ancient toponyms Vulturnum (Castel Volturno) and Vulturnus (Volturno)2 are actually related to vultur, then we could add to Etruscan velθ 'underground, netherworld', velθu-na 'human', velθ-ra 'infernal tunnel' (Moretti) to this etymology, pointing to a Tyrrhenian protoform *wVrd- 'underground'.

This would be also the origin of Greek Ōrth(r)os, the name of an infernal dog, although from a different substrate language.
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1 J.P. Mallory & D.Q. Adams (2006): The Oxford Introduction to PIE and the PIE World, p.145.
2 Hence (ventus) Vulturnus 'SE wind' > Spanish bochorno 'foehn, sirocco'.