03 May 2010

Some wrong Spanish etymologies

Some Coromines' Spanish etymologies (the ones found in the DRAE are generally nastier) enjoy a greater credit than they actually deserve.

For example, if we look at cerrar 'to close, shut' in his Breve diccionario etimológico de la lengua castellana, we can see he derives it from late Latin *serare < Latin sera 'bolt, lock', in spite that Spanish /c/ (in the Middle Ages a dental affricate [ts] and now an interdental fricative [θ]) can't come from Latin /s/. He denies elsewhere any relationship between this word and Catalan serrar, French serrer 'to tighten', although they fit both phonetically (as [ts] > [s] in these languages) and semantically (the meanings 'closed' and 'tight, dense' are related). The answer is all these words1 are Pyrenaic (a Vasco-Caucasian substrate language) loanwords from the PNC root *=utɕE(rV) 'thick, fat'.

Another weird etymology is jara 'rockrose (Cistus)', a kind of bush common in the Iberian Peninsula which Coromines derives from Arabic šacra 'low bush', where [ʃ] /x/ regularly developed into [χ] /j/. Apparently, he ignores Basque zare 'basket' and (t)xara 'rockrose (wood)', a word of Pyrenaic origin for which Bengtson suggests an etymology from PNC *tʃʃ’wɦeli (˜ tɕɕ’,-ʕ-,-ɫ-) 'a k. of foliage tree'2. The palatized form would have been borrowed into Spanish xara, then jara.
1 There's also Basque (Biscayan) zarri 'dense', zarra-tu 'dense; to close, shut'.
2 Related to Paleo-Eurasian *tʃwalV 'willow', a root represented in Paleo-European *sal(i)k- 'willow' (Celtic *salik-, Latin salix, Germanic *salx-) and native IE *welik- 'willow' (Greek helíkē, English willow).

01 May 2010

Strawberry fields forever

Starostin reconstructs a Paleo-Eurasian root *NEk’rV 'thorny bush' > Altaic *ńíkrV 'a k. of thorny tree', from which I derive Paleo-European *ag´ºr- (Gaulish agraniō- 'sloe, fruit of the blackthorn', English acorn1, Latin agresta 'green grape', Greek ágrios 'wild'), with loss of the initial nasal. Its IE native counterpart would be *dhreg´h- 'sloetree, blackthorn'2 (Celtic *dragenā 'sloe, fruit of the blackthorn'3, Albanian drédhë 'strawberry'). Greek hrá:ks, hró:ks 'grape' < *srāg-, is probably a Thracian loanword from the same root.

Paleo-Eurasian *bVrdzV 'thorn' is the origin of Kartvelian *bardzg-/*burdzg(a) 'thorn, thorny plant'. The sibilant *dz is reflexed as *g´ in IE *bhrag´- 'strawberry' > Lithuanian brãškē 'garden strawberry', Latin frāgum 'strawberry'4 and as *g´h in *wreH2h- 'thorn' > Celtic *wragi- 'needle', Lithuanian rãžas 'dry stalk, stubble; pronk of fork', Greek hrákhos 'thorn-hedge', hrákhis 'spine, backbone'.

Altaic *núŕi (˜ -e) 'a k. of berry, grape'5 is related to Hittite muri- '(bunch) of grapes' and IE *moro- 'blackberry'.
1 Indo-Europeanists usually group this with Lithuanian uga 'berry', Old Church Slavic jagoda 'fruit', vin-jaga 'grape', but I prefer to group the Balto-Slavic forms with Latin ūva 'grape', thus reconstructing *H3gwh'berry'.
2 Found (with simplification of the initial cluster) in Basque lahar, nahar 'blackberry (Rubus fructicosus); buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica); caltrop (Tribulus terrestris)'.
3 Related to this is *dhren- 'cornel cherry' (Old High German dirn-baum, Russian derën) ~ *tºrnu- 'thorn'.
4 Usually though to be derivated from *srāg-. French fraise, Spanish fresa 'strawberry' is probably an Italoid loanword from the same root (Italoid is a "satem" language with *bh- > f- like Latin). Basque has araga 'strawberry' and arakatz 'gooseberry'.
5 Notice than the supposed Korean cognate *nùrúk 'yeast' presented in the database doesn't correspond to this root but to *ńjuŕge 'a k. of weed' < Paleo-Eurasian *nUŕV 'grain, corn'.