22 September 2011

PIE *dom- 'household'

PIE *dom- 'household' (e.g. Latin domus) is a noun-root whose genitive form *dem-s- is attested in the compound *dem-s-pot- 'master of the house' (e.g. Greek despótēs). Many Indo-Europeanists (e.g. Mallory-Adams) consider it to be derivated from *dem(h2)- 'to build', a root only attested in Greek (e.g. démō 'to build',  dómos, dõ:ma 'house') and Germanic (e.g. English timber). 

A part of the problem is that, unlike French, English doesn't make a clear distinction between the concepts of 'house' as a building (French maison) and 'household' as a dwelling place (French demeure). This explains why the French linguists Émile Beneviste1 and Pierre Chantraine2 think that PIE *dom- refers to the latter rather than the former.

IMHO, this suggests the original meaning was 'to remain, to live', thus linking it with Proto-Afrasian *dam- 'to live, to last, to sit', which AFAIK has no Eurasiatic correspondences.

In terms of linguistic archaeology, this points to the Neolithic, when (pre-)IE-speaking hunterer-gatherers learned farming techniques and thus became sedentary. By contrast, Afrasian speakers (mostly nomadic pastoralists) had a different lifestyle and didn't develop the household institution.
1 Le vocabulaire des institutions indo-européenes, vol. I, pp. 293-307.
2 Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque, pp. 292-293.

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