14 June 2013

Basque erramu 'bay laurel'

Basque erramu-igande 'Palm Sunday'1, is a compound from erramu 'bay laurel (Laurus nobilis)' (with a prothetic e-and igande 'Sunday'. The difficulty of procuring palms in unfavorable climates led to their substitution with branches of native trees (e.g. box, yew, willow, olive), so the Sunday was often designated by their names, as in Basque, or by the general term Branch Sunday, as in several Romance languages (e.g. Spanish Domingo de Ramos), whose forms derive from Latin rāmus 'branch'.

The phonetic similarity between the Basque and the Romance words has lead to many specialists to derive the former from the latter, which is highly unlikely due to semantic mismatch2. In my opinion, a better parallel would be the Sicilian phytonym rannu 'Mediterranean sweet scabious (Scabiosa atropurpurea)'3, found in the toponym Grotta 'u Rannu (San Giuseppe Jato) and apparently derived from Arabic rand 'bay laurel'4, with assimilation -nd- > -nn-.

On the other hand, Basque basa-erramu 'spindle (Euonymus europaeus)', a compound from basa- 'wild', designates in turn a plant whose fruits (once dried and crushed) were used as insecticide against acari and lice
1 There's also erramu-egun, a compound from egun 'day'. 
2 There's, however, a homonymous (although minoritary) erramu 'oar', which derives from Latin rēmus. 
3  Widespread in the Mediterranean area, this species is also known as Scabiosa cretica. The Latin name alludes to the medical properties of the plant, used for curing scabies, a skin disease caused by a species of mite.
4  R.A. Hall (1974): External History of The Romance Languages, p. 97.

05 June 2013

Cisalpine Gaulish karnitu 'he built' (updated)

The funerary inscription of Todi (Umbria) is a bilingual Gaulish-Latin which contains two Cisalpine Gaulish texts written in the Etruscan alphabet: Ateknati Trutikni karnitu artuaś Koisis Trutiknos, [At]eknati Truti[k]ni [kar]nitu lokan Ko[i]sis [Tr]utiknos 'Koisis son of Drutos, has built the tomb of Ategnatos son of Drutos'1.

The verb karnitu is translated in the Latin text as locauit et statuit '(he) placed and erected', whose object lokan /longan/ 'tomb, cinerary urn' (accusative) corresponds to Celtic *longā 'vessel' (see here). Although specialists have proposed an etymology from *karno- 'heap of stones'2, in my opinion we're dealing with a non-Celtic word. In fact, karnitu can be readily compared to Lepontic karite '(he) made' in the funerary inscription Pelkui pruiam Teu karite, iśos kalite palam 'Devos made (this) tomb for Belgus, he himself raised the tombstone', where we've got the forms bruia 'tomb'3 and pala 'tombstone'.

I link these verbs to Etruscan car- 'to build, to make'ceriχu- 'to build', a loanword from IE *kʷer- 'to make'4 (Sanskrit karóti, kr̥ɳóti), with the typical delabialization of *kʷ in satem IE languages. In some branches5, this verb developed a secondary meaning related to magic, as in Old Irish creth 'poetry' (Ogamic Qritti 'poet's (gen.)') and cruth 'shape, form', Middle Welsh pryd < Celtic *kʷritu-, and Welsh prydydd, Old Cornish pridit 'poet' and the Gaulish personal name Prittius < P-Celtic *pritijo- < Celtic *kʷritjo-6.
1 X. Delamarre (2008): Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, p. 105-106.
2 R. Matasović (2009): Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic, p. 191.
3 Usually linked to Gaulish brīvā 'bridge'.
4 Attested in Middle Welsh peri 'to cause, to create, to make'.
Sanskrit kártra-, kr̥tyá: 'enchantment, charm', kárman- 'sacrifice', Lithuanian kerė́ti, keraĩ 'charms, enchantments', kerų žodžiai 'magical formules', Old Church Slavonic čaro-dĕjĭ 'magician'.
X. Delamarre, op.cit., p. 252.

02 June 2013

Semitic *gVbVl- 'mountain; boundary, border'

Etymological dictionaries of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) such as Mallory-Adams1 reconstruct two words for 'head', namely *ɣeβōl- (Tocharian, Greek, Germanic2) and *kapōl-o- (Old English hafola, Sanskrit kapá:la-), which show an alternation between voiced (traditional voiced aspirated) and voiceless stops3.

I consider these words to be loanwords from the languages spoken by Neolithic European farmers, akin to Semitic *gVbVl- 'mountain; boundary, border' (e.g. Arabic ʒabal 'mountain'), with a straightforward semantic shift. The Semitic word is in turn derived from Afrasian *gVbVl- 'bank, side' (Militarev), also reflected in Egyptian and Western Chadic and possibly related to *gab- 'side, bank; beach' (HSED 856).
J.P. Mallory & Q.D. Adams (2006): The Oxford Introduction to PIE and the PIE world, p. 174.
2 Although the Germanic meaning is 'gable'.
Although pairs like this (e.g. *gab- ~ *kap- 'to take') are by no way uncommon, they aren't explained in the framework of mainstream IE studies.