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.
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'.


  1. "Caucasian *GHwV:ɫV ‘a k. of bird (jackdaw, crow)’, Altaic *kʰú:l´a (~ -o,-u) ‘a k. of big bird’, Yeniseian *kɨla ‘crow’2."

    There are Afroasiatic parallels and Nilo-Saharan parallels. Not sure which way the word traveled though. If the word is Asiatic then Afroasiatic is the source of the Nilo-Saharan words. Meroitic according to Rilly has a similar word.

    "for which I'd propose a link to Caucasian *qˀwiɫə ‘rock, cliff, stone’, Altaic *kʰó:li ‘lake, basin’."

    Afroasiatic has parallels to this also, especially, in Cushitic.

    "velθ 'underground, netherworld', velθu-na 'human', velθ-ra 'infernal tunnel' (Moretti), for which I'd propose a link to Caucasian *qˀwiɫə ‘rock, cliff, stone’, Altaic *kʰó:li ‘lake, basin’"

    I am not sure how the voiced labiodental fricative is derived from velars.

    1. I advise you to not confuse graphemes and phonemes, because ortographic conventions can be misleading, especially in transcriptions from non-Latin scripts. In the Etruscan alphabet, the sign v is identical to Greek F "digamma" (adopted as Latin f), and its value is [w]. Incidentally, before a new sign for f (which apparently represents a bilabial fricative [ɸ]) was invented, archaic Etruscan inscriptions have vh instead.

      Meanwhile, I've reverted to Moretti's original proposal for Etruscan velθur (the one he proposed for velθ- has no interest and I won't discuss it here), but I'll keep Caucasian *qˀwiɫə for "future use".

  2. Okay, I will be much more careful of that.

    In Hebrew, there is a similar thing concerning bet/ vet.