07 October 2016

Celtic *marko- 'horse' (updated)

According to Gamkrelidze-Ivanov1, Celtic *marko- 'horse' (Old Irish marc, Middle Welsh march, Gaulish márkan [acc.])2 and Germanic *márxa-/*margá- 'horse, mare' (Old Icelandic marr 'horse', merr 'mare', Old High German marah- 'horse', meriha 'mare') is an Asian Wanderwort related to horseback riding in the Eurasian steppes before the first millenium BC.

The closest forms would be Sinitic *mrāʔ and Tibeto-Burman *mrāŋ 'horse', with schwebeablaut. These Sino-Tibetan words3 look as different formations from a lexeme found in Altaic *mórV 'horse' (Mongolian *mori, Tungusic *murin, Korean *màr). One of these derivations, with a nasal suffix (*morin), found in Mongol and Tungusic, would be the origin of the Tibeto-Burman word as well as North Caucasian *far-nē 'horse, mare'. The other would be a diminutive *mor-qa reflected in the Sinitic and Celto-Germanic words.
However, Sanskrit mṛga 'deer, antelope' would point to a possible origin of this Wanderwort in the domestication of wild horses by the Botai culture of northern Kazakhstan (3,500-3,000 BCE). 
1 T. Gamkrelidze & V. Ivanov (1995): Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans, p. 472-473.
2 R. Matasović (2009): Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic, p. 257.
3 For which Sergei Starostin reconstructs a Sino-Tibetan protoform *mrāH / *mrāŋ.


  1. I think the Dravidian word is much more closely related to Afroasiatic.

    Proto-Afro-Asiatic: *mar-
    Meaning: cow, calf

    Semitic: *mVrVʔ- 'bull'
    Egyptian: mr.t 'cow' (Gr.)
    Western Chadic: *marir- 'oryx antelope'
    Central Chadic: *maray- '(sacrificial) bull' (?)
    Low East Cushitic: *mār- 'calf'
    High East Cushitic: *mV̄r- 'calf'
    Warazi (Dullay): *mār- 'heifer'
    Omotic: *marr- 'calf'
    Notes: Cf. HSED 1728: Eg.; CCh.: Mafa; Cush.: Arb.

    There are a number of words in Afroasiatic that have a shared meaning of different kinds of bovids, ie, cows, antelopes, bulls, gazelles, oxen, goats, deer, etc...

    There is also Meroitic: mre-ke supposedly meaning "horse" > supposedly related to Nubian: murta "horse". In my opinion, the Meroitic word is likely related to the Afroasiatic etymon above and is talking about cows not horses.

    1. I'm afraid this is an incredible mess of wild and domestic animals, thus not a valid "etymon" properly speaking. As I said before, names of domesticated animals tend to become Wanderwörter spread among genetically unrelated languages, so I won't surprised if the Meroitic word you quoted is actually related to the Sinitic and Celtic 'horse' words.

  2. Horses may have been domesticated in Arabia well before the Botai culture, Octavia.

    I learned of this some time ago...thought I would share it with you.

    Excavations in a new archaeological site in the southwestern Asir province in Saudi Arabia may reveal that horse domestication in Saudi Arabia, started 9,000 years ago – challenging previous theories that the practice started in the Arabian Peninsula 5,550 years ago only.

    Just to let you know, the Meroitic word is tentative - no one knows what it actually means. I believe Meroitic is Afroasiatic, not Nilo-Saharan. If it is not Afroasiatic...it certainly has a massive amount of borrowing from Afroasiatic and not just from the daughter languages, but from the proto-language itself which is impossible as you know. That means the words had to be inherited.

    1. Regardless of the actual classification of Meroitic, the thing is mreke is much close to the Celtic and Germanic words than to Nubian murta 'horse', which has Afrasian parallels:

      *pard- ~ *parʒ/ǯ- 'an equid' (Militarev)
      *ba/irdˁ-awn- ~ *barz/dˁ- 'mule, horse' (Militarev)

    2. Warning: the above proposals are highly tentative. What I'm sure of is there're dozens and possibly hundreds of words relative to 'horse' and other equids, most of which are actually Wanderwörter.