Punic in Proto-Germanic.

Robert Mailhammer at The Conversation (Phys.org) writes about a study of contact between the early Germanic peoples and the Carthaginian empire:

The presence of the Carthaginians on the Iberian Peninsula is well documented, and it is commonly assumed they had commercial relations with the British Isles. But it is not generally believed they had a permanent physical presence in northern Europe. By studying the origin of key Germanic words and other parts of Germanic languages, Theo Vennemann and I have found traces of such a physical presence, giving us a completely new understanding of the influence of this Semitic superpower in northern Europe.

Identifying traces of Punic in Proto-Germanic languages tell an interesting story. Take the words “shilling” and “penny”: both words are found in Proto-Germanic. The early Germanic people did not have their own coins, but it is likely they knew coins if they had words for them. In antiquity, coins were used in the Mediterranean. One major coin minted in Carthage was the shekel, the current name for currency of Israel. We think this is the historical origin of the word “shilling” because of the specific way the Carthaginians pronounced “shekel,” which is different from how it is pronounced in Hebrew.

The pronunciation of Punic can be reasonably inferred from Greek and Latin spellings, as the sounds of Greek and Latin letters are well known. Punic placed a strong emphasis on the second syllable of shekel and had a plain “s” at the beginning, instead of the “esh” sound in Hebrew.

But to speakers of Proto-Germanic—who normally put the emphasis on the first syllable of words—it would have sounded like “skel.” This is exactly how the crucial first part of the word “shilling” is constructed. The second part, “-(l)ing,” is undoubtedly Germanic. It was added to express an individuating meaning, as in Old German silbarling, literally “piece of silver.” […] Similarly, our word “penny” derives from the Punic word for “face,” panē. Punic coins were minted with the face of the goddess Tanit, so we believe panē would have been a likely name for a Carthaginian coin. […]

One area of Carthage leadership was agricultural technology. Our work traces the word “plow” back to a Punic verb root meaning “divide.” Importantly, “plow” was used by Proto-Germanic speakers to refer to a more advanced type of plow than the old scratch plow, or ard. […] The Old Germanic and Old English words for the nobility, for example æþele, are also most likely Punic loanwords. We found Punic also strongly influenced the grammar of early Germanic, Germanic mythology and the Runic alphabet used in inscriptions in Germanic languages, until the Middle Ages.

I grew more and more skeptical as I read, but it’s interesting stuff, and I’ll be interested to see what people say. Thanks, Dmitry!


I just finished one of the best things I’ve read on the difficulties and joys of being a parent, Carvell Wallace’s piece in the June 21 NY Times Magazine (and I continue to be impressed by the way the magazine has improved by leaps and bounds); I gobbled it up, but I had to stop at one point to look up a word:

My son’s school is only a few blocks away. He has, I presume, ditched class here, shopped for shoes here, watched drug deals and fights here, gotten boba here, gotten sandwiches from the shop here where the lady knows every student by name, sat on a bench after school here, just growing up, minute by minute, experience by experience.

“Boba?” (I thought) — “what the hell is boba?” So I googled and discovered it’s another name for bubble tea, something I have heard of but never seen; it hadn’t been invented yet when I was in Taiwan in the 1970s. That Wikipedia article says “In the United States there is a geographic split with the west coast referring to the drink as ‘boba’ and the east coast calling it ‘bubble tea,'” so I guess my East Coast residence explains my ignorance. (Apparently boba is a Chinese word, 波霸 — anybody know anything about its history?) In any event, consider this a public service message for those as ignorant as I.

Mannaia, Hagoday.

Graywyvern has been reading The Ring and the Book and thought I’d be interested in the oft-mentioned Mannaia (“Esteems it nobler to die honored man/ Beneath Mannaia”; “at the worst, what’s worse/ Than this Mannaia-machine”; “Two gallows, and Mannaia crowning all”; etc.). It’s glossed “guillotine” in graywyvern’s edition, but apparently that’s a special use of a more general Lombard word meaning ‘large knife requiring two hands to wield it’ [it’s standard Italian for a cleaver, as Giacomo Ponzetto says in the comments] — it’s from Vulgar Latin manuaria, derived from manus ‘hand.’ I can see why Browning found it attractive, and I really have to read The Ring and the Book one of these days.

An even more mysterious word is hagoday, said to mean ‘sanctuary knocker‘ (Ronald Sheridan and Anne Ross, Grotesques and Gargoyles: Paganism in the Medieval Church [1975]: “The hagoday, the sanctuary knocker, comprises a large escutcheon of bronze decorated with the head of some monstrous beast…”); it gets a fair number of Google Books hits (e.g., William Wood Seymour, The Cross in Tradition, History, and Art [1898], “Here was the knocker ‘hagoday,’ of which the fugitive laid hold”), but it’s not in any dictionary I have access to — anybody know anything about it?

Why No China?

Yesterday I wrote to Alexander Anichkin, who comments as Sashura, as follows:

As I was lying in bed unable to sleep last night, it occurred to me to wonder why China plays so insignificant a part in Russian literature. The only work I can think of that focuses on it is Tretyakov’s 1926 play «Рычи, Китай!» [Roar, China!], which I presume hasn’t been much read in the last few decades. Contrast with Japan, which while hardly central has been featured by authors from Goncharov to Pilnyak and Akunin — and yet it’s a tiny country farther away, while China is huge and right next door (and was a close Soviet ally for a decade)! Russian readers have been made familiar with towns as minor as Como and Baden over the years, but not a world city like Peking/Beijing. Any thoughts?

He said “It is curious, isn’t it?” adding “part of the explanation is the historical mix of fear and loathing, going back centuries and very strong in my generation, we grew up with a constant expectation of a big war with China, which nearly happened during the Damansky Island incident in 1969, […] the language barrier and the fact that China remained a closed country for a long period.” He turned up a master’s thesis at Petersburg University by Ван Ци (Wang Qi), Образ Китая в русской литературе первой половины ХIХ века [‘The Image of China in Russian Literature of the First Half of the XIX Century’], which is very useful in this context, discussing stories by Vladimir Odoyevsky and Osip Senkovsky (Sękowski) as well as Rafail Zotov’s 1840 novel Цын-Киу-Тонг, или Три добрые дела духа тьмы [Tsyn-Kiu-Tong, or Three good deeds of the spirit of darkness] (which Zotov presented as a translation of a Chinese novel), but that’s slim pickings, especially since Russia’s founding Sinologist Father Iakinf (Nikita Bichurin, 1777–1853), had spent many years in China, learned the language fluently, and done his best to spread awareness of the country — he was a friend of Pushkin, Odoevsky, and Krylov, among others, so it’s not as though he was an isolated figure, but his efforts had little effect on literature. Sashura mentioned Mikhail Shishkin’s 2010 novel Письмовник [The letter-writing manual, translated as The Light and the Dark], which has China during the Boxer Rebellion as part of its subject matter, and I am aware of Master Chen (Dmitry Kosyrev), who sometimes sets his fiction in China, but still… slim pickings. Thoughts?

Modernizing Linguistic Typology.

JC sent me a link to Randy J. LaPolla’s Forward to the Past: Modernizing Linguistic Typology by Returning to its Roots, adding “I have a lot of time for LaPolla”:

This paper argues that linguistic typology, and linguistics more generally, got off to a good start in the 19th century with scholars like Wilhelm von Humboldt and Georg von der Gabelentz, where the understanding was that each language manifests a unique world view, and it is important to study and compare those world views. This tradition is still alive, but was sidelined and even denigrated for many years due to the rise of Structuralism, which attempted to study language structures divorced from their linguistic and socio-cultural contexts. The paper reviews the understandings the early scholars had and points out their similarities with cutting edge current views in cognitive linguistics, construction grammar, and interactional linguistics, which had to be rediscovered due to the influence of Structuralism for so many years. It then argues that we should make linguistic typology (and linguistics more generally) more modern, scientific, and empirical by returning to our roots.

I confess I was taken aback by the start of the Introduction: “There is often an assumption that the comparative study of unrelated languages, i.e. linguistic typology, began with Joseph Greenberg in the 1960’s…” There is?! I guess linguistics has forgotten its history even more than I thought. At any rate, thanks, John!

Birthday Loot 2020.

As is traditional chez Hat, I had biscuits for breakfast and am looking forward to chicken curry and lemon meringue pie for dinner, and as is similarly traditional, I’m listing the books I got here:

Bangkok Wakes to Rain: A Novel by Pitchaya Sudbanthad

Skaz: Masters of Russian Storytelling (A Dual-Language Anthology) edited by Danielle Jones

The Indian Ocean in World History by Edward A. Alpers

And a beloved aunt sent me a check which I’m spending on books from St-Petersburg Bookstore in Brighton Beach (where I used to get my Russian books when I lived in the city): some early Pelevin, some early Strugatskys, and Babel’s Одесские рассказы (Odessa Stories). I don’t need more books, but… I always need more books. I hope you are all having a good day!

Naming Things.

Mike Johnston at The Online Photographer writes about corporate naming, always a fruitful source of hilarity (I worked for Price Waterhouse during the time they merged with Coopers Lybrand — they paid some huge amount of money to a naming consultant to come up with an appropriate name for the joint company, and after the appropriate amount of musing and focus-group testing, they presented the grand result: PricewaterhouseCoopers, one word, two caps — genius!). He starts with Mazda’s desire to insert another model in between the CX-3 and CX-5 (“What would the logical name be? To go in between “3” and “5”? Any guesses?”) and ends with “the story of that Schiit name [of “a line of inexpensive audio products”], from Jason Stoddard, co-founder of the company”:

[I]t always seemed like I was running out to the garage (where the workbench was).

“I’ve got schiit to do,” I’d tell Lisa, and disappear.

She’s endlessly patient, but one day, she’d finally had enough. “Why don’t you just call it Schiit?” she shot back, crossing her arms.

“Call what schiit?”

“The new company. You’re always saying you’ve got schiit to do. Why not just call it Schiit?”

At first, I laughed. A company called Schiit? No sane company would do that. If we proposed that name to any Centric client, I imagined what they’d say. Way too out there. Can’t believe you’d propose that. Piss off too many people. What a crazy idea. Then they’d fire us.

But I’d had 15 years of marketing playing it safe, second-guessing everything we did, and watering down every great idea until it was meaningless. […]

“Nobody would ever forget it,” I replied, finally.

“It would cut down your marketing costs,” Lisa agreed.

“And we could say we make some really good Schiit.”

Lisa laughed. “Why not? Go ape Schiit.”

“And Schiit happens,” I agreed.

“If you don’t have our stuff, you’re up Schiit creek,” Lisa added.

I nodded and sat back. Suddenly it didn’t seem so crazy. Hell, the word was meaningless for, what, 80% of the world that didn’t speak English? And if you spelled it funny, it could sound vaguely German.

Se non è vero, è ben trovato. Thanks, Jonathan!

Extinction, Laserpicium.

Back in 2005, I posted about “Laserpithium” (i.e., lāserpīcium) and silphium; now graywyvern (who blogs at Diwan: A Wind) sends me this poem about them by A. E. Stallings:

Extinction, Laserpicium

   Quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae
   lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis

   —Catullus 7

Consider silphium, extinguished flower,
Kin to the wild carrot, Queen Anne’s lace,
Fennel and dill, and rooted now no place
On earth, that once was worth an empress’ dower,
A Caesar’s ransom. Silphium was power
Stored in Rome’s coffers, stamped upon the face
Of silver tetradrachms, a thing to base
The wealth of nations on. Now past its hour,
Stamped out, its numbers harvested to zero,
What properties, what cures were in an ounce
Are lost to us—mere footnote to the pleasure
Out of a poem—“kisses without measure.”
The last stalk ever found, Pliny recounts,
Presented as a rarity to Nero.

I’ve always loved both the name “Queen Anne’s lace” and the flower, even if they call it a weed.

Irmin, Aryaman, et al.

JC was kind enough to send me a link to John D. Bengtson’s Iarl and Iormun-; Arya- and Aryaman-: A Study in Indo-European Comparative Mythology. The abstract:

In 1854 Martin Haug of Heidelberg suggested a root connection between the obscure German god Irmin and the minor Indic god Aryaman. Almost a century later (1952) Jan de Vries of Leiden agreed, with some reservations, and since then this theory has remained in dispute. In my study of this subject several arguments support the Haug – Vries hypothesis […]. The argument that Irmin simply means ‘great, immense, elevated’ and is the sole remnant of the Indo-European middle participle in Germanic is implausible; the form Irmines- is clearly the genitive form of a name. The oldest sources and comparative mythology point to Irmin / Iǫrmun as some kind of divine or heroic entity closely connected with sovereignty, ancestry, and the collective life of the people (irmin-diot). In the post-Christian literary traditions of the Germanic and Celtic peoples the original patterns were transformed and distorted.

JC adds:

This paper is by John D. Bengtson, and the title “Iarl and Iormun- : Arya- and Aryaman-: A Study in Indo-European Comparative Mythology” says it all: it goes right back to the roots of IE and historical linguistics generally, and is a direct descendant of Grimm’s philological program: to turn prehistory into history using comparative linguistics.

Well, almost all: there is also the Irish hero Éremón, who is said to have arranged many marriage bonds between Irish noble families (of which there were A LOT). Hindu ceremonies today still appeal to Aryaman to bless the marriage, even though he gets only a few mentions even in the Vedas, much less later.

We don’t know much about the Germanic Irmin, except that there are a lot of old names in Irmin-this-that-and-the-other, especially in Upper Saxony, and a few words of mythological import: OE éormengrund ‘orbis terrarum’, ON iormungand ‘the Midgard Serpent’ (the same gand ‘staff, wand’ as in Gandalf) , OHG Irmunsúl ‘axis mundi’ (destroyed by Charlemagne in the 8C). The usual, but not the oldest, interpretation is ‘grand’, as if cognate with ὄρµενος ‘inciter’; but that is a middle participle, and if the etymology is sound it would be the only middle participle in all Germanic.

Bengtson points out that Arminius, was probably named with a close variant of Irmin-, and that the h in personal and tribal names mentioned by later Roman writers, like the tribe of the Herminones, was silent, suggesting that they too are Irmin- based (and that Luther’s Germanization of Arminius as Hermann is a spelling pronunciation!)

Thanks, John!

Georgia and Haligalia.

In Jabotinsky’s Пятеро (The Five), our narrator has gone to an all-night shindig where students of various nationalities congregate, get drunk, and make speeches; he notices that Marko, the older brother in the family he’s been describing, has been hanging out with the group from the Caucasus and acting as though he were completely at home with them, waving his hands, shouting, and supporting the orators, even though they appeared to be talking in their native languages. Finally the gathering breaks up:

Marko accompanied me home; like me, he hadn’t done much drinking, but he was drunk on spiritual wine, specifically that of Kakheti. He hummed the tune and words of “Mraval zhamier” [მრავალჟამიერი, ‘Many Years’]; for two blocks, never having seen the Caucasus, he painted a vivid picture of the Georgian Military Road to Tiflis; he tried to prove something about Queen Tamar and the poet Rustaveli… Lermontov wrote “The timid Georgians ran away” — what a slander on that knightly tribe! Marko already knew all about the Georgian movement, he knew the differences between Kartvelian, Imeretian, Svan, and Laz, he had even mastered the language — he lured a stray dog with “modi ak [მოდი აქ, ‘come here’]” and then drove it away with “tsadi! [წადი, ‘go away’]” (I don’t vouch for the accuracy, but that’s how I remembered it); and he finished by sighing from the depths of his soul:

“It’s so stupid: why can’t a person just up and say ‘I’m a Georgian’?”

Марко проводил меня домой; он тоже мало выпил, но был пьян
от вина духовного, и именно кахетинского. Он мурлыкал напев и слова «мравал джамиэр»; два квартала подряд, никогда не видавши Кавказа, живописал Военно-грузинскую дорогу и Тифлис; что-то доказывал про царицу Тамару и поэта Руставели… Лермонтов пишет: «бежали робкие грузины» — что за клевета на рыцарственное племя! Марко все уже знал о грузинском движении, знал уже разницу между понятиями картвелы, имеретины, сванеты, лазы, даже и языком уже овладел — бездомную собачонку на углу поманил: «моди ак», потом отогнал прочь: «цади!» (за точность не ручаюсь, так запомнилось); и закончил вздохом из самой глубины души:

— Глупо это: почему нельзя человеку взять, да объявить себя грузином?

(In Mraval zhamier, ჟამი zhami is an archaic Georgian word for ‘time,’ borrowed from Armenian žam, which itself borrowed the word from Iranian, which borrowed it from Akkadian zimān, from Proto-Semitic *zaman-.) This is both touching and funny, and it reminded me of another example of immersion in a foreign culture, from Aksyonov’s 1968 novella Затоваренная бочкотара (translated as Surplused Barrelware), in which travelers on a truck get to know each other. One of them is the “refined intellectual” Vadim Drozhzhinin; he has achieved a modest success in life, but what he prides himself on is being a unique expert in the small Latin American country of Haligalia (Халигалия, based on the Russian form of the dance name hully gully):

He knew all the country’s dialects (there were twenty-eight), all its folklore, its history, its economy, all the streets and alleys of its capital, Polis, as well as three other cities, all the shops and stores on those streets, the names of their owners and the members of their families, and the names and dispositions of the domestic animals, even though he had never been in the country. The junta that ran Haligalia wouldn’t give Vadim an entry visa, but the simple Haligalians all knew and loved him, he corresponded with at least half of them, gave advice on their family lives, and settled all sorts of disputes.

Он знал все диалекты этой страны, а их было двадцать восемь, весь фольклор, всю историю, всю экономику, все улицы и закоулки столицы этой страны города Полис и трех остальных городов, все магазины и лавки на этих улицах, имена их хозяев и членов их семей, клички и нрав домашних животных, хотя никогда в этой стране не был. Хунта, правившая в Халигални, не давала Вадиму Афанасьевичу въездной визы, но простые халигалийцы все его знали и любили, по меньшей мере с половиной из них он был в переписке, давал советы по части семейной жизни, урегулировал всякого рода противоречия.

The passage goes on for much longer, and Haligalia becomes a memorable theme of the novella (which is very much worth reading). I’m sure there are other literary examples of this kind of immersion, but I can’t think of any at the moment.