BISHOPS AND BERBERS.

Lameen Souag at Jabal al-Lughat posts infrequently, but it’s always worth reading. Last month I meant to blog his post comparing the traditional (but probably erroneous) etymology of Istanbul < Greek εις την Πόλιν, pronounced /istimbóli(n)/ and meaning 'to the City,' with

‘usquuf, “bishop” in Arabic, which apparently derives from a Coptic reinterpretation of Greek episkopos “bishop” as e-pi-skopos “to the skopos“, due to which skopos was reanalyzed as meaning “bishop”.

I am unqualified to judge the validity of the latter etymology, but it’s certainly interesting.
And this month he has a post about one of the easternmost outposts of Berber, El-Fogaha (الفقهة) in central Libya, where some archaic Berber words are retained and there are some interesting phonological developments.


On Istanbul, the more commonly accepted explanation these days is that it’s derived directly from the Greek name Konstantinopolis, but as Pospelov says, there’s no actual evidence, and the forms are too divergent to allow us to simply assume the change. (The artificial Turkish form Islambol ‘filled with Islam’ is simply a folk etymology.)

Comments

  1. I don’t know about this particular case, but the proposed reanalysis is quite plausible. A neat example of the type is the Coptic reanalysis of Greek thalassa “ocean”, with an aspirated [t], as -hallassa, which is the stem that underlies Coptic thalassa “the ocean”, uhalassa “an ocean”, etc. (In Coptic /t/ is the feminine singular definite article, /p/ the masculine singular.)
    The coolest example, in my opinion, is the Coptic reanalysis of the NATIVE word for “king”, which I have discussed at http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000508.html.
    This example, like “bishop”, involves the reinterpretation of the /p/ of a stem as the masculine singular definite article.

  2. Hello, I am Julia from HK. You look like an expert on language. Do you know anything about Allomorps? I have a question I would like to ask. I hope you can help.
    from Julia

  3. Pls read the question in my blog.
    http://www.xanga.com/Jucream05
    from Julia

  4. Julia: That’s a difficult and perhaps not very well phrased question:
    “Consider the bold italicized words in the following sentences carefully and describe the factor that conditions the distribution of the allomorphs of these words with reference to morphophonology.”
    I think what they’re talking about is the allomorphs of the plural morpheme (not “of these words”); for instance, in the first:
    a) The fisherman caught a lot of trout.
    the plural morpheme has the zero allomorph, which is common with names of fish and animals.
    I don’t normally answer people’s homework questions, but this was such a tough one I thought I’d give you a little help. Good luck!

  5. Here, you can get back at your teacher with this question, which I’m pretty sure he or she won’t know the answer to: what is the plural of “vas deferens”? You can look it up in your dictionary beforehand.
    Hint to other readers who want to take a guess: each part of the phrase has its own weird Latin plural!

  6. Quibble on the “plural morpheme has the zero allomorph, which is common with names of fish and animals” – that is one explanantion, but sometimes they show up as mass nouns.
    People say both
    “There’s a lot of bear up there”
    and
    There are lots of bear up there.”
    They only say
    “The salmon are running.”
    never
    *”The salmon is running.”
    (Although here they would rarely ever just say ‘salmon’ but would use the name of whatever species it happened to be.)
    Why would animal names get this special treatment? Because they refer to food, and therefore a mass noun works? But then why don’t we ever do that with clams and oysters?

  7. I would never have guessed the plural of “vas”.

  8. John Cowan says:

    To end a decade and a half of suspense, the plural of vas ‘vessel’ is vasa, which is indeed unexpected as the plural of an ordinary-looking 3rd declension neuter with the normal genitive singular vasis. But it turns out that vasa had a doublet vasum, so what we have here is an irregular inflectional paradigm that mixes the words together, as with ‘be’ and ‘have’ in the various Romance languages. The only known cognate, says Wikt, is Umbrian vasum, both reflecting a Proto-Italic vass- (the geminate blocks rhotacism).

  9. David Marjanović says:

    is indeed unexpected as the plural of an ordinary-looking 3rd declension neuter

    It’s expected from the very fact that it’s a neuter. That fact is what’s unexpected: it’s on the list of neuter exceptions – aes, os, os, mel, lac, vas, ver, cor, caput, marmor, iter, cadaver – to an otherwise mostly masculine stem type.

    deferentia is also expected; almost all “consonantal” adjectives, including the present participles, are mixed stems, not consonantal ones.

  10. I presume you’re using “expected” in the sense in which mathematicians in jokes use the word “obvious,” and not claiming that if you had been asked out of the blue “what is the plural of vas deferens?” you would immediately have responded “vasa deferentia, duh.”

  11. expected — well, I was a bit surprised that vasa was described as unexpected for a neuter, all neuter plurals end in -a after all. Now vasorum/vasis are unambiguously 2nd declension forms, and I didn’t expect that.

    David did say that vas being a neuter was not expected, but maybe he does have the list of consonant-stem neuters memorized.

  12. all neuter plurals end in -a after all

    Yes, but one would expect the -s- to change to -r-.

  13. Rhotacism must have been blocked by a geminated s in the protoform, I learned, reduced at a later stage after the long vowel. There are other examples of that, but I don’t know how frequent they are. You must be right that rhotacism is expected in this environment, like in os – ora, but I think I learned such cases as exceptions instead of internalizing a rule. (vara looks weird to me, but there are weirder things out there).

    Was intervocalic -s- voiced or unvoiced in Classical Latin (borrowed like in rosa or reduced from geminates after original simplex -s- > -z- > -r- had run its course in pre-Classical times)?

  14. Rhotacism must have been blocked by a geminated s in the protoform, I learned, reduced at a later stage after the long vowel.

    Yes, sure, but I’m talking about simply looking at vas, being told it’s a neuter noun, and guessing the plural without knowing anything about a protoform.

  15. I was actually trying to agree with you that not having -r- in the plural is unexpected.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    David did say that vas being a neuter was not expected, but maybe he does have the list of consonant-stem neuters memorized.

    I do. We were told to memorize it in Latin class in the 8th grade. That’s why I just fired it off from memory. 🙂

    But yes, you’re right that I overlooked the lack of expected rhotacism. I suppose I subconsciously took rhotacism as a feature of endings (genus, gener-) and not of bare roots, with ōs, ōr- as an exception and os, oss- as the regular case.

    Was intervocalic -s- voiced or unvoiced in Classical Latin

    I don’t think there’s a way to tell when exactly it became voiced. But cāssus and caussa were shortened only just before Classical times, so I guess the voicing was probably postclassical.

  17. John Cowan says:

    A lot of those exceptions are exceptional in other ways too: in particular iter is a doublet-blend as well, and femur and iecur, which you don’t mention, have similar heteroclitic weirdness (further down on the same page).

  18. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t mention them because neuter gender is normal for -ur (including the place name Tibur).

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