CALVERT WATKINS, RIP.

A correspondent has sent me the sad news that Calvert Watkins passed away in his sleep last night. I met him only once, forty years ago or so, on a memorable evening when the Harvard Indo-Europeanists (of whom he was the fearless leader) came to New Haven to visit the Yale Indo-Europeanist contingent (of which I was an aspiring acolyte); he was so much fun to hang out with that I envied my Cambridge counterparts. The general dictionary-reading public knows him for his appendix of Indo-European roots for The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (an abridged version of the introduction is available here); his more specialized work is described briefly in the Wikipedia article I linked to his name, and hopefully an appropriate obituary will be provided by one of those who knew and worked with him. Meanwhile, I doff my hat to the memory of a fine scholar.

Comments

  1. The link is not to an abridged version of the introduction. It’s an abridgement of “The Indo-European Origin of English”, which appears on pages xix-xx, and “Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans”, which appears on pages 1496-1502, both in my (today seldom-used) hard-copy AHD.
    Wiki says the second edition, published in 1980, omitted the Indo-European etymologies and that they reappeared in the third.
    I presume my copy is of the first edition, even though the last of the many copyright dates is 1981.

  2. J.W. Brewer says:

    Vechnaya Pamyat. As I’m sure I’ve said before on this blog, that IE stuff in the back of the AHD (which I got as some sort of academic prize in junior high circa 78 or 79 – I still have the same copy floating around my house) was one of the key causal factors that led me to wind up with a B.A. in linguistics, in which context I had the good fortune to be taught historical linguistics by Stephanie Jamison, hat’s onetime grad school classmate and Prof. Watkins’ wife.

  3. Our paths intersected briefly 11 or 12 years ago when I emailed him with a query about the Hittite word for “beer”: the fact that he was happy to reply politely and at length to a complete stranger who was clearly an etymological idiot showed to me what kind of a man he was.

  4. I enjoyed very much his introductory course on historical linguistics, which I took probably in 1964, or it could have been 1963. It was so interesting that I thought for a time I’d like to do historical linguistics. But I don’t think I ever actually met or talked to Watkins.
    Coincidentally, just a couple of days ago in a discussion of “wage slavery”, I recalled dimly a lecture Watkins gave on a reconstruction of IE laws governing the recovery of escaped slaves, and I looked about the web a bit, but couldn’t find anything. Maybe one of you has a reference? The term I recall is “laws of sodality”, but actually, “sodality” seems to mean something quite different. So I remained puzzled.

  5. Johan Anglemark says:

    Sorry to hear that. I read and enjoyed his “How to kill a dragon” only a couple of months ago.

  6. dearieme says:

    ‘the Hittite word for “beer”‘ would be an excellent title for a short story.

  7. the fact that he was happy to reply politely and at length to a complete stranger who was clearly an etymological idiot showed to me what kind of a man he was.
    Well, yours may have been one of the better enquiries. He was probably relieved it wasn’t some idiot wanting a tattoo of the Hittite word for ‘beer’.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    dearieme: I would love to read it.

  9. The Bartleby.com version of AHD’s appendix on IE roots (with the Watkins intro) is archived here. (I pointed this out when Bartleby’s licensing deal with AHD came to an end, and fortunately the Wayback Machine still obliges.)

  10. Oh. This is… We all say that we’ve read various dictionaries cover-to-cover but the AHD appendix/ stand-alone Indo-European Roots dictionary is probably the only dictionary I’ve actually read every single word of (that and Streitberg’s Gothic). How to Kill a Dragon was extremely readable as well. Cornerstones of my linguistic consciousness. RIP.

  11. Greg Lee: I think the term you want is “noxality”. Noxal surrender was a Latin legal rule whereby if a son, a slave, or a wife in her husband’s power damaged a third party, the father/owner/husband could hand over his legal rights in the culprit as an alternative to paying for the damage. The name of the Watkins article is “Studies in Indo-European Legal Language, Institutions, and Mythology” (1970); it doesn’t seem to be on line.

  12. Have you ever had your morning toast prepared by a Michelin chef? Neither have I, but Calvert Watkins taught my core (i.e. for non majors) introductory linguistics class, which even then I recognized as an obscene intellectual luxury. [I also received a walking tour of Tallinn from Jaan and Martin Puhvel, but that's another story].

  13. marie-lucie says:

    JC: if a son, a slave, or a wife in her husband’s power damaged a third party, the father/owner/husband could hand over his legal rights
    What happened if a daughter was the culprit? or a widow? And if it was a wife, what was her new status?
    a wife in her husband’s power
    Is this phrase still part of English legal language? There is a similar phrase in French: une femme en puissance de mari, but I don’t know if it is still part of the legal code (which was revised in the 1970′s to remove the most misogynist aspects of Napoléon’s work).

  14. J.W. Brewer says:

    m-l: Anglo-American law used to use the Law French jargon-word “coverture” to describe the condition of a married woman (she was “covered” by her husband and as a feme covert lacked, considered as an individual, various rights related to contract and property that an unmarried adult feme sole, whether spinster or widow, would possess). Both the word and the practical inequalities it represented were so far gone from American law that you wouldn’t have learned either by the time I started law school in the late 1980′s unless for some reason you were taking a class with enough of a historical perspective that you had to read a lot of very old court decisions and be able to understand what they were talking about.

  15. I came across How to Kill a Dragon in a bookstore a few months ago, and was seriously tempted to get it on the title alone, but in the end I left it on the shelf because I suspected it’d be hopelessly over my head.

  16. The first OED citation for noxal “Of or relating to damage or injury done by a person or animal belonging to or in the power of another” is:
    1606 S. Daniel Queenes Arcadia iii. i. sig. E4v, I ouer-whelme My practise too, with darknesse, and strange words, With..Codicilles, Acceptilations, Actions rescissorie, Noxall, and Hypothecall.
    Which seems appropriate.

  17. J.W. Brewer says:

    Alas, the legal profession (at least in the U.S. – which antique jargon has been retained and which discarded varies considerably among Anglophone legal systems) seems to have lost noxality along with acceptilations, although we certainly still have codicils and hypotheticals. It would be odd to actually say/write “actions rescissory” instead of “actions for rescission,” but the meaning of the older phrase remains transparent.

  18. Black’s Law Dictionary has an entry for noxal:
    adj. Archaic. Of or relating to a claim against a father or owner for damages done by a son, a slave, or an animal.
    Also noxal action:
    [fr. Latin actio noxalis "injurious action"] 1. Roman law. The claim against a master or father for a tort committed by a son, a slave, or an animal. [The dictionary inserts a bullet here.] The head of the family could be sued either to pay a penalty due or to surrender the tortfeasor to the victim. Roman law also provided for the surrender of animals that caused damage under actio de pauperie. 2. hist. A person’s claim to recover for damages committed by a person’s son, slave, or animal.
    No mention of daughters.

  19. Black’s also has entries for coverture, acceptilation and actio rescissoria.

  20. Greg Lee says:

    Thanks, John, yes, it must be “noxality” I was misremembering. I did find a relevant footnote on line, from a book “Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition”, by Harold Joseph Berman:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=9-8fIBVgCQYC&pg=PA567&lpg=PA567&dq=noxality+watkins&source=bl&ots=cJi7XFkepJ&sig=nWvJY3ShokOVkABMxjHOBf9X8bM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ytFMUfDPHqOXiALmiYCoBQ&ved=0CDUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=noxality%20watkins&f=false

  21. marie-lucie says:

    son, slave, or animal
    So no mention of a wife or daughter having committed the wrongful act. She would no doubt have become a potential sex slave of the wronged man. But “slave” could imply a woman as well as a man. What is the Latin, servus or serva?

  22. “Calvert Watkins” = vast rectal wink.

  23. Note that noxal surrender was never part of the common law, and was very archaic even in the civil (Roman) law. English ecclesiastical law and admiralty law as well as Scots law incorporated Roman elements, though, so there was some study of the civil law even in England. There was a vaguely analogous common-law institution of deodand, by which an animal or inanimate object that caused a person’s death was forfeited to the Crown.

  24. Paul (other Paul) says:

    Looking up Actions recissorie, mentioned above, I found it in the Dictionary of the Scots Language at http://www.dsl.ac.uk/.
    This is the “electronic editions of the two major historical dictionaries of the Scots language: the 12-volume Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (DOST) and the 10-volume Scottish National Dictionary (SND). DOST contains information about Scots words in use from the twelfth to the end of the seventeenth centuries (Older Scots); and SND contains information about Scots words in use from 1700 to the 1970s (modern Scots). Together these 22 volumes provide a comprehensive history of Scots, and a New Supplement now (2005) brings the record of the language up to date. These are therefore essential research tools for anyone interested in the history of either Scots or English language, and for historical or literary scholars whose sources are written in Scots or may contain Scots usages.
    “In the DSL, these two dictionaries are being published together in their full form for the first time. Thus, information on the earliest uses of Scots words can be presented alongside examples of the later development of the same words. By making the DSL freely available on the Internet, we also aim to widen access to the source dictionaries and to open up these rich lexicographic resources to anyone with an interest in Scots language and culture. Its educational uses range from university research to help with the production of Scots materials for young children.”

  25. Trond Engen says:

    Old Indo-Europeanists never die, they acquire an asterisk.
    In his work on law, did he discuss Gmc. *þew-d-? I suspect that to have been the basic unit of society, the family or household.

  26. While it may be possible to reconstruct Watkins, there was definitely nothing hypothetical about him — except his hypotheses, obviously.

  27. David Marjanović says:

    I suspect that to have been the basic unit of society, the family or household.

    Why, when the attested forms both in- and outside of Germanic mean “people” or “tribe” or something?

  28. Trond Engen says:

    I’ll have to admit that I was sleepy and lazy and didn’t bother to be precise. I know that the word meant “tribe, nation”, but there’s a number of apparently root-related words in Germanic, and to me it looks as they might be united around “household”. In ON there’s þý f. “female slave” &lt *tew- “member of household”, þjá v. “enslave” &lt *tewjan- “take into the household”, þýða v. “seek support; interpret” &lt *tewdijan- “make friendly, – familiar”, þjóta v. “howl, weep, talk loosely, chatter” &lt *tewtan- “be homely”, þeysa v. “be goofy” &lt *tawsijan- “make homely”. (All reconstructed senses are my speculations.)

  29. m-l: Both servus and serva are attested in Latin; as usual, the masculine is the generic. Same story for filius/filia ‘son/daughter’.

  30. Ack, saved too soon. In noxal surrender, a surrendered child would become a child, not a slave, of the recipient. In terms of private rights, the distinction was in theory small: the father as well as the owner had the power of life and death over his dependents, and all lesser powers that went with that, whether or not they were routinely exercised. But politically and maritally a son was a citizen and potential husband independent of his father, whereas a slave had no political or marital rights at all.
    In practice, noxal surrender of children was considered too harsh a consequence for both children and parents, and was abandoned fairly early.

  31. Trond Engen says:

    Ouch. As you probably have noted my second attempt was phonologically sloppy. Being torn between PIE and PG forms, I ended up mixing them, but I don’t think it’s important the general point, so I won’t bother to clean them up now.
    Instead a couple of additional point:
    I forgot to mention þjá prep. “in the abode of”. In my ON dioctionary this is simply glossed as «= hjá». The word hjá (modern Nynorsh hjå) &lt *hía “of the dwelling”. The glossing implies an orthographic variant form, but it could also be a conflated parallel formation &lt *þýa “of the household”.
    The root *taw-t/s-/*tew-t/s- of þýta and þeysa is said to be ultimately onomatopoietic, but I don’t like that when it conforms so well to the general pattern. But it may well have acquired connotations from onomatopoetry.
    There’s an English word thew n. “strength, vitality; muscle, sinew”, «of obscure origin» according to my OED. M-W online connects it to OHG thau “custom”. It’s an obvious weakness that I don’t know how to work them in.
    Unless… the “enthrall” meanings of þý/þjá could also point to something like “bind” as the original sense of the verbal root, but I still think we need “household, family” to unite all ON forms.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks JC.
    Trond: we tend to think of “family, household” as referring to the “nuclear family”, but it is more likely to be the “extended family”, perhaps including “clan” and even larger units.
    There’s an English word thew n. “strength, vitality; muscle, sinew”
    I once met a woman whose last name was Thew, surely not a very common name.
    Dictionaries (unless etymological ones) list meanings starting with the most common ones, while the uncommon ones may be closer to the originals. In very ancient cultures, as in still existing cultures which maintain very old techniques, sinew is a very valuable product because of its strength and elasticity, and is often used for tying or binding things together permanently. (Query: is *tew related to English (to) tie?)
    the “enthrall” meanings of þý/þjá could also point to something like “bind” as the original sense of the verbal root
    Very likely. In my experience with another language family, the oldest roots are usually verbal, not nominal.
    The root *taw-t/s-/*tew-t/s- of þýta and þeysa is said to be ultimately onomatopoietic
    Onomatopoiea refers to words based on imitation of sounds heard, such as “cuckoo” or “chickadee”.
    I think the term is overused in a lot of historical explanations. I fail to see how *taw or *tew brings to mind any natural sounds, let alone the idea of ‘binding’ and ultimately of ‘human group bound together by descent, marriage or other defined customary ties, occupying the same house, compound or territory’.

  33. I once met a woman whose last name was Thew
    That surname is from theow ‘slave, bondman, thrall’ (Old English ðíow, þéow, þéo, strong masculine, beside Old English þeow, strong feminine, which is cognate with Old Norse þý, mentioned above).

  34. Seemingly not: the PIE root is *teuta for the tribal words, *deuk- for the tie. The d in Deutsch etc. comes from the general change of interdental fricatives to stops in all Germanic languages save English, Icelandic, and Faroese.

  35. Trond Engen says:

    John: I’m so sloven that the ‘tie’ connection didn’t strike me until now, and I agree that it doesn’t fit. Though I think there’s a small number of doublegrimmed words that some want to attribute to interdialect loans while the shift was in progress, others to an already shifted substrate, and others again to hypercorrection by the ungrimmly masses.

  36. Trond Engen says:

    Oh, and I should probably also apologize for not having quoted cognates outside ON.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    JC, oops, you are right about *t and *d, I should have thought a little longer before writing my “query”.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    In my experience with another language family, the oldest roots are usually verbal, not nominal.

    Most PIE roots are traditionally reconstructed as verbs. But there’s this:

    - Invited speaker 2: Frans Plank on the direction of derivation, mostly nouns adjectives and comparison of direction of derivation [in Maltese, I think] with English and German within specific semantic classes. Poor (present) Michael Spagnol got blamed for most of errors.
    A comment (from the discussion) by Frans Plank a propos basic vs. derived forms: “In Proto Indo-European, what we see as basic is actually derived. Etymological dictionaries of Indo-Euroean list roots as verbs which is probably more science-fiction than science.”

    From here. In the comments, I asked for details or a journal to watch; Bulbul hasn’t answered in 1 1/2 years. :-(

    the general change of interdental fricatives to stops in all Germanic languages save English, Icelandic, and Faroese

    Arguably two separate changes: what is now called German and Dutch turned both of these fricatives into /d/*, while Frisian and Scandinavian merged [ð] into /d/ and [θ] into /t/. There’s a temporal gap between them as well: while the southern change spread from south to north even within High German, taking 100 or 200 years IIRC, the use of th in written Frisian ceased hundreds of years after that in Old Dutch – only in the 14th to 15th century, sez teh Pffft! of All Knowledge.
    * A new phoneme in High German, merged with the existing /d/ in Low.

    doublegrimmed words [...] ungrimmly masses

    Thread won.

  39. David: Well, okay, but the use of th in written German did not cease until 1901. I agree about there being two separate changes, but I’m doubtful about the dates.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    David: bulbul’s quote from Frans Plank: “In Proto Indo-European, what we see as basic is actually derived. Etymological dictionaries of Indo-Euroean list roots as verbs which is probably more science-fiction than science.”
    I agree with the first sentence but would take the second one with a large grain of salt in the absence of relevant quoted data.
    I agree that many forms listed as “roots” (but longer than the typical CVC roots, and especially ending in vowels) are either derived or borrowings, listed for the proto-language because they are reconstructed from several attested families but showing traces of foreign origin or demonstrably borrowed from other languages.
    For the second sentence, I am not sure what Plank is objecting to. In most dictionaries of known languages nouns are more common than verbs. In the Swadesh lists (variations on 100- or 200-word lists of basic vocabulary meanings presumably common among humans everywhere, which are often used in trying to determine relationships between languages)*, there are about three times as many nouns as verbs, with a few adjectives thrown in*, in addition to other categories with very few members such as pronouns and negative words, while a dictionary of reconstructed roots might have mostly verbal roots and only a few nouns and adjectives.
    (*See Wikipedia history and word lists).
    Beyond the root, nouns derived from verbs are more common than the opposite. See for instance the numerous nominal derivatives of the verbal root *tew (probably ‘bind’) quoted above. This abundance of nouns derived from a single verbal root, with a wide range of meanings among the nouns, is not at all unusual.

  41. I see Plank is another of those monosyllabic Indo-Europeanists.

  42. Trond Engen says:

    I suppose one way to explain the origin of the ablaut system might be as derivations from a simple root form, and with that much hypothesizing done, one might as well assume that the roots were nominal.

  43. marie-lucie says:

    JC, What’s wrong with those monosyllabic Indo-Europeanists? The ones I am not too happy with are those who list many bi- or polysyllabic forms as “roots” rather than reconstructions of complete words.
    Trond, I don’t understand the reasoning behind your assumption.

  44. Trond Engen says:

    Not much reason, I’m afraid. I meant that making a hypothesis about the origin of the verbal root system is such a leap in itself that postulating nominal ur-roots is no big deal.

  45. m-l, by “monosyllabic Indo-Europeanists” I only meant those with monosyllabic names, like Jones, Grimm, Rask, Bopp, Frisk, Hamp, Pott, Schmidt, etc.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Grimm, etc: Since we were discussing “roots”, I confused monosyllabic with monosyllabist, if such a term exists. Not coincidentally, they were/are all of Germanic origin. That helped them in recognizing ablaut.

  47. David Marjanović says:

    Well, okay, but the use of th in written German did not cease until 1901.

    But that th never appeared in the place of early Old High German th. It was an ornamental flourish, possibly Hellenizing, on t.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    Trond: I meant that making a hypothesis about the origin of the verbal root system is such a leap in itself that postulating nominal ur-roots is no big deal.
    Perhaps, but I don’t think that the two hypotheses are equally defensible.

  49. Trond Engen says:

    m-l: It’s perfectly legitimate to explore the intricacies of the PIE verbal system. And it has indeed been done. But I also think that, perhaps, if your particular reconstruction says that the different ablaut forms are derived from something more basic, then it’ may be natural to assume that those basic somethings were nominal. But I don’t actually know anything of Plank or his work, so it’s not worth much.

  50. marie-lucie says:

    Trond: perhaps, if your particular reconstruction says that the different ablaut forms are derived from something more basic, then it’ may be natural to assume that those basic somethings were nominal
    I don’t see that this assumption follows. Take my earlier example of English sing/sang/sung/song where the first three are forms of the same verb and the last one a noun. I don’t know the details of the evolution of those four forms and what the most “basic” form of the root has been determined to be (most likely none of the above forms, but one from which these forms can be derived), but to my knowledge there is no reason to assume that the single noun song is more basic than the multiple verbal forms.
    As pointed out by David M before, the German equivalent of song is not *sVng (where V is yet another vowel), but Gesang, which is derived from a verbal root through the addition of the prefix ge-. If the basic root was nominal, it should not have needed an extra prefix to form a noun while the verb forms remained unprefixed.

  51. It’s clear in the case of song that it is a differentiated form of sang. In OE, sang was more common than song as the noun. In Dutch, the reverse happened: zang is the noun, zong the preterite. On the gripping hand, sang does double duty in Danish, as it did in Old High German.

  52. Trond Engen says:

    m-l: I don’t mean picking one of the ablaut forms and claiming it to be original because it’s nominal. I imagined a hypothesis deriving all the forms from some even deeper root and some worn-down additional morphemes. Depending on the function and semantic origin of those morphemes, nominal roots might make sense. But, as I tried to say, identifying such morphemes and etymologizing them is quite a leap.

  53. In the first OED quotation for noxal above, the word hypothecal also appears, which JWB not unnaturally read as hypothetical. The two words are different, though; a hypothec is the civil-law (that is, modern Roman law) analogue of the common-law mortgage. Civil-law institutions and concepts mostly have English names at all because of Scots law, which (unlike English law) had a “reception” of the civil law in the 15th century as a supplement to its own customary law, itself a mixture of Celtic, Norse, and early English customary law. Scotland still recognizes a list of specific textbooks of Roman law as a direct source of law.
    Acceptilation is also a purely civil-law term meaning a free release from repayment of a debt. (I could use a few of those right about now, thanks; I suspect many of us could.) Robert Louis Stevenson studied to be a “writer to the Signet”, the old Scots name for a solicitor, and in his essay “Virginibus Puerisque” delivered himself of the following sentence anent scraps of things he remembered from his education: “I still remember that Emphyteusis is not a disease, nor Stillicide a crime.” Emphyteusis was a form of land-tenure, characterized particularly by the payment of a rent that was fixed over a long term such as thirty years, that arose in late Imperial but pre-feudal times; stillicide is a servitude, the civil-law equivalent of an easement, consisting of the right to collect the rain that drips off a neighbor’s roof onto one’s own property.

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