Timbuktu Manuscripts.

I’ve made several posts about the manuscripts and libraries of Timbuktu (put “Timbuktu” into the search box to find them), but I found some details in this story particularly interesting:

Just about 250,000 old manuscripts from the libraries of Timbuktu still survive in present-day Ethiopia. Also, thousands of documents from the medieval Sudanese empire of Makuria, written in at least eight different languages were dug out at the southern Egyptian site of Qasr Ibrim. Thousands of more old manuscripts have equally survived in the West African cities of Chinguetti, Walata, Oudane, Kano, and Agadez.

Upon the real and present dangers posed by fires, insects, and plundering, some one million manuscripts have since survived from the northern edges of Guinea and Ghana to the shores of the Mediterranean. National Geographic even estimates that 700,000 manuscripts have survived in the city of Timbuktu alone.

Ethiopia — that’s quite a journey! If I ever knew about Makuria (Greek Μακουρια, Arabic al-Muqurra), I’d forgotten. And how was “Chinguetti” derived from the Arabic name شنقيط‎ Šinqīṭ? (Thanks, Trevor!)

Comments

  1. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Chinguetti seems to have been originally Berber, so the English (French?) and Arabic names might have both come from some other form.

    I watched the Michael Palin episode where he visits it quite recently – I think he talks about the libraries there.

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    @SFReader:

    Should you ever want to learn a second word, there’s a fairly good grammar of Old Nubian by Gerald Browne, published by LINCOM.

    My favourite Makurian is Prince George of Makuria

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgios_I_of_Makuria

    about whom very little seems really to be known. It’s just that the very name encapsulates the fact that the world is so much more complicated and interesting than you might think. The royal courts of Makuria and Alodia may actually have been Greek-speaking.

  3. David Eddyshaw says:

    We’ve talked about Makuria before (of course; we’ve talked about everything before. We’re just that cool.)

    http://languagehat.com/meroitic-inscriptions-found/#comment-2918845
    http://languagehat.com/ancient-indo-european-folktales/#comment-2228771

  4. From the WP article on George:

    Their description of the events is not always conclusive and they provide at several points contradictory information.

    I like that, actually. It’s a letdown when you have several sources who are just redundant copies of the same thing (or of each other).

  5. The etymology of Senegal is thought to be related to the Zanhaya or Sanhaja tribe, which is spelled Zenhaga on this early map:
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/25/1799_Clement_Cruttwell_Map_of_Africa_-_Geographicus_-_Africa-cruttwell-1799.jpg

    Other early maps show the Regnum Senegae:
    https://library.princeton.edu/visual_materials/maps/websites/africa/maps-continent/1554munster.jpg

    And I read that the Arabic locational trinomial Shinqiti isn’t typically meant as a reference to the town/city of Shinqit, but to the entire region – Bilad Shinqiti, encompassing all of Moorish NW Africa. This is apparently sometimes spelled in a way transliterated Shinaqiti, which seems to further establish that it’s related to the Sanhaja/Zenhaga.

    So I’m putting forward the hypothesis that Chinguetti had a French development of its own via Bilad Shinaqiti. But I knew nothing about the region and this is just what half an hour on google led me to. Another half hour and I’ll have the Songhay and maybe even Seneca in there, so I should stop and see if anyone thinks it’s plausible. Can you page Lameen?

    One of the odd things to me is that this important ancient town doesn’t show up on old maps. Perhaps that’s because caravan stations were outside the perspective of early European explorers, and the Islamic maps either aren’t extant or aren’t accessible online to an English speaker.

  6. And how was “Chinguetti” derived from the Arabic name شنقيط‎ Šinqīṭ?

    Catherine Taine-Cheikh offers an etymology of the name in the final paragraph on p. 310 here, in her chapter “Mauritanian and West Saharan Arabic” of the volume Arabic Historical Dialectology: Linguistic and Sociolinguistic Approaches (2018). The name is explained as being Soninke si n-gede “well of the horse” (alternatively written si-n gede). In this, is “horse”, cognate with Maninka and Bambara so and Susu sona within Mande. It is apparently a West African areal term (perhaps originally diffused from Mande?) also seen in Temne asoe, Kru so, Ewe and Fon so, Yoruba esin, and Edo esi. The n is the Soninke definite marker, which is a nasal bearing a low tone and follows the noun it makes definite, if I understand the construction correctly (although the orthography used in Taine-Cheikh’s article hyphenates to the following noun). And gèdé is “well, spring of water, source”.

    Soninke has a series of initial consonant mutations after certain morphemes ending in nasals. In these alternations, /s/ apparently alternates with /t͡ʃ/ (or /c/?) after a nasal. (There is a description of these mutations here.) Perhaps this alternation is responsible for the borrowing into Arabic with initial ش /ʃ/? The writing with qaf ق in شنقيط‎ would doubtless reflects the fact that inherited etymological Arabic q ق is realized as /g/ in Hassaniya Arabic.

    Looking into this has been very fun and informative for me, which is why I wrote up the results for others. But I am very much out of my bailiwick in western Africa. I hope more knowledgeable people can step in and correct my errors, and perhaps explain the ط for Soninke /d/.

  7. David Eddyshaw says:

    I don’t know whether the Ewe and Yoruba words for “horse” are ultimately borrowed from Mande (on first principles I’m a bit leery of monosyllabic correspondences just based on initial consonants and a possible vowel) but it’s not at all impossible a priori. There is no reconstructable Proto-Oti-Volta word for “horse”: the etymon seen in Kusaal wief is purely Western Oti-Volta, that in Moba taanm is confined to Gurma, and so on. Some Eastern Oti-Volta languages have a su form IIRC, but I’d need to look it up when I get home.

    Two points that may be relevant: in the Mossi-Dagomba kingdoms, horses are strongly associated with the royal clans that claim to have originated elsewhere; and horses are not found in the Guinea (forest zone) because of sleeping sickness. So both the animal and its name are candidates for borrowing on first principles.

    On the other hand, the wief Western Oti-Volta form is highly irregular in a way reconstructable to Proto-Western and is clearly in no way a recent loan.

  8. West Africans apparently confused horses with asses.

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    Not in any language I know of, they didn’t. And “ass” (bʋŋ in Kusaal) actually is reconstructable for Proto-Oti-Volta.

  10. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/asinus#Latin

    Yoruba “esin” is particularly close.

  11. And for the followers of Scando-Niger-Congo theory:

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/asen#Danish

  12. J.W. Brewer says:

    off-topic, but of potential Hattic interest (from an appreciation of the just-deceased quiz-show host Alex Trebek):

    Then there was the joke that was turned on Trebek. Preparing for a show, he said, he saw a category called “when the Aztecs spoke Welsh,” filled with difficult pronunciations.

    “I’m making dialectical [sic] marks to help me pronounce these words correctly. And then we’re about to tape this one and I said, ‘What happened to the “Aztecs speaking Welsh?”’

    “And (a producer) said, ‘Have you looked at your watch or your calendar? It’s April 1.’”

  13. West Africans apparently confused horses with asses.

    There have been worse confusions.

    wir

    Latin
    Etymology
    From Proto-Italic *wiros, from Proto-Indo-European *wiHrós. Cognates include Sanskrit वीर (vīrá), Old Prussian wijrs, Lithuanian vyras, Latvian vīrs, Old Irish fer, Old Norse verr, Ossetian ир (ir, “Ossetians”) and Old English wer (English were-).

    Pronunciation
    (Classical) IPA(key): /wir/, [wɪr]
    (Ecclesiastical) IPA(key): /vir/

    Noun
    vir m (genitive virī); second declension

    1. man in the sense of “adult male human”
    2. adult, mature, or grown man
    3. brave or courageous man, hero, warrior
    4. husband
    5. (military) foot soldier

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/vir#Latin

    Proto-Nakh
    Etymology
    Compare with Georgian ვირი (viri, “donkey, ass”).

    Noun
    *wir

    donkey
    Descendants
    Vainakh:
    Chechen: вир (wir)
    Ingush: вир (wir)
    Bats: ვირ (vir)

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Nakh/wir

  14. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Timbuctoo, Tumbuto, Tombouctou, Tumbyktu, Tumbuktu or Tembuch? It doesn’t matter how you spell it. The word is a slogan, a ritual formula, once heard never forgotten.” The late Bruce Chatwin, in a piece included in a 1997-published anthology but apparently originally published in 1970. Note that the “Timbuktu” spelling that now seems conventional in English is not even among the options listed.

    Per the google books n-gram viewer (although maybe it’s rare enough that the data is a little unreliable?), “Timbuktu” did not permanently pull ahead of “Timbuctoo” (the spelling used by A.A. Milne and thus the first one I knew as a child, although admittedly in a context where Norway was spelled Norroway for metrical purposes …) until 1996. Which is more recently than I would have supposed.

  15. David Eddyshaw says:

    @SFReader:

    Indeed. I had neglected the Scandi-Congo dimension. Your reasoning is ineluctable.

  16. Re Clement Crutwell’s map of Africa: A 1799 map that shows Lake Tanganyika in the right place and proportions is in advance of maps from decades later. It’s one of several very educated-looking guesses, including not showing the Senegal and Gambia as mouths of the Niger. I can find no discussion of this via some quick googling. I wonder what kind of sources he had?

  17. Two points that may be relevant: in the Mossi-Dagomba kingdoms, horses are strongly associated with the royal clans that claim to have originated elsewhere; and horses are not found in the Guinea (forest zone) because of sleeping sickness. So both the animal and its name are candidates for borrowing on first principles.

    I wish comments on this platform had “like” buttons, because I ❤️ this. Very interesting.

  18. PlasticPaddy says:

    @rodger c
    For the nile region a similar map (1790) was made by James Bruce based on his own travels.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Bruce
    The Crutwell map has other inaccuracies, see the corresponding image files in wikimedia.

  19. David Eddyshaw says:

    I see from Wikipedia that nobody even knows the origin of the name “Timbuktu.”

    It’s clear to me that it derives from Mooré tembogdo “holes in the ground”, on account of the city being founded before the invention of tarmaq (as the substance is known in Tamasheq.)

  20. I have a serious but tangential question that I have long harbored about the Dogon horse culture. Why are antique Dogon equestrian carvings so valuable? A small one from the early twentieth century will be valued in the tens of thousands of dollars. Larger and older ones go up in price from there. Are they particularly rare, due to their associations with group leadership? Is there something about them stylistically that makes them more appealing to collectors than other kinds of African carvings? Is it something else? What?

  21. I believe someone in 1960s started a rumor that Dogons are aliens from Sirius.

    Obviously an ancient alien artifact ought to cost serious money…

  22. David Marjanović says:

    tembogdo “holes in the ground”

    Don’t tell me it’s the original shithole country…?

  23. The people ride in a hole in the ground.
    New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town!

  24. David Eddyshaw says:

    For the sake of both of you who have been counting the minutes until I could get home and look it up: the Eastern Oti-Volta “horse” words go: Byali sangə, Ditammari tasãnta, Nateni sãnda (all cognate), but Waama suka. (Waama diverges from the other three Eastern languages in numerous ways and is better regarded as a separate Oti-Volta branch; I’m the the process of getting a treatise which demonstrates this beyond reasonable doubt into sufficiently coherent form that it’s not too embarrassing to plonk on academia.edu.)

  25. David Eddyshaw says:

    Why are antique Dogon equestrian carvings so valuable?

    I don’t know, but obviously that’s no reason not to comment …

    Nigel Barley, in The Innocent Anthropologist (much the funniest book about doing anthropological fieldwork in West Africa, against stiff competition) makes somewhat pointed remarks to the effect that the Dogon have been rather successful in selling their traditional culture to the more hippyish kind of anthropologist; I suspect the Dogon themselves are more sinned against than sinning, but they have managed to project an aura of Ancient Wisdom even to their African neighbours (the [very good] Souleymane Cissé film Yeelen illustrates this rather well.) It all helps with brand awareness, anyhow.

    The Sirius nonsense that SFReader alludes to (horrible pun, SF) is this

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sirius_Mystery

    Another aspect, I suspect, is that with traditional Dogon artefacts, like distant cousins, there’s a limited supply. Most Dogon nowadays are orthodox Sunni Muslims.

  26. the [very good] Souleymane Cissé film Yeelen

    It’s a wonderful movie which I used to see in theaters every chance I got (New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town); I’m planning to show the DVD to my wife.

  27. Trond Engen says:

    The Sirius nonsense

    A Dogon dog story.

  28. David Eddyshaw says:

    It’s a wonderful movie

    Merely an excuse to plug a film I very much like, but I would recommend Idrissa Ouedraogo’s Yaaba even more highly. It provoked waves of nostalgia in me, which may have clouded my judgment a bit, but damn, it’s good. It also features child actors who can act.

  29. like distant cousins, there’s a limited supply

    we’re down to the tens, and this is why.

  30. I would recommend Idrissa Ouedraogo’s Yaaba even more highly.

    I’ll keep an eye out for it. I still proudly wear the T-shirt I got at the first of the New York African Film Festivals (brochure [pdf]).

  31. Here’s a nice interview with the festival founder from a few years ago; that year half of the films were made by women, hurray!

  32. Also, the Davids (E and L) are referring to this magnificent song.

  33. Mister Zoot Horn Rollo, hit that long lunar note, and let it float!

  34. @David Eddyshaw: I think Temple blew it with that cover on The Sirius Mystery. If he was going to put the head of a mysterious Egyptian jackal on the cover, it should have squared-off Set animal ears.

  35. January First-of-May says:

    В далёкой бухте Тимбукту
    Есть дом у Сары Барабу,
    Сара Барабу, Сара Барабу,
    Есть у неё корова Му…

    IIRC, the story that the lyrics of this song come from was originally written in Norwegian. I wonder what the original Norwegian version of this song looked like.

  36. Those guys remind me of a skiffle band.

  37. Interesting guess. The guys themselves modeled their band on Beatles.

  38. I don’t know whether the Ewe and Yoruba words for “horse” are ultimately borrowed from Mande (on first principles I’m a bit leery of monosyllabic correspondences just based on initial consonants and a possible vowel) but it’s not at all impossible a priori.

    Perhaps at least some of the West African words for horse with (-)s-, Yoruba ẹṣin, Edo esi, etc., might ultimately be diffused from Berber? There is common Berber word “horse (esp. one for riding), stallion” of approximately the right shape (that is, short and with an s):

    Tahaggart ays, pl. iysân “horse”
    Tumẓabt yis, pl. iysan “horse”
    Tamaziγt iyyis, ayis, pl. iysan, isan “racehorse, riding horse”
    Tacelḥit (Chleuh) ayyis, pl. isan “horse”
    Tarifit (Riffian) yis, pl. iksan “horse”
    Tacawit (Chaouia) yis, pl. iksan “horse”
    Zenaga ic, pl. icen “horse”

    There have been attempts (as here, page 371) to derive this Berber word from Arabic حصان ḥiṣān, plural أحصنة ʾaḥṣina “horse, stallion, stud”, but apparently these are untenable. Or could the Arabic word have reached Yoruba and Edo by another route, filtered through mediating languages of Central Africa?

    In any case, it would be interesting to know if there are other words diffused from Berber in these languages and what typical changes they undergo during diffusion.

  39. David Eddyshaw says:

    There are Kanuri words and Kanuri-mediated Wanderwörter in West Africa; my own mental map of Africa counts Chad as an honorary part of West Africa, but I suppose it’s properly speaking the northernmost outpost of Central Africa. I don’t think there’s much evidence for loans originating further south, and in general the cultural diffusion has always tended to go north-south in West Africa, for historically obvious reasons.

    FWIW, the Kanuri word for “horse” is fə̂r, which looks vaguely as if it might be from Arabic faras, but I know too little about Kanuri historical phonology to know if that’s really likely (not impossible in principle: for example Hausa kasuwa “market” is – unlikely though it looks – from Arabic su:q via Kanuri.)

    Lameen is the man to tell us about loanwords from Berber; one I can testify to is hal/hali/har “up to, until”, which is all over the savanna and sahel zones of West Africa. The “camel” words are very often ultimately from Berber (not surprisingly), including e.g. Kusaal yʋgʋm and Hausa raƙumi. A lot of words which are ultimately from Arabic have got Berberised along the way, too.

    It’s striking just how little similarity there actually is among the many and various words for “horse” in West Africa; this also means that the great variety of forms out there does tend to make it a bit too easy to find lookalikes.

  40. This scattering of roots matches the polyphyletic racial origin of the west Africann ponies, says Blench p . 93. He also speaks there of possible feral stage (which can explain the variety of forms)

  41. Interesting idea. Yoruba and Edo seem unlikely to have had direct contact with Berber, so if such an etymology can be sustained it would presumably be via Mande. Mande languages certainly include Berber loans; but for the Mande forms the similarity is down to a single consonant…

  42. David Eddyshaw says:

    @drasvi

    Good find!

    I’m not sure how a feral stage would explain the variety of words for “horse”, exactly, though. Within Oti-Volta (to retreat to my comfort zone), “snake” is securely reconstructable for the protolanguage, for example, and most snakes seem pretty feral. It would help to explain the variety if horses were not common in the relevant areas until relatively recently, whether feral or domesticated.

    It certainly is very odd, though, that the various Oti-Volta stems for “horse” (at least wed-, de-, wusum-, ta:m-, san- and su-) are not only definitely not cognate with each other, but don’t look very likely to be related by borrowing either. Nor do any of the forms (as far as I can see) have any evident kenning-like meanings, unlike some “bear” words in Indoeuropean (nothing like “fast animal” or the like.) It’s all very mysterious.

    It’s not the only example, though: “lion” is similarly not reconstructable for Proto-Oti-Volta, for example. Admittedly there are few-to-no lions left in the area now, but the animal bulks pretty large in folklore etc, and it seems surprising that there’s no common root for such an iconic beast. (The Dagomba royal clan are not allowed to eat them, which must be a hardship.)

    But then there are no reconstructable forms for “brother” or “sister” either, and I dare say that brothers and sisters are not a recent development in West Africa.

    I wonder if tabu avoidance might explain the absence of a common “lion” word … there certainly are languages in which “lion” is expressed by terms which mean “savanna lord” and so forth. Doesn’t seem to help much with horses, though. Tabu horses …

  43. David Eddyshaw says:

    But then: horse, ech, hestur, cheval, Pferd, άλογο, kůň … obviously the Europeans must also have had a tabu on naming the horse … or not. As you may think.

  44. David Eddyshaw says:

    Actually, that list indirectly suggested an alternative idea: there might have been a Proto-Oti-Volta word for “horse” which happened to be either very short and/or to contain consonants particularly prone to loss by common historical phonetic developments, prompting the creation of replacements; there’s a parallel there in the Proto-Oti-Volta word for “neck”, which seems to have been something like *ɲu (where even the -u is a singular noun class suffix.) The regular outcome of this in Kusaal would have been zero.

  45. Stu Clayton says:

    The regular outcome of this in Kusaal would have been zero

    “The horse with no name” ! People are claiming there’s a tabu in order to avoid admitting that the word has gone down a phonological rabbit hole.

  46. Proto-Algonquian word for “whiskey”, Proto-Slavic word for “king”, Proto-Oti-Volta word for “horse”…

  47. The Dogon, as is well known, are Nommonalists.

  48. David, the full quotation: “This scattering of roots matches the polyphyletic racial origin of the west African ponies, suggesting that the horses from which they are descended came across the Sahara along a number of different trade routes.”

    An invasive species takes it to the extreme: imagine you’re already scattered all over the continent and speak different langauges and then, independently (“you” doesn’t work well here:-/) you start seeing ponies. You have to come up with different words for them. “Different trade routes” are less radical, they still originate in the same region.

    But then: horse, ech, hestur, cheval, Pferd, άλογο, kůň …
    And the Dutch/German paard/Pferd is identical to proto-Semitic *pVrd🙂

    Tabu horses … Somewhere on Wikipedia they mention a tribe where marrying a speaker of the same language is a tabu (I don’t know how they distinguish between “same language” and “a member of the same tribe”).

  49. David Marjanović says:

    There are cases like the Rio Vaupés region in Brazil where it’s part of the shared culture of several tribes that you only marry outside your (father’s) tribe, and almost all tribes coincide with languages. That’s one of the best ways to get everyone to speak like 6 languages fluently, by the way.

  50. David Eddyshaw says:

    @drasvi:

    German Pferd is not connected with Semitic:

    https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/Pferd

    but I suspect you know that.
    The tabu on marrying speakers of the same language is most famously associated with the Vaupés region of Amazonia:

    http://www.aikhenvaldlinguistics.com/tariana-language

    I don’t think Blench’s account of ponygenesis really works; it seems like a just-so story to me, but YMMV. In particular, I very much doubt whether “the scattering of roots matches the polyphyletic racial origin of the west African ponies.” I’ve never come across the notion that there are dozens of genetically different local kinds of horse in Burkina Faso, northern Ghana, northern Togo and northern Benin, for example, and I don’t believe it. I suspect that by “matches”, Blench just means that there are lots of different ones in both categories, but unless there are actual correlations between horse names and horse genes I don’t think that signifies very much.

  51. There are cases like the Rio Vaupés region in Brazil where it’s part of the shared culture of several tribes that you only marry outside your (father’s) tribe, and almost all tribes coincide with languages.

    And:

    The tabu on marrying speakers of the same language is most famously associated with the Vaupés region of Amazonia

    Two Davids with but a single thought!

  52. David Eddyshaw says:

    I am not worthy …

    Apparently the linguistic exogamy of the Vaupés doesn’t lead to quite the polyglot paradise you might think, as children tend to marry speakers of their own mother’s language. The convention is that your “own” language is the one that your father speaks, which is therefore exactly not your “mother tongue.” You address people in their own language and they reply in yours. So two languages is the minimum, but you don’t necessary end up with six languages. Most often, you end up speaking to your spouse in the same language that you use to speak to your mother.

    The languages have in fact mostly converged considerably, but only along dimensions that the speakers aren’t consciously clearly aware of, like phonology, syntax and semantics (and even morphology, to some extent.) Per contra there is a strong tabu against mixing vocabulary, which people are aware of. Like everyone else (except linguists), they conceptualise languages as “bags of words.”

  53. …which in extreme cases leads to “mixed languages” like Callahuaya, which assiduously hold on to their vocabulary, while shifting the grammar entirely.

    E too.

  54. Huh:

    The E language’s unusual pinyin-transliterated name, which is also an autonym, consists of a single letter e. The character, which is written “诶” in Simplified Chinese and “誒” in Traditional Chinese, usually denotes an expression of affirmation. The language’s speakers also refer to their language as Kjang E.

  55. January First-of-May says:

    But then: horse, ech, hestur, cheval, Pferd, άλογο, kůň …

    And of course лошадь, though IIRC it’s a Turkic borrowing.

  56. David Eddyshaw says:

    E

    The Gurense people and their Gurenne language are usually called “Frafra” in Ghana, from the Gurenne all-purpose greeting farefare. I think the principle should be widely adopted, so that (for example) the indigenous language of London might henceforth be called Wotcha.

  57. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    The horse with no name

    They might have had to go through the desert to get there, I suppose.

  58. I just got around to reading a post of Lameen’s from almost a year ago, which quotes a recently digitized unpublished Timbuktu manuscript, on the pious speech of animals.

  59. If you wonder what tone goes with E, Wiktionary helpfully explains that in Mandarin 誒 is either ê̄, ế, ê̌ or , interjections expressing: calling attention; surprise; disapproval; or agreement or promise, respectively.

  60. David Eddyshaw says:

    a post of Lameen’s

    Yes, I remember that one. What Lameen’s blog lacks (sadly) in quantity, it makes up for abundantly in quality.

    It immediately made me think of Balaam’s Ass (a story of which I am particularly fond) but turns out to be about something quite different. It seems a bit akin to the need felt for apotropaic expressions after someone sneezes (in case they have inadvertently cursed someone, or the like) that you find in a number of cultures. Fear of non-verbal speech …

    In Kusaal you say Win yɛl sida “God speaks truth” when someone sneezes, which was explained to me as meaning that if you sneeze, it means someone elsewhere is praising you; I did wonder whether this was a latter-day sanitising of an older, darker, belief …

  61. Yes, I know that (paard/Pferd):)

    And yes, i suspected that it is Amazonia and somethign rather famous. I wondered why they say “langauge” ( exogamy is not unusual), but from what you said I conclude that “language” is an important concept for local people.

    I suspect that by “matches”, Blench just means that there are lots of different ones in both categories

    This argument works perfectly one way. IF horse was introduced independently to many places under different names, then you must expect a greater variety of names compared to what you would expect otherwise.

    I suspect that by “matches”, Blench just means that there are lots of different ones in both categories,

    Yes, this.

  62. For me personally “feral stage” was a new idea. Usually I imagine ancient people moving from one static ecosystem to another static ecosystem and exchanging domesticated species.

    But I have to deal myself with something else: local climate and ecology are changing quickly where I live, and I see numerous insects and animals which I need a name for. A major disappointment was some 10 years ago: flying green (and beautyful) things began to fill my room every summer. Finally I googled them and learned the name. And when what used to be just a “flying green thing” was assigned a name, it immediately ceased to be mysterios, as if assigning a name to a phenomenon is a way of disposing of it. I’ll never do that again:/

  63. Per contra there is a strong tabu against mixing vocabulary, which people are aware of.

    Kupwar: three languages, a single syntax, no loanwords.

  64. I wonder if anyone here knows, when did scientists become aware that so-called wild turkeys in North America are long-feral descendants of domesticated birds.

  65. David Eddyshaw says:

    TIL that “feral” (as a term of art, anyhow) doesn’t mean the same as “wild.” Thanks, Y!

    (Once again my thinking in Latin has betrayed me into misunderstanding of the Modern Barbarian languages. “Feral” doesn’t mean the same as feralis either. Why can’t you young people learn to talk proper, more maiorum, eh?)

  66. Feral Latin.

  67. David Eddyshaw says:

    (i.e. French.)

  68. French is wild Latin. Israeli Hebrew is feral Hebrew.

  69. I wonder if anyone here knows, when did scientists become aware that so-called wild turkeys in North America are long-feral descendants of domesticated birds.

    ???

    WikiP:Wild_turkey, at least, states otherwise. Meleagris gallopavo silvestris is native to eastern US/Canada. Other turkey subspecies are also native to various regions in the Americas. M. g. domesticus derives from M. g. gallopavo of south Mexico.

    If that’s actually the point, well, I’m not parsing the subtle points of the conversation. Maybe it all flew over my head, much like a majestic wild turkey.

    Somewhat new to me: the striking iridescent plumage of the ocellated turkey.

  70. What I recall hearing is that actual wild turkeys were domesticated in Central America, and either became feral there and spread north on their own; or were brought north by people, and then became feral and continued to spread on their own.

  71. David Marjanović says:

    The distribution of wild turkeys is as large as it could be, and the number of subspecies endemic to the US listed in the article is large enough to suggest that turkeys were there long before any were domesticated.

    And when what used to be just a “flying green thing” was assigned a name, it immediately ceased to be mysterios, as if assigning a name to a phenomenon is a way of disposing of it. I’ll never do that again:/

    A rose by any other name would still…

  72. Open Access, and recent:

    Padilla-Jacobo, G., Cano-Camacho, H., López-Zavala, R. et al. Evolutionary history of Mexican domesticated and wild Meleagris gallopavo. Genet Sel Evol 50, 19 (2018).

    Estimates of divergence times agree with range expansion and diversification events of the relict population of M. gallopavo in northwestern Mexico during the Pliocene–Pleistocene and Pleistocene–Holocene boundaries. Demographic reconstruction showed that an expansion of the population occurred 110,000 to 130,000 years ago (Kya), followed by a stable period 100 Kya and finally a decline ~ 10 Kya (Pleistocene–Holocene boundary).

    […]

    During the Pleistocene, a large and stable population of M. gallopavo covered a wide geographic distribution from the north to the center of America (USA and Mexico). The mexicana, merriami, and mexicana/intermedia/silvestris/osceola genetic groups originated after divergence and range expansion from northwestern Mexico during the Pliocene–Pleistocene and Pleistocene–Holocene boundaries. Old and new maternal lines of the mexicana/intermedia/silvestris/osceola genetic group were distributed within the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt where individuals were captured for domestication.

    Are we talkin’ turkey over here? Yeah, I think we are.

  73. obviously the Europeans must also have had a tabu on naming the horse

    Trond Engen had a relevant comment in the name-of-the-bear thread:

    There’s more than taboo that could cause frequent replacement — a reason to be careful about invoking taboo. In the case of e.g. the badger or the fox, it might just as well be that they lived close to humans, giving rise to a more nuanced vocabulary of both eu- and dysphemisms, cutesie nicknames and technical terminology. Also words for domestic animals tend to be replaced by specialized terms or by words for offspring.

    That would apply to English dogs and pigs, as well as European horses.

    When I was young I used to wonder why words for “horse” were so different in European languages, while cats were always something close to “cat”; I guessed that horses were named for the different work they did, while cats don’t do any work!

  74. John Cowan says:

    Per the same WP article, wild turkeys were nearly extirpated from Canada and the U.S. except for some protected patches: efforts in the 1940s to spread them over their historic range and even beyond (there had been no Meleagris species in California for 10,000 years) were very successful, and the population has risen from a bottleneck of 30,000 birds to 1.3 million. Apparently they do well at the edge of farmlands. But there can be no guarantee in such a situation that there was no gene flow from domestic birds.

  75. Well, I started to say something further about the derivation of Chinguetti. Two days, three scholarly articles later, after poring over a relevant thread or two here, I’m settling in to finally finish the catalog to Northwestern University’s Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time exhibit on the trans-Saharan trade.

    I’m starting to realize how much I don’t know. Which is good.

    Still, I do want to ask those who might know more, is anyone skeptical of Taine-Cheik’s proposal? Part of me still thinks Chinguetti is too far north, too arid (or much too late) for a Soninke-derived name.

    Anyway, the big win is reading Caravans of Gold. Should have dug in further when I got it last year. Grappling with the subject reminds me of arriving at college and realizing I had no idea what the French Revolution was.

  76. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Just to note that Icelandic still has jór, albeit in poetic language. And Spanish has yegua, so maybe the taboo wasn’t that strong.

  77. With horses, it’s certainly not a taboo. As someone up-thread mentioned, in names for farm animals replacement of general terms by more specialist terms, by terms for young animals, or by more emotionally loaded terms (affectionate or pejorative) is frequent. Often both the old term and the new term continue to be used side by side, with the old term restricted to literary / poetic language, like your Icelandic example or English “hound” vs. “dog”.

  78. “hound” vs. “dog”

    Or fowl vs bird/brid.

  79. David Eddyshaw says:

    I must find another word for “obviously.” Ideally, one that doesn’t have the confusing alternative meaning “obviously.” I have only myself to blame … it’s not as if it’s my first warning. “Obviously not” might do the trick …

    ktschwartz and Hans are clearly [NOT “obviously” ] right about the horses. <— LOOK, MA, NO IRONY!

  80. January First-of-May says:

    Often both the old term and the new term continue to be used side by side, with the old term restricted to literary / poetic language

    This, as I understand it, is basically the case (though not quite complete) with Russian конь vs. лошадь (and for that matter пёс vs.собака).

  81. David Eddyshaw says:

    Talking of horses, I seem to remember reading somewhere a spirited attempt to make out that the Hebrew sus is a loan from Somewhere in Indoeuropean. Has anyone with any linguistic street cred ever maintained such a thing? It doesn’t look very plausible (but stranger things have happened, I guess …)

  82. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Because we can obviously never tell when DE is applying irony.

    Q: How can you tell that a Welshman is typing something ironical?

    A: His fingers move.

    (Apologies to M. Headroom).

  83. Hebrew sūs: I happen to have the chapter for this from the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, which is currently the most exhaustive giode to the literature on those selected words it happens to cover in its fifteen volumes.
    So: it widely occurs in the Semitic languages, though they are not clear about what’s inheritred and what’s borrowed. It says, “Akkadian sisû or sisā’ū is to be viewed as a loanword of unknown origin,” but also “The etymology of sûs is disputed. Derivation from Sanskrit aśva(s) was widely supported [refs. Albright, Mitannian maryannu, “chariot-warrior”, and the Canaanite and Egyptian Equivalents, Archiv für Orientforschung 6(1930/31, 217-21; Salonen, Hippologica Accadica, p. 21; A. F. Rainey, Tell el-Amarna Tablets, p.77]. G. R. Driver refers to Hittite aššušani, ‘rider’, which is of Hurrian origin. He points out, however, that the loss of the initial a- creates difficulties, and thus suggests understanding sūs from the perspective of a repetitive susu or sisi, either an onomatopoetic term or Lallwort [Really??].”

    Later they say that “Finally, any derivation of rhe Semitic word from ‘horse’ from Indo-Aryan aśva(s) has proven to be extremely doutful.” But don’t say why.

    Albright’s paper goes into some detail into the Sanskrit etymology, particularly on the Semitic side, but a lot has happened since 1930.

  84. I’d like to say I knew “tabu on the horse” was ironic, but I can’t swear to what my state of mind was. If I understand correctly, we’re both saying that if almost all European languages swapped out their ancestral horse word for something else, then so could the Oti-Volta languages—though I have no idea what time frame we’re talking about. If we didn’t have written records of Latin, then it would be mysterious how German got Pferd (and Kopf for that matter), wouldn’t it?

  85. David Eddyshaw says:

    Oti-Volta is a good bit less diverse internally than Indoeuropean, though considerably more diverse than any individual branch thereof; at any rate, I think it’s clear that the timescale for loss of any presumed common Proto-Oti-Volta “horse” word would be much less than that for Indoeuropean.

    But the situation is different with regard to the actual animal, too; whereas all Indoeuropean speakers would presumably have known horses as familiar everyday things from the beginning, this is not the case with speakers of Oti-Volta languages (whatever one makes of Blench’s speculations about wild horses); as I say, to this day in the Mossi-Dagomba states, horses are very definitely associated with chieftainship (with the chiefly clans claiming alien origin); and horses (unlike donkeys) are very much not a feature of everyday life. (If you see a horse tethered in a compound, it’s a chief’s residence.) So while the “familiarity breeds diversity” explanation works fine for Indoeuropean horses, it doesn’t fit Oti-Volta well at all.

    In a way, the diversity of words for “horse” in Oti-Volta is not really surprising or problematic in itself; the only words for animals reconstructable for Proto-Oti-Volta are (unsurprisingly) those for the most familiar animals of all: cow, goat, dog, donkey, snake, monkey. Not even “sheep” is universal, though the pattern of distribution there suggests replacement of a common Oti-Volta etymon in the Atakora region of Benin as an areal phenomenon. So it’s pretty much what you’d expect given that horses (pace Blench) aren’t actually common animals there.

  86. David Eddyshaw says:

    On animal-name tabus, I’ve just noticed that Wayne Suttles’ paper on Sasquatches (located by Stephen Goranson) speculates (on p9) about whether an original Salish name for the presumed beast has been ousted by euphemisms, as the original words for “wolf” and “grizzly bear” seem to have been:

    https://lingpapers.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2018/03/1976_Suttles_2.pdf

    Unfortunately I have been unable to discover the Kusaal for “sasquatch.” Further research is needed …

  87. I have wondered whether sasquatch, Halkomelem sásq’ets (morphological breakdown here), literally something like “split-on-the-back”, makes reference to the reportedly enormous trapezius muscles (as mentioned here and in many other descriptions of the creature as well-muscled) and especially the very deep natal cleft (as here and here). I have been dilatory in contacting native speakers of Halkomelem in order to learn their opinion of this analysis—I don’t want to seem presumptuous in seeking the knowledge of the community on just this one point, for a linguistic analysis that might be construed as disrespectful or even obscene.

  88. whereas all Indoeuropean speakers would presumably have known horses as familiar everyday things from the beginning, this is not the case with speakers of Oti-Volta languages — oh, that’s the point I was missing. Thanks.

  89. Trond Engen says:

    tabu on the horse

    A curse on both your horses.

  90. David Eddyshaw says:

    Horses for curses.

  91. Ye’ve both made me laugh, curse ye!

  92. (No, it was not a horse laugh. I am far too sapient for that sort of thing.)

  93. per incuriam says:

    Icelandic still has jór, albeit in poetic language. And Spanish has yegua

    And Gaelic still has each as the generic term.

    A curse on both your horses

    Compare Gaelic an t-each (the horse) v Irish an teach (the house).

  94. David Eddyshaw says:

    Welsh has ebol “foal”, though a grown-up horse is ceffyl (or march, which Victor Mair is firmly convinced is related to the Chinese 馬. It would have been borrowed from my cousin Evans the Tocharian.)

  95. David Marjanović says:

    Horse Shakespeare & I

    CHISWICK!!! FRESH HORSES!!!

  96. January First-of-May says:

    or march, which Victor Mair is firmly convinced is related to the Chinese 馬

    I mean, it could be; it’s one of the less ridiculous of Mair’s hypotheses. Very similar roots show up in Mongolic (whence Russian мерин “gelding”) and in a bunch of other Asian families (an extensive list is here).

  97. David Eddyshaw says:

    it’s one of the less ridiculous of Mair’s hypotheses

    True.

  98. David Eddyshaw says:

    AFAIK (admittedly not very far) the march etymon turns up in Celtic and Germanic within Indoeuropean, and that’s it. While it’s perfectly possible that some unattested Central Asian twig of the Tarim-Liffey family passed this form (lost in all other branches) on to Mongol and Chinese, I maintain a certain scepticism.

    Mair has supported the view that there is specifically a Germanic component to PIE influence on Sinitic, so anything is possible … anything at all, in fact. From the proposition “zero equals one” you can deduce …

    On the other hand, the Mongolian connection to 馬 looks quite plausible, though a lot of the forms listed at the Proto-Sino-Tibetan link seem most likely to be borrowed from Chinese itself.

    The very variety of forms of words for “horse” that we’ve been talking about makes it all too easy to find lookalikes. I mean, the Waama suka is obviously derived from Hebrew sus

  99. @David Eddyshaw: Actually, “zero equals one” isn’t enough to derive anything except that zero is equal to everything. (It does not, for example, allow anyone to derive Mrs. Lenhart’s phone number.) That is, proving 0 = 1 just shows that a system is actually trivial (not inconsistent); in fact, it’s a very useful way to prove that there is no consistent nontrivial system with certain properties. If the goal is to prove that there is, say, no ring that satisfies some set of conditions {X}, the easiest way to do that is usually to use the ring axioms and the additional relations {X} to prove 0 = 1, because that means that the only ring with those properties is the zero ring.

  100. Lars Mathiesen says:

    You want P and not P innit? Not vastly more useful since it’s now true that any random phone number is that of Mrs. Lenhart — unless of course she answers on all of them, but how can I call my Mum then? (It’s also true that any given phone number is not hers. This is why we can’t have nice things).

    What’s that, I just proved that Mrs. Lenhart is my Mum? NANANANA, I can’t HEAR you!

  101. David Eddyshaw says:

    It does not, for example, allow anyone to derive Mrs. Lenhart’s phone number.

    If zero equals one, Mrs Lenhart’s phone number is (of course) zero. And one, of course. And the same as Lars’ mother’s.

  102. Miss Lenhart’s phone number is zero, because she is in Timbuktu. Please call her horse instead…

  103. David Eddyshaw says:

    Miss Lenhart’s phone number is zero, because she is in Timbuktu.

    Makes sense.

  104. isn’t enough to derive
    when we have the axioms of ring and nothing else (not even a wristwatch). Most people have natural numbers though.

  105. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Well, if 0 = 1 (as sets) then those sets are not the base of an inductive set and its successor, so having the natural numbers in the same universe is just confusing.

    (In the construction of the natural numbers used in Zermelo–Fraenkel arithmetic, 0 = {} and 1 = {{}}, so I guess you could say that 0 = 1 proves that your model does not fulfil those axioms. But I’m not sure 0 = 1 even means anything if you’re trying to do arithmetic, as opposed to rings).

    TIL that Fraenkel’s family name was just that, and he published as Adolf/Adolph Fraenkel at least up through the 20s, later as Abraham F — and who can blame him? (He was a German Jew and had both names from birth). ObHat: how would Fraenkel be pronounced in (early 20c) German, just like *Fränkel?

  106. Probably, but I like the idea of Fra Enkel.

  107. We had an entire thread on various Frenkels

    http://languagehat.com/fraenkels-specks-of-dirt/

  108. David Marjanović says:

    how would Fraenkel be pronounced in (early 20c) German, just like *Fränkel?

    “fraenkel”: 4,900,000 ghits
    “frenkel”: 2,410,000 ghits
    “fränkel”: 699,000 ghits

    All pronounced the same.

  109. Lars Mathiesen says:

    So Edouard Fraenkel was considered a namensvetter of Hermann Fränkel, that seems to indicate a yes.

    @DM, thanks. I know how to pronounce Frenkel and Fränkel, but I wasn’t sure if there was some other convention behind the Fraenkel spelling.

  110. David Marjanović says:

    No, just elegant variation, like th, pff and gkh.

  111. There is a convention in German to write umlaut letters as ae, oe, ue in cases when the umlaut letters are not available (e.g. when using foreign language keyboards); this convention is also applied in crosswords. And the two dots historically go back to a superscript “e”. So Fraenkel is not unusual, and actually represents the historically oldest way of writing “ä” (distinct from writing it “e”, as they did in Old High German).
    This sometimes clashes with another tradition, from North-Western Germany, to use “e” and “i” after back vowels to express length, leading to place names like Straelen or Soest wrongly being pronounced with “ä” and “ö”, respectively.

  112. As mentioned by Stu (then still Grumbly) a decade ago; I remember being quite surprised.

  113. And again in 2019, with subsequent discussion.

  114. In case anyone didn’t get my joke about Mrs. Lenhart: xkcd “Principle of Explosion.”

  115. Thanks, I in fact missed the reference.

  116. There was an anecdote about a teacher, who was working with Aboriginal children. With a translator: she didn’t know the langauge. She wrote 2 + 1 = 3 and asked the guy to translate. He objected, saying it is going to be nonsense. She insited, he refused, she insisted, he finally translated, kids were perplexed.

    (I guess, no one here needs an explanation)

  117. David Eddyshaw says:
  118. David Marjanović says:

    distinct from writing it “e”, as they did in Old High German

    There were two distinct ones, one (short only) written e and probably pronounced [e], one (long and short) written a (or â by Notker) and probably pronounced [æ]. They’re still distinct in many Upper German dialects; in mine they’re largely /e/ and /a/, both distinct from /ɛ/ (which is not an umlaut product) and from /ɒ/ (the outcome of a without umlaut).

  119. David Eddyshaw, thanks! The anecdote is from an article referenced on this page. Page 33, right column.

    I read it million years ago. It was in a collection of scans on a server in a university in Papua New Guinea.

    The first paper I opened there was so exciting (it began with a several pages long list of typos on p. 16 which began with: “p 16, line 5”. But it was the list of typos that now populated p.16., the actual article with a typo now three pages down!) that I thought, it is dumb not to read it in its entirety. It didn’t disappoint me and I read more.

    This paper was one of them but the site now is inaccessible, and even figuring out what was the title was a problem. But I just recognized it somehow.

    It is dedicated to debunking “one – two – many” number system story (commonplace in textbooks)

  120. David Marjanović says:

    or â by Notker

    …that’s specifically the long one.

  121. My understanding was that, except by writing “e” (i.e. the same as /e/ from Proto-Germanic /*e/ and /*i/, OHG didn’t distinguish umlauted from non-umlauted “a”, and what Notker did was marking length, not umlaut. Or is my recollection wrong here?

  122. David Marjanović says:

    Notker indeed marked length. Umlaut of *a gave two different things under different conditions: [e] e by default, [æ] a in the presence of “blocking factors” of which length was one; that’s why I wrote “a or â“.

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