Search Results for: vennemann

Punic in Proto-Germanic.

Robert Mailhammer at The Conversation ( 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!

Update. David Marjanović cites this post by “The Linguistic Physicist,” which begins:

Vennemann’s at it again and with no more evidence than the last time. It’s overblown surface level similarities with no real evidence.

There’s very little evidence of Punic accentuation, but certainly none to demonstrate that Punic lost or reduced the first vowel in šeqel (in fact, Punic seems to have preserved the first vowel in the plural of segolates, whilst Hebrew lost it, i.e. Punic had šiqelim where Hebrew has šqalim). The evidence that Punic had merged š into s before their domination by the Romans is also lacking (although the literature does frequently claim such a merger). Early Phoenician and Punic inscriptions are pretty consistent with which words they spell with s and which š suggesting the distinction was still present, they just don’t always agree with Hebrew […]

And summarizes thus: “It’s nonsense built on nonsense.” Pretty devastating.