Genes and the Spread of Semitic Languages.

Via Dmitry Pruss on Facebook, an open-access Cell paper, The genomic history of the Middle East by Mohamed A. Almarri, Marc Haber, Reem A. Lootah, Pille Hallast, Saeed Al Turki, Hilary C. Martin, Yali Xue, and Chris Tyler-Smith:

The Middle East region is important to understand human evolution and migrations but is underrepresented in genomic studies. Here, we generated 137 high-coverage physically phased genome sequences from eight Middle Eastern populations using linked-read sequencing. We found no genetic traces of early expansions out-of-Africa in present-day populations but found Arabians have elevated Basal Eurasian ancestry that dilutes their Neanderthal ancestry. Population sizes within the region started diverging 15–20 kya, when Levantines expanded while Arabians maintained smaller populations that derived ancestry from local hunter-gatherers. Arabians suffered a population bottleneck around the aridification of Arabia 6 kya, while Levantines had a distinct bottleneck overlapping the 4.2 kya aridification event. We found an association between movement and admixture of populations in the region and the spread of Semitic languages. Finally, we identify variants that show evidence of selection, including polygenic selection. Our results provide detailed insights into the genomic and selective histories of the Middle East.

Obviously, the bit about the spread of Semitic languages is of prime LH interest; here’s a relevant snippet:

In addition to the local ancestry from Epipaleolithic/Neolithic people, we found an ancestry related to ancient Iranians that is ubiquitous today in all Middle Easterners (orange component in Figure 1B; Table 1). Previous studies showed that this ancestry was not present in the Levant during the Neolithic period but appeared in the Bronze Age where ∼50% of the local ancestry was replaced by a population carrying ancient Iran-related ancestry (Lazaridis et al., 2016). We explored whether this ancestry penetrated both the Levant and Arabia at the same time and found that admixture dates mostly followed a North to South cline, with the oldest admixture occurring in the Levant region between 3,300 and 5,900 ya (Table S2), followed by admixture in Arabia (2,000–3,500 ya) and East Africa (2,100–3,300 ya). These times overlap with the dates for the Bronze Age origin and spread of Semitic languages in the Middle East and East Africa estimated from lexical data (Kitchen et al., 2009; Figure 2). This population potentially introduced the Y chromosome haplogroup J1 into the region (Chiaroni et al., 2010; Lazaridis et al., 2016). The majority of the J1 haplogroup chromosomes in our dataset coalesce around ∼5.6 (95% CI, 4.8–6.5) kya, agreeing with a potential Bronze Age expansion; however, we did find rarer earlier diverged lineages coalescing ∼17 kya (Figure S2). The haplogroup common in Natufians, E1b1b, is also frequent in our dataset, with most lineages coalescing ∼8.3 (7–9.7) kya, though we also found a rare deeply divergent Y chromosome, which coalesces 39 kya (Figure S2).

Figure 2 shows “Spread of Iran-like ancestry and Semitic languages.” All this is way beyond my pay grade, but I expect better-informed Hatters will have useful things to say about it.

Comments

  1. The quoted first paragraph makes sense to me if we all agree that “early out-of-Africa” expansions, the ones that didn’t happen, would have been subsequent to the out-of-Africa expansion that created the Basal Eurasian population, but before the late out-of-Africa expansion from post-Bantu Kenya. Also, talk of dilution of Neanderthal ancestry suggests that it was there before it got diluted, but wouldn’t it be possible that the Neanderthal admixture took place on a frontier zone, and that the offspring continued moving away from Arabia? In which case there was nothing to be diluted.

    I’m not sure that when the authors used the word ‘diluted,’ they were arguing in favor of what I’m talking against. This might be a fuss over word use.

  2. J.W. Brewer says

    I’m not sure if “expansion from post-Bantu Kenya” is the most felicitous way to describe the Indian Ocean slave trade. But I guess the linguistic question might be whether there are Bantu-origin loanwords in the regional varieties of Arabic where that ancestry is most common?

  3. Does that mean they say that Semitic spread from North-East (Mesopotamia) to South-West (Levant, Arabia, Ethiopia)?

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    Their statements about where and when Semitic originated are based on

    Kitchen A. Ehret C. Assefa S. Mulligan C.J. “Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of Semitic languages identifies an Early Bronze Age origin of Semitic in the Middle East.” Proc. Biol. Sci. 2009; 276: 2703-2710.

    While I suppose one should not dismiss this out of hand (I’ve no access to it) this would appear to be exactly the sort of thing that geneticists are rather too prone to take as established science. It has at least two magic words right there in the title …

    I would guess it belongs in the recent lamentable tradition of publications on historical linguistic matters in non-linguistic biology-oriented journals with no scrutiny at any point by any mainstream historical linguist (the inclusion of Ehret does not particularly reassure me on this point.)

    I would be happy to be proved wrong, however.

  5. ə de vivre says

    If I’m reading this correctly, it sounds like there was gene flow from Iran into the Middle East contemporary with the spread of bronze technology?

    This reminds me of the large number of metallurgical and agricultural words in Sumerian and Akkadian that are loan words from unknown origins. The Zagros and beyond seem to have been home to several language families of unknown genealogy. Could this Iranian genetic component be connected to hypothetical metallurgists spreading their technical vocabulary across the fertile crescent?

  6. David Eddyshaw says

    Found it!

    https://mathildasanthropologyblog.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/rspb20090408.pdf

    Page 2:

    The field of Semitic linguistics has generally coalesced around a model that places the ancient Mesopotamian language Akkadian as the most basal lineage of Semitic

    Nope. No it hasn’t … (And what is a “basal lineage” in historical linguistic terms, anyway?)

    Wordlists were modified from Swadesh’s 100-word list of most conserved words (Swadesh 1955), with the final lists containing 96 words for 25 extant and extinct Semitic languages

    Oh dear.
    Leaving aside the tremendous nonsense of the whole methodology, what seems to have happened is that they have assumed that the evident primary division of Semitic into Akkadian-Eblaite versus The Rest shows that everything is basically derived from Akkadian, or something pretty Akkadian-like, at any rate. Similarly, it is easy to demonstrate that Welsh, Breton and Cornish are derived from Irish …

    No amount of fancy maths can compensate for poor experiment design, invalid assumptions and rubbish data.

  7. Does that mean they say that Semitic spread from North-East (Mesopotamia) to South-West (Levant, Arabia, Ethiopia)?

    Since when arrival of Ethiopian Semitic from North-East (southern part of Arabian peninsula) became controversial?

  8. Leaving aside the tremendous nonsense of the whole methodology, what seems to have happened is that they have assumed that the evident primary division of Semitic into Akkadian-Eblaite versus The Rest shows that everything is basically derived from Akkadian, or something pretty Akkadian-like, at any rate.

    Oh dear. I was afraid of something like that….

  9. David Eddyshaw says

    As far as I can see from the Kitchen et al paper, they have compared their 25 languages as if they were working with a whole lot of contemporary languages. That would hardly give sensible answers given that some data antedate others by four thousand years, and is inevitably going to make Akkadian look particularly conservative and “basal.”

    It would be so stupid if they never thought of that, that I think I must have missed something. Perhaps it is magically compensated for by the maths.

  10. ə de vivre says

    “A model that places the ancient Mesopotamian language Akkadian as the most basal lineage of Semitic”

    I think they just mean that Akkadian is the first attested Semitic language, which seems pretty uncontroversial, if also not terribly interesting. They go on to give a standard account of the branches of the Semitic family, and they seem to place the homeland of PS somewhere in eastern Syria. But I haven’t tried to read and understand their actual arguments yet.

  11. ə de vivre says

    Is it important that they ignore Old South Arabian completely (I’m guessing because there isn’t enough data about vowels to be useful in this kind of thing)? Maybe ommiting it doesn’t affect the other branches?

  12. Kitchen et al. do assume appropriate dates for the anciently-attested languages (“Akkadian=2800 YBP, Biblical Aramaic=1800 YBP, Ge’ez=1700 YBP, ancient Hebrew=2600 YBP and Ugaritic=3400 YBP; Rabin 1975”, p. 2705).

    Among their conclusions: “Our estimate for the origin of Semitic (4400–7400 YBP) predates the first Akkadian inscriptions in the archaeological record of northern Mesopotamia by approximately 100–3000 years.” What would we do without computers?

    The location of Proto-Semitic is deduced as follows: “The presence of ancient members of the two oldest Semitic groups (East and West Semitic) in the same region of the Levant, combined with a possible long interval (100–3000 years) between the origin of Semitic and the appearance of Akkadian in Sumer, suggests a Semitic origin in the northeast Levant and a later movement of Akkadian eastward into Mesopotamia and Sumer.” In other words, pick a spot between Proto East Semitic and Akkadian, and call it a homeland. That was also pretty much the technique used by Bouckaert et al. to pick an IE homeland in Anatolia, but they used a computer.

  13. I don’t think it’s the vowels that are the issue for OSA, because (Voltaire etc.) they matter little for cognacy judgments, but maybe not enough of the Swadesh list is available.

  14. David Eddyshaw says

    I think they just mean that Akkadian is the first attested Semitic language

    Unfortunately, I don’t think that is all they mean.

    I was doing some Swadesh-100 type stuff myself with the Oti-Volta languages for a paper that I shall release to a grateful world if it ever gets to a state where I can’t pick huge holes in it myself.

    It was quite instructive as an exercise. For example, Yom and Nawdm have always been grouped together, and this seems valid based on shared morphology and distinctive Yom-Nawdm vocabulary (unfortunately though there are very good accessible materials for Nawdm, this is not so for Yom, so I can’t be as sure of this as I would like.) However, Nawdm is very aberrant lexically overall in the context of the whole Oti-Volta family, whereas Swadesh-style comparison puts Yom comfortably close to Buli/Konni and Western Oti-Volta. This is pretty certainly a valid grouping, based on common developments in the verb system and a radical and by-no-means-natural change in the inherited tone system shared by all three of those Oti-Volta branches. Simple Swadeshing would falsely separate Nawdm from its close relatives.

    Again, Dagbani and Mampruli are so close on a Swadesh-100 metric that they might as well be the same language; but so is Kusaal, which is not mutually comprehensible with either and is quite different (and much more conservative, overall) phonologically and to some extent morphologically and syntactically. On the other hand, Hanga, which is so similar to Dagbani and Mampruli grammatically and phonologically that you could pretty much use a Mampruli grammar for it (if there was one), has half a dozen words in the Swadesh 100 list which are completely unrelated to anything in Oti-Volta, so Swadeshing would falsely classify it as farther from Mampruli than Kusaal is.

    Of course, the only reason I actually know any of this is that I’ve looked at more than word lists.

  15. @Y: Did you copy some of those dates wrong? Several of them appear to make no sense.

  16. Brett, good call. I copied them right. I checked Rabin, their quoted source (Lexicostatistics and the internal divisions of Semitic, in Bynon and Bynon’s Hamito-Semitica, 1975, doi: 10.1515/9783111356167.85). These are the ground-truth dates Rabin uses to calibrate his lexicostatistics.

    Rabin has Old Babylonian Akkadian at 3500 BP (not 2800); Kitchen et al. call Rabin’s Peshitta “Biblical Aramaic”; Rabin has Hebrew at 2800 BP (not 2600 BP). The Ge’ez and Ugaritic dates match, as does that of the misattributed Aramaic.

  17. David Eddyshaw says

    Yes, I see where the dates got incorporated now. I wasn’t looking hard enough. I wonder if the errors are just in the published paper or were actually in the study itself.
    I suspect that no referees with relevant linguistic expertise were sought.

    I notice just after that:

    … which are strengths of Bayesian methods and have been successfully used to date the divergences of Indo-European (Gray & Atkinson 2003; Atkinson et al. 2005)

    “Successfully” …
    [“This officer has performed his duties to his complete satisfaction.”]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatolian_hypothesis#Bayesian_analysis

  18. @David Eddyshaw, I understadn “basal” as “branched off [from the common root] earlier.”.

    I do not really like the word, though (Wikipedia explains why: Basal_(phylogenetics))

  19. “Our estimate for the origin of Semitic (4400–7400 YBP) predates the first Akkadian inscriptions … by approximately 100–3000 years.”

    So they have a +/- 25% variance for their origin (using the most generous to them calculation), and they think they can just chop off 95% of their lower bound and still be making enough sense to publish? If they knew anything about rates of change of languages (or say compared any contemporary language to its form 100 years ago vs 3,000 YBP), wouldn’t it be screamingly obvious their methodology makes no sense?

    What would we do without computers?

    I feel I should make a small defence of computers, along the lines of Garbage-in Garbage-out.

  20. wouldn’t it be screamingly obvious their methodology makes no sense?

    That’s the magic of the technique: it may be nonsense, but it’s strictly and rigorously less nonsense than any other solution.

    What would we do without computers?

    The thing is, you can get nearly the same nonsensical solution using pencil and envelope, as in the days of Swadesh.

  21. David Eddyshaw says

    Thanks, drasvi: that’s clarifying. I can see why they think Akkadian is “basal”, at any rate, though the concept is clearly out of place in this context. The likening of language development to the evolution of species is a metaphor, not an accepted truth of historical linguistics. It breaks down rapidly if treated as an actual fact. (The fatal problem with this whole parascientific endeavour, which now seems to have established itself in its own parallel universe where references are made only to papers from the same universe, and a study which produced results grossly at variance with known facts is described without further comment as “successful.”)

    @AntC:

    Seems fair … computers are victims here too …

  22. January First-of-May says

    a model that places the ancient Mesopotamian language Akkadian as the most basal lineage of Semitic

    To me this just sounds like the phylogenetics-speak version of the (as far as I’m aware) relatively uncontroversial claim that East Semitic (represented only by Akkadian in their study, though IIRC the other members are fairly sparsely attested) is a sister branch to the entire remainder of Semitic.

    In similar terms, Anatolian is the most basal lineage of Indo-European, and Gothic (aka East Germanic) is the most basal lineage of Germanic. Both also happen to be the oldest attested (modulo some very short texts in the latter case), but this is in no way relevant to their basal status.

    (Somewhat ninja-ed by drasvi.)

    Several of them appear to make no sense.

    YBP = years before present (presumably 1950 as typical in that sort of thing), so the dates are 850 BC for Akkadian, 150 AD for Aramaic, 250 AD for Ge’ez, 650 BC for Hebrew, and 1450 BC for Ugaritic.
    All of those sound reasonable, or close to reasonable, at first glance, except Akkadian (for which I suspect that their sources probably reflect a far earlier state) and to a lesser extent Hebrew (for which I suspect that their sources probably reflect a somewhat later state).

     
    …I do wonder to what extent Akkadian, or a direct descendant thereof, was still the spoken language in the Neo-Assyrian and/or Neo-Babylonian empires – and if so, how much relation it held to the written language of the contemporary cuneiform tablets.

    We know that Sumerian was transmitted in a relatively recognizable form through more than two millenia (not including the period when it was still the main spoken language); it would not especially surprise me if essentially the same happened to Akkadian, such that 8th century BC spoken Assyrian (and/or Babylonian) had about the same relationship to contemporary written Akkadian as (say) 16th century AD spoken Italian (and/or Spanish) had to contemporary written Latin.

  23. David Eddyshaw says

    I’m fairly sure that a “Bayesian phylogenetic analysis” of the currently spoken Germanic languages based on Swadesh lists would show that English was “basal.” Rigorously …

    (From which it follows that the Germanic languages originated in the North Sea.)

  24. January First-of-May says

    I’m fairly sure that a “Bayesian phylogenetic analysis” of the currently spoken Germanic languages based on Swadesh lists would show that English was “basal.”

    If they had to choose a single “basal” node? Probably.
    I do hope it would give the actual division into Scandinavian vs. English-plus-German, but I have no idea how it would actually work out. IIRC English did replace a lot of its Swadesh entries with assorted Frenchy borrowings.

    (Even without the Swadesh list specifically. a lot will probably hinge on whether they bother to include Frisian.)

  25. At this point, people know to code for borrowings. It’s not as crude as early lexicostatistics.

  26. David Eddyshaw says

    True; but I was imagining a field-worker coming in blind to the known history.
    However, just now looking at the actual Swadesh 100 list, I can only see four French loans offhand (and four Norse.)
    So maybe not.

    [After all, the list was drawn up to work for European languages, so it ought not to give bizarre results for English.]

  27. @January First-of-May: The “Biblical Aramaic” date was the other one that jumped out at me as clearly wrong, but Y explained above what happened there.

  28. “After all, the list was drawn up to work for European languages”

    For linguists speaking a European language:)

    The first version was published in the context of Salishan languages. He used words from Boas’ comparative Salish vocabularies. He needed words documented and available for many langauges, he chose 165 including “hat”. I do not know how large were those vocabularies and whether he chose 165 most basic words out of 1000 or 165 out of 165. In order to estimate the rate of substitution, he compiled another (without words like “hat”) list of 225 English words, “slightly more stable”, and compared them to Old English.

    It is just the first version, but I do not think he was interested in IE studies.

  29. Since when arrival of Ethiopian Semitic from North-East (southern part of Arabian peninsula) became controversial?
    That’s not the part that astonished me, only the rest if it – as far as I know, the common understanding is that Semitic spread into the Levant and Mesopotamia from the South. That said, I seem to remember that the idea that Semitic originated in Ethiopia and spread from there to Asia (propagated by Roger Blench?) was discussed in these august halls not so long ago.

  30. David Eddyshaw says

    Though the methodology of the paper itself is valueless (after all, it’s the same as the process that “proved” that Indo-European originated in Anatolia nine thousand years ago), the idea of the Semitic languages originating in Iran is not quite as counterintuitive if you imagine Semitic replacing some other Afro-Asiatic language groups intervening (geographically, and perhaps linguistically too) between the supposed Semitic homeland and Egypt. And the Iranian languages must be comparatively recent arrivals in Iran (though at the relevant time and place I would imagine that the pre-IE population in reality spoke Elamite, not Proto-Semitic.)

    @drasvi:

    Yes, you’re right. I was being too snarky about Swadesh, and got carried away.

  31. They could otkochevat’* from Africa to the Middle East, pick up tools and then go back, armed with bronze and iron and cattle and then with books.


    *Russian verb whose agent noun is “nomad”. The root is Turkic.

    But I think Blench imagines it more or less this way:

    – the least recent own ancestor of Semitic is in Africa
    – the most recent common ancestor of Semitic is in the ME

    His suggestion that Gurage langauges stayed where they are without travelling to the ME (and then were Ethiopianized by Ethiopians) does not really change the picture, it just redistributes splits.

  32. David Eddyshaw says

    Didn’t Arnaud Fournet prove to the satisfaction of all that Indo-European-Hurrian originated in Syria? Place was evidently a regular officina gentium

  33. officina gentium

    Unpleasantly similar to Soviet кузница кадров “Kaderschmiede”. Vagina nationum, п***а народов, sounds much less obscene to my ear…

  34. David Eddyshaw says

    Leopold Bloom, while meditating in the bath, has a similar thought about Palestine.

    (I’d actually never looked up Jordanes’ original, and did not realise that he expressed the concept in two ways, one of which is unaccountably cited less often.)

    https://la.wikipedia.org/wiki/Officina_gentium_aut_velut_certe_vagina_nationum

  35. J.W. Brewer says

    Re “From which it follows that the Germanic languages originated in the North Sea,” Doggerland seems like a rather useful postulated Urheimat for some remote Proto-Something, what with being conveniently inaccessible to most archeological techniques on account of being submerged. The Beringia of NW Europe.

  36. This comparison showed little preference for a model with Arabic within Central Semitic over one with Arabic within South Semitic (log BF – –0.438).

    But negative values must mean support for the second of the two models… :-/

  37. David Eddyshaw says

    The idea that the position of Arabic within Semitic could be definitively settled even in principle by looking at Swadesh 100 lists is ludicrous in itself, but worse yet shows a more or less complete lack of understanding of historical linguistics. (I think the mainstream position now is that it belongs with Central Semitic, on account of sharing the common innovation of the yaqtulu imperfective. But, regardless, I doubt whether Kitchen et al* even know why real historical linguists think that shared innovations matter. And their method is incapable of discovering any.)

    Perhaps not even Ehret. But, de mortuis

  38. The tree they give isn’t bad. The problem is, you have no idea how that sausage is made. In standard historical linguistics, all the arguments are laid out and you can argue whether they are valid, based on what is known about language change. Here everything is made into statistical sausage before you can look at it. Worse yet, lexicostatistics is based on quantifying vocabulary change due to semantic drift, and that is one thing nobody knows anything at all about why it happens.

    That’s why phylogenetic papers of this genre have one of three conclusions:
    — Our tree agrees with the standard trees. Therefore our method is good, and we need to keep using it.
    — Our tree perfectly catches obvious low-level groupings but disagrees with the mainstream on the higher-level groupings. Therefore we’re off to a good start and need to continue refining our method.
    — Our tree has some major disagreements with the standard trees. Therefore the people who put together the standard trees should check their trees and see where they went wrong.

    That said, classical historical linguistics has nothing to say about dates (because, as above, nobody understands lexical change), but statistical methods can give limits on dates. Chung et al.’s paper on the dating of IE is a good combination of the two. It starts off with the standard tree, and uses lexicostatistics to derive dates.

    I’m not sure though that even this method gives better results than pencil and paper. If you start off with the number of Hittite words with cognates elsewhere in IE, and apply Swadesh’s formula >> with an appropriate error range <<, do you get results comparable to those of Chung et al.?

  39. David Marjanović says

    Nope. No it hasn’t … (And what is a “basal lineage” in historical linguistic terms, anyway?)

    As others have said, “basal” means “farthest from what I’m interested in at the moment”. So if I’m talking about the origin of turtles, all mammals are “the basalmost amniotes” because the basal (!) split of Amniota is into the ancestors of mammals and those of lizards/snakes + tuatara + turtles + crocs + birds.

    what seems to have happened is that they have assumed that the evident primary division of Semitic into Akkadian-Eblaite versus The Rest shows that everything is basically derived from Akkadian, or something pretty Akkadian-like, at any rate.

    This assumption is not made – it may creep in in the Discussion section (I haven’t read the paper yet), but it’s not made by the computer program.

    I’m fairly sure that a “Bayesian phylogenetic analysis” of the currently spoken Germanic languages based on Swadesh lists would show that English was “basal.” Rigorously …

    That really depends on the dataset much more than on the method. And Bayesian inference is actually less susceptible to long-branch attraction – the expected effect of the loss of data in the divergent vocabulary of the more recent stages of English – than the others.

    as far as I know, the common understanding is that Semitic spread into the Levant and Mesopotamia from the South. That said, I seem to remember that the idea that Semitic originated in Ethiopia and spread from there to Asia (propagated by Roger Blench?) was discussed in these august halls not so long ago.

    As far as I know, the new & flashy hypothesis that Semitic originated where East & West Semitic met in historical times is textbook wisdom. The opposite idea, that Semitic originated geographically close to the other AfAs language families (so, in Africa), has been proposed a few times but not been widely accepted. (I don’t know the first thing about the Gurage languages, though.) Then there’s an interesting idea I once saw somewhere on academia.edu, that Proto-Semitic was spoken in the Rub’ al-Khali before it dried out, and East Semitic spread north while West Semitic spread in a semicircle along the coast of Arabia.

    the methodology of the paper itself is valueless (after all, it’s the same as the process that “proved” that Indo-European originated in Anatolia nine thousand years ago)

    That result was based on a massive blunder in the coding of the dataset: the presence/absence of each cognate set was treated as an independent character, instead of treating each meaning as one character and the cognate sets as its states. This greatly increased the number of changes that had to be reconstructed for each branch, therefore made the branches longer, and therefore inflated all reconstructed ages. This is not a feature of the method, it is incompetence in its execution.

    Notably, that’s something people who work only on molecular data never need to worry about. The characters they use, and their states, are simply read from the data: each nucleotide/amino acid position is a character, and the nucleotides/amino acids are its states. People who work on morphological ( = anatomical) data are used to having to define their characters & states, and would not have made this embarrassing blunder.

    I haven’t taken a look at the new paper yet, so I don’t know if it continues this blunder, but I know that other recent Bayesian analyses of language phylogeny have not perpetuated it. They just weren’t about IE and didn’t get into Nature. Edit: I think Chung et al. is the paper I closest-to-remember that did it right.

    It is also not the case that phylogenetic analysis, Bayesian or otherwise, can only use the composition of the vocabulary as data from languages. Using morphology, phonology, syntax, anything is just as easy. A ready-made table is just what people who come from another field are most likely to think they understand well enough to use.

    But negative values must mean support for the second of the two models… :-/

    IIRC, logarithms of Bayes factors are generally negative and mean higher support the smaller they are.

    The idea that the position of Arabic within Semitic could be definitively settled even in principle by looking at Swadesh 100 lists is ludicrous in itself, but worse yet shows a more or less complete lack of understanding of historical linguistics.

    Well, yes.

    I doubt whether Kitchen et al* even know why real historical linguists think that shared innovations matter. And their method is incapable of discovering any.)

    They understand that perfectly well, and their method is designed to discover them – in the dataset, i.e. in the Swadesh-100 list.

    If you trust the tree, you can then discover innovations in other parts of language by mapping them on the tree. But that will be GIGO.

  40. John Cowan says

    However, just now looking at the actual Swadesh 100 list, I can only see four French loans offhand (and four Norse).

    As discussed here, there are 24 non-native words in the Swadesh 200 (88% native), whereas a 4000-word list is 47% native and the 80,000 Shorter OED wordlist is only 22% native. As a contrast, the Spanish Swadesh 200 has (I think) only four loanwords (2%), and all of them of Romance origin: animal < Latin (cf. native alimaña ‘vermin’), bosque < Old Occ barriga ‘belly’ < either Ancient Greek barys ‘heavy’ or Gascon barrica ‘barrel’, and caminar < VL < Gaulish < Proto-Celtic *kengeti ‘limp’.

  41. Just for convenience, another link to Kitchen et al. Supplements:

    S3: “Binary” representation of data (what DM calls a “blunder”), the tree in the paper is based on it.
    S4: a tree based on what they call “multistate” representation of data.

    S1: Swadesh lists for 25 languages
    S2: “multistate” representation of data. In each column (“character”), the same letter (“state”) for two langauges means cognates.

    Full text in HTML is also available. PDF and references are for 19.50 pounds. (a link to the pdf with references can be found in DE’s post above).

  42. David Marjanović says

    S3: “Binary” representation of data (what DM calls a “blunder”), the tree in the paper is based on it.
    S4: a tree based on what they call “multistate” representation of data.

    That could be wholly unrelated to what I call a blunder; I’ll need to check.

  43. Yes, sorry, I should have added a question mark. But it matches your description, and this:

    For figure 2,we chose to present the phylogeny based on the binary dataset following conventions of previous linguistic phylogenetic studies (Gray & Atkinson 2003; Atkinson et al.2005; Gray et al.2009)…

    (G&A 2003: Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin (Nature)
    A et al. 2005: From words to dates: water into wine, mathemagic or phylogenetic inference? (Trans. Philol. Soc.)
    G et al. 2009: Language phylogenies reveal expansion pulses and pauses in Pacific settlement. (Science))

    Although our analysis provided inconsistent support for Arabic as a lineage of Central Semitic (i.e. strong support for Arabic within Central Semitic from the multistate analysis, but no support from the binary analysis)…

    … remained a mystery for me until you wrote about characters and states. I though “aha!” and… apparently ! abd ? averaged into a .

  44. S1 looks a bit messy.

    Ge’ez 7♋︎♐︎ “mouth” is particularly suspicious.
    Mehri — and Harsusi kob “dog” form a cognate set (distinct from kalb)

    And just the first row, “all”, cognate sets:

    [kʷɨllu kɨllu kullu hullu kulluzo:m hullɨn ullɪmka kullɨmu ɨnɛmɔ ɨnnɨ ɨnnɨm ɨnnɨm kol kl kalu kal kal koll kull]
    [diyyu]
    [yɨlho]
    [ɔt’tɛmi fahre faxreh/kal]

    Mesmes ɔt’tɛmi does not really look like Soqotri faħre, but maybe I am missing something.

  45. @John Cowan: Something’s missing between “bosque” and “< Old Occ barriga ‘belly’”.

  46. Wiktionary says bosque is “borrowed from Catalan or Occitan bosc, from Late Latin boscus or Vulgar Latin *buscus, from Frankish *busk, from Proto-Germanic *buskaz, cognate with English bush.”

  47. Michael Eochaidh says

    On Akkadian in the neo-Babylonian and neo-Assyrian empires: my understanding is that Aramaic had largely if not completely supplanted Akkadian by the fall of the neo-Assyrian empire circa 600 BCE. The Assyrian practice of resettling conquered peoples elsewhere in their empire had been a big factor in this.

  48. That’s my understanding as well.

  49. But, regardless, I doubt whether Kitchen et al* even know why real historical linguists think that shared innovations matter.
    ….
    Perhaps not even Ehret.

    Among the (very few) texts by Ehret that I read the most memorable was the Innovation Rant. I do not remember what book it was, only that I wanted to learn something about internal relations of langauges of Sudan. His Historical-Comparative Reconstruction of Nilo-Saharan has a version on p. 66 (maybe it was this book).

    Some lines (that define it as a rant):

    But such subclassifications stand on doubly faulty foundations. [….] Secondly, they tend to depend on one kind of criterion [….] The second is a much more general problem, a major hiatus in theory among historical linguists everywhere and not just among Nilo-Saharianists. The single substative basis for the subgrouping of langauges is the identification in them of shared innovations that are unlikely to have been borrowed from one to another. [….] But the chief practical consequence of this principle is rarely recognized or, if recognized, tends to be worked around rather than confronted and directly dealt with [….] The failure to develop methods for distinguishing innovations and probable innovations from shared features that cannot be so identified is a fundamental weakness of historical-comparative theory that we need not continue to tolerate. (Why the problem has not been enunciated more clearly and confronted systematically is also rather difficult to understand, but need not divert us here.)…

  50. (the first 4 lines are by DE but I can’t edit the comment and mark them as a quote at the moment:()

  51. Fixed!

  52. As far as I know, the new & flashy hypothesis that Semitic originated where East & West Semitic met in historical times is textbook wisdom. The opposite idea, that Semitic originated geographically close to the other AfAs language families (so, in Africa), has been proposed a few times but not been widely accepted. (I don’t know the first thing about the Gurage languages, though.)
    Good to know. The introductions to Semitic languages I have actually say nothing (Routledge 1997) or little on this (Bergsträsser 1928 only states that the Akkadians broke off from the other Semites to settle Mesopotamia). I think that I got the idea that the Semites immigrated to the Levant and Mesopotamia from the South (the Arabian peninsula, whence also to Africa) from general works on early history.
    Then there’s an interesting idea I once saw somewhere on academia.edu, that Proto-Semitic was spoken in the Rub’ al-Khali before it dried out, and East Semitic spread north while West Semitic spread in a semicircle along the coast of Arabia
    I think that was discussed here as well.

  53. This thread may be relevant.

  54. David Eddyshaw says

    @drasvi:

    Thanks. I was accusing Ehret unjustly.

  55. As far as I know, the new & flashy hypothesis that Semitic originated where East & West Semitic met in historical times is textbook wisdom. The opposite idea, that Semitic originated geographically close to the other AfAs language families (so, in Africa), has been proposed a few times but not been widely accepted.

    But they are two different Semitics…
    One of them yesterday was “the same” (contunuum I believe) as the ancestor of Berber (I called it “the least recent own ancestor”). The other tonight will form East and West Semitic (their most recent common ancestor)

    The former was spoken millenia before the later and hardly in the same place.

  56. There is an argument that the split between the familiar Afroasiatic sub-branches could have happened in Africa. The argument is based on diversity. If you accept it in the strong formulation, Semitic (Semitic-1) must have arrived from Africa.

    There is another argument that Ethiopian Semitic “just stayed there” rather then arrived from Asia. It is based on great diversity of Ethiopian Semitic languages.
    Gurage is a particuarly diverse branch (said to have retained some archaic features). Blench:

    One intriguing issue that remains unresolved is the position of the Gurage languages of Ethiopia; these languages are so different from Ethiosemitic (i.e., Amharic, etc.) and from each other that it is a real possibility that these are relic Semitic languages, remaining in Ethiopia after the migration of the main core of Semites up the Nile River.

  57. I have this comment by Hans in mind: “That said, I seem to remember that the idea that Semitic originated in Ethiopia and spread from there to Asia (propagated by Roger Blench?) was discussed in these august halls not so long ago.“. Blench likes the first proposal (Afroasiatic).

  58. A further possibility would be that Semitic split off Afrasiatic in Africa, Gurage etc. being old relics, and the other Ethiosemitic languages being re-migrations from Arabia…

  59. J.W. Brewer says

    Re Proto-Semitic being spoken in the area now known as the Rub-al-Khali, a hypothesized Urheimat buried under sand dunes is not quite as advantageous (in terms of resistance to impertinent questions from skeptics) as one submerged under the North Sea, but still pretty good.

  60. John Cowan says

    Or under the Black Sea (PIE).

  61. But it is no different from mitochondrial Eve.

    Her exact location depend on your sample – or when you have sampled all people, it depends on the moment when you ask about her location.

  62. the migration of the main core of Semites up the Nile River

    Surely “down the Nile River” is meant.

  63. Yes. The absolute frame of reference penetrating English grammar.

  64. John Cowan says

    I met a man the other day–
      A kindly man, and serious–
    Who viewed me in a thoughtful way,
      And spoke me so, and spoke me thus:

    “Oh, dallying’s a sad mistake;
      ‘Tis craven to survey the morrow!
    Go give your heart, and if it break–
      A wise companion is Sorrow.

    “Oh, live, my child, nor keep your soul
      To crowd your coffin when you’re dead….”
    I asked his work; he dealt in coal,
      And shipped it up the Tyne, he said.
        —Dorothy Parker, “To Newcastle”

    The point is that Newcastle upon Tyne (with no Southern hyphens in it, please) was the center of the coal export industry in Britain when there was any coal to export. (Newcastle, N.S.W., Australia is now the largest coal-exporting city in the world, though it does not seem to be called Newcastle on Hunter.) So carry coals to Newcastle is ‘send something to a place where it was already commonplace’. And anyone who thinks they need to proclaim banalities like these to the satirist Dorothy Parker is in the same situation.

    The eccentric but successful American businessman Timothy Dexter was persuaded to actually ship coals to Newcastle as either a practical joke or an attempt to ruin him. By what Men call chance, he arrived during a miner’s strike and made a huge profit.

  65. ə de vivre says

    “The idea of the Semitic languages originating in Iran is not quite as counterintuitive if you imagine Semitic replacing some other Afro-Asiatic language groups intervening”

    I’m not sure how much of this comment is sarcasm, but there are a few ancient languages from the parts of Iran closest to Mesopotamia that have left records of a handful of personal names and other words: Gutian, Kassite, Lulubi—to say nothing of the better attested Elamite and Hurro-Urartian languages. So far none of these (geographically) Iranian languages look anything like Semitic. The earliest Semitic east of the Akkadian core in Mesopotamia that anyone knows about is the Akkadian used by second-millennium scribes in Susa and West Semitic Amorite coming down the eastern edge of the Mesopotamian lowlands from the north towards the end of the third millennium.

  66. David Marjanović says

    And just the first row, “all”, cognate sets:

    Two of them look… too large.

    But in any case, the rows should be characters and the cognate sets should be states of these characters. Gray & Atkinson used the cognate sets as characters and presence/absence thereof as the states.

    But they are two different Semitics…
    One of them yesterday was “the same” (contunuum I believe) as the ancestor of Berber (I called it “the least recent own ancestor”). The other tonight will form East and West Semitic (their most recent common ancestor)

    Yes. I mean the latter – that’s the one we can say anything about from Semitic-internal data.

  67. The really striking thing about the paper for me was how overwhelmingly Natufian the ancestry of Arabian Arabs is. Combine that with the apparent prevalence of Natufian Y-haplotypes among Berbers and Somalis, and I’m starting to suspect that Militarev got it right after all when he identified Afroasiatic with Natufian, least moves notwithstanding. But as usual it looks like we need more ancient DNA from the African side…

  68. In Semitic, as in many other places, what are called theories for the location of the Urheimat are often mere plausible fables. A very detailed one is in Edward Lipiński’s Semitic Languages: Outline of a Comparative Grammar. In this scenario, the first assumption are that Proto-Semitic and “Libyco-Berber” are closer to each other than to any other branch of Afro-Asiatic (possible, but not as certain as L. takes it to be.) This he takes to imply that the two were together in the Sahara when it was still wet (5500–3500 BC). When that came to an end would be when

    …Proto-Semitic passed through the Nile delta from the West to the East, and reached Western Asia, where written documents of the third millennium B.C. preserve noticeable traces of Pre-Semitic and, in Mesopotamia, also of Pre-Sumerian substratum. The collapse of the Ghassulian culture in Palestine around 3300 B.C. and the Egyptian finds in southern Palestine from the Early Bronze period I (ca. 3300–3050 B.C.) may testify to the arrival of these new population groups. The Palestinian tumuli, belonging to the culture of semi-nomadic groups during much of the fourth and third millennia B.C., seem to confirm this hypothesis, since a very similar type of sepulture characterizes pre-historic North Africa, especially Algeria, and it is a typical feature of the old Libyco-Berber tradition.

    Thus, from North Africa, wave after wave of Semitic migrations would seem to have set forth. The earliest of these migrants, and those who went farthest to the East, were the Akkadians who, journeying along the Fertile Crescent through Palestine and Syria, and crossing over into Mesopotamia, reached Northern Babylonia ca. 3000 B.C. and founded the first Semitic Empire at Kish. The Amorites and their congeners would appear to have followed as far as Syria before 2500 B.C.

    (Cross references omitted for clarity)

    The timeline of Proto-Semitic migration induced by desertification is appealing, and I’m sure others have thought of it too. The Berber-Semitic connection, whether true or not, doesn’t add much to it. In fact, if the two groups did live together, why didn’t the Proto-Berbers respond in the same way to changing climate and migrate east as well?

    I like, in principle, the idea that linguistic differentiation occurred earlier and in a different location than the first attestation of each branch. In general, more history is hidden than is visible. It’s very plausible that East Semitic and West Semitic differentiated far away from their first attestations, but L. does not prove it in any way.

    He must have had a good reason to pick “Amorite” as representing West Semitic, but I can’t find it.

    The comment on “Pre-Sumerian substratum” made my eyebrow go up.

  69. Also not inspiring confidence: “may testify to… seem to… would seem to have… would appear to have…”

  70. ə de vivre says

    Amorite is simply the first attested West Semitic language. Or at least the first that has a name. Off the top of my head, I don’t know whether West Semitic personal names first appear before, after, or around the same time as the word ‘Amorite.’ (Not that the history of the word ‘Amorite’ is itself uncontroversial, e.g., Michalowski 2011)

  71. We have early records of the Amorites because they came into contact with the Sumerians in the third millennium B.C.E. However, precisely how much cultural continuity there was between those relatively early Amurru peoples and the Amorites chronicled in Joshua a thousand years later (in stories set down in final form much later still) is not entirely clear. The early Amorites may or may not have been a somewhat heterogeneous group, speaking several closely related but already distinct West Semitic languages; the precise temporal relation between the Amorite language and Ugartic, for example, remains to be teased out. The early Amorite speakers could also subsequently have given rise to several of the different Canaanite groups mentioned in the Tanakh.

  72. David Marjanović says

    The comment on “Pre-Sumerian substratum” made my eyebrow go up.

    The Euphratic hypothesis comes to mind.

  73. Akkadian – WS split does not look very useful for classification:(

  74. Trond Engen says

    Having been away for a week, saved this post for last, looking forward in both excitement and exhaustion, but it appears that the comment thread is all about bad bayesianism again. Oh, well. But the genetics looks interesting and might deserve better linguistics or archaeology. That’s about as much I can say before reading the paper.

  75. jack morava says

    Somehow I think it’s hard to do better than Carleton Hodge, IndoEuropeans in the Near East, Anthropological Linguistics 23 (1981) 227 – 244 :

    We are now in a position to address ourselves to the problem of the IE homeland. If IE and [AA] share a common origin, this proto-language . . . was in the Central Nile region in 18,000 BCE. As the [AA] languages are all closer to each other than to IE, the latter must have left their Nile ‘homeland’ by 13,000 at the very latest …It would appear that they went down the Nile, and, under pressure, on into Palestine-Syria, and made their way into Anatolia . . .

    I should note that G\”obekli Tepe sits comfortably on the dispersal route.

  76. “and [AA]”

    1. The hypothesis that a group of languages including Semitic, Egyptian Berber, Cushitic and Hausa (later expanded to all Chadic) are genetically related has been part of the linguist’s res (privatae res, one might say) for over a hundred years. Most of the names used to indicate this group have remained current: Semito-Hamitic (Benfey 1869: 683; Petráček 1972), Hamito-Semitic (Hovelacque 1887: 212; Mukarovsky 1966), Erythraic (Reinisch 1873 apud Cohen 1947:12; Tucker 1967), Afroasiatic (Greenberg 1955: 54; Hodge 1968), Lisramic (Hodge 1972), Afro-Asian (Albright-Lambdin 1970), Afrasian (Dolgopoljskij 1973). Not one has as yet been discarded by the profession as a whole. They are, rather, part of the dialect geography of linguistic terminology: roughly Semito-Hamitic for Eastern Europe; Hamito- Semitic for the rest of Europe; Erythraic in the focal area of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London; Afroasiatic in the U. S. generally; Lisramic and Afrasian still on the door-step waiting to be adopted. Lisramic is the only one based on roots from the languages themselves (*lis tongue; language; Eg. *rāməč people).

    (from: jstor, sci-hub)
    Lisramic sounds better than Afroasiatic. But for a European AA is “Semitic and also langauges similar to it”. In this respect Semito-Hamitic and Afroasiatic are informative, while Lisramic is a surprisingly obscure word for a very (how old I was I first heard about the Bible?) familiar thing.

  77. PlasticPaddy says

    What is the P-S reflex of AA *rāməč? All I can find is “to throw”, e.g., Hebrew רָמָה. For tongue the modern Hebrew word has the “same” (i.e. “l” and one of the possible “s” letters) consonants, but the closest P-S root I could find is
    l ḥ k “to lick” (Hebrew ללקק).

  78. PlasticPaddy says

    For people maybe r ḥ m “mercy” with metathesis? Semantically I suppose “the ones who care about you” would work.

  79. Having been to SOAS, I feel confident in saying that “Erythraic” has long since been abandoned there as elsewhere. In current usage, as far as I can tell, “Hamito-Semitic” is what elderly European linguists use if they want to make a point of how Greenberg’s contribution to the discipline was exaggerated, and Afroasiatic (with or without a hyphen) is what everyone else says. In Arabic Hamito-Semitic remains somewhat more widely understood, but there’s no original research on the subject to speak of in Arabic. (Or perhaps I should say that what little there is is a little too “original”…)

  80. I don’t believe Egyptian *rāməč has any known cognate in Semitic. Hebrew lashon reconstructs fine back to proto-Semitic though – *lašān (cf. Arabic lisān). It was a noun, not a verb, but that’s alright; not everything has to be deverbal, even in Semitic.

  81. PlasticPaddy says

    @lameen
    Thanks. I do not know the Arabic alphabet and ask naive questions, so feel free to ignore them ????.

  82. David Eddyshaw says

    for a European AA is “Semitic and also languages similar to it”

    To redress the balance and give a proper perspective, we should adopt “Macrocushitic” for the huge group of languages now known to be related to Hausa, like Hebrew, Arabic and Egyptian.

    “Megachadic” is probably going too far in the opposite direction …

  83. Absolutely:)

    I believe that Russocentric names make sense for Russian language and Eurocentric names for European languages (But Europe is just as close to Berbers…) I believe “Earthcentric” names make sense too. Then we naturally want to make regional (skewed) terminology compatible with international (unbiased) terminology and here we have a problem. I do not know what to do, but if two names co-exist, it is not necessarily a bad thing.
    So yes, I support Macrocushitic.

  84. For collection:

    …Skinner (1975:477) suggests “Mitic”, based on the part common to the terms Hamitic and Semitic; he also suggests “Noahitic”, following Biblical precedent. Neither of these, however, has gained any following. Tucker and Bryan (1966:1-2) and Tucker (1967:18-19) argue against any use of the term Hamitic and suggest the term “Erythraic”, based on the Greek term for the Red Sea (eruthrà thálassa). Since, however, the languages in question are spoken in a virtually continuous belt from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf, to single out the Red Sea region in this way is a bit too narrowly focussed. Adams (1975:476) suggests “Afro-Arabian” to minimize the Asiatic contribution to the family, but, since the languages are also spoken throughout the Levant and Mesopotamian regions, this term is insufficient….

    Adams, G.B. 1975. “Discussion”, in Hamito-Semitica. Edited by J. Byron and T. Byron, p. 476. The Hague and Paris; Mouton.
    Skinner A.M. 1975. “Discussion”, in Hamito-Semitica. Edited by J. Byron and T. Byron, p. 477. The Hague and Paris; Mouton.
    Tucker, A. N. 1967. Erythraic elements and patternings: Some East African findings. African Language Review 6:17-25.
    Tucker A. N., and M. A. Bryan. 1966. Linguistic analyses: The non-Bantu languages of north-eastern Africa. London: Oxford University Press.

    Motic!!!
    Noic (Russian Noy, Noah) did come time to my mind, but not Mitic, I never thought about it!!!

  85. Motic

    Mitic. It was a typo. Or maybe I thought about Omotic…

  86. “Megachadic” is probably going too far in the opposite direction …

    It would probably give rise to all kind of unfortunate implications, to begin with

  87. In Russian it is everything that fire adds to the air that is not smoke (but possibly including smoke). Gases, fine particles, smells – the only requirement is that it must be thick and unpleasant: the word usually appears in complaints. Think about entering a kitchen, where too many things are cooked (or fried) at once and especially oil was burning. You enter and say what a chad or how much chad. Or “this fire/candle chads”. A related root kad- means “to incense”

  88. David Eddyshaw says

    A related root kad- means “to incense”

    We have previously established on LH that *kad is the one that Nikolai Marr missed: sal, ber, yon, rosh, kad. So it all makes sense …

    unfortunate implications

    Hey, those Afroasiatic Y chromosomes don’t propagate themselves, you know.

  89. Note that Palauan chad is /ʔað/ and Welsh chad is /χaːd/.

  90. Palauans are free to do whatever the want with proto-Welsh phonemes as long as they preserve Dravidian orthography. It is just a dialect. Or as they call it in English, an accent

  91. Chromosomes do not propagate

    When I compared “most recent common ancestor” of Semitic to mitochondrial Eve, I wanted to note that everything is even worse: mitochondria do not reproduce sexually, even though they need us to make love (we assist their reproduction like bees assist flowers, just differently)

    Semitic history is full of diffusion.. autosomal Eve could be even better analogy.

    But seriously, calling such a random node “origin” is unscientific:(

  92. Seems to me “Mitic” is too easily confused with “Mitian.”

  93. m-t-c.

  94. jack morava says
  95. David Eddyshaw says

    “Also, the very scant evidence of Enochian verb conjugation seems quite reminiscent of English, more so than with Semitic languages as Hebrew or Arabic, which Dee claimed were debased versions of the original Angelic language.”

    That should, strictly speaking, be Afro-Angelic, of course. The modern term is KONGO.

  96. >The really striking thing about the paper for me was how overwhelmingly Natufian the ancestry of Arabian Arabs is. Combine that with the apparent prevalence of Natufian Y-haplotypes among Berbers and Somalis, and I’m starting to suspect that Militarev got it right after all when he identified Afroasiatic with Natufian, least moves notwithstanding

    Just want to go back to Lameen’s comment. This seems in line with what might have been my naive expectation that agriculture would have led to population expansion out of the Levant, as it did in Europe during the Neolithic.

    That wouldn’t necessarily lead to the expansion of a language group, but it wouldn’t be surprising.
    Are there aspects of Afroasiatic that make it seem likely to have originated earlier or later than such an expansion? What signs suggest that it flowed in the opposite direction?

    Conversely, the idea of the expansion of a pastoral or hunter-gatherer language group across vast agricultural lands at a time when the advantage of the horse was unknown would be surprising to me. But I admit again it’s a relatively naive expectation. Just wondering what contraindications there are.

  97. John Cowan says

    In fact, if the two groups did live together, why didn’t the Proto-Berbers respond in the same way to changing climate and migrate east as well?

    Perhaps the Berbers are the descendants of the stubborn, who said, “Sure, go ahead, run away; we’ll learn to adapt.” Nothing else can account for their retention of their languages despite repeated invasions of Semitic-speakers.

    The comment on “Pre-Sumerian substratum” made my eyebrow go up.

    That sounds to me like the banana-language that gives us names like Inanna and Humbaba.

  98. jack morava says

    @ David E re [AA]: a very palpable hit!

  99. “Perhaps the Berbers are the descendants of the stubborn”

    You have no idea how perfectly that jibes with local stereotypes.

    “the idea of the expansion of a pastoral or hunter-gatherer language group across vast agricultural lands at a time when the advantage of the horse was unknown would be surprising to me”

    Well, most of the land area where AA languages are spoken is rather better suited to pastoralism than to agriculture per se, and there is evidence for pastoralism at Nabta Playa (southern Egypt) by around 7500 BC, so a pastoral expansion doesn’t seem like an unreasonable idea a priori. I wonder if any ancient DNA from Nabta Playa has been analysed yet?

  100. By the way, Lameen, you’ve been paged in the “spruik” thread.

  101. ə de vivre says

    “and there is evidence for pastoralism at Nabta Playa (southern Egypt) by around 7500 BC”

    What did that pastoralism look like? It’s my understanding that the lifestyles we refer to as pastoralists today only exist in symbiosis with settled agriculturalists. Would domestic animals be productive enough at that point to be a main mode of sustenance?

  102. I don’t think there were any settled agriculturalists around the pre-colonial Khoikhoi or Chukchi, both herders; settled agriculturalists certainly help fill out the diet, but at a pinch one can apparently live without them. I presume that would have been a lot truer in an era when the hunting was richer.

    At Nabta Playa it was initially cows, later on also goats, in a semidesert environment probably incapable of supporting wild cattle, with some evidence for seasonal transhumance; a short intro: http://www.kar.zcu.cz/studium/materialy/egy/texty-pro-studenty-2012/NabtaPlaya.pdf

  103. January First-of-May says

    Nabta Playa

    …that didn’t look like any kind of Egyptian name for me, so I looked it up. Turns out that “Nabta” is a nearby local place name, and “Playa” is a technical term for the local relief feature – specifically, a technical term that is typically used in the (south)western USA, and consequently familiar to the University of Colorado archaeologists who discovered the site.

  104. This paper shows how much is yet to be studied. It argues that a certain feminine noun suffix is common in form and distribution between (Proto-) Semitic and (Proto-) Berber, and concludes,

    It therefore seems probable that this formation goes back to the common ancestor of Proto-Semitic and Proto-Berber. Whether this common ancestor is Proto-Afro-Asiatic or a lower branch (e.g. Proto-Berbero-Semitic) will require further investigation. It is hoped that researchers with expertise in other branches of Afro-Asiatic will find the data presented in this article useful, and will be able to use it as a framework to study feminine formations in their respective languages of expertise.

    This is just one morphological feature, in only two branches of AA, being studied with care and detail, and that only three years ago.

  105. David Marjanović says

    “Megachadic” is probably going too far in the opposite direction …

    It implies a homeland near Lake Megachad. Which, y’know, isn’t that bad; compare Uralic & Altaic. (Though, I concede, apparently wrong given the DNA match with the Natufian culture.)

    Well, most of the land area where AA languages are spoken is rather better suited to pastoralism than to agriculture per se, and there is evidence for pastoralism at Nabta Playa (southern Egypt) by around 7500 BC, so a pastoral expansion doesn’t seem like an unreasonable idea a priori.

    Actually, if agriculture reached North Africa as part of the same expansion out of Anatolia that brought agriculture to Europe, and AA reached it later in a pastoral expansion, that would explain why some of the agricultural-substrate words in western Indo-European branches also show up in Berber.

    “Playa” is a technical term for the local relief feature

    Vamos a la cuenca endorreica.

  106. @January First-of-May: Playa is a pretty ordinary English word. It comes from Spanish and is probably more commonly used in the American West than in the East, but the OED records its use in English (in the original meaning of “beach”) all the way back to 1600 (although until the nineteenth century it seems to be used primarily in descriptions of beaches in Spanish-speaking areas—adding a bit of local linguistic color). Also in the middle of the nineteenth century, we get the appearance of the technical sense:

    Physical Geography (originally U.S.). A flat area of silt or sand, free of vegetation and usually characterized by salt deposits, that lies at the bottom of a desert basin and is dry except after rain.

    The first (and only) non-American cite in the OED for this sense is from a 1939 British textbook on physical geography. However, the term is pretty common in American culture—especially, as I indicated, but not entirely, in the West. The OED also finds it in Cormac McCarthy’s All [the] Pretty Horses, and the annual Burning Man festival is famously held on an extremely arid and dusty playa lakebed.

  107. Lameen,

    That’s certainly an interesting paper about an interesting set of sites. But it’s also 23 years old. Its theory of an independent domestication of cattle doesn’t seem to be supported by more recent genetic work, though my comment is based on nothing more than following a few google links. I wonder if any Hatters have deeper knowledge.

    If cattle come from the Levant, as seems to be the mainstream theory today, Nabta Playa seems like an indication Levantine culture or at least technology was spreading thorough much of the area where AA languages are now spoken at an early date.

  108. Does anyone have a decent idea of how and where Chadic separated from AA and spread? Looking at the map, I can imagine three scenarios:

    1. AA Urheimat somewhere near the Red Sea, Chadic spreading westward.
    2. AA further north, Chadic splitting south across a lush Sahara back when it was so.
    3. As above, but later, through an already desertified Sahara.

  109. Yeah, it seems that cattle come from the Levant – though with an important local contribution (Decker et al. 2014):

    “The second factor that we believe underlies the divergence of African taurine is a high level of wild African auroch [30], [31] introgression. Principal component (Figure 1), phylogenetic trees (Figures 2 and 3), and admixture (Figure 6) analyses all reveal the African taurines as being the most diverged of the taurine populations. Because of this divergence, it has been hypothesized that there was a third domestication of cattle in Africa [32]–[36]. If there was a third domestication, African taurine would be sister to the European and Asian clade. When no migration events were fit in the TreeMix analyses, African cattle were the most diverged of the taurine populations (Figures 2 and 3), but when admixture was modeled to include 17 migrations, all African cattle, except for East African Shorthorn Zebu and Zebu from Madagascar which have high indicine ancestry, were sister to European cattle and were less diverged than Asian or Anatolian cattle (Figure 4), thus ruling out a separate domestication. Our phylogenetic network (Figure 4) shows that there was not a third domestication process, rather there was a single origin of domesticated taurine (Asian, African, and European all share a recent common ancestor denoted by an asterisk in Figure 4, with Asian cattle sister to the rest of the taurine lineage), followed by admixture with an ancestral population in Africa (migration edge a in Figure 4, which is consistent across 6 separate TreeMix runs, Figure S4). This ancestral population (origin of migration edge a in Figure 4) was approximately halfway between the common ancestor of indicine and the common ancestor of taurine. We conclude that African taurines received as much as 26% (estimated as 0.263 in the network, p-value<2.2e-308) of their ancestry from admixture with wild African auroch, with the rest being Fertile Crescent domesticate in origin."

    It would be interesting to see how much of the expansion of AA can be accounted for as purely pastoralist, though.

    "Does anyone have a decent idea of how and where Chadic separated from AA and spread?"

    Well, lexically it's strikingly close to Berber, but orders of magnitude more diverse, and the inherited complex morphology seems to get restructured as you go south, so my guess would be 2; but it can only be a guess. (Blench has argued for 1, with Chadic being somehow most closely related to Cushitic, but that makes no sense to me.)

  110. A flat area of silt or sand, free of vegetation and usually characterized by salt deposits, that lies at the bottom of a desert basin and is dry except after rain.

    I did not know (and can’t readily think of a Russian translation, but I am not a geographer:)). Sabkha is somewhat similar. Wikipedia defines it as “a coastal, supratidal mudflat or sandflat in which evaporite-saline minerals accumulate as the result of semiarid to arid climate”, but in Arabic it is a salt flat that is not necessarily supratidal.

    “Aridification of Arabia 6 kya” in the paper quoted in the original post intrigued me. It seems their data comes from this one paper.

    And this second paper in turn relies on data from UAE and somewhat incomple data from from pollen samples from a sabkha in Tayma oasis (not supratidal, of course: 839 meters above the sea level). This sabkha was a lake during the Neolithic.

  111. Blench has argued for 1

    I like how he speaks about 1 (I just like Blench. For one thing, he loves to declassify langauges:)). He has a book, Archaeology, Language and African Past. (a self-pirated version is somewhere on the Internet. Certainly on libgen), and there:
    Of all these proposals, the most controversial is what may be called the ‘Inter-Saharan Hypothesis’. Blench (1999d)…

  112. And here’s the full paragraph:

    Of all these proposals, the most controversial is what may be called the ‘Inter-Saharan Hypothesis’. Blench (1999d), in a study of Cushitic and Chadic livestock terminology, has shown specific links between the two that are not part of common Afroasiatic. The proposal is that this resulted from a westward migration of pastoralist Cushitic speakers. That such a continent-wide migration could occur is suggested by the example of the Fulɓe pastoralists who have expanded eastwards from Senegambia to the borders of Sudan during the last millennium. The animals accompanying this migration of Cushitic speakers would have been three species of ruminant; cattle, goats and sheep. More controversially, donkeys, dogs and guinea-fowl may have been associated with this movement, although perhaps not kept as pastoral species. This corridor is today inhabited by Nilo-Saharan speakers and was also presumably in the past. If such a migration took place, then there should be scattered loaned livestock terms in Nilo-Saharan languages all the way between the Nile and Lake Chad. Table 6.3 shows the example of the word #ɬa for ‘cow, cattle’ which is reconstructible for Erythraic and is loaned into Nilo-Saharan. West and Central Chadic attest a form something like ɬa- with likely cognates in East Chadic (Jungraithmayr & Ibriszimow 1995, I:43). Southern Cushitic also has a voiceless lateral, #ɬ-, in the same C₁ slot (Ehret 1987:80).

  113. Interesting footnote: “There are a number of loans between Latin and Berber, including Berber gittus into Latin cattus, ‘cat’…” I doubt if that’s as uncontroversial as he makes it sound.

  114. Yeah, that’s wrong. The relevant Berber forms, such as Siwi yəṭṭus, aren’t even reconstructible for proto-Berber, and are mainly attested in Tunisia and eastward, in areas where Latin had a particularly strong presence; they are much more likely to be loans from Latin into Berber (and are treated as such in Kossmann’s The Arabic Influence on Northern Berber, the most recent general study of loanwords in Berber). There is a certain tradition of attempting to derive Latin “cattus” from “Berber” kadiis – but, plausibility aside, the latter word is in fact Nubian (Nubians are referred to as “Berber” in Egyptian Arabic, among other names.)

    For the Blench paper in question, see The westward wanderings of Cushitic pastoralists. (Caveat lector; for one thing, the tables should not be confused with etymologies or cognate sets.)

  115. Also Indeed the English ‘cat’ derives from Latin cattus, which is probably borrowed from Berber giṭṭus, applied to the North African wild cat., sadly without links.

    Cf. a passage by Kossmann (after listing -ǝs/-us Latin loans and -u Latin loans, speculating that these can possibly reflect different time or borrowing or different Latin case form used).

    Similarly, forms in -us are not restricted to what one would suppose to be the earliest stratum. Thus, the noun cattus ‘cat’ is only attested in late Latin sources. In Berber it appears with different stem-initial consonants takaṭṭust (Ghadames), yaṭṭus (Sened, Siwa), ayaḍus (Medieval Tashelhiyt), qaṭṭús (Nefusa). The noun also exists in Arabic dialects of the region, probably borrowed from Berber, and forms with /q/ may in fact represent reborrowings from Arabic (cf. Colin 1927:96–7; Kossmann 1999a:198).

    Is it another situation when a word was Revealed to people by God and since then A-sts say “borrowed from B-tic, impossible on A-tic ground” and B-sts say “impossible on B-tic ground, borrowed from A”?

  116. “Auroch”? “My aurochs are eating peas and cherries.” Unlike my muskocks.

  117. It’s not just Latin and Berber we have to play with here: the word’s also found in Greek (kattos/katta), Arabic (qiṭṭ), Syriac (qaṭṭā/qaṭṭu), not to mention Nubian, Celtic, and Germanic… Plenty of space for specialists in each family to decide its origin is someone else’s problem.

    In Greek, the earliest attestations seem to come from scholia, but figuring out when they actually date to is beyond me right now…

  118. Ha! I had believed that “ur-” as meaning ancient or prototypical was a recent coinage as archaeologists came to recognize Ur as the earliest and prototypical city (I don’t even know whether Ur was ever perceived as such. Perhaps I only believed that because of the interlocking logic of my folk etymology.) Only in reading the etymology of aurochs did I discover that ur- is actually ur-Germanic.

  119. That’s a delightful folk etymology, and I’m sure you’re not the only one to invent it.

  120. David Marjanović says

    auroch

    Och nee. 🙁

    Ur

    A long time ago, on a website far, far away, there was a page on archelology, with lolcat captions on archeology-related pictures. The Standard of Ur was captioned IM IN UR.

    (There was also one on philolsophy. Head-and-shoulder portrait of Adam Smith: INVISIBLE HAND…)

  121. Trond Engen says

    Ryan: reading the etymology of aurochs

    Since you don’t say what your source concludes, I’ll just jump in to note that the ur- in aurochs is hardly ur- “original”. Rather, it’s a Germanic *ūruz or *ūraz “aurochs”, and ochs was added in German. It could well be that the word is not derived from anything and is an unanalysable element meaning “wild ox”.

  122. It had also occurred to me to wonder whether ur– was related to the city name in that way, but I rejected it as impossible, since I knew I had encountered ur– in sources that were too old to be consistent with that origin.

    I also have great sympathy for those who want to use the spelling “auroch,” since the singular “aurochs” still just looks wrong to me. If it were spelled “urox,” I think I would have less of a hard time of it. This may be due to first encountering the mistaken version, the same way “KAOS” from Get Smart left me confused for year about the correct spelling of “chaos.”

  123. Trond Engen says

    Etymologically the u is long, so an actual Modern English cognate might have become ourox.

    (And looking at that, I start thinking about the oryx. Hm. Not strictly an ox, but definitely an aurochnoid.)

  124. and ochs was added in German

    Amusingly also Finnish, where this was loaned as ⁽*⁾uros ‘male’ and which, due to a general rarity of stems inflecting as -os : -oho- (poetic gen.sg. urohon; and still so in Karelian) shifted to the more common inflection type -os : -okse-. No, I have no idea why it isn’t uras as would be expected.

  125. Trond wrote:
    >Since you don’t say what your source concludes, I’ll just jump in to note that the ur- in aurochs is hardly ur- “original”.

    Sigh. My distinguished source was the wiki for aurochs. Naturally, even in setting me right on ur-, it was setting me wrong on the origin of aurochs. Here’s the passage:

    >The word urus (/ˈjʊərəs/; plural uri)[5][6] is a Latin word, but was borrowed into Latin from Germanic (cf. Old English/Old High German ūr, Old Norse úr).[5] In German, OHG ūr “primordial” was compounded with ohso “ox”, giving ūrohso, which became the early modern Aurochs. The modern form is Auerochse.[8]

    At least it cured me of my other folk etymology, that the word had something to do with a mythical “golden ox.”

    Awlee-awlee-awlee-awl-aurochsen-free!

  126. David Marjanović says

    shifted to the more common inflection type -os : -okse-. No, I have no idea why it isn’t uras as would be expected.

    Could it simply be older than the Germanic *o > *a shift?

    OHG ūr “primordial”

    I don’t think so, because it didn’t it diphthongize. (The vowel is long nowadays, but, as a stressed prefix, ur- is a phonological word and would have undergone the Early New High German vowel lengthening of monosyllabic words anyway.)

  127. In Greek, the earliest attestations seem to come from scholia, but figuring out when they actually date to is beyond me right now…

    Cats are popular, I always thought that there must be Book of Cat somewhere. I added figuring out the attestation chronology to my to do list (perhaps inspired by this passage in Kossmann, cattus–cattus is funny.*) and I started from Greek but didn’t/haven’t advanced far.

    An obviously related question is history of domestication**-mutualism-synanthropism-synailourism. It is convenient to think that Romans borrowed the idea from Egyptians and others borrowed from Romans: it would explain the current distribution of the form. But I do not know if it is possible to trace its history. I found a recent publication (pdf, supplements on Nature’s site) in Nature (genetics), and they have teeth samples from the Neolithic. Unfortunaletly they do not describe the archaeological context.

    **Domestication is a somewhat misleading word. I heard that in some East Asian countries cats are present but the common attitude is ‘an animal that can scratch you or something, be careful’. Here (West Eurasia) I know cities where cats approach humans and humans treat them and cities where cats would ran from you if you approach them. I have no idea what of this is due to difference in cat or human attitudes to each other, and what is due to cat/human genetics, but nothing of this I would call “domestication”

  128. Having followed the link to the South Arabian thread link, it struck me that unless he posts under a pseudonym, Trevor has to be one of the most influential lurkers in the hallowed history of bligging.

  129. Yeah, I don’t recall his commenting here, but he follows the site and is a faithful link-sender.

  130. John Cowan says

    but nothing of this I would call “domestication”

    That’s because you have a hold of the right stick, but at the wrong end. It is the cats who have domesticated us. It is we that labor to provide them with food, shelter, and unearned pleasure: “Consider the cats of the house: they toil not, neither do they spin.” (Matt 6:28)

    I don’t even like my present cat, but I can’t give her away (nobody wants her) nor send her to a shelter (given people’s stupid superstitions about black cats). For one thing, my wife is besotted with her even though she bites (and apparently this is not a matter of the cat’s displeasure, but of a reflex of some kind — well are cats named ‘snakes with fur and feet’); for another, I have lived my whole life commensally with cats and simply can’t imagine doing otherwise. Any cat, however, who jumps on my lap finds herself instantly on the floor, so I at least don’t get bitten.

  131. ^at WorldCat^

  132. David Marjanović says

    in Nature (genetics)

    Nature, Nature Ecology & Evolution and Nature Genetics are three separate journals. The latter two are just spinoffs of the first, created mainly to maximize all impact factors (i.e. the most breathtakingly groundbreaking papers on ecology, evolution or genetics still get into Nature).

  133. Sorry, it is Nature Ecology & Evolution, while “genetics” is my attempt to describe how they approach history. I Two occurrences of “Nature” and two sets of parentheses are unintended result of my, apparently unfinished, attempt to make it less ambiguos:(

    The latter two are just spinoffs of the first, created mainly to maximize all impact factors

    I found it funny, and at the same time logical and even reassuring that the lightest and more accessible (more pics and less math) journal is on the top of the hierarchy. But maximizing impact by creating spinoffs goes against this logic…

    breathtakingly groundbreaking” !!!

  134. Was wondering about the conflicting claims of studies from 2016 (ancient Levantine Y-DNA in Chadic speakers) and 2018 (Y-DNA in Chadic speakers all came from Baggara intrusions in historic times), then realized Dmitry Pruss had trumped some of this with a mid-2019 post in this thread.:
    http://languagehat.com/natufian-origin-for-afroasiatic/

    But how much has changed in the two years! There is an abundance of both contemporary tribal and ancient East African DNA now, most recently in a large study of Prendergast et al. (https://reich.hms.harvard.edu/sites/reich.hms.harvard.edu/files/inline-files/Herders_aDNA_published.pdf ), but also Scheinfeldt doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1817678116, documenting successive in-migrations of Levantine and/or North African (at least some of them Afro-Asiatic), later Nilo-Saharan, and much later Bantu herders which part-mixed with the locals and part-pushed them into less accessible habitats.

    Caveat – the study is focused on Kenyan and Tanzanian populations, rather than Chadic-speakers. But the introgression of Levantine/North African DNA into Sudanese populations (seemingly meaning people whose genetics closely resembles people now in Nilotic speaking groups) by 5500 ya is intriguing.

    On the question of what “Levantine/North African” means, and how it might relate to the origins of Afroasiatic:

    Thus, for example, ancestry related to the Chalcolithic Israel reference individuals could plausibly have originated anywhere in northeastern Africa or the Levant and could have been present in northeastern Africa for many thousands of years. We use the Chalcolithic individuals in this study because we lack genetic data from a phylogenetically adjacent reference group from Egypt, Sudan and/or South Sudan, or the Horn.

  135. David Marjanović says

    “breathtakingly groundbreaking” !!!

    Yes. Papers that are merely breathtaking or groundbreaking are not good enough for Nature; if you submit them there, they’ll be reassigned to Nature Something – so the publisher and the brand still profit, without diluting Nature’s impact factor – if they’re not simply rejected.

    (…unless one of the authors was the best man at the editor’s wedding…)

  136. Ryan: Thanks for posting that!

    I’m not sure if I’m interpreting Fig. 3 correctly, but it looks as if they’re saying the (South Nilotic) Maasai are genetically basically half “Eastern Sudanic” and half “Afro-Asiatic” (if we approximate EN1 and EN2 with linguistic labels despite their being genetic categories) – in contrast to the (Surmic) Mursi or (West Nilotic) Dinka, who are predominantly “Eastern Sudanic”.

    Maybe “Nilo-Hamitic” wasn’t a completely stupid idea after all? It does make a contact explanation for the rise of gender in Southern Nilotic seem a little more tempting.

  137. Trond Engen says

    Yes, thanks. I meant to reread the Natufian thread but haven’t had time.

  138. Thanks really goes to Dmitry. I just moved his link here.

    Im still digesting the paper.

  139. Lameen, I suspect you’ll find this one pretty interesting too:

    Population history of North Africa based on modern and ancient genomes
    https://academic.oup.com/hmg/article/30/R1/R17/6025449

    The article is part of an issue of Human Molecular Genetics surveying the genetics of Africa. Much of it is free, too, apparently intended as a basis for discussion in a March international genetics conference that would have been held in Africa, but covid. Some is paywalled, but for instance, I’ve just searched for one of the titles, Genetic Diversity of the Sudanese, and found a free version.

    Here’s something from the North Africa article relevant to this discussion:

    >In addition to these ancient North African Epipaleolithic genomes, five individuals from the Early Neolithic Ifri n’Amr or Moussa (IAM) site were analyzed together with four Late Neolithic samples from Kelif el Boroud (KEB) . IAM individuals (7000 years old) showed close genome-wide affinities with the Tarofalt individuals. This was also supported by the presence of similar mtDNA haplogroups (U6, M1) associated with the back-to-Africa migration, suggesting a continuity between Later Stone Age and Early Neolithic populations in the Maghreb. On the other hand, the genome analysis of the KEB population suggests that it can be modeled as a mixture of IAM and Anatolian/European Neolithic, and it also presents a lower sub-Saharan component than IAM or Tarofalt. Mitochondrial and Y-chromosome haplogroups in these samples are prominently found in Anatolian and European Neolithic samples.

    (They’ve misspelled both Taforalt and Kehf el Boroud. Sigh.)

    So the early Neolithic in North Africa is consistent with Paleolithic genetics, but the later Neolithic is loaded with Middle Eastern genomes. The Kehf el Boroud genomes are actually modeled as 50% Early European Farmer and 50% local ancestry in continuity with Taforalt, per wiki. Kehf el Boroud is from roughly 3700 BC.

    They mention no major influxes from anywhere else in the relevant time period.

    They survey evidence of population flows out of North Africa, but notably mention no pulses in the direction of the Levant,

    They also describe North African Amazighen and Arab genetics as being similar, with heterogeneity and many outliers, but that neighboring populations tend to mirror each other more than people elsewhere to whom they’re culturally connected.

    The issue has several other articles of interest. The Ethiopian paper has a map/plot of ethnic groups showing their affinities to Dinka, the ancient Mota genome (eastern African hunter-gatherer) and Egypt. It’s interesting to see that the Omotic groups do indeed show an average of maybe 25% Egyptian affinity, versus 50% for both Cushitic and Semitic-speaking groups and a small slice of pie in Nilo-Saharan speakers. (Keep in mind these affinities are proxies.)

    I’m fascinated to learn from the Khoisan article that there were Khoisan-speaking itinerant hunter-gatherer/blacksmiths. The Yoruba history I read treated blacksmiths as a favored but fearsome group, because of their ability to transform things, and my sense is that they were esteemed in Europe, but I had just read something earlier today about low-caste ethnic group of eastern African blacksmiths.

    As shown by the unfortunate typos, this issue is not necessarily “breathtakingly groundbreaking” and worthy of Nature. But each article is heavily footnoted, so you can test their assertions easily.

  140. The basic question raised by the above is how did Berber arise, if not via the influx from the Middle East that was present by roughly 3700 BC. They mention no “ghost population” from the wet Sahara, though the modeling can find such ancestry if it exists. No influx from Egypt. And no outflow in the relevant time periods.

    Unless the study of North African genetics has missed an incursion, it seems like you have to either believe the Berber group of Afroasiatic developed in situ starting at the last glacial maximum, independently of the other branches of Afroasiatic, which were all also developing for 18,000 years, on the basis of a proto-Afroasiatic which was already present in some or all of these places; or that Berber’s origin is in a prestige trade language that spread, then later fissured. It’s very hard for me to understand what dynamics would allow a trade language to wipe out the preexisting languages in a pre-state setting with only limited trade.

    There seem to be a lot of coincidences of population movement that align with Out of Natufian, that you have to wave away to believe Afroasiatic Out of Africa. I’m not really competent to address the idea that a language group’s origin should be in the place where it has the greatest diversity of languages and groups. To me, separate movements of Natufian related peoples at widely divergent periods, into Egypt, North African and Ethiopia (more than once), where they found a crazy diversity of substrates that in some cases involved hunter-gatherers whose languages may have been diverging for 70,000 years or more in situ, and interacted with them for centuries in non-state settings where most forces were centrifugal, few were homogenizing…

    The diversity of languages in Africa seems easy to explain, compared to trying to explain why movements of Natufian-related peoples into the places where these languages exist, at roughly the time needed, are all just coincidences.

  141. I guess my remaining issue with the Out of Natufian hypothesis would be: how sure of directionality are we? To spread from the Levant into Africa, Natufians would presumably have had to pass through Egypt in any event – specifically, through the Delta, an area with a relatively poor archeological record exacerbated by shifting coastlines and rivers. Do we actually have enough evidence to say that the “Natufians” went from the Levant into Egypt, rather than from Egypt into the Levant? Or am I missing something here? Linguistically, Egypt seems more parsimonious as a starting point.

    I don’t think anyone has seriously suggested that AA originated in NW Africa; Berber certainly reflects an early expansion from the east. But the question is how far east.

  142. Reading Berezkin’s book on African folklore (in Russian) I’ve got a strange vibe that Africa just isn’t as old or as culturally distant as it should be. (African folklore is poor and overwhelmingly of Eurasian origin, no comparison to uniqueness and richness of Native American or Australian Aboriginal folklore)

    But if we postulate that the entirety of African Neolithic is ultimately of Middle Eastern origin, then, of course, everything falls back into place.

    100% of African population was influenced by/partially descended from the same Eurasian populations which brought agriculture to Europe.

  143. David Eddyshaw says

    African folklore is poor and overwhelmingly of Eurasian origin

    100% of African population was influenced by/partially descended from the same Eurasian populations which brought agriculture to Europe.

    How clever of you to know that! And all from reading just one book!

  144. @Ryan, in another thread I mentioned a paper dealing with the same individuals form Morocco. The authors are different (they write “Taforalt” but “Kelif al Boroud”). I already wanted to mention it here when DM wrote: “Actually, if agriculture reached North Africa as part of the same expansion out of Anatolia that brought agriculture to Europe, and AA reached it later in a pastoral expansion, that would explain why some of the agricultural-substrate words in western Indo-European branches also show up in Berber.“. From another thread:

    Actually there was a study from two sites in Morocco (5000 and 3000 BC) and one site in Iberia (5000) that found European admixture in the younger Moroccan site.

    They offered an interpretation that neolithic tech was first pirated by Morrocans brought to Morocco by diffusion and then more tech came with migration of rights owners.

  145. Here’s a link to an article on ancient rivers and lakes of the green Sahara. https://www.pnas.org/content/108/2/458. The authors do not seem to address the dispersity of the AA populations, but assert that in more recent times much of the Sahara was occupied by Nilotic people.

    Reading these excessively informative maps in an adventurous way, I can see ancestral Berbers being drawn toward lower Tunisia as the Sahara dries, from whence they’d occupy the mountains to the west.

    I’m not sure how this comports with Philip Jose Farmer’s important work, Hadon of Ancient Opar, but he drew a river exactly where the proto-Berbers needed one.

  146. we used the qpAdm software(35,36), which provides a flexible framework for testing admixture models and estimating mixture proportions. Guided by the PCA, we began by using three groups of individuals—present-day Dinka (28), ancient Chalcolithic-period individuals from Israel (25), and the~4500 B.P. forager from Mota, southern Ethiopia(24)—to represent distinct components of ances-try plausibly found in ancient and present-dayeastern Africans, with present-day western Africans among the outgroups

    Can this method detect admixtures, or is it a measure of relative distance?

    When you have populations A, B and C on three islands there are many ways they can be “related”:
    (1) an event: people from islands A and C together colonized island B and created mixed population
    (2) a continuum: all these people coexisted since ever in a situation of eventless equilibrium with constant gene flow. A and C are distant tips of the continuum, B is “average” in many ways because of diffusion.

    [(3) they all descend from a single group of colonizers. The differences are due to (3.1) drift (3.2) founder effect (3.3) intermarriage with different pre-existing populations of the islands
    (4) …. ]

    Can “the qpAdm software(35,36),” distinguish between these scenarios?

    What claims can we make about history when we put into the program DNA from a hunter-gatherer from Mota from ~2500BC, from modern Dinka and from Middle Eastern chalcolithic and the program says: “P value is such and such”?

  147. Drasvi,

    >Can “the apAdm software,” distinguish between these scenarios?”

    There are ways to distinguish those things. It’s beyond my talents and/or commitment to read the studies and be certain of the capabilities of individual software programs, or to be sure that their conclusions are always fully supported by their methods.

    Lameen,

    >Do we actually have enough evidence to say that the “Natufians” went from the Levant into Egypt, rather than from Egypt into the Levant?

    That I’m not certain of. Surprisingly to me, Egypt seems relatively unexplored. Even the “mummy DNA” from 4 years ago turns out be less satisfying than its hype, since it boils down to 3 samples, all from Abusir across several centuries, though their relative consistency is interesting.

    It seems to me that the linguistic argument from diversity has always been that AA developed in the areas of diversity, and that’s what I don’t see supported by other lines of evidence. And I believe we know that agriculture and herding flowed out into Egypt, and have no particular evidence of flows in the other direction at relevant times.

    One of my main problems with AA-OOA is the question of how languages spread in pre-state societies with limited trade. I’m trying to understand the argument that something other than the movement of significant numbers of people relying on some technological advantage would impose relative uniformity of language. The evidence from Egypt only shows one language, and that is surely the language of the rulers, a uniformity that we can assume was imposed by the regime that developed the method of writing we know it from. We can easily believe there may have been many other dialects and even languages from other groups early on, but that over centuries, the regime obliterated them before they ever reached print. It’s easy to understand (hypothetically) how such a situation could evolve after an intrusive Neolithic arrival of AA. We know that Neolithic technologies flowed into Egypt.

    But in the Levant and Mesopotamia, aside from Sumerian, we have Semitic dialects popping up whenever writing shows up, in cities at a distance from each other, that were not subject to the same kind of pre-historic central rule as along the Nile. There is genetic continuity from the Natufians; no known movements of people into the Levant that would establish proto-AA through demic spread; no known technological innovation flowing from Egypt into the Levant that such people could have harnessed to impose themselves, and insufficient state control to understand how a hypothetical pre-literate state that arose in a small area with a small intrusive population of proto-AA speakers could have established Semitic everywhere from Ugarit and Biblos to Akkad.

    Certainly there is reason for skepticism and continued research. But Out of Natufian seems much more parsimonious at this point.

    SFReader, I think despite my argument above, it’s clear that genetically and linguistically, the African Neolithic had many parents. Even if I accepted the idea of a uniformity of folklore, and David’s comment makes me think things are much more complex, it’s not clear to me how such uniformity could have been imposed, with 3 major languages families still extant, two of which no one posits as having Eurasian origins; and clear evidence of genetic continuity with previous populations that is either significant (AA) or massive (NS and NC).

    I think what is more interesting is the idea that African modernity may in fact have been shaped in large part by three or maybe at most a handful of such demic events, those that gave rise to the language groups that seem to have swamped the pre-existing linguistic diversity — AA, Niger-Congo, and whatever one makes of Nilo-Saharan.

    I again ask, in pre-state settings with limited trade goods, how would linguistic uniformity across broad areas arise, except through significant population replacement.

    What we know of Africa is that centrifugal linguistic forces overwhelmed centralizing forces until very recently. Even as Bantu peoples arrived in new areas, their languages rapidly diversified. The same seems to have been true of Chadic peoples, Cushitic peoples. Don’t we have to assume that the spread of Niger-Congo, like the spread of its component Bantu, involved some sort of large-scale change of population in its origins, presumably harnessing either some sort of technological advantage, or perhaps some climatic fluctuation that expanded its archaeological horizon at the expense of those who had exploited other, now declining resources? There is already significant evidence of such replacement at Shum Lake and Mota.

    Otherwise, I’d think we’d see instead of Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan the diversity that we see in the click languages, where we now know that there is in fact genetic affinity between eastern and southern groups, but at a remove in time that matches the untraceable linguistic relations. The very existence of Niger-Congo, and of Nilo-Saharan or whatever smaller N-S groupings one is willing to accept as directly related, seems to require events of demic transition, because we know no other mechanisms by which they would have systematically outcompeted their diverse neighbors in pre-state, limited trade settings.

  148. David Eddyshaw says

    Otherwise, I’d think we’d see instead of Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan the diversity that we see in the click languages

    I think you are seriously underestimating the diversity of both Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan; even those who believe that those are actually valid constructs at all would say that both are very diverse indeed. Indo-European does not begin to compete.

    Bantu is by no manner of means representative of Niger-Congo in this regard: but then Bantu is a sub-branch of a sub-branch of Volta-Congo.

  149. David Eddyshaw says
  150. David Marjanović says

    Good to have confirmation of Early European Farmer ancestry in the Maghreb.

    Maybe “Nilo-Hamitic” wasn’t a completely stupid idea after all? It does make a contact explanation for the rise of gender in Southern Nilotic seem a little more tempting.

    and

    there were Khoisan-speaking itinerant hunter-gatherer/blacksmiths

    and

    To me, separate movements of Natufian related peoples at widely divergent periods, into Egypt, North African and Ethiopia (more than once), where they found a crazy diversity of substrates that in some cases involved hunter-gatherers whose languages may have been diverging for 70,000 years or more in situ, and interacted with them for centuries in non-state settings where most forces were centrifugal, few were homogenizing…

    That reminds me of this Russian paper on Hadza finding that some 20% of the most basic vocabulary of this outlier language, and a bit of the grammar, is AA. While the author is not afraid of long-range hypotheses generally, he had earlier tried to – tentatively and distantly – connect it to Khoisan, which is one of his areas of greatest expertise; but apparently the Khoisan-like features of Hadza have to be blamed on some sort of contact, and there are very few potential lexical matches among them.

    100% of African population was influenced by/partially descended from the same Eurasian populations which brought agriculture to Europe.

    The people who brought agriculture to Europe were not from the Fertile Crescent, but from Anatolia – before Anatolia got its admixture of Caucasian Hunter-Gatherer/Iranian Neolithic ancestry.

    Linguistically, I think that’s where Basque, Minoan and – in situ – Hattic come from.

  151. David Eddyshaw says

    some 20% of the most basic vocabulary of this outlier language, and a bit of the grammar, is AA

    Well, Hadza is bordered by Iraqw:

    https://www.oocities.org/gdvbqz/ling/eafricamap2.gif

    I’d say contact with AA is rather more plausible than contact with “Khoe-San.” In fact, contact with AA is an absolute certainty …

    (though Maarten Mous’ grammar of Iraqw, to be fair, says that currently, at any rate, “there is little contact between these two groups apart from the Iraqw obtaining honey from the Hadza in exchange for tobacco.”)

    It looks like Cushitic groups have been overrun by/assimilated by Nilotic language speakers from farther north in the not too remote past, too.

  152. I have no grasp of the diversity, it’s true. And yet, I think you miss the thrust of my argument.

    There seem to be three major groups that established themselves on the ground across large areas in Africa. We recognize significant centrifugal linguistic forces. And in prehistory, we’re not aware of any centralizing or homogenizing forces other than demic ones.

    Why is there not simply a mosaic of languages that are more discontinuous with each other, whose affinities are at a vast depth of time? Eastern and southern click languages seem to be so unrelated that it’s only possible to recognize their affinity by the sound inventory. And yet genetics seems to show that affinity is not illusory. Why isn’t that true across west Africa or areas of Nilo-Saharan languages? To have groupings at all implies some mechanism for wiping out diversity. Is there a mechanism among bands of hunter-gatherers that would have systematically done that across a region as large as that in which even non-Bantu Niger-Congo is spoken, other than demic replacement?

    Put it this way. At some point, we posit archaic language diversity. Let’s say this is 70kya, and for sake of argument, let’s say there were 26 languages across sub-Saharan Africa (a tremendous simplification, of course), and we’ll name them A, B, C… geographically. By 60 kya, we would expect that each had diversified into A1, A2, A3… A10, and 50kya, A1 had diversified into A11, A12…, as had the others. But some had dropped out, at random, so what survived of language C was not C1 through C100, but C11, C14, C22, C37…

    From what we know of hunter-gatherer society, I would be completely unphased if today, we saw a patchwork of surviving languages — A1147 and A1254; B2121 and B2131, C3454, C9720, no D, but E5157 and E5159. Not an entirely random set of survivors, but one that reflects random replacement through time, and then survivors of those dialects that in turn fracture.

    A fractal set of survivors.

    My point is that I can think of no reason that instead, we see A1147, A1149, A2147, A5147 and a host of other survivals of A, and then no B, C, D, maybe a single E and two languages in F, but then G1113, G2052 and G6457 and a host of other survivals of G.

    In essence, my issue is that the pattern of survival isn’t fractal.

    Even allowing that there are more isolates than the theorists of NC and NS believe, the pattern doesn’t appear to be anything remotely like the fractal pattern we would expect over tens of thousands of years in the centrifugal setting of hunter-gatherer bands.

    It seems that instead, something advantaged Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan. I find it difficult to understand what, if it was not some of the developments of the past 8-10 millennia that created powerful new forces of demic replacement.

    And I fully believe there were such developments in Africa. I don’t think agricultural developments in sub-Saharan Africa are premised on Natufian-related pastoralists having distant cultural memories from a thousand years before. I just think we have to start considering that such developments likely occurred and shaped what we’re seeing, in the relatively recent past.

  153. David Eddyshaw says

    Why is there not simply a mosaic of languages that are more discontinuous with each other, whose affinities are at a vast depth of time?

    But there is; even enthusiasts for Greenberg-style Niger-Congo put the protolanguage at about 12 millennia BP, which to an unbeliever like me is not merely “a vast depth of time” but well beyond anything likely to be amenable to rigorous demonstration, ever. The case with “Nilo-Saharan” is even more stark.

    This supposed uniformity is just an artefact of largely evidence-free lumping. And even the most enthusiastic lumpers recognise that there are unequivocal isolates (like Bangime and Ijaw and Ik) in among all this.

    The case with “Khoe-San” does not seem quite as desperate as you are implying, either. Tom Güldemann thinks that Sandawe may be distantly related to Khoe-Kwadi, and Tuu may turn out to be related to Kxʼa. The proposals are not really any more long-range than those which got prematurely canonised as Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan by Greenberg.

    Why do you suppose that this “uniformity” necessarily arose in deep antiquity, by the way? There is abundant evidence for the spread of languages like Mande, Songhay and Hausa over the last couple of millennia (or even later.) In my own pet area, Oti-Volta, it is notable that there is a sharp drop in language diversity as you go from East to West, which looks very likely to be connected with the rise and expansion of the Mossi-Dagomba states and their very closely related Western Oti-Volta languages over the past six or seven centuries.

  154. >Good to have confirmation of Early European Farmer ancestry in the Maghreb.

    This is a bigger impediment to my AA ideas than I had recognized. The survey paper I was reading in Human Molecular genetics mentioned Natufian affinities for Kelif el Boroud*. And it was the wiki that said “Early European Farmer.” I vaguely thought either the wiki was wrong, or the original study used it as some sort of proxy population.

    But assuming this is the underlying paper:
    https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/191569v2.full.pdf

    … then they explicitly use “European Neolithic”, contrast it with Natufian, though mentioning some small Natufian affinities, and posit an influx from Iberia. Hmm.

    * Are Kehf and Kelif cognates, or different terms that both happen to be applied to this site, because these aren’t typos – each term is used in different but formal and presumably accurate places.

  155. >Why do you suppose that this “uniformity” necessarily arose in deep antiquity, by the way? There is abundant evidence for the spread of languages like Mande, Songhay and Hausa over the last couple of millennia (or even later.) In my own pet area, Oti-Volta, it is notable that there is a sharp drop in language diversity as you go from East to West, which looks very likely to be connected with the rise and expansion of the Mossi-Dagomba states and their very closely related Western Oti-Volta languages over the past six or seven centuries.

    I don’t assume uniformity arose in deep antiquity. Precisely the opposite. I assume deep antiquity had much more diversity, that was erased in the period you’re mentioning, because of recognizable, new centralizing forces of trade, conquest and prestige. I think to understand the growth of NS and NC, we have to consider whether there were similar new forces at play earlier than we are aware of. Because I would expect that hunter-gatherer societies would continue to fracture, and to survive fractally. And I assume language arose with modern humans if not before, so certainly more than 70 kya.

    I do recognize your point about the isolates being more prevalent as a challenge to my ideas. If N-S is not a true grouping, then perhaps the landscape is more fractal.

    But I would again say that the diversity of something like N-S is what I would expect if a group that obtained some technological advantage 12 kya began expanding while merging with the linguistically diverse peoples it could assimilate. Rather than the diversity I would expect from fractality even with an overlay of sprachbunds.

    (And then I read this last paragraph and scoff at the preposterousness that I have any knowledge base for saying it. But I’ll leave it as potentially inspiring new conversation even though it’s an assertion I can’t support. A lot rests on how far we can agree with the lumpers, and how much centralizing a sprachbund can impose in a hunter-gatherer setting.)

  156. David Eddyshaw says

    Pama-Nyungan is substantially less diverse than Greenberg’s Niger-Congo (though as this is itself mysterious, I suppose I may be accused of obscurum per obscurius.) Still, it shows at the very least that hunter-gatherers are well able to spread single language families over a large area. Somehow.

  157. People of both Sahul and the Sahel could cover large distances by cassowary-pulled chariots.

  158. Don’t worry, obscurum per obscurius is the motto of LH.

  159. David Eddyshaw says

    People of both Sahul and the Sahel could cover large distances by cassowary-pulled chariots

    By Jove, I think you’ve cracked it!

  160. Well, Hadza is bordered by Iraqw:” – He says, there is a paper by Elderkin with some 20 parallels with Omotic within the Swadesh list of 100 (and also gender and 1-2 person sg. prounouns).
    Of these he lists 9 “most convincing” (p.9, one paragraph in the center), adds 21 more (pp 9-10) and says that at least those are better than Hadza–Khoi-San parallels. He says, Elderkin’s paper is perhaps the only attempt to compare Hadza with families other than Khoi-San and was ignored unduly (unlike weaker Hadza-Khoi-San comparisons) because Hadza click (which in the context of AA parallels he can only explain with a clicking substrate).
    His proposal is to do nothing until we have decent Afro-Asiatic and Khoi-San etymologic dictionaries:-)

    Derek Elderkin. On the Classification of Hadza. // Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika 4, pp. 67-82, 1982.

  161. David Marjanović says

    Well, Hadza is bordered by Iraqw:

    Yes, and there’s a short list of obvious loans, marketed as such, in the paper. Those are not counted there. Instead, some of the proposed cognates-or-whatever have nontrivial sound correspondences to Cushitic and Omotic, notably Hadza /t͡ɬʼ/ – AA /kʼ/ despite, as is pointed out, Hadza having a /kʼ/.

    Eastern and southern click languages seem to be so unrelated that it’s only possible to recognize their affinity by the sound inventory.

    Perhaps not. (Long paper in English.)

    Note that the author isn’t simply on a quest to prove Greenberg right. Here’s his magnum opus on Nilo-Saharan, where he ends up “suggest”ing a “link” “between East and Central Sudanic, unexplorable under current conditions but faintly suggested by some core evidence (see part 4 for details)”. “The evidence seems weakly suggestive“, italics in the original. Any hope of testing relations between this Macro-Sudanic, Saharan, Koman–Gumuz, Kuliak, Songhay or Shabo is beyond his optimism. “Practical consequences: A deep-level (no less than at least 12,000 years) genetic relationship between ES and CS is potentially explorable — only under the condition that well-elaborated etymological corpora for both ES and CS have been constructed and tested, based on systems of regular correspondences. Exploration of genetic links between ES/CS, on one hand, and Saharan and/or Koman, on the other hand, is likely to be quite unproductive even if reconstructions for Proto-Saharan and Proto-Koman-Gumuz are produced.” “Final conclusions“: “1. There is no, and probably never will be any, solid basic-lexicon-based evidence for «Nilo-Saharan» as originally envisaged by J. Greenberg and further explored by M. L. Bender, C. Ehret, H. Fleming, V. Blažek, and any other expert working on etymological support for the hypothesis. There is, however, some amount of evidence for large taxonomic blocks («stocks») that constitute subdivisions of this linguistic phantom, albeit not necessarily the same subdivisions as postulated by Greenberg and his followers.”

    Actually, the “Nilo-Saharan” situation looks not unlike Ryan’s scenario: very old families – some small, some quite large – that have been in low-level contact since ever.

    Is there a mechanism among bands of hunter-gatherers that would have systematically done that across a region as large as that in which even non-Bantu Niger-Congo is spoken, other than demic replacement?

    Religion has been suggested. I can’t see what else can account for the spread of Pama-Nyungan just about 5000 years ago without, IIRC, a genetic trace. Blench has also suggested it for the spread of Austronesian through Indonesia.

  162. >Actually, the “Nilo-Saharan” situation looks not unlike Ryan’s scenario: very old families – some small, some quite large – that have been in low-level contact since ever.

    That does sound like what I was envisioning, if that’s a more accurate assessment of NS.

    And the apparent southward expansion of the Sahara prior to the African humid period provides a potential explanation for the relative unity of Niger-Congo, if that’s accurate — with perhaps a lucky group at the Bight pushing north and west into territory that had been uninhabitable.

    And yes, on a walk after writing, I considered that religion might be something that could elevate a prestige language among foragers. That seems plausible.

  163. ” Here’s his magnum opus on Nilo-Saharan”

    Actually he has 3 volumes (5, 7 and 8 hundred pages respectively) named: Языки Африки: опыт построения лексикостатистической классификации., about Khoi-San, East Sudanic and NS respectively. 2100 pages by now, and I do not know if he is going to write about, say, Oti-Volta:)

  164. David Eddyshaw says

    I do not know if he is going to write about, say, Oti-Volta

    He’s most welcome to do so, though I suspect he’d find it a bit dull, given that the languages are all unequivocally and uncontroversially related. (Even the most lexically-divergent pair of Oti-Volta languages* show comfortably more than 50% of clearcut matches on the Swadesh 100 list, the noun class systems are very obviously of a common origin, and the outlines, at least of the phonology of the protolanguage are fairly clear, though much remains to be done. Now the verbal system, that’s more of a challenge worthy of a Starostin …)

    * Waama and Hanga. Thanks for asking …

  165. Are Kehf and Kelif cognates, or different terms that both happen to be applied to this site, because these aren’t typos

    Almost certainly “Kelif” is an OCR error for (or human misreading of) “Kehf”. Kehf el Baroud is “cliff (or cave) of gunpowder”; “Kelif” has no remotely appropriate meaning in Arabic.

    As for Nilo-Saharan, earlier this month I managed to present something making the case for Songhay and Saharan being related – and even Saharan by itself is an old enough family that you can barely discern the traces of a common personal pronoun system. NS is no less speculative than Nostratic.

  166. David Eddyshaw says

    An odd thing about Swadesh lists (and broader lexical comparison) in Oti-Volta is that there is very noticeably more agreement among nouns than verbs. I don’t know quite what to make of this, and would be interested in what Hatters can suggest. Anybody know of parallels elsewhere?

    This is true even between Western Oti-Volta and Buli, where pretty much every page of the dictionary shows several obvious cognates; even more so between major branches like Buli/Konni-Yom/Nawdm-WOV on the one hand and Gurma on the other.

    There’s a good dictionary of Moba, the Gurma language which borders on Kusaal, and noun cognates are easy to find, while verb cognates are surprisingly few. I wondered about loanwords complicating the issue (nouns being much more prone to borrowing than verbs, in general) but it so happens that Kusaal and Moba are on opposite sides of a major tonal isogloss within Oti-Volta which makes WOV loans in Moba pretty easy to spot (there actually are a good few.)

    All suggestions gratefully received …

  167. David Marjanović says

    3 volumes

    They’re so intimidating that I never dared look inside! 🙂

  168. That’s hilarious about Kehf and Kelif. Or appalling. The paper I linked to most recently above uses Kelif throughout. Maybe it’s just the biorxiv version, which could have been scanned from a paper copy or maybe received in Word and printed for scanning or something. But doesn’t anyone read it before posting? Or wouldn’t you as the author want to do so, and then correct mistakes that have shown up? Oy.

    Thanks for the further perspective on NS as well.

  169. David Eddyshaw says

    As for Nilo-Saharan, earlier this month I managed to present something making the case for Songhay and Saharan being related

    Is it available anywhere? It sounds very interesting …
    (No problem if not, of course: there are all kinds of good reasons I can think of why it might not be.)

  170. Maybe it’s like some mixed languages, where the vocabulary is resistant to change and the grammar is allowed to shift to something else (as in Kallawaya). That doesn’t make sense in your case though.

    Do the verbs have clear cognates outside the family about as much as nouns do?

  171. Zenith is CVCC too.

  172. David Eddyshaw says

    @Y:

    Thanks!

    After the editing window closed, it did occur to me that, just as nouns are more borrowable than verbs, it might well be the case that if vocabulary remains from a substratum, verbs might be more liable to survive than nouns.

    For Western Oti-Volta, the idea of substrata would make a lot of sense on first principles; it seems very likely that the current geographical range of these languages is a development of the last few centuries. Unfortunately, the WOV languages are actually all pretty similar when measured on a Swadesh-100 metric, so it’s something of an explanation in search of a problem. On the other hand, WOV as a whole has some suggestive features, like what appears to be a radically simplified verbal system, and (judging by diversity) the centre of gravity of Oti-Volta is well to the east, in Benin, so that WOV and Buli/Konni may well be historical intrusions from the east.
    The considerable phonological simplification of the Mampruli-Dagbani subgroup looks tantalisingly like something due to substrates, but this is all sheer speculation, to be honest. The loss of grammatical gender based on the noun classes can’t be projected back to Proto-WOV, because the system is alive and well in Farefare and Boulba, but its loss elsewhere is the sort of thing it’s tempting to “explain” by substrates. As the loss is unique to WOV within Oti-Volta*, it’s by no means a “natural” tendency within the group, so it perhaps does call for some sort of explanation of that kind.

    It’s not at all obvious what any substrate languages would have been, though Grusi and Mande must be the likeliest candidates. Mande has no grammatical gender or relevant verb flexion; Grusi languages have both, but sufficiently different from Oti-Volta that one can easily imagine an adult Grusi-speaking learner of an Oti-Volta language deciding to dispense with the details …

    It’s a bit hard to say whether verbs have clear cognates outside the Oti-Volta family to the same extent as nouns, because there are not all that many cognates reconstructable to Volta-Congo overall, and the verbs that are so reconstructable are typically found in all the Oti-Volta branches: they’re not the puzzlingly variable ones, but are old dependables like “eat” and “drink” which stretch all the way from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.

    It is the case that some of the verbs that don’t match within WOV itself have cognates in the non-Western branches: for example “be lying down” in Mampruli-Dagbani is do, with cognates in all the other Oti-Volta branches except Byali, but not in the rest of WOV itself (Kusaal digi, Mooré gãe …)

    * Well, nearly; Moba seems to be showing signs of contamination by WOV over the past thirty years; agreement was rigorous in the 1990’s, but is now only a feature of dependent adjectives and not of referring pronouns any more.

  173. Does OV commonly have nouns which are clearly fossilized deverbals?

  174. David Eddyshaw says

    No; all the languages (at least all of those for which I have seen good enough descriptions to say) have productive ways of creating deverbal nouns of various kinds, but there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of fossils. Kusaal (like English) has quite a number of agent nouns with idiosyncratic meanings not immediately obvious from the verb meaning, but people still associate them with the relevant verb (e.g. sūn “close observer” from sùn “bow one’s head.”)

    Yugudir “hedgehog” looks as if it ought to be an agent noun or instrument noun from a verb yug, but there is no such verb in Kusaal; and neither Kusaal yugus “sprinkle” (which could be a pluractional derivative of the unattested *yug) nor Mooré yugi “proclaim the royal succession” looks very helpful …

    That’s about all I can come up with, at least in Kusaal …

  175. Is it available anywhere?

    It will be soon; I’ll try to remember to post the link here.

    Yugudir “hedgehog”

    Reminds me of Songhay akugun. I don’t suppose there are any old *k > y changes in Kusaal?

  176. David Eddyshaw says

    Sadly, no.

    The y- could go back to *ʎ- (as it does in yʋgʋm “camel”) , which would correspond to Nawdm r-, but the actual Nawdm word for “hedgehog” is legiilŋa.

    To make life even more complicated, the Mooré yʋgempende “hedgehog” has a variant zʋgempende (the second element is presumably pende “lower abdomen”, cognate with Kusaal pɛn “vagina.”) It confirms at least that the -d- of Kusaal yugudir “hedgehog” is some sort of derivational suffix, but that is actually clear in any case from the general principles governing Kusaal noun stem formation.

    There is a Kusaal verb zug “blow bellows”, but that doesn’t look like a plausible root for “hedgehog” either to me.

    There are no regular z/y alternations in WOV, but /z/ is of at least two distinct Oti-volta origins, */z/ and */ɟ/.

  177. David Eddyshaw says

    Now I look at it, Mooré yʋgempende “hedgehog” is segmentally identical to “camel belly”; however, the tones are wrong, which in these languages is as big an issue as the vowels or consonants being wrong. Also, if hedgehogs resemble camel bellies, I can’t see it myself …

    I suppose that it might at a pinch be that an original zʋgempende had got changed to yʋgempende by analogy with yʋgemde “camel”, but it seems improbable on the Kusaal side that an original *zugudir “hedgehog” would become yugudir under the influence of yʋgʋm “camel.”

    On the other hand, the -ʋ- of Mooré yʋgempende is unexpected: the Kusaal has /u/ not /ʊ/. That might reflect contamination from yʋgemde

  178. David Eddyshaw says

    Mampruli yugumpiinni “hedgehog” has a second component which looks like it either is, or has been remodelled on, piimni “arrow”, which at least makes some sort of sense. Moreover, Naden cites a Mampruli proverb Yugumpiinni kuri piima n-kɔŋŋi lɔkku “The hedgehog forges arrows but has no quiver”, which confirms the hedgehog-prickle = arrow thing.

    The Farefare for “hedgehog” is yũmpɛɛŋa, and “arrow” is pɛɛfɔ, plural pɛɛma; I don’t understand the loss of -g-, but the formation looks much like the Mampruli otherwise; -pɛɛŋa is just the “arrow” stem inflected in the ga/si noun class (which contains many animal names) instead of the fɔ/i class.

    The -pende of Mooré yʋgempende “hedgehog” could, in hindsight, actually be a by-form of peemde “arrow”, though then the plural yʋgempɛla must have been remodelled by analogy with “belly.”
    [The stem of “arrow” often alternates CVC/CVVC, cf Kusaal piim “arrow”, plural pima, and the vowel quality alternations make sense, as the word originally belonged to the u/i “long thin things” noun class, obsolete in WOV, where the plural -i causes “umlaut” of unrounded vowels to /i/ in WOV; this /i/ is then very often backported into the singular form as well, particularly when the plural is commoner than the singular in any case.]

    The Dagaare for “hedgehog” is zampoŋ. I give up with that one. Dagaare is the French of Western Oti-Volta.

  179. Wow, I love seeing this kind of thing worked out with examples like that.

  180. I was wondering if introduction of horses to the Plains Indian society could serve as a model for Savanna Pastoral Neolithic.

    Extremely rapid cultural diffusion – adoption of horses by different peoples speaking lots of unrelated languages without any genetic mixing.

    Could be similar to what happened to African hunter-gatherers when they saw cattle, sheep and goats for the first time.

    However, the Plains Indian model is incomplete, it’s evolution was forcibly interrupted by the US Government, so we don’t know what would have been the end result. Maybe one tribe would have conquered the Plains and imposed its language, resulting in linguistic uniformity similar to demic diffusion.

  181. David Eddyshaw says

    “Goat” is probably reconstructable for Proto-Volta-Congo, though this is uncertain (it depends on the reconstruction of a stem-final consonant, and I can currently find no other example for the correspondence at that level.)

    “Cow” certainly isn’t; there is a very widespread stem *nag- “cow” in West Africa, but if I remember right, the Bantu words are thought to be borrowed from Afro-Asiatic.

    “Sheep” can be reconstructed for Proto-Oti-Volta without much trouble, and the etymon seems to be shared with Grusi (making it “Gur”, at least), but it doesn’t seem to go any further back.

  182. David Eddyshaw says

    I didn’t remember right, in fact: Nurse and Hinnebusch’s Swahili and Sabaki: A Linguistic History says Common Bantu *-gòmbè “cow” is from “Central Sudanic.”

    A loan, anyhow.

    Horses are not much in evidence in West Africa, on the whole. In the Guinea zone that’s because of sleeping sickness. In the Mossi-Dagomba cultural zone they are very strongly associated with chieftaincy. A compound with a horse tethered outside belongs to a chief.

    The word for “horse” can’t be reconstructed for Proto-Oti-Volta, though it can for Proto-Western.

  183. in Oti-Volta (…) there is very noticeably more agreement among nouns than verbs

    just as nouns are more borrowable than verbs, it might well be the case that if vocabulary remains from a substratum, verbs might be more liable to survive than nouns

    Not really the case in any vocabulary-leaving substrate situation I’m familiar with. In Swadesh-list vocabulary a possible issue is that there are at least proportionally more verbs in there that are prone to full, partial or near-synonymy — ‘pull’, ‘push’, ‘throw’, ‘rub’, ‘turn’, ‘flow’… — than nouns. This could leave a relatively random loss-or-retention pattern across daughters, even when there is no major morphology-driven replacement going on. Of course this would predict being able to find some semantically divergent verb comparisons. Compare already the English examples: e.g. pull < ME ‘to pluck’ apparently ~ Low German pulen ‘to shell, husk’, while ziehen < PG *teuha- has no well-known ModE cognate; or throw < OE ‘to twist, turn’ (transitivity??) ~ German drehen ‘turn, rotate’. The last-mentioned two verbs both have indeed PIE ancestry (√dewk-, √terh₁-), but end up being lost altogether also in modern Nordic as far as I can see.

    I’m working on a Best Preserved Uralic Roots list currently and a checkup comes up with 59/205 verbs; not an especially bad haul per se, but already including e.g. three verbs that might have meant ‘to go’, three ‘to leave’, two ‘to hit’, two ‘to cut’ and two ‘to tie’. Competing synonyms for nouns only have pairwise cases: two each of ‘pole’, ‘bark’ and ‘mouth’, as well as ‘root, vein’ | ‘vein, sinew’ and ‘breath, soul’ | ‘soul, self’; adjectives have two cases of ‘dry’ and possibly ‘big’.

  184. David Marjanović says

    pɛn “vagina.”

    I like that.

    The Dagaare for “hedgehog” is zampoŋ. I give up with that one. Dagaare is the French of Western Oti-Volta.

    Speaking of French, there never was that much motivation to call every fox Reginhard either…

    without any genetic mixing

    What about the Kiowa-Apache?

  185. David Eddyshaw says

    In Swadesh-list vocabulary a possible issue is that there are at least proportionally more verbs in there that are prone to full, partial or near-synonymy — ‘pull’, ‘push’, ‘throw’, ‘rub’, ‘turn’, ‘flow’… — than nouns. This could leave a relatively random loss-or-retention pattern across daughters, even when there is no major morphology-driven replacement going on

    That looks pretty plausible; and in that case you would presumably expect to see the phenomenon fairly widely across different language families. Your Uralic data suggest that that may indeed be the case. Very interesting.

  186. David Marjanović says

    ziehen < PG *teuha- has no well-known ModE cognate

    Tow?

    (Verner’s law applies: ziehen, zog, gezogen; the Bavarian dialects have even generalized the |g|.)

  187. David Marjanović says

    throw < OE ‘to twist, turn’ (transitivity??) ~ German drehen ‘turn, rotate’.

    That development is parallelled on the other side by warp ~ werfen “throw”.

    Drehen is transitive, to make it intransitive you need sich drehen; etymologically it’s *drājan with the famous causative/more-or-less transitivizing suffix, explaining the Bavarian /a/ (< MHG /æː/ < Proto-West-Gmc /aːj/).

  188. The Kiowa Apache weren’t (aren’t) a mixed group but a band of Apache that joined the Kiowa without abandoning their language.

  189. David Eddyshaw says

    I’ve just discovered that Roger Blench’s Archaeology, Language and African Past, that drasvi kindly pointed to above, contains the following words from Samuel Johnson himself, no less:

    There is no tracing the connection of ancient nations but by language; and therefore I am always sorry when any language is lost, because languages are the pedigree of nations. If you find the same language in distant countries, you may be sure that the inhabitants of each have been the same people; that is to say, if you find the languages are a good deal the same; for a word here and there the same will not do.

    Preach it, Sam!

  190. In Modern English, out of 18 verbs in the 100 Swadesh list, two are Norse borrowings (die, kill), and one is a semantic usurpation (walk).

  191. We did not know death until the Vikings brought their devastation.

  192. David Eddyshaw says

    The “be lying down” example from Western Oti-Volta that I cited above contains a likely case of semantic usurpation: Mooré gãe could very well be the same etymon as the root of Kusaal gbɛɛnm /g͡bɛ̃:m/ “sleep”; the reduction of the labiovelar stop to a velar in Mooré is regular, as is the monophthongisation in Kusaal, the tones work, and the semantic shift seems believable enough.

    Farefare and Dagaare have the same etymon as Mooré, though the three languages don’t seem to constitute a branch of WOV together; it’s difficult to be sure with so many criss-crossing isoglosses.

    No idea about Kusaal digi though. It’s confined to the two Kusaals, and seems to have no cognates anywhere else, not even in Nabit, which is so like Toende Kusaal that they would probably be regarded as dialects of one another if the politics were different. The verb digi has got the whole set of regular inchoative and causative derived forms that other body-position verbs do, and belongs to the minority imperfective-only conjugation just like the others, so it doesn’t seem likely to be a recent loan or anything of that kind.

  193. ziehen < PG *teuha- has no well-known ModE cognate

    If Etymology Online is to be believed, “tug”:

    c. 1200, from weak grade of Old English teohan “to pull, drag,” from Proto-Germanic *teuhan “to pull” (source also of Old High German zucchen “to pull, jerk,” German zücken “to draw quickly), from PIE root *deuk- “to lead.”

  194. In Russian “hedgehog” is two letters (and there are not many such words) and the long English word always seems weird to me. I was getting used and even began to see some prickly quality to the word, but then I learned ‘hog” and realized that it is a learned compound (inspired by porcupine?) and it became weird agian.


    But we have a compound for porcupine, which in modern Russian folk-etymologizes as “wildimage”.
    This is weirder.

  195. From the same thread:

    Dikobraz seems like a good spiky word. I learn from Google Translate that Russian has a very cute (but not so spiky) two-letter word for hedgehog.

  196. David Eddyshaw says

    “Porcupine” is monosyllabic in Kusaal: sɛɛnm /sɛ̃:m/.

    Conceivably, it’s related to sɛn /sɛ̃/ “sew”, though the actual word for “needle” is furipiim “clothes-arrow.”

  197. David Eddyshaw says

    (There are a handful of agent-noun-like deverbal nouns made with -m, like zɔɔm “refugee, fugitive” from “run”, though the regular formant for agent nouns is the suffix -d.)

  198. but for some reason dikobraz just didn’t sound like a porcupine.Obráz (with this stress) is mostly found in modern scientific compounds with connective -o-, with the meaning -oid. naukoobrázno “scient-oid-ly” (about somethign that can be science or not, but has appearance of science). The word is self-referential. Also in bezobráznyj “ugly” (image-less).

    This is why “wildimage”: if we represent the hiatus in naukoobrazno with the space in “wild image”, “wildimage” will reflect my discomfort with dikobraz.

  199. Wiktionary among the “proto-Slavic” meanings of the “wild” part (dik-) lists “wild animal, especially wild boar”. Modern Polish dzik “1. wild boar, 2. (colloquial) unmannerly, uncivilized, or antisocial person”, dziki “wild, untamed”. I am not familliar with such usage in Russian but the old texts that I read did not deal with boars, and the one that did uses vepr’ for a boar and koni dikiě for “horses wild”.

    It is possible that the author of the word meant “boar”.

    Regarding obraz, it can mean in Slavics “image, face, shape, appearance, icon, picture” (and as Wiktionary kindly informs, in Romanian slang also “buttock”, cf. Romanian obraz “cheek”, Makedonian “cheek”, Serbo-Croatian “cheek, honour, face*”, and Bulgarian “image, shape, face, character”).

    Likely it indeed means image here, but technically ob- is “about, around” and -raz- is “hit, strike, pound” (could the meaning come from “imprint/impression”? Cf. Greek τύπος and type). Cf. also -rez- “cut”.

    So technically, a usage (unknown to me) where it is related to spikes could have developed but I do not think so.

    –_
    *Compare the famous (from A Pub Opened on Deribasovskays [street]):

    “and he spoke as poets speak:
    ‘I advise you to take care about your portraits!’ ”

    …and then the fight began.

  200. David Eddyshaw says

    Wiktionary among the “proto-Slavic” meanings of the “wild” part (dik-) lists “wild animal, especially wild boar”

    Evidently a loanword from the Kusaal dɛɛg “warthog.”

  201. “Take care of” I meant. I just typed this postscriptum in a hurry. Anyway, “keep safe” is maybe better. I do not know. Я б вам советовал беречь свои портреты.
    P.S. and “would advise”.

  202. On semantics-motivated splitting of etymologies, I recommend also Starostin Jr.’s 2013 paper on lexicostatistics as a basis for language classification where he discusses e.g. a related process of Unilateral Independent Semantic Development as being to blame for apparent proto-synonymy arising for unexpected items in the first place.

    Tow?

    Same root of course (also tug which makes my Old Norse loan senses tingle), just not the same ablaut or Verner grade.

  203. David Eddyshaw says

    Interesting paper, thanks!

    He makes a goodish case for lexicostatistics having some value if kept firmly under control. It eases my conscience a bit about my dabbling with Swadesh lists in Oti-Volta, where I’ve seen fit to discard inconvenient outcomes when they seem grossly at variance with better evidence for subgrouping, but snuck in lexicostatistics as a help to estimating the relative length of the various branches (as opposed to defining the branching in the first place.) The main thing that seems to come out of that is that “Eastern Oti-Volta” is not at all parallel to Western Oti-Volta, but really on the same sort of level as the grouping you could make by putting WOV, Yom/Nawdm and Buli/Konni together as one branch, and that actually does seem to match pretty well with morphological and phonological evidence for subclassification too. Mostly … matters are further complicated by the fact that the Atakora region of Benin, where the Eastern Oti-Volta languages live, is simultaneously the area of greatest diversity within Oti-Volta and also quite evidently a Sprachbund (as revealed by Boulba, a WOV language which has wandered into the area and picked up some of the local habits, like devoicing or otherwise getting rid of most of the voiced stops and fricatives.)

  204. David Eddyshaw says

    Wiktionary among the “proto-Slavic” meanings of the “wild” part (dik-) lists “wild animal, especially wild boar”

    (Reprise)

    This actually reminds me of the Welsh dig “angry”, for which GPC does not hazard an etymology. That would be the expected outcome of *dʰiHkos too, and the meaning looks closer to “wild” than Lithuanian dykas “empty, free, vacant” does.

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Slavic/dik%D1%8A

  205. David Marjanović says

    It is possible that the author of the word meant “boar”.

    Compare Stachelschwein, “porcupine”, literally “sting pig”.

    also tug which makes my Old Norse loan senses tingle

    Looks like an iterative that forms part of a Kluge mess to me. Also regional German zocken “gamble, esp. with cards”.

  206. Stu Clayton says

    Compare Stachelschwein, “porcupine”, literally “sting pig”

    I would agree if pigs were bees, and I were bitten by one. The bit of apian anatomy responsible was called a “stinger” in Texas, I maybe remember.

    In my books a Stachelschwein is a spiney pig.

  207. John Emerson says

    I suspect that given time, on the American steppe the equestrian Sioux. Comanche, Apaches, and Navajo would eventually have overwhelmed the sedentary earth lodge peoples in the north (the Arikara, Mandan, and Hidatsa, who were seriously weakened already by the middle of the XIXc) and maybe the Pueblo tribes in the south (Zuni, Hopi, et al).

  208. PlasticPaddy says

    @je
    Was it the objective of these tribes to replace the sedentary tribes or even rule them? I thought it was more like Arab raiders in Africa or Viking raiders in some places: burn a village, steal some women and slaves, come back in a few years and do it again….

  209. Yes, that’s what I meant: with such an abundance of

    – hedge, pike, spike, pin, spine, tine, brod, iron, sea urchin, hengehog and other
    – pigs, swines, boars, pork, and what not

    …it is possible that the author of the Russian word meant a pig (even if I do not know this meaning from Russian texts as such, only from Polish). We do not have porcuines here, likely he was translating a book.

    If it was from Latin or Greek, I honestly do not know what were the main book Latin and Greek words for porcupine:(

    Interestingly, Greek χήρ “hedgehog” (one of Greek words for “hedgehog”) seems to be related to Greek χοῖρος “pig”.

  210. jack morava says
  211. John Emerson says

    –> Plastic Paddy.

    I don’t think that replacing the sedentary tribes was the objective, but I think that they equestrian raids would put such a load on these peoples that they couldn’t survive. They were economically pretty marginal already and not a rich source of plunder. I know that the Comanche plundered Texas and Mexico on an ongoing basis, but these were populous and relatively wealthy societies. It may be that the southern peoples (“Pueblo Indians”) were geographically defensible enough to survive, but they weren’t wealthy.

  212. David Marjanović says

    Ah, yes, “spine” and to a lesser extent “spike” are better translations in this case.

  213. hedge, pike, spike, pin, spine, tine, brod, iron, sea urchin, hengehog and other

    I mean, Wiktionary, “hedgehog”:

    En. hedgehog, Danish pindsvin, Norvegian piggsvin Faroese tindasvín, Icelandic broddgöltur (hedge, pin, pike, tine, brod), West Frisian ychelbaarch “hedgehog pig”, Swedish, Icelandic igelkott, igulkøttur (Wiktionary explains the first part as Old Norse “sea urchin”, but it is the germanic root for “hedgehog”. I do not know which of these two they meant when they began using the compound.)

    “porkupine”:
    ystervark “ironpig” (also German Stachelschwein, Dutch stekelvarken, Finnish piikkisika etc.)

  214. Vasmer says on дикобраз:
    по-видимому, из *дико-образ или, судя по ударению, обратное образование от прилаг. дикообра́зный, т. е. “(зверь) дикого образа, вида”, meaning
    “apparently, from *дико-образ or, judging by the stress, the reverse formation from the adj. дикообра́зный, that is, “(beast) of a wild image, species”.
    In contemporary Russian дикий can also mean “strange, weird”, but I don’t know how old that meaning is.

  215. Etymologies of Serbo-Croatian дикобраз and Czech dikobraz are wonderful:

    “Serbo-Croatian, дикобраз : Borrowed by Bogoslav Šulek from Czech dikobraz. ”
    “Czech, dikobraz: Borrowed from Russian дикобра́з (dikobráz) by Jan Svatopluk Presl;[1] from ди́кий (díkij, “wild”) + о́браз (óbraz, “looking”).”

    Wish PIE reconstructions were like this:)

  216. @Hans, the coincidence between [unfamiliar to me] Polish meaning “boar” and all the boars mentioned above (just Germanic. There are also Romance porc-épic, porcospino / porco-espinho / puercoespín, Bolgarian and Sorbian, Irish (torcán) etc.) is too suspicious.

    —————————–

    And sorry for writing that much about pigs, but I have many questions now:

    1) why there are THAT many synonims for a “thorn”?

    Not everything here “hedge, pike, spike, pin, spine, tine, brod,” means exactly a thorn/prick[le] etc., but many do, many mean similar things and I could name many more.

    2) what is the English cognate of Stachel/stekel?

    3) why there are so many synonyms for “pig”? Seriously, both English and Russian have many pig words.

    4) why so many peoples called hedgehog by such a compound?
    I mean, at least in the southern part of Russia a hedgehog is an animal you find in your own garden. It is a very basic animal…

    5) the same question to Romance porcupine words: did they actually meant a porcupine in the Middle Ages, or did they mean “hedgehog” like Germanic words with the same meaning?

    If the former, then why such similarity to Germanic? If the latter, then what was wrong with Latin er?

  217. Someone should package this into a transcendant essay — the world’s languages have many wonderful etymologies for hedgehog, but only one for fox.

  218. Wonderful! (Hedgehog/fox at LH.)

  219. David Eddyshaw says

    Yet “fox” is also multiform:

    http://languagehat.com/proto-indo-european-fox/

  220. David Eddyshaw says

    I have a Kusaal word sakarʋg “fox” in my materials, but I don’t know what species it refers to exactly. I didn’t think to make further enquiries … It’s not in the dictionaries. I’m sure it’s a real word for some sort of fox-like animal (it looks like a fox in the illustration in the booklet I got it from, where it’s also described as prone to stealing chickens) but my informant may have been wrong about the meaning.

    Mooré waaga is glossed as Vulpes pallida “sand fox” in Niggli’s dictionary, but the range of the sand fox seems a bit too far north for Ghana.

    The Kusaal Bible renders “fox” throughout as piif, which is definitely not a fox at all, but a genet. It probably means that foxes are not everyday familiar animals to the Kusaasi, though.

  221. David Eddyshaw says

    Tony Naden’s dictionaries imply that “fox” in Ghanaian English actually means “jackal”, which would explain a lot: it wasn’t that my informant was wrong, but that I misunderstood him. The picture in the booklet would do for a jackal (it’s not exactly photorealistic.) But the usual word for “jackal” is wɛbaa “bush-dog.”

  222. David Marjanović says

    I just noticed I missed a whole bunch of comments here.

    The Kiowa Apache weren’t (aren’t) a mixed group but a band of Apache that joined the Kiowa without abandoning their language.

    Yes, I just figured there’d be some intermarriage.

  223. @Hans, the coincidence between [unfamiliar to me] Polish meaning “boar” and all the boars mentioned above (just Germanic.
    Yes, I had seen that. The word дикобраз cannot be very old, it should be possible to find out when and by whom it was coined. That said, if it really was formed on the pattern of the other “pig” words, I would expect “pig” as second compound element, not as first.

  224. It is absent from the dictionary of Russian langauge of XI-XVII centuries. It is in the dictionary of XVIII century.

    The earliest reference there is to a sexalingual dictionary of Poletika a translation of John Ray‘s trilingual nomenclator classicus (he added Russian, French and German glosses to English, greek and Latin).

    Poletika was… hm. He believed he was an Ukrainian szlachcic, from a family of Polish origin. Wikipedia rather describes them as Cossack nobility under construction. Anyway, they became Russian nobility (at the moment a branch of that family with a slightly different family name Politkovskie are more noticeable). He studied in Kiev and worked in SPb. It partly confirms my version: if the word was coined in Russian by a translator under influence of Polish usage, it must be a Kievan translator.

    But I am far from insisting that he coined it in the sense of swinoid [confused by Hystrix, porc-epic, Schweinigel, Stachelschwein, porcupine]

  225. David Marjanović says

    Wait. Is hystrix “porcupine” hys “pig” + thrix “hair”…?!?

    at the moment a branch of that family with a slightly different family name Politkovskie are more noticeable

    …Ah. Yes.

  226. Poletika was… hm. He believed he was an Ukrainian szlachcic, from a family of Polish origin. Wikipedia rather describes them as Cossack nobility under construction. Anyway, they became Russian nobility …
    He studied in Kiev and worked in SPb. It partly confirms my version: if the word was coined in Russian by a translator under influence of Polish usage, it must be a Kievan translator.

    Not only Polish influence, дик actually means “wild boar” in Ukrainian as well. So you may be on to something. So the only remaining question is why he didn’t go for “hair” or “spike” as the second element when he coined the word.

  227. Dikobraz , at least in BCSM, is totally opaque – “dik-” might bring up “dika” (pride) instead of divlj- (wild) but the real issue is “obraz” is most likely to be interpreted as “cheek” or else “face/reputation”, and while it can mean something like “form” in some cases, no one would understand X-obraz to mean “X-like”.

    This is probably why the more common name for it nowadays is “bodljikavo prase” (spiky pig).

  228. I always understood that the sedentary Plains tribes declined because, after the introduction of the horse, you could simply live a lot better by buffalo hunting than by farming in that climate.

  229. John Emerson says

    Rodger C: The ideal grazing land is about the same as the ideal wheatland, and ND is today one of the world’s great wheatgrowing areas. The Mongols didn’t practice agriculture just because it was easier to extort grain from the Chinese, but the Scythians, remembered as mounted barbarians, were also important wheat exporters. It is my theory that the primary reason for the dedication of large areas to pasture in various periods is the military advantage of cavalry. Once raiding is stopped, the same lands go to cropland. (Incidentally, China and India are by far the world’s great wheat-growing nations today).

    The Dakota (Sioux) came from further east, driven partly by the Chippewa (Anishanabe), who had better access to firearms during a key period. According to Hamalainen (“The Comanche Empire”) horses gradually diffused in the American west only after the Pueblo Uprising of 1680, but it didn’t seem to take long for the Comanche and Dakota to develop their versions of the nomad lifestyle.

  230. @Hans, it is hard to prove that that disctionary was the frist book to use the word. I am not convinced.
    And the author who studied in Kiev still worked in Petersburg. He translates “boar” with вепрь, кабан, дикая свинья.

    But as I said, the coincidence is very suspicious. If it is possible to prove that his dictionary was the first Russian text to use the word, we can’t of course know his logic, but we know what text he was dealing with.
    Porc-epic and porcupine with an obscure second part were before his eyes. Stachelswein and hystrix too.

    —–

    It is 1763. I tried to check earlier dictionaries. Teutsch-lateinisches und russisches Lexicon: samt denen Anfangs-Gründen der Russischen Sprache, 1731 (based on Ehrenreich Weismann’s Lexikon bipartitum latino-germanicum et germanico-latinum. The preface is funny: it warns readers that it is full of mistakes, that it is the first thing (das erste) published is Russian, that it took 40 years to compile the Dictionnaire de l’academie Française and it still has mistakes, that due to the lack of perfect knowlege of German authors relied on Latin, and that mistakes will be corrected in next editions and for this they ask readers’ help. In other words, it is a Wiktionary):

    Stachel-Schwein, hystrix, морская свинья, ужъ морскïи.

    The second edition (corrected by readers) of 1782:

    Stachel-Schwein, hystrix, морская свинка.

  231. In modern Russian:

    морская свинья “porpoise” (Meerschwein. mereswine*)
    морская свинка “guinea pig” (Meerschweinchen)
    уж “Natrix”
    морской уж – I have no idea what it could mean back then, now people who deal with the sea naturall call this way уж that lives there (Natrix tessellata)
    —-
    * from Wiktionary:

    From Middle English porpeys, purpeys, borrowed from Anglo-Norman porpeis, purpeis, Old French pourpois, porpois, pourpais, porpeis (“porpoise”), from Vulgar Latin *porcopiscis (“porpoise”, literally “pig-fish”), from Latin porcus (“pig”) + piscis (“fish”). Compare (in transposed order) obsolete Italian pesce porco and Portuguese peixe porco; also Latin porcus marinus (“sea hog”), akin in formation to German Meerschwein, English mereswine. More at mereswine.

  232. in a dictionary, published in Amsterdam in 1700:

    Simius, Simia | ко́тъ мо́рскïи , о̑бе[з]ъѧ́на | Aap Meerkat

  233. Btw, on the age of Nilo-Saharan: I just noticed that George Starostin argues (using the Starostin version of lexicostatistics) that Proto-Nubian-Nara-Tama by itself – ie, a sub-branch of a sub-branch (East Sudanic) of the putative Nilo-Saharan phylum (of whose existence he remains unconvinced) – is older than Indo-European by a good millennium.

  234. David Eddyshaw says

    морская свинья “porpoise” (Meerschwein. mereswine*)

    “Porpoise” in Welsh is the poetic llamhidydd “leaper, acrobat.”

    https://cy.wikipedia.org/wiki/Llamhidydd

    Y Geiriadur Mawr misleadingly glosses this math o bisgodyn mawr sy’n llamu o’r dŵr, môr-fochyn “a kind of big fish [sic] which leaps out of the water, sea-pig”, but doesn’t actually define môr-fochyn “sea-pig” anywhere. I may have to ask for my money back.

  235. David Eddyshaw says

    Proto-Nubian-Nara-Tama

    Another interesting paper! Sarostin’s method would (I think) put Proto-Oti-Volta at about 4000 YBP, which seems a bit early given how much of the protolanguage is still fairly easily reconstructable (it’s nothing like Indo-European levels of difficulty) but is by no means impossible.

    Sarostin references in passing Roger Blench’s

    https://www.rogerblench.info/Language/World/Blench%20CALL%20Leiden%202011%20ppt.pdf

    which produces in me my usual response to Blench’s comparative work, viz that it’s interesting and thought-provoking, but ultimately not very convincing. (His implication that three-term number marking is common in Gur languages is false; there are some forms here and there, which look as if they originated as singulatives in some cases, but that’s it; and Welsh has a lot more singulatives than any Gur language I know of, but this is probably not due to Nilo-Saharan influence …)

    Having said that, I think his argument, if you follow it through, actually undermines a central plank of Greenberg’s Niger-Congo, which is that the Niger-Congo noun class systems are so typologically exceptional that their presence is enough to prove the genetic unity of the group. If, in fact, Niger-Congo-like noun class systems spread to (parts of) Niger-Congo under the influence of “Nilo-Saharan”, there seems to be no reason why this process should have been limited to languages which were, in fact, already genetically related to one another in the first place.

    I was actually thinking about this when comparing the Oti-Volta noun class system with Bantu. In both cases there are numerous sg/pl affix pairings which can be securely reconstructed to the respecting protolanguages: but the striking thing when you look at them without any preconceptions is that the great majority don’t match. The only classes that clearly do match (and in other Volta-Congo languages, too) are the “human” class (-a/-ba) in Kusaal, one very common non-human class (-re/-a in Kusaal) and the “liquid” class (-m in Kusaal.) Even within Oti-Volta, there are clear signs of classes having split into formally distinct subclasses in some individual branches (Nateni and Ditammari are unique in all of Oti-Volta, if not all of Volta-Congo, in having a “fire” class separate from the “water” class), mergers in other branches, and wholesale transfers of certain semantic groups from one class to another (Western Oti-Volta, with the sole exception of Boulba, has bodily transferred all “tree” names from a bu/di class to the ga/si class.)

    In other words, the noun classes do not function, diachronically, like the Indo-European declensions; they form dynamic, shifting relationships with one another which have nothing to do with historical phonological changes.* And all this, within a single group of undoubtedly closely related languages.

    Looking at Fulfulde, with its record-breaking profusion of noun classes, the two things that strike you coming from Gur are

    (a) the system doesn’t work the same way with regard to number: rather than many regular sg/pl pairings, many singular classes share the same handful of plural classes (so too in Wolof)

    (b) only two of these literal dozens of classes have affixes which look plausibly related to anything in Gur beyond sheer chance: the highly semantically-marked “human” and “liquid” classes.

    Once you open the door (as Blench’s hypothesis does) to the idea of the “Niger-Congo” noun class system having arisen by diffusion from an unrelated group of languages, it seems to to me that the situation in Fulfulde and Wolof is more or less exactly what you would expect to see from further diffusion between language groups which may – or may not – be genetically related.

    * Actually, some the noun-class mergers do look driven by phonological changes: Buli, for example, has mergers which seem pretty clearly the result of the sg suffixes *fu and *bu falling together, and the different Gurma languages have adopted various strategies to repair the class system after the phonologically regular loss of the consonant in the pl suffix *si.

  236. John Cowan says

    but doesn’t actually define môr-fochyn “sea-pig” anywhere

    That’s a fault known as “Word Not In”, or WNI: the use of a word in a definition that does not appear in the dictionary. It does not apply to specialized dictionaries, of course. Merriam-Webster was very systematic about finding and eliminating WNIs.

  237. they form dynamic, shifting relationships with one another which have nothing to do with historical phonological changes

    Unsurprisingly. I wonder how common is creative use of class markers, though.

    singulative I learned this word in a Breton lesson. The teacher mentioned dual, plural, collective and singulative and said that it is technically possible to make combinations. That was cute. The singulative marker is similar to one found in Russian (-in-).


    Wiktionary is strange: The singulative of “scissors” is “a pair of scissors”.

  238. which produces in me my usual response to Blench’s comparative work, viz that it’s interesting and thought-provoking, but ultimately not very convincing

    This is how I understand his intent: exploring overlooked possibilities. Convincing people to arrive to a new picture of the world and start overlooking a different set possibilities would be more like Chomsky.

  239. David Eddyshaw says

    I wonder how common is creative use of class markers, though.

    I’m not sure that this is “creative” in the sense that you mean, but the vague-ish meanings associated with the various classes are often exploited for derivational purposes; given that the class suffixes are flexions, I suppose that technically this is a kind of null derivation, though the term doesn’t seem very apt.

    Examples are Kusaal siinf “bee”, siind “honey”; wɛɛd “hunter”, wɛog “deep bush country”; zua “friend”, zuod “friendship”; sabua “girlfriend, lover”, sabuod “romantic liaison” and lots more.

    There are systematic cases too, for example trees and their fruits, e.g. tɛ’ɛg “baobab”, tɛ’og “baobab fruit”; duan “dawadawa”, dɔɔng “dawadawa fruit.”

    And ethnonyms make regularly make place names and language names this way: Kʋsaas “Kusaasi people”, Kʋsaal “Kusaal language”, Kʋsaʋg “Kusaasiland”; Mɔɔs “Mossi people”, Mɔɔl “Mooré language”, Mɔɔg “Mossi kingdom.”

    Regular verbs also all make their gerunds by adding noun class suffixes directly to the verb stem itself.

    This sort of thing is all over the place in Bantu as well.

    singulative I learned this word in a Breton lesson.

    Yes, it seems to be pan-Brythonic. It’s a bit odd, when you think about it, given that AFAIK there’s nothing much like it in Irish. Welsh is quite fond of making singulatives out of plurals, which then oust the original singular form, as with llygoden “mouse” = Old Irish luch (accusative lochaid), via the perfectly-to-be-expected regular plural form llygod. A similar thing has happened with the loanword pysgodyn “fish”, though that one seems also to have involved some creative reanalysis of Latin piscatus as a Welsh plural form.

  240. “I’m not sure that this is “creative” in the sense that you mean, ”

    I think I was having in mind choosing a [semantical] class for an object/concept (when this choice is either not obvious enough, or when it goes againts the established usage as in initial stages of “transferring of semantical groups” that you spoke about, or when it goes agaisnt something else, as in word play), but that is what I was having in mind.

    What I mean by “creativity” is any choice affected by a speaker’s preferences rather that “dictated” by grammar. Of course, derivation and inflexion are creative, genitive or dative depend on what I mean, but it is I who decides what I mean and no one else (it is just that speaker’s creativity in these areas is recognized by grammar descriptions rather than goes against them:)). Creativity is creativity.

    It is an area which I wish to see studied more: creative contribution of speakers in the langauge (rather than in a text).

  241. David Eddyshaw says

    Languages with just a masculine/feminine grammatical gender system can alter the gender of an item to indicate things like size. In Lopit, an Eastern Nilotic language, nouns are usually fixed as masculine or feminine, with no clear motivation or reliable rules for the gender assignment in the case of sexless referents, but feminine can replace masculine for bigger things and vice versa (contrary to the usual pattern.) Moodie and Billington’s grammar also cites examples where a usually-feminine noun is made masculine to stress not that the referent is small but that there aren’t very many of them, and if men are drinking tea, they may make the tea glass masculine, whereas women make it feminine. Clothing can be masculine or feminine depending on who is wearing it …

    In Turkana, masculine, feminine and neuter are generally fixed properties of nouns, again with no obvious motivation in the case of sexless referents, but masculine can mean “bigger” and neuter “smaller”, while feminine in the case of normally-masculine vegetable referents can mean “dead.”

  242. but feminine can replace masculine for bigger things” – Aha! Thank you for this example.
    Clothing can be masculine or feminine depending on who is wearing it …” – as I noted, it happens with diminutives here:)

    But my idea was that classes are many and there must be some consequences (for usage) of this simple fact.

    The idea is undermined by that IE genders are also not too stable and can be used creatively. I can change gender by suffixation, or in a childish manner by adding -a to make it feminine (regularized in Latvian for human beings) and changing agreement (regularized in Russian for human beings).

    Feminine/masculine of diminution as in Lopit is the same (I think we also need a language where augmentation rather than diminuation is widespread and marked, ‘for collection)

  243. It is an area which I wish to see studied more: creative contribution of speakers in the langauge.

    I remember, after communicating with Russian Tolkien fans, I was able to recognize them on Internet forums in subsequent decades by their manner of speaking (writing), and it was by no means about individual words (usually when people study slang, they treat it as a “bag of words”:)). Syntax, pragmatics.. I do not know. I don’t have a text before my eyes to analyze.
    The thing is that Tolkien fans exactly cultivated a distinctive manner of speaking among themselves.

    If they have a dialect, this dialect did not arise as a result of uncontrollable drift.

    Perhaps it can be generalized to any sociolects and dialects to an extent (just to an extent): they can be shaped by decisions, not mere action of some language machine that obeys “language laws”.

    And this part is entirely absent from normal linguistical and sociolinguistical description.

    It is recognized in literary languages, but it is just one possible example, namely “literary languages”, and descriptive linguistics ignores it even there. Sociolinguistics also recognizes shift to prestige dialects (with an assumption that ”prestige” reflects preferences), then there are registers. But both registers and prestige dialects are expected to be fully formed (sub-)system whose design is not affected by speakers’ preferences.

    But speakers and their preferences are the medium where language exists and evolves, no way its evolution can be wholly independent from this:)

  244. Stu Clayton says

    In Turkana, masculine, feminine and neuter are generally fixed properties of nouns, again with no obvious motivation in the case of sexless referents, but masculine can mean “bigger” and neuter “smaller”, while feminine in the case of normally-masculine vegetable referents can mean “dead.”

    This is very much in the spirit of Ryle, who warned about the ways in which grammar prejudices and constrains our notions of what’s what (aka “ontology”). For Turkana, someone should write The Concept of Carrot.

  245. A similar thing has happened with the loanword pysgodyn “fish”, though that one seems also to have involved some creative reanalysis of Latin piscatus as a Welsh plural form.

    ‘Fish’ is on (all) the Swadesh Lists. Plenty of sea (and fish) around Wales/Brythonic territory, so presumably there was a pre-Roman word for it. Why did it get supplanted?

  246. For the same unknown reason that hound got supplanted by dog, I suppose.

  247. llygoden” – logodenn, collective noun logod.
    Strange eo* Welsh accent. But the orthography a zo* intuitive:)

    *reversible copula.

    Just discovered that “singulative” in Breton is unanderenn where unander is “sg.” and -enn is singulative suffix.

    It’s a bit odd, when you think about it, given that AFAIK there’s nothing much like it in Irish. Welsh is quite fond of making singulatives out of plurals, which then oust the original singular form, as with llygoden “mouse”
    AA substrate vs. Paleohispanic (as we now know, the Basque are newcomers) 🙂 The were fighting and then some idiot invited Celts, and Celts wrote back to Hallstatt that the land is rich and people are weak.

  248. there’s nothing much like it in Irish.

    There is the much less productive Old Irish -ne. Schrijver has the morphological details here.

    (Apologies for brief comment because of internet limitations.)

  249. Addendum:

    The singulative foiltne “a single hair, strand of hair” is usually hammered into most students’ heads by the most memorable sentence in their first encounter with Old Irish:

    Ríastarthae imbi-seom i suidiu. Inda lat ba tindorcun as-n-ort cach foiltne inna chenn lasa coiméirge con-érracht.

    “Thereupon contortions took hold of him. You would have thought that it was a hammering wherewith each hair was driven into his head, with the uprising with which he uprose.”

    From the description of the changes in Cú Chulainn’s appearance when he enters his ríastrad or battle frenzy.

  250. Slavic can outcompete many langugauges in productivity of singulatives, but one common way to do that is using all-purpose nominal suffix -ik/-ok/-ka.

    list “leaf”, listy (a specific register when applied to leaves on a tree, usually applied to paper and then sounds serious) “leaves”, listva “foliage”, list’ya (the most common plural for leaves on a tree but morphologically not quite plural) – listik/listok/listochek “a leaf” – listiki, listki, listochki (unserious when applied to paper).

    but
    trava “grass” – trav-in-ka
    litva “1. Lithua[nia] 2. mass noun like tatarva” – litvin (dated) “Lithuanian”.
    lyudina (Ukrainian) “a person”
    dubina “a club” (dub “an oak”).

    -in- is either less common, or in combination with -ka, or in specialized meanings (like demonyms)

    Irregularity would not be a problem, for what in Russian is regular? But for the system to work you need mass/collective nouns. Until recently mass/collective nouns suffixes were productive (I see this mostly in distribution in modern Russian) but have been suppressed in written langauge by, I think, translated literature (again, from distibution) and in spoken langauge by schooling.

  251. -in- is either less common,
    Now I am less sure. I thought more about it… may be there are not that many -ka/-ik froms that are motivated by a mass noun. After all listik exists alonside sg. list for which it is diminutive.

  252. David Eddyshaw says

    ‘Fish’ is on (all) the Swadesh Lists. Plenty of sea (and fish) around Wales/Brythonic territory, so presumably there was a pre-Roman word for it. Why did it get supplanted?

    Posh fish. Or pish fosh. Whatever.

    The Swahili for “fish” is samaki, which I presume is from the Arabic سمك.

  253. David Eddyshaw says

    The Proto-Oti-Volta word for “fish” was (probably) *ɟamfʊ, plural *ɟami (cf Gulmancéma jàmō, plural jàmī) which, neatly enough, probably shows a singulative-as-singular; in Western Oti-Volta, the umlaut caused by the plural suffix -i has been introduced into the singular, as often: Toende Kusaal zĩif, plural zĩmi. (Agolle Kusaal has changed the sg class suffix: zíiŋ “fish”, plural zīmí, and Mooré, the plural: zĩifu, plural zĩma: the fʊ/i noun class is gradually eroding away …)

    The tone correspondence Gurma L = WOV H is regular, if somewhat puzzling. Evidence from outside Oti-Volta shows that Gurma preserves the original tones, and the WOV/Buli/Konni/Yom/Nawdm branch has somehow managed to swap H and L tones throughout. I expect it’s the Norwegian substratum.

  254. – фефочка, скажи “ыыба”.
    – селёдка!

    As if we had a reconstructable IE word for dhoti…

  255. David Eddyshaw says

    Ghoti?

    True enough: the *pisk- word seems to be just Italic, Celtic and Germanic. Fish just aren’t all that stable …

  256. I meant ghoty, yes, проверочное слово* “laughter”:(
    Contamination from *dʰǵʰu-

    *проверочное слово ‘testing word’ is what they teach in first grade: a word where this vowel is stressed. You use it to figure out if it is etymological o or a (i or e) and write it accordingly.

  257. the fʊ/i noun class is gradually eroding away …

    So Eden sank to grief,
    So erodes away.
    Nothing gold can stay.

  258. As if we had a reconstructable IE word for Ghoti…

    Or Semitic to that matter.

  259. PlasticPaddy says

    @de, AntC
    The native word éicne “salmon” in middle Irish is sometimes used as a generic fish word (also has Xerib’s suffix). The only etymology I found is from a root *pen meaning “wet, mud”. For AntC, (1) I believe salmon were once so plentiful one did not need to look for other river fish and (2) I find it more curious that the more common “lox” word for salmon has no cognate in Irish with the meaning, than that the cattle-prizing Celts borrowed the latin generic word for “fish”

  260. The native word éicne “salmon” in middle Irish

    Here’s the eDIL entry. I love the fact that it can be used “Meton., of a hero, champion” the way сокол ‘falcon’ can in Russian.

  261. David Eddyshaw says

    So Eden sank to grief

    Deyr fʊ,
    deyja frændr,
    deyr sjalfr it sama …

  262. Or Semitic to that matter.:

    Arabic samak(a) and ḥūt (as in Fomalhaut in Pisces) in eastern and western dialects respectively, but both are found in Quran. Neither means “fish” outside of Arabic.

    In Oman/Yemen they have both and variations of صيد, this one is at least obvious.
    Akkadian, Aramaic: nūnu, nuna
    Ugaritic, Hebrew dg, dag [compared to aforementioned *dʰǵʰu- by ïllich-Switych]
    Ethiopic has the same form as in Cushitic.

    I think it is less stable than many words in 100 word list.

    The native word éicne “salmon” in middle Irish
    oh. bratán, maigre, eó…

    sometimes used as a generic fish word
    Berber -slVm “fish” has been compared to Latin salmon. But.

  263. David Eddyshaw says

    I suspect “fish” may be the sort of word that is fairly easily replaced by words originally referring to some particularly culturally important kind of fish (as has presumably happened with Tocharian B laks “fish”, for example.)

    Some of the Swadesh nominals might be a bit too general to be stable, as JP was suggesting for some the verbs above. Too high in the classification hierarchy, I mean. “Good” is a pretty obvious candidate for that.

  264. Typology on the basis of just two language families seems to me to continue to be a poor idea. The IE and Semitic case is probably not a general rule, perhaps indeed an exception that could be conditioned by a notable unimportance of fish in the PIE and PS agripastoralist lifestyle.

    By contrast in Uralic *kala is highly stable, lost only in Permic and, if we’re counting, Helsinki slang. Individual fish names that are known are all less stable (and do tend to have some semantic leeway but within reason: ‘wels catfish’ ~ ‘sturgeon’ ≈ ‘big long fish’, ‘ruffe’ ~ ‘bleak’ ≈ ‘a small fish’, ‘asp’ ~ ‘ide’ ≈ ‘a carpine fish’, etc.) E.g. Dravidian *mīn and Austronesian *Sikan (or at least Malayo-Polynesian *hikan) look quite stable as well.

    Of course there is really no such thing as exact and linearly orderable “base” stability anyway though: it’s more of a rough notion, dependent on cultural and lexical variables; and I do not think that using a single checklist is always the best possible approach to lexicostatistics.

  265. David Eddyshaw says

    “Fish” is reconstructable for Proto-Oti-Volta, but Gabriel Manessy has only one, very dubious, potential cognate in the Grusi languages, so although he thought it was “Gur”, I don’t think the evidence is really there.

    It’s reconstructable for Proto-Bantu (despite the Swahili), as *camb-, which does look tantalisingly like Proto-OV *ɟam-, but as the Hausa say, Kama da wane ba wane baLike someone is not someone.” I’ve no other potential examples for such an initial consonant correspondence – so far, anyway. If the PB form is cognate with the POV, it should have low tone, but it’s not marked for tone in the lists I’ve seen. I’ll have to see if I can find reflexes of it in some known language.

    Yoruba ẹja (where the , though now invariant, is the relic of an old class prefix) is another that looks like it might be related. By I am no Greenberg, to be deluded by such pretty baubles …

  266. The continual renovation of words for “fish” is really interesting!

    Modern Greek ψάρι, from ancient Greek ὀψάριον, diminutive of ὄψον “savoury side dishes, especially fish, eaten to add savor bread or the other bland grain-based component of the meal” is just like Modern Japanese sakana “fish” (partially ousting original uo “fish” in this meaning) , but originally “savoury food eaten with sake”, from sake “sake” + na “greens, vegetables, side dish”. And Indo-Iranian *mátsyas “fish” (Sanskrit matsya-, Avestan masiia-, Persian ماهی‎ māhī, etc.) is often put with Germanic *mati- (English meat, Old Norse matr “food”, Old High German maz “food, meat”, etc.) as if representing an virtual original Indo-Iranian *mad-sya- or the like.

    Korean seems to have gone a full cycle: 물고기 mulgogi “fish” (in the generic sense) is etymologically “water meat, water flesh” from mul “water” and gogi, “meat, flesh, fish”. But the concept of “fish as food” is expressed by 생선 saengseon, originally “(that which is) fresh” (生鮮, cf. Mandarin shēngxiān “fresh fish, fresh fruit vegetables”, Japanese seisen “fresh (of food)”.)

    I wonder if there is an archaic word for “fish” found somewhere in Korean that represents what was replaced by 물고기 mulgogi. I have a poor knowledge of Korean, and I would be interested if someone who knows more could enlighten me on this point. There is for example the suffix -치 -chi in fish names like 참치 chamchi “tuna”, 삼치 samchi “mackerel”, 갈치 galchi “hairtail”, 가물치 kamulchi “northern snakehead”, 황새치 hwangsaechi “swordfish” (literally, “stork fish”), etc., but I don’t know if is attested in an earlier, independent existence.

    In this regard, also compare the side-by-side existence of Spanish pez “fish (as a animal)” and pescado “caught fish, fish (considered as food)”, where we might see the sort of situation that existed in Brittonic when the inherited Brittonic word (still in the River Usk, probably) was pushed out by the loanword from Latin piscātus. The Omani/Yemeni Arabic صيد ṣayd that drasvi mentions, originally “hunting, fishing, prey, game, quarry, catch, haul” (cf. Mehri ṣayd, Jibbali ṣud, ṣod, Socotri ṣodəh “fish”, beside Hebrew צַיִד ṣáyid “a hunt, hunting” and Syriac ܨܝܪܐ ṣaydā “hunting, hunt, prey, quarry”) is similar to this, too.

  267. Hebrew צֵדָה/צֵידָה ṣēdā~ṣēidā (Gen. 42:25, 45:21, Ex. 12:39, Josh. 1:11, 9:11) seems to mean prepared food for eating while traveling.

  268. David Marjanović says

    *dʰǵʰu-

    “Gk. ἰχθῦς ‘fish’, i.e., PIE *h₁dʰǵʰuH- > Pre-Gk. *h₁ǝ₂dʰǵʰuH- > Proto-Gk. *hʸikʰ-tʰū- > *hikʰ-tʰū- > Grassmann, whence Gk. /ikʰtʰūs/. The laryngeal must have been present for the schwa secundum to be inserted; without laryngeal, we would expect †χθῦς.”

    From the paper on Bozzone’s laws.

    By contrast in Uralic *kala is highly stable

    Stable enough that “the living fish swims in water” has been claimed to be mutually comprehensible between all Uralic languages. It’s not, but if you already know what it’s supposed to mean, it’s recognizable.

    *kala has also been considered related to IE words for “big fish” like whale and Latin squalus. That is not currently testable, though.

  269. The headline is “The dying fish swims in water.” (The article itself is behind a paywall.)

  270. J.Pystynen: Okay, I’ll bite: what is the Helsinki slang word for “fish”? For that matter, what is the Proto-Permic one?

    On Latin “piscem” becoming the word for “fish” in Proto-Brythonic (as per AntC’s question upthread): Interestingly, Albanian “peshk” is the basic word for fish and is also a Latin loanword. Now, Proto-Albanian was almost certainly spoken inland in the Balkans, and not along the Adriatic, which at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire seems to have been Romance-speaking. This suggests one of two possibilities: either the word for fish entered Proto-Albanian from Latin in Imperial times, as fish was an imported item, or was later borrowed from “Adriatic Romance” varieties in post-imperial times as Proto-Albanian was expanding at the expense of Romance.

    I think all hatters see where I am going with this? Let us imagine that in Imperial Roman times Proto-Brythonic was spoken in inland Central/Western England, with coastal Eastern/Southern England being Romance-speaking. In (post-) Roman Britain one would find the same two possibilities as to the chronology/motivation of the borrowing (In imperial times, as the borrowed word designating an imported food item, or in post-imperial times, as a Romance substrate word).

    Take your pick.

  271. David Eddyshaw says

    Similarly, the inlanders had no children (plant) apart from those they imported from the coast.

    Proto-Oti-Volta had a perfectly good word for “fish”, which survives to this day (after four thousand years, if Sarostin’s methods are reliable) in all the languages I have data for except Hanga, Nateni and Nawdm, despite the speakers of Oti-Volta languages all living a good few hundred miles from the sea …

    But Swahili (“Language of the Coasts”) has borrowed the word “fish” from Arabic.

  272. By contrast in Uralic *kala is highly stable

    When some people in your ethnic confederation, like the Khazar Khaganate or the Siberian Khanate, say kala, and some say balık, that’s a… kalabalik (kalabaliikki).

  273. i’m interested in whether any of these languages make categorical/terminological distinctions between saltwater fish and freshwater fish.

    in general, i’m a bit skeptical of explanations of fishy things that seem to only be thinking about saltwater fish. i think there’s no reason to expect fish-words to move inland unless there’s no significant relationship to river & lake fish among the inland people (or, i suppose, if there’s a coastal fishery that commercially overwhelms inland fisheries, across a language divide).

  274. David Eddyshaw says

    i’m interested in whether any of these languages make categorical/terminological distinctions between saltwater fish and freshwater fish

    I think I can confidently say that this is not an issue for Oti-Volta languages …

    Off-hand, I can’t think of any language that does make such a distinction.

  275. @rozele: As a protein source, it seems that salt-water fishing has always been quite a bit more important than fresh-water, at least in Europe as far back as we have any kinds of records (probably elsewhere as well, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it discussed). Certainly, the total available biomass of salt-water fish is much greater. Furthermore, I would suspect that it is easier to catch large quantities of fish with nets in open water (whereas fresh-water fishing is often limited to angling).

  276. David Eddyshaw says

    at least in Europe

    I have vivid memories of seeing a fish the size of a grown man unloaded from a tiny fishing canoe on the Niger river at its confluence with the Benue at Lokoja, 260 miles from the sea …

    Did the Romans do much fishing in the English Channel? (Not a rhetorical question … but I suspect that the answer may well be that nobody really knows. I get the impression that the Romans were not keen on navigating in the River Ocean if they could help it. This was before the Day of the Trawler. Also before the day of the Refrigerated Transport, come to that.)

  277. David Eddyshaw says

    Off at a tangent:

    I was just looking at William Samarin’s grammar of Gbeya (an Adamawa language of the CAR, but you all knew that) to see what the word for “fish” looked like (it’s zoro, which is pretty meh, really) and noticed in passing that “steal” in Gbeya is zu (= Kusaal zu) and “head” is zu (= Kusaal zug, stem zu-.) Gbeya is, in fact, undoubtedly related to Kusaal, but these are just a testimony to the amazing power of pure coincidence (like Persian bad “bad.”)

  278. Are salmon a freshwater or a saltwater fish? Salmon were caught by the thousands in vast fish traps on rivers, notably the Columbia.

  279. The Omani/Yemeni

    NB: I wrote it this way because I do not know the actual distribution. For صيد I saw Mehri/Jibbali/Soqotri words that you quoted and random stuff like: saydoman.com: “This new era of Almaradam has made it necessary for us to change our brand into a more global looking brand where Almaradam has evolved into Sayd Oman. Sayd is an Arabic word for fishes and this is our speciality.” (“صيد هي كلمة عربية للأسماك وهذا هو تخصصنا.”)
    Or “ṣēd ‘fish'”, “fish: samaka / asmāk / ṣēd” in “Coastal Dhofārī Arabic: a sketch grammar”. It looks like there is Omani usage that a European tends to translate as “fish”.

    SImilarly, ħet is in a word list for Ḥarsusi (Oman) and I heard it mentioned in the context of Yemen. All available dictionaries for Yemen seems to have both ḥūt and samak, but who knows if there is a difference in context/register? So I just piled them up: they seem to deviate from the general scheme “ḥūt(a) in koine to the west of Libya, samak(a) to the east”. But piling up small dialects and koine is a bad idea. Also for Oman there must be older koine and modern Gulf-influenced koine…

  280. Weirs are a pretty ancient technology for channeling river fish in order to catch them, and I believe there were very early neolithic fishing settlements in places like the Iron Gates on the Danube and in the Pontic steppe on rivers leading into the Black Sea.

    Salmon have a life cycle that brings them from the ocean far upriver to spawn, but certainly they’re easier to catch in rivers.

  281. >> *dʰǵʰu-
    >PIE *h₁dʰǵʰuH-

    Underlying ghoti is obscured by nasty laringeals.

  282. i wasn’t saying that freshwater & saltwater fishes are equivalent, just that you don’t need to be coastal to have a deeply established fish vocabulary! but certainly: not everyone inland is gonna have one, and most coastal folks will.

    and i don’t know of languages that do a salt/freshwater fish distinction. but it seems like something that would make sense in the kinds of marsh/estuary zones where urbanization and protostates first emerged (like southern mesopotamia, to get back to the semites), and where city-state territorial expansion arguably established key conditions for translocal languages. or is that just my imagination running away with me?

  283. whereas fresh-water fishing is often limited to angling

    Because weapons of mass destruction are usually banned for fresh-water recreational use in many countries.

    (funnily I forgot about that entirely.)

  284. David Marjanović says

    The headline is “The dying fish swims in water.”

    Yes, it’s about all but three Uralic languages being threatened to various extents. It illustrates the family by using the original sentence with “living”.

    (The article itself is behind a paywall.)

    Is it? It wasn’t back in 2005. This time all I saw was a cookie notice – but I left the page as soon as I had the URL and didn’t try to read the article again.

    Certainly, the total available biomass of salt-water fish is much greater.

    It seems that well into the Middle Ages, there were a lot more fish in Europe’s freshwaters than today.

  285. What regulates population of people who live along rivers and sea coasts?

  286. About *h₁ in *h₁dʰǵʰuH-

    [piscis-íask-fisk] [ikhthū́s-žuvis-jukn] [mátsya] Tocharian laks (cf. Germanic lax “salmon”) Slavic ryba.

    I am not sure if ikhthū́s-žuvis-jukn is a good ground 🙁

  287. “it is imperfect because of that Greek i, but if we assume paleo-Balto-Graeco-Armenian laringeal, it starts looking nice. No one knows how Balto-Armenians say h₁dʰǵʰ anyway, it is very plausible that they simplify it by all means possible, just like we would do…”

  288. P.S. I forgot about that book. Arabic Fisch.

  289. the side-by-side existence of Spanish pez “fish (as a animal)” and pescado “caught fish, fish (considered as food)”

    In Latin America, pez has been largely ousted by pescado for both meanings. So there you are.

  290. what is the Helsinki slang word for “fish”? For that matter, what is the Proto-Permic one?

    The former is fisu, following this variety’s general trend of by default getting all the content words from Swedish (including a majority of the Swadesh list); the latter is *ćerig > Udm. /ćorɨg/, Komi /ćeri/ ~ /ćerig/, without any standard etymology though I saw a proposal some years back to compare this with the also otherwise unetymologized Hungarian sügér ‘perch’.

    it seems that salt-water fishing has always been quite a bit more important than fresh-water

    Maybe if your “always” starts at a time posterior to securely ocean-worthy boat technology (which, sure, is relatively early in the Mediterranean). In most of human history though, the draw of oceanic coasts that they have over freshwater environments has not been fishing, but seal and seabird hunting. Why go riskily digging your biomass from the deep ocean if it comes to the coasts by itself already?

  291. ocean-worthy boat technology

    kayak.

    P.S. no objections to the main point, though.

  292. John Emerson says

    Most salmon are anadromous , spending most of their time in the ocean but breeding on land. But some populations of landlocked salmon never reach the ocean.

    Large freshwater fish: the Chinese paddlefish in the Yangtze, now extinct, often weighed 500 pound and the champion fish may have weighed more than a ton. American paddlefish are found as far inland as the Dakotas and weigh as much as 200 pounds. There is also a Danube paddlefish. The paddlefish is a commercial food fish in all 3 areas (American paddlefish were introduced in China), but not an important one. However, freshwater carp, sturgeon, and catfish are important food fishes in certain areas, lthough in the US there’s a strong prejudice against carp because they destroy the habitat for sport fishes. Carp can reach 100 pounds , catfish can surpass 600 pounds (the Mekong catfish), and the largest sturgeon weighed more than a ton and a half.

    Trivia: The Norse in Greenland ca. 1000 AD apparently did not fish at all, but hunted seals and whales.

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

  293. David L. Gold says

    @Roger C. Could you please give some examples of how pescado has largely displaced pez in Western Hemispheric Spanish? Which is to say, some examples of pescado in reference to a live fish, a fish in the wild, or this or that species of fish.

  294. John Emerson says

    Above, “breeding in fresh water”, not “on land”.

    There is or used to be an important commercial whitefish fishery on Lake Superior and other large lakes in that area. “Whitefish” is a generic name for 5 closely related species of salmonids related to grayling, and whitefish are also called tullibee, cisco, chub, lake herring, Otsego bass, bloater, Menominee whitefish, and grayback. It has been claimed that there is some kind of matchup between the 5 species and the various names, but I believe that the various names are just local and that the mapping is many-to-many.

    In northern Canada and Alaska there’s another, larger species called the sheefish or inconnu.

  295. @David L. Gold: I couldn’t pull up a text offhand, but it’s something I learned in first-year high-school Spanish and have heard reiterated since. I have a doctoral minor in Spanish and spent my army tour in Panama, and I know I’ve seen the usage. Of course pez is understood by literate Hispanoamericans.

    (Now you’ve got me curious. A minute’s googling reveals questions like “¿Qué pescados son de agua salada?” which proceed to link to sites like “Peces de agua salada.”)

  296. Trond Engen says

    I think the main mechanism is trade. Sea fishing is specialized work producing food for (mostly, originally) the local market. A technical term meaning ‘catch’ can replace the generic word if that’s attractive to the consumer. In this case I imagine that the strong and likely universal preference for newly caught fish has made it important for fish salesmen to sound like they are fishermen themselves or at least in close contact with the fishermen. Ref. ‘Catch of the day’ or ‘Today’s catch’ on restaurant menus.

  297. In my limited experience, pez/peces in Latin America is used in the same context as fishes in English, that is, in technical texts on ichthyology or fisheries or such.

  298. David L. Gold says

    @ Y. You are right, but that is not the full extent of the use of the word pez.

    En este río ya no hay peces ‘There are no longer any [live] fish in this river’

    En la playa hubo muchos peces muertos ‘There were many dead fish on the beach’.

    ¿De qué color es este pez? ‘What color is this [live] fish?’.

    Vendemos una gran variedad de pescados ‘We sell many kinds of fish’ (the implication is that they are dead, hence sold as a food) versus Vendemos una gran variedad de peces ‘We sell many kinds of [live] fish’ (for aquariums, fishbowls, and the like). To use the last sentence in a shop selling food would imply that it sells live fish (whether or not it also sells dead fish).

    All competent users of Spanish know (even if just subconsciously) that the noun pescado is derived from the past participle (pescado) of the verb pescar ‘fish’. Hence un pescado, for example, is literally ‘a fished one, a fished-out one’ and the word implies that the fish is dead.

    If you catch it and it is still alive, it is a pez, as in “Sacamos este pez hace media hora y todavía no hay muerto ‘We landed ~ caught this fish a half hour ago and it’s still not dead’.

    It would be surprizing if any competent users of Spanish applied the word pescado to a live fish.

  299. @DLG: In standard Spanish, yes. In some varieties of colloquial Latin American Spanish, I am not sure if pescado wouldn’t be substituted in all of your examples. I would be surprised to hear a little aquarium fish called pescado, but maybe some speakers would do so.

    Ed.: There are about 30 times more ghits for “pez guppy” than for “pescado guppy”, but both sets seem to be mostly machine translated from English.

  300. @J Pystynen: I probably phrased what I was saying badly. Of course, you won’t have large-scale maritime fisheries without reliable seaworthy vessels, but that sailing technology is generally older than the earliest records we have from various societies.

    Separately, the comments about the sizes of fish around the world set me thinking. For warm-blooded, air-breathing animals, it is well known that related species and subspecies tend to be larger nearer to the poles, where having a small surface-area-to-volume ratio helps them keep warm. This is even more important for creatures that live in the water, where heat loss is much faster than in air.

    However, I realize I have no clear idea what to expect for how body sizes should vary among fish. Temperature is still going to be an important issue, even for the cold blooded. However, there are also big variations in the oxygen content of the water, which could have a big effect on metabolic rates. Then there are even more complicated phenomena. For example, the tropical seas are full to the gills (heh) with nutrient-rich plankton, while there is less in the icy arctic.

  301. To the contrary, phytoplankton tends to be more abundant in higher latitudes, because the colder water is, the more dissolved oxygen it can hold.

  302. David Marjanović says

    There is also a Danube paddlefish.

    No. If you’re thinking of the beluga, which occurred in the Danube all the way to Germany before all the hydroelectric plants were built (says the German article), that’s a sturgeon – although sturgeons and paddlefish can hybridize, their last common ancestor lived around the same time as the last common ancestor of the placentals + marsupials on the one hand and the monotremes on the other.

    the more dissolved oxygen it can hold

    Phytoplankton by definition makes its own oxygen; but the same holds for carbon dioxide, and the actual factor seems to be that nutrient-rich upwellings from the deep sea are inevitably cold.

  303. David L. Gold says

    @Rodger C. ¿Qué pescados son de agua salada? is fully acceptable if the speaker has in mind dead fish as food. It would thus be normal to ask, say, a waiter, ¿Qué pescados tiene de agua salada?” ‘What salt-water fish do you have?’ Lista de pescados means ‘fish menu’.

    Both sentences would imply that the speaker had dead fish in mind. By contrast, peces in the first sentence would imply that the speaker was asking a zoological question (‘what fishes live in salt water?) and peces in the second question would tell the waiter in no uncertain terms that the speaker wanted to eat live fish.

    @Y and Rodger C. I am all ears to hear the evidence that, non-standardly, pescado now occupies some of the semantic territory traditionally held by pez.

    Sorry for misspelling Rodger earlier.

  304. John Emerson says
  305. John Emerson says
  306. John Emerson says

    i think that the size of fish of a given species varies with the size of the body of water. Small lakes have small fish, but the same species in a bigger lake can grow bigger (though there are plenty of small fish in large bodies of water)..

  307. @Trond, Y – pescada immediately made me think about markets. My next idea was professionalization (a source of jargon). It is funny if this niche is colonized by pez.

    Aforementioned company “sayd oman” (pescada Oman) and another one that I came across “asmak muskat int’l LLD” (peces Muskat) illustrate this too. It seems in Oman these words entered ‘fish’ territory.

    —————————-
    Actually, jargon and “tabu replacement” are related phenomena. Modern astronomer, modern hunter and ancient villager all use strange words, and when it is an astronomer we say jargon, and when it is an ancient villager we say “tabu” and when it is a modern hunter who behaves like the ancient villager we hesitate.

    ————————–
    Then there is polysemy of ‘fish’. Individual-generic on one hand, and individual-collective(mass) on the other, where “mass” can be applied to fish that you eat (cow/bull – beef), to fish in the river or a basket and to many kinds of fish. I still think that “collective/mass” is a different meaning.

    This is why when I see “fish: “fish: samaka / asmāk / ṣēd” (a fish, fishes, catch) in a grammar description, I udnerstand that Omanese usage is different, but I am not sure if the author missed some semantical differences. The same with David L. Gold and Rodger C., (does pescada extend to all meanings?).

  308. David Marjanović says

    Ah. That’s the North American species, evidently recently introduced as described in the abstract. It’s not going to spread beyond the nearest two hydroelectric dams – the two at the Iron Gate are why beluga no longer occur upstream of there.

    …and the Chinese paddlefish seems to be extinct because of the Three Gorges dam. *headdesk*

  309. PlasticPaddy says

    @dlg
    The associación de academias de la lengua española has a dictionary of “americanismos”. For pescado it has sense 1: “Mx, Gu, Ho, ES, Ni, Pa, Cu, PR, Co, Ve, Ec, Pe, Bo, Py. Pez, ya esté dentro o fuera del agua, sea comestible o no.”
    Also sense 5: “PR. Cliente de prostituta. prost”

    http://lema.rae.es/damer/?key=pescado

  310. @David L. Gold: it’s trivial to find examples in edited, published Spanish prose where pescado is used for live fish:

    El nuevo salmón ha sido modificado genéticamente para crecer el doble de rápido que el pescado convencional “silvestre” y alcanzar, con menores gastos, el tamaño mínimo requerido para ser vendido en el mercado. (“el dato”, Página/12, 22 November 2015

    This is hardly limited to Latin American Spanish:

    “Era un marinero de los buenos, sabía nadar como un pescado”, señalaban al acordarse del fallecido. (“Escuché voces y los ví, agarrados a unas boyas”, Diario de Cádiz, 21 May 2009

    That does not mean that Rodger C.’s teacher wasn’t crudely oversimplifying the matter. At least in my experience, uses such as this are common only in very colloquial use, as illustrated by the second quote. I’d bet the first example would not have seen print if Página/12 still had an actual editing staff.

  311. David L. Gold says

    That entry in the dictionary shows that I am wrong. Pescado in every sense of pez was unknown to me.

  312. @PlasticPaddy: that looks like a great addition to the previous thread on fish terms and sex trade jargons

  313. PlasticPaddy says

    @al
    Thanks. Your examples refer to an edible fish (“salmon”) and a fisherman, not, e.g., aquarium fish. So this is a gray area which i think DLG was not disputing. Unfortunately the (online version of the?) dictionary I cited does not itself contain citations. For the sex-trade sense they only give one country and I have not looked for a text to support the entry.

  314. That does not mean that Rodger C.’s teacher wasn’t crudely oversimplifying the matter.

    My textbook (?) was evidently oversimplifying the matter, but not crudely. The quoted dictionary records this usage for everywhere outside the Southern Cone, which in my country is a distant world (and the Brits’ business anyhow).

  315. Ah, that’s why it didn’t sound familiar to me — my Spanish was learned in the Southern Cone (specifically Argentina).

  316. ə de vivre says

    In terms of fish knowledge in the estuaries of ancient Mesopotamia, I’m not aware of any systematic differences in names of freshwater versus saltwater fish. ‘Ku(d)’ referred to both fresh and salty varieties, and the same sign was used as a semantic determiner for fish of all kettles.

    However, administrative documents described fishers according to where they fished. A šukud abak fished in the saltwater sea, while a šukud a dugak fished in rivers and lakes. So, while fish in their wild state were all different kinds of kud, the activities that transformed fish into culturally significant products were a little more fine-grained in their taxonomy.

  317. Which reminds me: why “Cono Sur”? Where does the 3-D come from?

  318. fish of all kettles

    Very nice!

  319. Seconded!

  320. John Emerson says

    Moby Dick:

    “First: The uncertain, unsettled condition of this science of Cetology is in the very vestibule attested by the fact, that in some quarters it still remains a moot point whether a whale be a fish. In his System of Nature, A.D. 1776, Linnaeus declares, “I hereby separate the whales from the fish.” But of my own knowledge, I know that down to the year 1850, sharks and shad, alewives and herring, against Linnaeus’s express edict, were still found dividing the possession of the same seas with the Leviathan.”

    Melville knew that whales are not fish,but whales fit into the fisheries group. In the same way, in groceries rabbits are poultry and tomatoes are not fruit but vegetables.

  321. January First-of-May says

    against Linnaeus’s express edict

    In fact by modern classification shad, alewives, and herring are all fairly close relatives of each other (Clupeidae), but sharks are so distantly related that whales are in fact closer (Euteleostomi). If whales aren’t fish then probably neither are sharks.

  322. rabbits are poultry

    Wow, really?

  323. John Emerson says

    To grocers, yes.

    Not all categorizations of critters are Linnaean.

  324. The only grocery stores I have shopped at that stocked rabbit have always had it in a small special section, alongside other exotic meats. You might find the frozen rabbit alongside frozen whole squid, rattlesnake, or maybe even goose—but not more conventional poultry like chicken or turkey (or probably even duck).

  325. John Emerson says

    Rabbit isn’t exotic everywhere, I guess. And geese are poultry.

    http://www.rabbitadvocacy.com/usda_classifies_rabbits_as_poult.htm

  326. Lars Mathiesen says

    Hare is small game like pheasant and quail — WIWAL that was a different class from chickens and geese on one side, and pork and beef on the other. Rabbits were pets, though I suppose some people ate the ones they raised themselves, and not available in stores until later.

  327. David Marjanović says

    What does WIWAL mean?

    Euteleostomi

    That name is hardly ever used. Go for Osteichthyes, ironically.

  328. What does WIWAL mean?

    When I were a (lad|lass|lil’un).

    My textbook (?) was evidently oversimplifying the matter, but not crudely. The quoted dictionary records this usage for everywhere outside the Southern Cone

    As a native speaker of Spanish, I stand by my characterisation. The supposed ouster is limited to colloquial registers in all dialects I’m familiar with.

  329. Lars Mathiesen says

    When I was a lad — only a few butchers carried game, and it was always hung on hooks outside under the awning because it had to ripen without stinking up the place. While fjerkræ was sold fresh.

    I don’t know how they do it in these latter days of Orwellian food safety.

    Also torsk (= ‘cod’) as a client of prostitutes rings a bell.

  330. Alon: so colloquially, you might hear pescado guppy?

  331. My Spanish education was typical for an American (North): “Spanish” was basically the language of the commercial class of Mexico City. In teaching us pescado, I assume our textbook writers were trying to ward off possible confusion when we heard it in conversation.

  332. Lars Mathiesen says

    I try to stave off senility by letting Duolingo gamify my Spanish learning — and it’s unwaveringly Mexican in its output. I can get away with inputting alternative words, like ordenador instead of computadora; sadly it hasn’t taught me voseo forms so I can’t test if they work for either 2nd person.

    And yes, it marks me wrong unless I keep the peces swim, pescado is food distinction straight.

  333. it hasn’t taught me voseo forms

    And from what I understand there are three voseo verbal inflections, depending on dialect: hablés, hablís, hablei; I myself only heard the first one, in standard Argentine, and the third one, marginally, in Chilean. Plus, independently, the pronouns or vos can be used for the second person singular, with one of the vos inflections or with the inflection, making eight voseos in all.

  334. Lars Mathiesen says

    Maybe it’s for the best, then. Though I wouldn’t object to having Spanish Spanish voseo as an alternative to whatever the Ustedes version is called, I am in Europe after all and I do have plans to visit Spain much before going back to Latin America. (Unless they build that transatlantic train connection they promised in 50s science fiction, I’d want to try that).

  335. January First-of-May says

    Unless they build that transatlantic train connection they promised in 50s science fiction, I’d want to try that

    I did recently have a dream about the Greenlandic railway network (mostly focused on mining, as I recall) and its applications toward transatlantic connections…

    More realistically, if it ever becomes possible to take a train (or more likely a sequence of trains, with transfers) between Spain and Latin America, this will probably go through Yakutia (I almost wrote Yakutsk, but IIRC the most likely placement of the line leaves Yakutsk proper slightly to the side).

  336. “Whale” is where Arabic ḥūt moved. Cf. from the link above:

    ‘ – ḥūt “fish . . . or a fish . . . or a great fish; any great fish” (LANE) hat im Gegensatz zu samak “fish” die Nebenbedeutung “groß”. Durch die Jonas-Legende bedingt ist es im MSA speziell der “Walfisch” und mit dieser Sonderbedeutung im arabischen Osten üblich. Bei den Khawētna in Nordost-Syrien als “Ungeheuer” belegt (TAY-1:75). Die allgemeine Bedeutung “Fisch” fndet sich jedoch im Westen und im Süden der arabischen Halbinsel: ….’

    “Shark” also appears there alongside with the recently discussed coin:

    ‘– ḥle “fish” für Oman in BRO 84f ist nicht nur ḥele = “Hai” wie in RHO II:13, sondern allgemeine Bezeichnung: “sayd ̣ and ḥle are synonyms”. Vgl. auch awwal neferayn baytḥallu biʿašr baysēt “in the old days two men would buy [a day’s] fish for ten baysa”; ferner in Baḥrayn ḥlā “dried fsh” (HOL-2), der noch REI 94 ḥle “Suppe” = “(fish) soup” dazu anführt. ‘

  337. I browsed through Wictionary’s list of translations looking for polyichthia (or pleoichthy?). It is a poor starting point, butit is some starting point. I hope for usage notes specificially.

    Ossetian кӕсалгӕ/кӕсаг (kæsalgæ/kæsag), and кӕф (kæf) for big fish.

    Not unlike Arabic.

  338. Japanese, of course, has several words for , the two mentioned in the list are (sakana, uo).
    sakana is “1. a fish, especially when used as food, 2. a side dish, specifically referring to fish “.
    I guess, it is when sakana is written as 魚, because it can be written with 肴.

    Strangely, WOLD has sakana, not uo for Japanese fish.

  339. Telugu చేప (cēpa), మత్స్యము (matsyamu) మీనము • (mīnamu). Both m-words are from Sanscrit, mīnamu also means “Pisces”.

    Sanskrit: mīna (from Dravidian) “1. a fish 2. the sign of the zodiac Pisces 3. name of a teacher of yoga”,
    and mátsya.

    Thai: ปลา (bplaa), มีน (miin). Wiktionary also has มัตสยา (mátsàyǎa) “1. fish. 2. (elegant, figuratively) merperson.” and มัจฉา (mátchǎa)

    Javanese: iwak, ulam (ulam: “1. krama of iwak” krama “1. Polite register of the Javanese language. 2. Polite terms used in the Javanese polite register.”)

    —–
    It seems, India is polyichthious, but I know too little about the region.

  340. And from what I understand there are three voseo verbal inflections, depending on dialect: hablés, hablís, hablei;

    Cortázar, a Porteño, always used (in written dialogue) forms of the type vos hablás.

  341. Interesting! Alon, what forms have you heard?
    And I meant hablai, not hablei. More specifically, Chilean ¿Cachai? ‘Got it?’

  342. It occurs to me that Cortázar’s forms may have been old-fashioned even for his time, as he was born in 1914 and spent most of his adult life in Paris.

  343. The vos hablás form is what I learned in Buenos Aires (mid-late 1960s).

  344. @Y:

    so colloquially, you might hear pescado guppy?

    Colloquially you’d just hear guppy, I guess. But you do come across things like pescado espada or pescado payaso.

    what forms have you heard?

    In my native Rioplatense it would always be vos hablás, as Hat reports. But a Venezuelan friend of mine from Zulia has the full ‘vosotros’ form instead: vos habláis, and I think that would also be the case for most voseante regions in Central America and the Caribbean.

    If you trust the grammars, the Chilean case is supposed to be the same, and it’s only the distinctive phonology that causes it to be realised as [aˈβ̞l(a)i(h)] (hablái, hablí).

    (Then you have a different set of isoglosses for the subjunctive forms vos hables|hablés|habléi|habléis, too. And the separate question of whether these forms go with the vos or pronoun.)

  345. Then you have a different set of isoglosses for the subjunctive

    Oh, boy.

  346. David L. Gold says

    “Oh, boy.”

    If you want to see how complicated the use of vos really is, go here: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voseo.

    If you want still more detail, follow up the references in that article.

    And then you could also look at the second-person subject pronoun su merced (singular) ~ sus mercedes (plural), still used in southern Colombia and northern Ecuador. An article on su merced is downloadable here: https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=198213

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