Pleiades gives scholars, students, and enthusiasts worldwide the ability to use, create, and share historical geographic information about the ancient world in digital form. At present, Pleiades has extensive coverage for the Greek and Roman world, and is beginning to expand into Ancient Near Eastern, Byzantine, Celtic, and Early Medieval geography.” Great idea; thanks for the heads-up, Paul!


  1. The Japanese name for the Pleiades is subaru – hence the car logo. (although it might look like it, this isn’t spam, just a bit of possibly-interesting related info!)

  2. Trond Engen says

    Is it also a Japanese pun on ‘super’?

  3. Both u’s are basically silent—it sounds like “S’bar”—so I’m pretty sure the answer is no. (I wrote about the Japanese and Persian names for the Pleiades briefly here.)

  4. Isn’t the Persian name a borrowing from Arabic?

  5. Sure, but the Persian form is more familiar to English-speakers because of people like Queen Soraya (wife of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi) and (for NPR listeners) Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

  6. marie-lucie says

    So what is the Arabic form?

  7. Thurayya (ثريا ).

  8. marie-lucie says

    Thanks LH.

  9. marie-lucie says

    Thurraya must be analyzable in Arabic.

  10. Thurayya must be analyzable in Arabic.
    Indeed, it should be, but there are no comprehensive etymological dictionaries of Arabic. Rajiki’s simply says “[?]”.
    For that matter, there are no historical dictionaries of Arabic on the lines of the OED, the Dictionar o the Scots Leid, or the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal either. Pretty disgraceful for the fourth or fifth most widely spoken language in the world (if you count all the colloquials together).

  11. Turkish Wiki offers Ülker. The first three words of the entry are “Ülker veya Süreyya”. Google Translate tells me that veya means or. So did the Turks take their synonym from the Persians or the Arabs?
    Other than an unhelpful Azerbaijani entry, there appear to be no other Turkic Wiki entries for the Pleiades, but Kurdish Wiki gives the intriguing Komika Sêwiyan and, like the Turkish entry, notes Sureya near the top of the text.
    Peren and pervin are also given as synonyms in the Turkish entry, as is Perwin in the Kurdish entry.
    Hebrew and similar Semitic languages go another route: Hebrew for the name of the constellation is either a Hebraicized version of Pleiades with a feminine plural ending פליאדות / plee-a-dot or כימה / keema. The latter appears in the Old Testament (Strong’s 3598) and according to Klein and Brown-Driver-Briggs is related to Arabic kom, a group, heap, or herd of camels. Klein also says Aramaic כימתא / keemta and Syriac כימה /keema designate the Pleiades.

  12. It’s Өлкәр in Tatar (and Bashkir) and Үргэл in Saha/Yakut. The latter looks a case of R-L metathesis.

  13. In the Persian language Pleiades is known as “Parvin”. Parvin is also a very popular Given name in Iran and neighbouring countries (for example Parvin E’tesami).

  14. What I want is a picture of Soraya and Parvin in their Subaru, staring at the Pleiades.

  15. … and eating Ülker cookies and speaking on Thuraya mobiles.

  16. marie-lucie says

    Thanks Juha for the link with Parvin. A few lines below is this interesting bit:
    To the Vikings, the Pleiades were Freyja’s hens,… and their name in many old European languages compares them to a hen with chicks.
    This agrees with what I had read earlier on about Les Pléiades, that in some rural parts of France the star group was called la poussinière (from le poussin ‘baby chick’; the word means a kind of pen or other space used to confine a hen and her newly hatched baby chicks). I had never heard of this alternate name in France, but the TLFI entry for poussinière gives examples from earlier centuries showing that that word was once the only name for those stars, and even in the 19C there were references to les Pléiades ou la Poussinière in books on astronomy.

  17. m.-l.: The hen with chickens legend is not confined to Europe. Farther east and south – and a bit down the same page – there is this tale:
    The elderly couple who lived amidst a forest in Thailand raised a family of chickens: a mother hen and her six children. One day a monk arrived at the elderly couple’s home during his Dhutanga journey. Afraid that they have no decent meals to offer him, the elderly couple contemplated cooking the mother hen. Overheard the conversation, the mother hen rushed back to the coop to say farewell to her children. She asked them to take care of themselves before leaving to repay the kindness of the elderly couple. As the mother hen was being killed, her six children threw themselves into fire to die alongside with their mother. Deity, impressed by and in remembrance of their love, immortalized the seven chickens as the stars.

  18. marie-lucie says

    Thank you Juha. What a sad little story! but a typical mythological explanation for a constellation.
    Since domestic chickens are derived from wild South Asian birds, this story must have originated in Asia, and, like Aesop’s fables, transmitted to Europe in some form. A version of it may still be preserved in some European countries, since in at least some of them the name stuck with the constellation.

  19. Hang on a minute.
    In Hat’s earlier post, he says that Soraya is the Persian word for the Pleiades.
    Now Juha comes along and points to a Wiki entry stating that “in the Persian language Pleiades is known as ‘Parvin.'”
    So which is it?

  20. marie-lucie says

    Paul O, “Parvin” is supposed to be a popular female name in Pakistan. It could still be from Persian (a language related to Urdu), since “Soraya” is not of Persian ancestry but from Arabic “thurayya”.

  21. Persian was the official language of the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal Empire, and their successor states, as well as the cultured language of poetry and literature. Many of the Sultans and nobility in the Sultanate period were Persianised Turks from Central Asia who spoke Turkic languages as their mother tongues. The Mughals were also from Persianized Central Asia, but spoke Chagatai Turkic as their first language at the beginning, before eventually adopting Persian. Persian became the preferred language of the Muslim elite of north India. Muzaffar Alam, a noted scholar of Mughal and Indo-Persian history, suggests that Persian became the lingua franca of the empire under Akbar for various political and social factors due to its non-sectarian and fluid nature. The influence of these languages on Indian apabhramshas led to a vernacular that is the ancestor of today’s Urdu, Hindi, and Hindustani.
    Indo-Persian culture
    At independence, Pakistan established a highly Persianized literary standard of Urdu as it official language.
    Although there have been attempts to “purify” Urdu and Hindi by purging them of, respectively, their Sanskrit and Persian loan words, and new vocabulary draws primarily from Persian and Arabic for Urdu and from Sanskrit for Hindi, this has primarily affected academic and literary vocabulary, and both national standards remain heavily influenced by both Persian and Sanskrit.

  22. marie-lucie says

    Juha: Persian became the lingua franca of the empire under Akbar for various political and social factors due to its non-sectarian and fluid nature
    Non-sectarian, OK, but fluid?

  23. The folk-poetic Russian name is Стожары [Stozhary], the official name being, boringly enough, Плеяды [Pleiady].

  24. Chechen/Ingush have worh yisha ‘seven sisters’. yi- is, as far as I can tell, a class prefix (washa ‘brother’). Speaking of stars, the Ursa Major is Worhveshin worh sēda ‘seven stars of (the) seven brothers’.

    It seems basic words are never easy or straghtforward:
    washa (veshin (gen), veshina (dat), washas (erg), veshē (loc), w-class; (pl) vezharī, b-class)
    yisha (yishin (gen), yishina (dat), yishas (erg), yishē (loc), y-class; (pl) yizharī, b-class)

  25. At one point I thought I should give Chechen a try, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Sounds like a fun language, though!

  26. Besides, the most beautiful girl/woman I have ever come across was Chechen—or, maybe, Ingush—and I let her go, fool that I was!

  27. The folk-poetic Russian name is Стожары [Stozhary]

    I just discovered another one, Волосожары [Volosozhary], which may or may not have something to do with волос [volos] ‘hair.’

  28. David Marjanović says

    the most beautiful

    The US term Caucasian for pale people comes from Blumenbach‘s claim that the white race obviously comes from the Caucasus because that’s where the most beautiful people live.

    Ah, the days when science was easy…

  29. Stu Clayton says

    Now it’s difficult and expensive. This does not seem to have reduced the quantity of wild-eyed generalizations and predictions on offer, only (perhaps) its proportion. I would hazard that there are even more of them than before, with all the scientific trappings. They’re more difficult and expensive to disprove, because science. So they become current wisdom before resistance can be mounted.

    Example: Wakefield, who 20 years ago, with that article in The Lancet, launched the anti-vaccination hysteria. He didn’t do it alone.

  30. David Marjanović says

    Now it’s difficult and expensive.

    There are plenty of parts left that are cheap, if hard work. They’re not spectacular, so it’s hard to get them funded.

  31. David Eddyshaw says

    The hen with chickens legend is not confined to Europe

    Nɔnya’aŋ nɛ o Biis “Hen and her children” is also the Kusaal name for the Pleiades.

    I have a feeling that we discussed this elsewhere too, but I can’t find where.
    On first principles it seems likely that the name came via Islam, but I can’t find any references to a similar name in Arabic.

    Ah! found the other discussion:

    The Pleiades are called that in Hausa too (Kaza da ‘Ya’yanta), and Lameen found examples in Dogon (and they should know … perhaps the name comes from Sirius …)

  32. Nobody in the thread mentioned the site linked in the post, which is of course fine, but I thought I’d check to make sure it’s still there (it is), and got annoyed because they don’t always give the Greek forms of Greek place names — e.g. Abasenoi (which is, as I discovered elsewhere, Ἀβασηνοί).

  33. John Cowan says

    As Nick Nicholas said, “In the late 20th century, the abandonment of Classical education means that you cannot expect a general linguist to have any fluency in reading Greek, and Greek is universally transliterated in generalist contexts (outside of traditional historical linguistics).”

  34. David Eddyshaw says

    I see that a good pub quiz question would be “How many Seven Sisters are there?”

    (Answer: “Six.”)

  35. John Cowan says

    A better answer would be “Several thousand, of which six are (in good weather conditions) visible to the healthy naked eye.”

  36. Greek is universally transliterated in generalist contexts

    And I wouldn’t have had a problem (well, I would have muttered a bit but not complained publicly) if they had transliterated it fully as Abasēnoí. The way they did it omitted vital information.

  37. David Eddyshaw says

    A better answer would be

    I’m sorry: the umpire’s decision is final.

    it omitted vital information

    It omitted tone marking too. I am a patient man, but I am afraid that there can be no excuse.

  38. It omitted tone marking too.

    That was part of the vital information (see my substitute version).

  39. John Cowan says

    Yes, an acute or grave on i is hard to see, and I didn’t notice it either. How high is the functional load of the omissions, though?

  40. In principle, on a moonless night with excellent seeing, a person with very good vision can see as many as fourteen stars from the Pleiades cluster. A bunch of them are just barely naked eye stars, however. Most historical references note only six, but there is plenty of early documentation of a seventh. The inconsistency in the numbers are presumably related to the fact the seventh-brightest star in the cluster, Pleione (named after the nymph, who was herself named after the asterism) is a long-period Gamma Cassiopeiae variable, varying by up to a magnitude in brightness on decade scales; moreover, even at its brightest, it can be hard to distinguish from the second-brightest star in the cluster, Atlas, which is very close by.

  41. How high is the functional load of the omissions, though?

    Not sure how you’d measure functional load, but it’s irrelevant. A responsible scholar transliterates accurately or not at all. And without both length mark and accent, you can’t begin to pronounce the name in either Ancient or Modern Greek.

  42. David Eddyshaw says

    And without both length mark and accent, you can’t begin to pronounce the name

    This is what annoys me (greatly) about the (surprisingly common) grammars of African languages which don’t mark tone except in the actual chapter in tone. It means that I can’t read out any of the examples: OK, my pronunciation may be terrible, but at least I can try, if you’ll only supply the necessary information for me to make all necessary contrasts.

    I mean, I know tone is hard, but make an effort, guys! What is this, a grammar of written Borrioboola-Gha?

    [I’ve just discovered, via the (loathsome) UnHerd, that Dickens was specifically satirising the 1841 Niger Expedition to Lokoja, a place I have actually visited. The confluence of the Niger and Benue is spectacular and beautiful. Some very remarkable people were actually involved, notably Samuel Ajayi Crowther,]

  43. John Cowan says

    Not sure how you’d measure functional load

    By taking the ratio of potential minimal pairs to actual minimal pairs, to be sure. There are five possible accent placements and two vowel qualities, except that properispomenon-with-epsilon is impossible. That leaves only nine possibilities altogether, giving 9C2 or 36 minimal pairs. Your markup shows that the correct reading is oxytone-with-eta, but how many of the other eight exist I don’t know (which is why I asked).

    However, your transliteration still does not determine the pronunciation. Even a perfect transliteration does not amount to a transcription unless the original script was one. In this case there are two alphas, which could be independently long or short.

  44. David Eddyshaw says

    By taking the ratio of potential minimal pairs to actual minimal pairs

    Works for the lexicon, but African tone languages very often use tone to mark morphosyntactic distinctions.

    Kusaal is fairly typical: not all that many minimal pairs in the lexicon, but you can basically create as many minimal pairs as you like by exploiting the possibilities of tone overlays: one, for example, distinguishes verbs in main clauses from verbs in subordinate clauses, and in actual discourse, that can be a minimal pair, because the main clause can be ellipted (and very often is):

    gɔ́s nīf lā.
    I eye the
    “I’ve looked at the eye.”

    [Kɛ̀l kà] m̀ gɔ̄s nīf lā.
    [let and] I eye the
    “Let me look at the eye.”

    So you can have as many minimal pairs as there are verbs.*
    In Buli, Konni and Nawdm verbs have no lexically assigned tones of their own, but use tone entirely to distinguish different flexional forms, frequently without any segmental changes.

    Kulango has no lexical minimal pairs at all, but tone is of considerable importance in morphosyntax, and thus has a significant functional load.

    * Vedic Sanskrit finite verbs in main clauses lose their tones. I expect this was due to contamination from Kusaal. The agreeable predictability of tone in Greek finite verbs (as opposed to everything else) is a relic of the same kind of phenomenon.

  45. Kulango has no lexical minimal pairs at all.

    How can you say that with certainty without an Oxford Kulango Dictionary or such?

  46. David Eddyshaw says

    Because the tones of Kulango full words are always completely predictable (though they differ between nouns and verbs.)

    [This is all plagiarised from the late Stefan Elders’ superb Grammaire Kulango.]

  47. So you mean just tone-based minimal pairs, not necessarily segment-based ones?

  48. David Eddyshaw says

    Reminds me of a phenomenon I have often wondered about:

    I know of many languages where verbs show fewer potential lexical tonal distinctions than nouns, and of course a good number where nouns and verbs are much the same in this respect; but I actually don’t know of any language with more potential lexical tonal contrasts in verbs than nouns.

    I’m pretty confident that this counts as a Greenbergish quasi-universal, but (a) I would be very interested to hear of counterexamples and (b) why?

    So you mean just tone-based minimal pairs, not necessarily segment-based ones?

    Oops. Yes. Important words omitted … sorry.
    Not even Kin-Dza-Dza has a language with no minimal pairs at all …

  49. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Hum, I just looked up what the definition of a minimal pair is, and it’s something about phones. So the SIL sends out tin-eared missionaries who can only hear what’s in the IPA, if that, and they find pairs of homonyms that the native speakers are well aware are not–so do you add more phones? How many? Which? Using what features? It’s a bottomless gyre of question-begging (nobody ever: “the language has these phonemes when analysed using this phonetic set”) but somewhere in there you will probably find new minimal pairs..

    But sure, with phones given a priori, you can make a set of words where every pair differs in two or more locations (and there are thus no minimal pairs). It’s called a Hamming code, and making finer phonetic distinctions won’t create minimal pairs. I doubt that any “natural” language does that, but I can well imagine a conlanger wanting a lexicon like that.

  50. David Eddyshaw says

    tin-eared missionaries

    SIL folk seem to be pretty good at it these days. Maybe in the Dark Ages when they tended to write paint-by-numbers language descriptions obfuscated beyond all usability by tagmemics …

    The whole point of minimal pairs is to establish what the language’s phonemes actually are, so inevitably you have to start with phones. I haven’t come across any modern descriptions by SIL people (or anyone else) in which they forcibly dispose of contrasts pointed out by the speakers in order to reduce the phoneme count. It’s true that some phonemes are tagged as marginal in a lot of accounts, but that is for perfectly good reasons, e.g. only ever found in loanwords (like /h/ in Kusaal) or in particular grammatical contexts (like geminate consonants in Luo, which appear only in verb imperfectives.)

    There’s pretty often several ways to sort the sounds of a language into phonemes: in fact, the better studied the language is, the more likely you’ll turn up edge cases where how you decide to describe things is really just a matter of personal aesthetics, not anything that could even in principle be settled by experiment or acquiring more data. But that’s because real human languages are actually like that, All grammars leak. At every level from phonology up.

    It’s pretty common for one or another contrast not to be demonstrable by a single minimal pair: more so in some languages than others, as you imply. Then you have to go at the problem indirectly with near-minimal pairs, but the principles aren’t really any different fundamentally. It just means that you can’t make your description look so neat on the page.

  51. All grammars leak. At every level from phonology up.

    From phonetics up.

  52. David Eddyshaw says


  53. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Actually, don’t you run the risk that if your set of phones is too large, you try to split something that is “really” one phoneme with conditioned allophones, where you can only get “near”-minimal pairs?

  54. David Eddyshaw says

    Sure. That’s why field linguists have to be paid so well.

    (One problem is with sounds which are exclusively found in different environments. Are [h] and [ŋ] allophones in English? Stranger things have been seriously suggested in phonology …)

  55. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Like the issue recently with the nasal archiphoneme in Spanish (not) working in inmigrar and indemnizar. And Danish /a/: /kat/ [kad̥] vs /kap/ [kʌb̥]*. (Also triggered by morphophonemic lengthening in /hav/~/ha:və/ ‘sea~seas’ [hɑu̯̯]~[ha:.v̩])
    (*) Pronouncing [kʌd̥] is old nobility or HM the Queen (still her official style), while [kab̥] will mark you as an out-of-touch blue-haired bourgeois wannabe from north of Copenhagen. (Or Karen Blixen, whose excuse was leaving Denmark in 1910 and staying away for too long).

  56. [hɑu̯̯]

    What do the two inverted breves mean?

  57. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    They mean that I couldn’t see that I already put one in, because red wigglies. It’s supposed to be a non-syllabic u, the word is monosyllabic, but maybe it’s more a bilabial approximant. But not velarized, so I didn’t put w. This phonetics stuff is hard.

  58. January First-of-May says

    Actually, don’t you run the risk that if your set of phones is too large, you try to split something that is “really” one phoneme with conditioned allophones, where you can only get “near”-minimal pairs?

    And sometimes there really are environments where those “allophones” can technically both occur but they are so rare they hardly ever show up. I recall having read a fairly long thread at Tocharian Irredentism (don’t have a link handy, unfortunately) with an extended discussion on the exact pronunciation of Bernanke in General American dialects of English and its implications for the phonematicity of (what Wikipedia calls) [ɛə].

  59. I’ve never heard anything but /bərˈnæŋki/, which is what Wikipedia gives.

  60. David Eddyshaw says

    This issue comes up with vowel length in Kusaal: Kusaal diphthongs can be short, long or extra-long, but the extra-long kind are nearly confined to the position before certain “prosodic clitics”, which (as the name I gave them implies) could be analysed as prosodic features; more to the point, in this position, short diphthongs become long, so there is still only a two-way contrast.

    However, “nearly” is the rub: in my data there is (exactly) one word which has an extra-long diphthong in all contexts, vuaa, the plural of vuor “fruit of the red kapok tree.”

    For various reasons, mainly to do with underlying structures, and the parallels with how other kinds of words appear before prosodic clitics, it actually makes sense to take Kusaal as having a real three-way length distinction, but I must admit that this analysis has something of the sleight-of-hand about it …

  61. January First-of-May says

    It’s commonly been asserted that in Russian the phoneme /kʲ/ unambiguously occurs in only one word, namely ткёт “he weaves” (…presumably also in some other forms of the same verb), while all other occurrences of [kʲ] appear before front vowels and consequently can be interpreted as allophones of /k/; and that furthermore its voiced counterpart /gʲ/ might not qualify as a phoneme, because it does not have such examples and consequently occurs in complementary distribution with /g/.

    (Apparently some 20th and 21st century loanwords and colloquial forms had broken this distribution, however.)

  62. (Apparently some 20th and 21st century loanwords and colloquial forms had broken this distribution, however.)
    Yes. As an example, I have frequently encountered colloquial текёт “leaks” as opposed to standard течёт.

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