Tag Archives: linguistics

History

English word “history” means “the aggregate of past events”. What does this “aggregate of past events” actually mean? It basically means a story about what happened….

This is famous gusle player and epic poems singer Rajko Ivković. Born in 1880, in the village Gradovi on mountain Rudnik in Serbia. Survived 3 wars. Had many stories to tell. 

According to the official etymology the word “history” comes from Middle English, from Old French “estoire, estorie” ‎which means “chronicle, history, story”, from Latin “historia” which means “account, story”, from Ancient Greek “ἱστορία” ‎(historía) which means “learning through research, narration of what is learned”, from “ἱστορέω” ‎(historéō) which means “to learn through research, to inquire”, from “ἵστωρ” ‎(hístōr) which means “the one who knows, the expert”. Proposed PIE root is “*widstōr” ‎which is supposed to mean “knower, wise man”, from Proto-Indo-European “*weyd-” meaning “‎to see”.

Now how does one become an expert? By doing something for a long time and building the knowledge through experience. 

“*widstōr” ‎is supposed to mean “knower, wise man”…But “widstōr” literally means “someone who has seen a lot”…

A wise man is man with long experience. An old man usually. A man with life long experience. Who has seen a lot in his life and has learned a lot from what he has seen. He had to. He survived to tell tale…

In Slavic languages the word “vid” means to see. 
In Slavic languages the word “ved, dialectic vid” means to tell, story, knowledge, expertise.  

In Slavic languages we have another word “star”. According to the official etymology this word comes from Proto Slavic “*starъ” (star) which means old. Now proposed further root is Proto-Balto-Slavic “*staʔros” meaning old, from PIE “*steh₂-ro-” from “*stati” meaning to remain, to stay, to survive…Which is what old (star) people are good at doing. They are good at surviving. This is how they got to be old. 

So you find a wise old man (vid star) and listen to his stories. And hopefully you will learn something from them which will help you to one day become a wise old man who will have a lot of stories to tell. 

Now how do you know who is a wise old man? Basically in the past, any old man was a wise old man. 

In Slavic languages we have a word “je” which means “is”. According to the official etymology this word is a shortened from “jȅst” meaning “to be”. The official etymology then goes to say that this Slavic root comes from Proto-Slavic “*estь” which means “to be”, from PIE “*h₁es-” which means “to be”. 

Now in South Slavic languages the word “je” means “is” but also “it is”. As “it is” the word “je” is short of “jes” (pronounced yes) meaning “it is”. So the word “jest” comes from “je(s)” + “to” = “(it) is” + “that” and means “to be”. You can see that the root is the word “je(s)” meaning “is”, “it is”. 

Anyway…

If you are looking for an old man, you would look for someone who “is old”, which in Slavic languages would be “je star”…

Now let’s look again at the Ancient Greek root of the word “history”: “ἵστωρ” ‎(hístōr) which means “the one who knows, the expert”. Looks suspiciously like “jestar” = “je star” = “is old” = “wise”. 

Now let’s look again at the Ancient Greek word derived from this ancient “root”: “ἱστορέω” ‎(historéō) which means “to learn through research, to inquire”. After a lot of research, inquiring, you eventually, if you have learned anything, get old. In Slavic languages “got old” is “je ostario”…

If the old man was unlucky enough to live during the “heroic” times of war, but was lucky enough to survive the war and come home as a victor, he would have had a lot of interesting “heroic” stories to tell. These stories about heroic deeds, which returning heroes would tell to their compatriots were eventually turned into heroic poems or stories by bards, who then passed them on from generation to generation. Until eventually one day someone wrote down these heroic poems or stories and they became histories, the stories of old told by those who survived long enough to become old, to become “ἵστωρ” “jestar”, the wise old man…

What remains

This is 7,000-year-old skeleton found during excavations in Molavi Street in the south of Tehran, Iran.

So 7000 years ago, there was a person living in the area of today’s Tehran. Then he died and was buried, and the only thing that today remains of this person are his bones, his skeleton.

This is a carcass of a dead animal. Scavengers have almost stripped all the flesh and soft tissue and soon only bones will remain…

These skeletons are in English known as “remains”. In Serbian they are known as “ostaci” meaning “remains”.

In my previous post “The one who stayed” I talked about the etymology of the PIE root “*gʰóstis” which means at the same time foreigner, guest and enemy. I proposed that this root is actually a construct “ko, go” + “osta” = “who, which” + “stays, remains”.

It just occurred to me. Is it possible that the Serbian word “kost” meaning “bone” comes from the same root “osta” meaning “stay, remain”? The word “kost” would then be a construct “ko,go” + (je) + “osta” = what + (is) + left (after the soft body tissue is stripped off by scavengers, worms, bacteria)…Just like skeletons (bones) on the above pictures. Kost (bone) is what stays, remains (ko, go + osta).

Also if you kill an animal, roast it and eat it, you will be able to eat everything but the bones. They will be the ones that stay, remain, “ko + je + osta” = kost…

If you put yourself in the shoes of our ancestors who developed the original language which we today call Proto Indo European. They would have seen bones remaining after meals, after wild animal kills, after burials…Wouldn’t it have been logical for them to have started using the expression “that which remains” for that which remains from the dead animal or human: ko je osta = kost = bone?

If we look at the official etymology of the Serbian word “kost” we see that it comes from Proto-Slavic “*kostь“, from Proto-Indo-European “h₃ost, h₃ésth₁“.

The fact that we have two alternative PIE roots shows that we are not really sure about the root. The thing is that these two roots are actually both constructs. The first one “h₃ost” comes from ko, go + osta = what stays, remains. The second one “h₃ésth₁” comes from koje + osta = ko + je + osta = what + is + remaining, the remains

Here are all the cognates derived from these PIE roots. You can see that all of them can be built using root “osta” meaning “stay, remain”.

Albanian: asht, ahstë — osta = remain
Hittite: ḫastāi — ko, go + osta + je = that which + remain + is 
Luwian: ḫāš — ko, go + os(ta) = that which + remain
Old Armenian: ոսկր ‎(oskr) — osta ko,ga = ost(k)ga = os(k)ga = remanin + that which
Armenian: ոսկոր ‎(oskor) — osta ko,ga = ost(k)ga = os(k)ga = remanin + that which
Old Irish: asna (< *h₂estnijo) -- ko, go + ostane = that which + remani
Irish: easna — ko, go + ostane = that which + remani
Scottish Gaelic: asna — ko, go + ostane = that which + remani
Welsh: asgwrn (< *astkornu), ais (< *astū < *h₂estōn), asen (< *astonion) -- ostane + on = remain + he, it
Ancient Greek: ὀστέον ‎(ostéon) — osta + je + ono = remain + is + it
Greek: οστό ‎(ostó) — ostao = remains
Latin: os — same like Luvian, shortened osta = remain
Sanskrit: अस्थि ‎(ásthi) — ostaje = osta + je = remain + is
Hindi: अस्थि ‎(ásthi) — ostaje = osta + je = remain + is
Telugu: అస్థి ‎(asthi) — ostaje = osta + je = remain + is
Urdu: استھ ‎(ásthi) — ostaje = osta + je = remain + is
Avestan: asti — ostaje = osta + je = remains + is
Kurdish: hestî — ko, go + ostaje = ko, go + osta + je = that which + remain + is
Persian: است ‎(ast), استخوان ‎(ostoxân) — osta = remain
Kamviri: âṭi — ostaje = osta + je = remain + is
Tocharian B: āy (plural āsta) — osta =  remain

This PIE root etymology fits perfectly with the etymology of the PIE root “*gʰóstis”. Actually these two etymologies support each other, by confirming the original proposed logic behind the development of the PIE root “*gʰóstis” actually makes a lot of sense, because it also explains the development of the PIE root(s) “h₃ost, h₃ésth₁”…

This is quite remarkable don’t you think? 

The one who stayed

“Svakog gosta tri dana dosta” (You will have enough of any guest after three days), Serbian proverb and one of my late grandmother’s favorite sayings. We never stayed longer than 3 days in her house and she never stayed longer than 3 days in ours…
An old inn, hostel

Many years ago I lived in Greece for a year. I used to speak some Greek and one of my favorite words was the Greek word for house “σπίτι” (spiti). It always sounded funny to me. Because of spit, spitting. Yes I am that juvenile. 

But recently I was reminded of this word and suddenly it wasn’t funny any more, because this time the first association that I got was not English “spitting”, but Serbian “spiti” meaning to sleep…So I thought: what is a house? A house is a place where you can stay, sleep and eat “in”, protected from the elements. 

But Serbian “spiti” – “to sleep” couldn’t be the etymology of the Greek word “σπίτι” (spiti) – “house”…Could it?
So I decided to look at the official etymology of this Greek word. What I found is very interesting indeed…

The Greek word “σπίτι” (spiti) is said to come from Byzantine Greek “σπίτιν” ‎(spítin), from Koine Greek “ὁσπίτιον” ‎(hospítion), from Latin “hospitium” ‎meaning “lodgings, guest chamber”.

Now Lating “hospitium” means a place of entertainment for strangers; lodgings, inn, guest-chamber, poorhouse. It is said to come from “hospes” meaning guest, visitor, stranger, foreigner but also host to guests, visitors, strangers, foreigners.

The word “hospes” is then said to derive from hypothetical Proto-Italic word “*hostipotis”, an old compound of “hostis” and the root of “potis”. The only direct Indo-European cognate of this non existent, proposed Proto-Italic word is common Slavic “*gospodь” ‎meaning lord, master. From this we have proposed, non existent “supposed” PIE reconstruction as “*gʰost(i)potis”, a compound of PIE roots “*gʰóstis” and “*pótis“.

The PIE root “*gʰóstis” means stranger. The descendants are

Germanic: *gastiz meaning stranger, guest, enemy
Slavic: *gostь meaning guest
Italic: *hostis meaning stranger, guest. What is interesting is that the only descendant of this Proposed Italic root is Latin word “hostis” which means an enemy of the state, a stranger…

Here is where it gets interesting. 

The PIE root “*gʰóstis” is said to “possibly” come from the PIE root “*gʰes-” ‎meaning to eat. So we don’t know what the actual root is. The reason why the “possible” root is said to be “*gʰes-” meaning to eat, is probably because when you have guests you give them food??? And here is a proposed “possible” cognate: Sanskrit घसति ‎(ghasati) meaning to eat, to devour.

But how does this relate to the Latin meaning of the word which is “an enemy of the state, a stranger”? You are not going to be feeding the enemy?

Well here is another possible etymology which I think will fit much better:

In Slavic languages we have a word “stan” which means “stop, stay, remain, home of, place where one stays, camp, country…”. The word comes from common PIE root “*steh₂-” which officially means “to stand” but I would also add “to stay, to remain”.

No in Serbian we have the word “ostati” meaning “to stay, to stay behind”. The word “osta” means “stayed, stayed behind”. The expression “on osta” means “he stayed, he stayed behind” and the expression “ko osta” means “(he) who stayed, (he) who stayed behind”. The  old word for “he who” is ga, go, gu which is still used in South of Serbia. That would make “go osta” = gosta = gost = guest…

And here are some other Sanskrit cognates which fit this etymology:

स्थिति (sthiti) stay
आस्था (AsthA) stay

कोष्ठ (koSTha) – room
गोष्ठा (goSThA) – place where cows are kept, cowshed, stable, pen, refuge. 

Both from ko, go + osta = that which + stay

So it is very much possible that the PIE root “*gʰóstis” comes from “osta” meaning “stay”.

Now have a look at the meanings of all the words that stem from the proposed PIE root “*gʰóstis“: stranger, guest, enemy. Can we derive these meanings from the word “osta”?

Guest is someone, a stranger, not one of us, not one who has a house in our village, who came to visit and stayed: “k(g)o osta”. At the time when these words were developed the only people who came from the outside of the community were strangers and if they stayed they were the strangers who stayed. As guests.

If some stranger comes to the village and needs to stay the night you need a place for him to stay in. The place where people stay when they are in a foreign village is a hotel or a hostel. The English word “hotel” is a borrowing from French “hôtel” which is a version of “ho(s)tel” which has lost it’s “s”. The English word “hostel” is then said to come from middle English, from Old English reinforced by Old French (h)ostel (also found as osteaus, osteax, ostiaus, ostiax), which means “shelter, place to stay”. This word is then said to come from Late Latin “hospitale” meaning “hospice”, from Classical Latin “hospitalis” ‎meaning “hospitable” and we are back at “hospes” meaning guest, visitor, stranger, foreigner but also host to guests, visitors, strangers, foreigners.

Now if “osta” means “to stay, stay behind” then ostel, osteaus, osteax, ostiaus, ostiax can all be derived from the same root to mean “the place where you can stay, stay behind”, which is the meaning of hostel, hotel, inn. Literally the place where foreigners can stay in…

In Irish the word for hotel is “ostan”. If we look at the Irish dictionary we find these words based on the root “osta” meaning to stay:

osta, g. id., pl. iostaidhe, m., an apartment, place, habitation, dining room, an inn.
iostán, -áin, pl. id., m., a cottage, a hut, dim. of iosta.
iostas, -ais, pl. id., m., an entertainment, a lodging, accommodation, housing, quartering (pronunciation can be found here)
ósta, g. id., m., hospitality, entertainment; a lodging, an inn; teach ósta, an inn.
óstaidheacht, -a, f., lodging, entertainment.
óstánach, -aigh pl. id., m., an innkeeper (O’N.).
óstas, -ais, m., inn-keeping, entertainment.
óstóir, -óra, -óiridhe, m., a host, an inn-keeper.
óstóireacht. -a, f., hostelry.

This root exists in the Early Irish and the meaning is the place where strangers, guests can stay, like a house, a hut, a lodging, an inn. Sure you can eat in a house, in a hut, in a lodging, in an inn, but the main thing that strangers, guests can do there is “to stay inn”…

Sometimes the strangers who stay are not friendly strangers but enemies who stayed, as hostages. Or as prisoners.

The English word “hostage” means “a person given as a pledge or security for the performance of the conditions of a treaty or stipulations of any kind, on the performance of which the person is to be released”. During that time a hostage is a guest, unwelcome guest (k(g)osta), but a guest nevertheless…The word comes from Old French “hostage”, which comes from Old French “oste” which apparently comes from Latin “hospes” which comes from proposed PIE “*gʰost(i)potis” which comes from PIE “*gʰóstis” meaning guest, visitor, stranger, foreigner but also host to guests, visitors, strangers, foreigners. Now in the past hostages were given to the enemy. They were the ones “who were given to stay behind” as hostages. In Serbian “who stayed give him” = “ko osta da ga” = hostage.

One, on the first glance, very strange thins is that the PIE “*gʰóstis” means stranger, guest, enemy. Now when does a guest become an enemy? When he overstays the welcome and when you have to use force to get him out of your home, of your land. This is when guest becomes a hostile (enemy). The English word “hostile” comes from Middle French “hostile” which comes from Latin hostīlis, which comes from Latin “hostis” ‎meaning enemy, which comes from Proto-Italic “*hostis” which comes from PIE “*gʰóstis” ‎guest, stranger, enemy…

So here you have it. I believe that it is pretty obvious that the PIE “*gʰóstis” does not come from PIE root “*gʰes-” ‎meaning to eat, but that it comes from the PIE root “*steh₂-” which means “to stand, to stop” through Slavic word “osta” meaning stay, remain.

Now let’s go back to the “supposed” PIE reconstruction “*gʰost(i)potis”, a compound of PIE roots “*gʰóstis” and “*pótis“. 

If the PIE root “*gʰóstis” has etymology which can be derived from a construct which was preserved in Slavic languages, is it possible that the other part of of the “*gʰost(i)potis”, the PIE root “*pótis” can also be derived from a construct preserved in Slavic languages?

Actually it can. 

The PIE root “*pótis” means master, ruler, husband, father. Now the Slavic word “gospod” which means master, ruler, husband, father is actually short version of the word “gospodar” meaning master ruler. If the above etymology is correct, “gospod” can indeed be split into “gost” + “poda”. The “poda” is short of “podari” which means “allows, gives as a gift, bestows, permits…” Which is exactly what a master, ruler, husband, father does…He decides who stays “under his roof”, in his village, on his land, in his garden of Eden. The same goes for the hostel owner, inn keeper. 

So gospod = gost + poda = ko + osta + poda = who + stays + permits, allows, gives. Basically gospod is the hospitable one…

And finally lets go back to the Greek word that started all this: “σπίτι” (spiti) meaning “house”. The word is said to come from Byzantine Greek “σπίτιν” ‎(spítin), from Koine Greek “ὁσπίτιον” ‎(hospítion), from Latin hospitium ‎meaning “lodgings, guest chamber”.

Is it possible that this word does not actually come from the “*gʰost(i)potis” but instead from another construct preserved in Slavic languages? In South Serbian dialects of Slavic languages Latin word hospitium, meaning “lodgings, guest chamber, the place where guests sleep”, can be broken into hospitium = ko osta + spi(e) + tu = who stayed (guest) + sleeps + there = lodging,  guest chamber. Even the proposed root of hospitium, the word “hospes” meaning guest, visitor, stranger, foreigner but also host to guests, visitors, strangers, foreigners can be broken into hospes = ko osta + spi(e) = who stayed (guest) + sleeps…

Interesting, don’t you think?

Golem and Gavra

Prague golem

In Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated anthropomorphic being that is magically created entirely from inanimate matter (specifically clay or mud). The oldest stories of golems date to early Judaism. In the Talmud, which was compiled between 200 AD and 500 AD. In Sanhedrin 38b we read that Adam was initially created as a golem (גולם) when his dust was “kneaded into a shapeless husk”. Like Adam, all golems are created from mud, but no anthropogenic golem is fully human. What distinguishes a golem from a human is golem’s inability to speak. 

Sanhedrin 65b describes Rava creating a man. He sent the man to Rav Zeira. Rav Zeira spoke to him, but he did not answer. Rav Zeira said, “You were created by the sages; return to your dust”

Now word used for man in the above story is “gavra”. So man, golem that can talk, is in Hebrew called “gavra”. Which is very interesting considering that in Slavic languages word “govor” means “speech”. And “govori ja” means “I speak”. So in Slavic languages gavra means exactly what it supposed to mean: someone that can talk, not golem, man…

How is this possible?

Does the word “gavra” has the meaning in Hebrew that is related to talking? And if not, how is it possible that this Slavic expression ended up in ancient Hebrew?

O and by the way, the word “golem” in Slavic languages means “big”, “large”, “huge”, “giant”. The word comes from Proto-Slavic *golěmъ meaning “big”, “large”, “huge”, “giant”….Wasn’t golem supposed to have been much bigger and much stronger than a normal human?

Curiouser and curiouser…

The oldest word in the world

What is the oldest word in the world? 

Tough question. How would you even go about finding this out? 

Well you can collect all the words from all living and dead languages. Analyze them, compare them and you might come up with a list of some root words common to enough distant languages that you can say: “these words are very old”. But this is basically where you will hit the dead end. There is no way to progress from here to “this is the oldest word in the world”. 

So I decided to take different approach. Instead of looking for the oldest recorded word, I will look at what “word” is and go from there. 

Word can be spoken or written. Written word is encoding of a spoken word using symbols or signs.

A spoken “word” is a sequence of sounds which is associated with some agreed meaning. It is this associated meaning that turns noise into words. You have all probably been in a situation where you were abroad, in a country whose language you didn’t understand. If you even bothered listening to the people around you, all you would have heard was incomprehensible noise. And sprinkled here and there were words, parts of the noise that for you had some meaning, because in your own language that particular sequence of sounds had attached meaning. Something like this:

“Dobardangospodinekolikokostakokakola”

Say this out loud. Can you recognize any of it? This is Serbian. I deliberately removed spacing because when you are listening to foreign language that you don’t understand this is how you hear it. The text in quotations means “Good day sir. How much is Coca cola?”. How many of you recognized “coca cola” among the noise?

Anyway. 

Now that we know what spoken “word” is, we need to look at how words are made. Well they are made by blowing air through our mouth while opening and closing our mouth, changing the position of our tong and squeezing and relaxing our throat and our vocal cords. On top of this we need to listen to the sounds we are making in order to plan and control the process of speaking. So in order to speak properly we need to be able to hear properly. And we have to have all the brain functions that deal with all of the muscular and sensory systems involved in speaking and with translation of ideas into language, well developed and highly tuned. This makes speaking a very very complicated thing indeed. I wrote a big article about language development on my page “Unified languages theory“, so if you are interested in things like that you should have a look at it. 

One of the things that we know about language development is that every new born baby has to start from scratch. Every normal human baby is born with a mouth, tongue, throat, vocal cord, ears, brain. But none of the apparatus involved in controlling these parts of the human body is developed at birth. This is why new born babies don’t open their mouths to take their first breath and say “Good day sir. Nice to meet you. Stop slapping my bottom…” They open their mouths to take their first breath and howl “aaaaaaaaaaa”. You can hear a very good rendition of this sound sequence in this video.  

This sequence of sounds carries a meaning. It means: “I am in distress! Alert! WTF just happened!!??!!”. How do we know this? Because this sequence of sounds (vowels) is accompanied by a facial expression which clearly shows distress. The idea is to attract attention of the mother. It is unconscious communication, built into us genetically. We don’t have to think about it or plan it. Our emotions are automatically encoded into facial expressions and involuntary sounds. I wrote about these involuntary sounds on my page “Vowels“. 

But as we grow up, we continue to use these facial expressions and sounds. And the same sequence of sounds “aaaaaaa” accompanied with the same or similar facial expressions, continues to represent the same idea: “Distress! Alert!”. We do this unconsciously when we are afraid, or when we are in pain or when we are grieving.  And consciously when we are shouting to alert other people to something, mostly of incoming scary thing that can cause pain and grieving. Sometimes that scary thing is us and we are alerting others that we can cause them pain and grieving…

So here we have the first sound every baby makes at birth, and it seems that this sound, or sound sequence, carries a meaning. Could this sound sequence be called a word? 

I believe so. Even though the origin of this sound sequence is in unconscious, involuntary sounds of distress, this sound sequence is later consciously used by adult humans to signify distress, alert. So for all intents and purposes this is in fact the oldest word ever uttered by humans, and which has survived til today. 

Done.

Not bad for an hour work. 🙂
I know that some people could say that this is not really a word because it has no consonants. They could also say that a shout is not a word. 

I could argue that there are plenty of single vowels which are considered to be “words”. And I could argue that the words are supposed to convey a meaning. And this “shout”, conveys more meaning than a lot of big complicated words put into big complicated sentences. 

But I won’t argue.

Instead, in my next post I will talk about the second oldest word in the world. This word has one consonant and one vowel. It is still in use today and is the root for some of the most important words in Indoeuropean languages. And not just Indoeuropean…

Until then, take care, stay happy

Trom

In Serbian and Croatian we have adjective “trom” which means:

moving with difficulty
sluggish
slow

It is implied that the slowness and sluggishness comes from heaviness. The word has an opposite meaning to words meaning springiness, lightness of movement, lightness.

In Makedonian we have word “tromav” which means cumbersome, clumsu. 

This word is, as far as i am aware, found only in these South Slavic languages.

And in Celtic languages.

Irish “trom”

of great weight, of high specific gravity, of heavy texture, stodgy, hard to digest, dense, thick, abundant, of great force or intensity, laborious, burdensome, grievous, severe, harsh, tyrannous
unsparing, sultry, oppressive, weighty, profound, important (heavy), dull, tedious, laboured, drowsy, deep, slumberous, oppressed, sad

Old Irish “trom”

heavy (weight), heavy, severe, grievous, difficult, sad, sorrowful, great, vast, powerful, mighty

Scottish Gaelic “trom”

heavy, hard, difficult, weighty, serious, depressed, melancholy, addicted (heavily into something), pregnant (with child)

Manx “trome”

heavy, substantial, dense, difficult, emphatic, intense, pregnant

Welsh “trwm”

literally and figuratively heavy

Apparently all these Celtic words come from Proto Celtic root “trummos” meaning heavy. 

Where does the Serbian word comes from then? 

I personally believe that it is a borrowing from Celtic languages. But how come we find this word only in Celtic languages and in Serbian (Croatian)? When was this word borrowed into Serbian (Croatian) and where? 

From your hands

In Serbian the word “ruka” means “hand, arm”. This is Slavic only word, borrowed by Latvians and Lithuanians. The expression “iz ruke” means “from the hand”. You take something that someone is giving you from his hand. The expression “iz ruku” means “from the hands”. You take something that someone is giving you from his hands. To give something, you need to “let go of it”, “let it out of your hand” which in Serbian is “iz ruke” = from the hand, “iz ruku” = from the hands, or if you are an “uneducated peasant” you would say “iz rukama” = from the hands

But today while browsing the Sumerian dictionary, as you would 🙂 , I came across this: Sumerian: ISRUK = Gave (he gave) ISRUKAM = Gave (he gave to me)
I also found this word:

Sumeran:

NADANU = Give, Give (to pay)

In Serbian when an “uneducated peasant” wants to give you something, especially whey he has to give it to you grudgingly, like for instance when he has to give you money, he will often say to you “na!” meaning “here you go”, “here it is”, “take it”. The word “na” also means “to, at, of” so in South of Serbia “uneducated peasants” would say “podaj to na njega” meaning “give this to him”.

Once the thing is given, in Serbian it is “dan (M), dana (F), dano (N)” meaning “given”.

Now the Slavic verb “dati” meaning “to give” comes from Indoeuropean root “deh₃-“. But how many non Slavic languages have word “na” with the above meaning?

And what the hell are these words doing in Sumerian???

Any plausible explanation anyone?

Worth

In English we have the word “worth” which means “having a value, deserving of”. The official etymology of this word says that it comes from Middle English “worth”, from Old English “weorþ”, from Proto-Germanic “*werþaz” meaning “worthy, valuable”. Etymology for the reconstructed Proto-Germanic root “werþaz” is unclear. Officially it comes from “Pre-Germanic” root “*wértos”, probably derived from Proto-Indo-European “*wert- ‎(“to turn”) through a meaning of “exchange”, a development also seen in Celtic.

However I believe that the the original root of this word could be Slavic word “vredan“. The word “vredan” means both “hardworking, industrious, diligent” and “valuable”. I believe that originally it was applied to both cattle and people, family members, slaves, serfs, who in the past were both only valuable if they were hardworking….Otherwise they were not “worth”, deserving of being fed and kept alive…They had no value. This is where the original meaning of “exchange” came from and was “hard work for life”. Only later, when people started trading, the worth of people and cattle started to be expressed in “things you can get for hard working people and cattle” and only then the word “worth” started being used to mean “value” of anything that can be exchanged.

But, the most common opinion in linguistic circles is that Germanic and Slavic words are cognates and that the Slavic word is “and early, pre 8th century borrowing from Germanic languages”. In this case the meaning of the Slavic word “vredan” would come from “verd” + “dan” = “worth” + “given” = “in exchange” + “given” = “value”…But this does not explain the meaning “hard working, industrious, diligent” which the word “vredan” also carries…

What do you think?

O yea, and how much are you “worth”? Unfortunately, not much has changed in the world since this word was coined. Except that today you are not kept alive by your owners by them giving you food and shelter. Today they give you money to buy food and shelter. If you are “vredan” (worthy – valuable because of being hardworking, industrious, diligent)… 🙂

Na

South Eastern dialect of Serbian has a peculiar grammatical construct. It uses “na” meaning “on” to express belonging, possession. This construct using the word “na” exists (as far as I know) also in neighboring Macedonian and some Bulgarian dialects, all centered around southern Carpathian or Balkan mountains.

South Serbian:

Q: Na koga je ovo kuče – on whom is this hound (whose hound is this)? 

A: To je kuče na petra – this is the hound on Petar (of Peter)

Bulgarian:

A: Tova e kuče na Petar – this is the hound on Petar  (of Peter)

Macedonian:

A: Toa e kuče na Petar – this is the hound on Petar  (of Peter)

This construct defines possession through physical contact which is the oldest known form of possession. What belongs to me is on me, within my boundary, within what i can grab, hold, wear, carry, protect…

Fernand Cormon, Cain, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

What is interesting is that the Irish language has the same construct. On the page about Hiberno-English (English dialect spoken in Ireland which is hugely influenced by the Irish grammar and vocabulary) we read:

There are some language forms in Hiberno-English that stem from the fact that there is no verb “to have” in Irish. Instead, possession is indicated in Irish by using the preposition at, (in Irish, ag.). To be more precise, Irish uses a prepositional pronoun that combines ag “at” and mé “me” to create agam which basically means “at me, on me”. This is then reflected in Hiberno-English, where the verb “to have” is used, interchangeably with phrases “with me” or “on me” that derive from “tá … agam”. This gives rise to the frequent:

“Do you have the book?” – “I have it with me.”
“Have you change for the bus on you?”
“He will not shut up if he has drink taken.”

My favorite Irish Gaelic expression using this construct is “Tá áthas orm” meaning “I am happy, I have happiness” but literally meaning “There is happiness on me” 🙂

So what language did this construct originate in: Irish or these south Slavic dialects? Remember that the Irish language only has this constrict to express possession. And that this part of the Balkans was once “Celtic central” and is the area where we still find “Celtic” village crosses, like this one from Crna Trava:

And how old is this construct? Is it possible that this is a true linguistic fossil, which comes to us from the time before settled communities and static property? 

And does a similar construct exists in any other language? 

Well it seems that it does. In Finnish of all languages. Finnish doesn’t have a separate verb for “to have”. Instead it uses a different sentence construction, centered around the verb “olla”, “to be”. It’s interesting to note that the “minulla on” literally means”on me there is”. 

Very interesting, because it shows the age of this construct. 

Busy bee

A busy “buzzy” bee busily collecting nectar from flowers. The word “busy” comes from Middle English busi, besy, bisi, from Old English bysiġ, *biesiġ, bisiġ (“busy, occupied, diligent”), from Proto-Germanic *bisigaz (“diligent; zealous; busy”). The etymology of this Proto-Germanic root “*bisigaz” is “unknown”… 

Hmmmm, linguists should leave their libraries and go out more, walk in fields, observe bees busily buzzing around….

Maybe something will click in their heads, who knows… 🙂

Go out. Enjoy summer. 🙂