Tag Archives: Slavic 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? 

Leto

Serbian word “leto” means both “summer” and “year”. The word comes from Proto-Slavic *lěto, which comes from Proto-Indo-European *leh₁tom. Cognate with Ukrainian “літо” ‎(lito) meaning “summer”, Belarusian “слецiць” ‎(sljecicʹ) meaning “to warm” and “слетный” ‎(sljetnyj) meaning “warmish”, Bulgarian “лято” ‎(ljato) meaning “summer”, Russian “лето” (leto) meaning “summer, year”, Slovene “poletje” meaning “summer”, Czech “léto” meaning “summer”, Slovak “leto” meaning “summer”, Polish “lato” meaning “summer”, and Upper and Lower Sorbian “lěto” meaning “year”.

Possibly also cognate with Old Gutnish “ladigh” meaning “spring” and dialectal Swedish “låding, låing” meaning “spring”, and with Irish “lá” ‎meaning “day”.

The etymology of this word is unknown. So let me propose one. Is it possible that the word “leto” comes from the word “let” meaning “flight”? The word “let” comes from Proto Slavic verb “letěti” meaning “to fly”.  So why would you derive the word meaning “summer, year” from the verb “to fly”? Because of the migratory birds. Every year, starting from the second half of February, right after the climatic start of the spring, 4th of February,  migratory birds start arriving from their wintering sites. The bulk of the migratory birds return by the end of April, just before the climatic start of the summer, 6th of May.

So every year, during spring, which is in Serbian called “proleće”, which can mean both “before summer” and “flying by, migrating”, migratory birds arrive back home, signalling the end of the cold part of the year and the beginning of the warm part of the year. 

Equally the end of the warm period of the year, which normally coincides with the end of October, the end of the climatic end of autumn, is signaled by the flight of the migratory birds, this time in the opposite direction, flying away to their wintering sites.

In the old Celtic and Serbian calendar, year only had two parts: the warm, white part, summer (6th of May to 5th of November), and cold, dark part, winter (6th of November, 5th of May).

So the period between these two “let” (flights) of migratory birds, between their arrival and their departure, is “leto” (summer). This beginning of the new “summer” is the beginning of the new period of vegetative growth and abundance, the “important” part of the year. I believe that this is why Serbian word for “summer” and “year” is the same: “leto”…

I was just made aware of the existence of a Macedonian folk festival called Letnik. The following is excerpt translated from Makedonians in Albania by Dragoslav Budimovski. Original title: “Будимовски К, Драгослав. „Македонците во Албанија“. Студентски збор, Скопје, 1983. стр. 151”:

Letnik, which is celebrated every year on March 1 in the old calendar and is associated with the return of migratory birds from southern regions to Macedonia. The return of the migratory birds is celebrated as the beginning of spring or summer, the period of growth and the beginning of agricultural work. Therefore this feast is often considered to be a celebration of the beginning of the year in terms of the active period of the year. 

Holiday is mostly celebrated in Western Macedonia, in Galichnik, Golo Brdo, Pustec, Debar, Prespa, Ohrid and Struga. That this celebration has ancient pagan roots can be seen by the fact that in the areas where we have mixed population Orthodox and Muslim, like in Golo Brdo and Reka area, Letnik is celebrated by both Orthodox Christians and Muslims. However in mixed Macedonian Albanian areas only Macedonians celebrate Letnik. 

According to the testimonies of the local people, Letnik celebrations start in the early morning of the 1st of March. The first thing everyone does in the morning when they wake up is to look for a chicken (bird) so that you can be as light as a bird all year round. My comment: Originally people probably looked for return of migratory birds in flight. Then people look into their pockets so that they will have money and success (prosperity) all year round. People then go out in the forests and mountains and from there they bring home boughs made from blossoming cornel branches and they would put them over the fireplace. Alternately they would bring a cornel branch with which they would touch verige (the chain holding the cauldron over the fireplace), and then they would eat cornel blossom, so that they are healthy as cornel and as solid and strong as iron. My comment: Cornel is probably chosen because it has bright yellow flowers, like the summer sun everyone is awaiting…

Young children would pick dry branches and would go from house to house throwing them into house fires saying: How many sparks so many children (similar to Christmas Eve ceremony my comment: ceremony which is related to rekindling of the sun’s fire). During Letnik day it was mandatory to bring a branch of cornel if you visited anyone’s house, and in return the hosts would give the guests nuts, boiled grain and sweet. If the year turns out to be good for the host, the person who entered the house on first on Letnik morning is asked to do the same next year as he is believed to have brought luck to the family. my comment: Similar to the Christmas Položajnik (first footer) ceremony

This pretty much confirms my theory that the word leto comes from let. But there is more. 

In Slavic mythology, Jarilo was the son of the supreme Slavic god of thunder, Perun, his lost, missing, tenth son, born during Velja Noć (Great Night), the pagan Slavic celebration of the New Year. We don’t really know what the “Great Night” means, but I believe that this Great Night was originally the night before the beginning of winter which in the Irish calendar is marked by Samhain, the 31st of October, and in the Serbian calendar by St Mitar day (Mitrovdan) the 8th of November. I believe that this night was originally the night of the 5th of November, the mid point between the autumn equinox and winter solstice. 

I also believe that the expression Great Night was also an euphemism for Winter, the time of cold and death. Right in the middle of the winter is the night of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, which is also the middle of the winter, the middle of the darkest part of the year. This is the night when new fires are rekindled, to symbolize rekindling of sun’s fire, the birth of the new sun, new solar year. This new sun is Jarilo, whose name means the young one, but also the hot one.

However, on the same night when he was born, according to the Slavic tradition, Jarilo was stolen from his father and taken to the world of the dead, where he was adopted and raised by Veles, Perun’s enemy, Slavic god of the underworld and cattle. The Slavs believed the underworld to be an ever-green world of eternal spring and wet, grassy plains, where Jarilo grew up guarding the cattle of his stepfather. In the mythical geography of ancient Slavs, the land of the dead was assumed to lie across the sea, where migrating birds would fly every winter. This land of the dead was by Slavs known as Iriy, Irij or Vyriy (Russian: ирий, ирей, вырий). And when do the migrating birds leave the land of the living? By the beginning of the winter, which is marked by Samhain (Mitrovdan).

With the advent of spring, Jarilo returned from the underworld, that is, bringing spring and fertility to the land. Spring festivals, actually more precisely summer festivals of Jurjevo/Jarilo, St Georges day,  that survived in the Slavic folklore celebrate Jarilo’s return, the return of the summer heat. This is also the time when in Irish folklore we find Beltane, the day of bonfires…

And when does Jarilo return from the land of the dead? When the migratory birds return from Irij, the land of the dead where they spend winter, the period between Samhain (Mitrovdan) and Beltane (Djurdjevdan)…So again we have the link between the migrating birds and the beginning and the end of the year…

And there is more:

Remember my post about Radegast – Welcome guest?

In it I talked about a group of bronze idols which was discovered in mid 18th century in the lake Tollensesee near Prillwitz in Mecklenburg, South Baltic. Many of them bear Slavic inscriptions in runic letters. A significant number of the figures shows the characters with lion heads and lush manes. 

Baltic Slavs who lived in Pomerania, Pomorje, Fomorie and other Western Slavs had a god called Radegast of which we have many medieval records but of which we know very little. What is interesting is that the lion headed idol with the duck on his head from the Prillwickie idols group has inscription on identifying it as Radegast. 

Radegast, who has a lion’s head, has bull’s head on his chest. Why? Summer, starts in Bull (Taurus) and ends in Lion (Leo). The Lion headed figure has bull on his chest because the Leo sun, the old sun at the end of the summer contains Taurus sun, the young sun at the beginning of the summer. The old Sun is the young sun at heart 🙂 

Slavs also had god Belbog of whom we know even less. I would like to propose that Radegast and Belbog are one and the same deity and they were represented as the man with the lion’s head. 

Belbog means white god. This god is the equivalent of the Celtic god Belenos and Welsh god Beli. This is the god of day, summer, light. The white part of the year and the white part of the day. The name of the Celtic god Belenos comes form bel + nos. In Slavic languages bel, beli, beo means white, and nos means carries, brings. So belenos = bel + nos = white + brings = the bringer of the white. Belbog comes from bel + bog = white + god.

Why is this god represented as a man with the lion’s head? This is a representation of an anthropomorphic sun. Sun is the strongest in the middle of Leo. And the middle of Leo is also the middle of the white part of the year, which as I said, in Serbian and Celtic calendar starts on the 6th of May Beltane (Djurdjevdan, St Georges day) and ends on the 5th of November Samhain (Mitrovdan, St Martin’s day). This is the day of Thundering sun, Grom Div, Crom Dubh, Hromi Daba.

You can read more about this calendar in my post “Two crosses“.

And what is the duck doing on Belbog’s head. He has a duck on his head, as ducks, and other migratory birds return by the end of April just before Beltane (Djurdjevdan, St Georges day), announcing the beginning of the summer, the white (bel) part of the year. It is the duck who is the “welcome guest” = Rad Gost, Radegos. Radegast. This is basically an euphemism for the long awaited beginning of the new summer…The beginning of the new Leto.

I wish it was summer now…I hope the welcome guests start arriving soon 🙂