Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hey, Toro, Toro! - A Followup

Two more common examples revolve around the triad five-finger-fist and the verb “to bore.” The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) contructions *penkwe (five – think “pente,” or “quinque” in Latin and Greek), *pnkwstis (fist), and *penkweros (finger) sure look related, and few would doubt that there is an earlier root which gave rise to all of them. In the equally ancient language families which bordered PIE (Uralic and Altaic, the ancestor languages to Finnish, Hungarian, Turkish), the roots for fist or palm of hand are suspiciously similar: *peyngo and *p’aynga. Penkwe-peyngo-paynga. Looks awfully related to me. Words for “bore” or “pierce” in the supposedly unrelated protolanguages of Afro-Asiatic, Altaic, Sumerian, Dravidian, and Uralic, are bar, bur, bur, pur, pura. Too much similarity for coincidence.

There are other proposed cognates – Greenberg lists around 600 – some more convincing, some less.

Okay, like you care. Just hold the key fact in mind. There are echoes of language relationships earlier than Indo-European, though mainstream linguists resist the concept. And all this is a lead-in to an upcoming discussion about how ideas change.


terri said...

I would be interested in seeing the roots of the words for father and mother. I awlways found it intriguing that the chinese word "baba" for father, the english/spanish/french/etc "papa," the sanskrit? "pater" aramaic "abba" are all so closely related.

Is it continuity of language ideas or simply that it is the easiest first sound for an infant to make....thus leading to the proud parent assuming the child is referring to them. The positive reactions reinforce the sound and condition the infant to repeat it upon sight of the parent. Valid thought or hogwash?


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Straight to the heart of the controversy, terri! The Ringes and other mainstream linguists would maintain that the mama, ammah/ papa, dada, abba constructions are so universal because they are, as you note, among the easiest sounds for a baby. Arguing in favor of this hypothesis would be the interesting bit of data that there is a language of the Caucasus that has them reversed.

Even that would not be rock-solid evidence, however, as an original "dada" could have generalized from "father" to "parent," then become respecified to "mother" 1,000 or 10,000 years later. Who'd know what the old form had been?

Ruhlen, Greenberg, and the other Eurasiatic or proto-World believers would argue instead that this is simply the best example of intimate words that change only with extreme slowness in a language, leaving behind traces of the original language. Other intimate, slow-to-change words would be m- and ti for I/you, (me/thee in English). That m- for the self and ti for the companion is present in an enormous number of languages, and more importantly, in all language families. dek/dik/tik for index finger or "one" is also very common (as in digit, index).

A stronger item would be the formulation kaka for uncle/grandfather/older male relative, which is found in numerous, supposedly unrelated languages. (English isn't one of them). The k- sound is not easy for babies to make, suggesting that the persistence and spread of the word does not come from ease alone.

When we were out to dinner with Pastor Mannesae and his family (who are all from C.A.R.), one of the girls addressed him as "kaka," which was an interesting confirmation to me of what I had hitherto only read in linguistics books. They identified it as being both "grandfather" and "older male relative" in meaning.

Anonymous said...

Uh, does C.A.R. stand for "Central African Republic"?


Assistant Village Idiot said...

BubbaB - yup.

Bird dog. Most current theories put language development in Africa 50-100,000 years ago, with more recent estimates tending to the older date. The most recent date for language-in-common, from which all modern languages are descended, is about 35,000 years ago. As Proto Indo European only goes back 6,000+ years, that's a long gap between what we can reconstruct with some confidence and the most recent time that we all sat in the same playpen; this is why linguists are suspicious of even echoes surviving from that period.