Archive for the ‘Kinship’ Category

Dene-Caucasian Kinship and Dene-Caucasian Kinship Terms

Friday, June 26th, 2015

John Bengtson and George Starostin have posted a synopsis of the current status of the Dene-Caucasian, or Dene-Sino-Caucasian hypothesis. While any long-range linguistic proposal faces considerable challenges gaining acceptance among mainstream historical linguists who specialize in the reconstruction of first-order language families, Dene-Caucasian, according to Bengtson & Starostin, is a hypothesis that “offers the most logical, simple, and systemic explanation to a set of stunning similarities that manifest themselves as exclusive links between a number of linguistic taxa.” Kinship terms rarely furnish good material to test long-range linguistic connections but Dene-Caucasian is somewhat special in this regard because there is a number of intriguing similarities not only between the grammatical and lexical properties of Dene-Caucasian kinship terms from Na-Dene all the way west to Basque but also between the developmental trajectories inferred for Dene-Caucasian grammatical and kinship terminological structures. Bengtson & Starostin observe that

“the original stage [in the linguistic evolution of Dene-Caucasian.-G.D.] was characterized by significant complexity of phonology and a system of noun classification that permeated the whole morphological structure.”

And this is the precisely the conclusion I reached when comparing Dene-Caucasian sibling terminologies (The Genius of Kinship, 324-5). Yeniseian and North Caucasian sibling terms sets are radically simplified compared to Proto-Na-Dene sets, while Sino-Tibetan, Burushaski and Basque sets are intermediate (with a couple of Sino-Tibetan languages showing apparent structural archaisms placing them closer to Proto-Na-Dene systems). All sibling terminologies progressively undergo simplification but the dramatic drop in the internal diversification of the sibling set between Na-Dene, on the one hand, and Yeniseian and North Caucasian, on the other, is remarkable. Similarly, grandparental terminological complexity reconstructible for Proto-Na-Dene must have undergone simplification in the other Dene-Caucasian branches. Both diachronic tendencies fit the above description by Bengtson & Starostin of the grammatical changes affecting the putative Dene-Caucasian phylum.

Bengtson & Starostin go on to write:

“As the Na-Dene family developed separately in what is now Alaska, the overt class marking of nouns diminished, while the marking of verbs remained fully developed and, perhaps, even extended. The level of phonetic complexity in Na-Dene remained relatively high, probably because most of the non-DSC Native American languages, with whom speakers of Na-Dene had to have areal interaction, were fairly complex in that regard themselves.”

This assessment of Na-Dene grammatical and phonological conservatism again finds confirmation in Na-Dene kinship terminologies. Although kinship terminologies in all Na-Dene branches underwent noticeable changes, our best perspective on the original Dene-Caucasian kinship terminological system comes from Proto-Na-Dene.

Of special interest to the students of comparative kinship terms in Eurasia is the proposed reconstruction of Dene-noun prefixes (see below, Table 7).

KinshipStudies-DeneCaucasianNounPrefixes copyThe origin of Basque osaba ‘uncle’ and iseba ‘aunt’ is clarified by comparing the initial formants o– and i– to the pervasive and productive North Caucasian noun prefixes such as Avar was ‘son’ vs. yas ‘daughter’, wac ‘brother’ vs. yac ‘sister’. Notably, in Na-Dene the potential cognate (e.g., y– in Eyak yahs ‘woman’s child’ or in Birket-Smith & De Laguna’s [The Eyak Indians of the Copper River Delta, Alaska, 1938, 566] notation siac, with a possessive prefix s-) indexes Ego-Gender and not Alter-Gender. Harry Hoijer (“Athabascan Kinship Systems,” 1956, 330, no. 50) reconstructs –yaze ‘woman’s son’ for Proto-Athabascan but a number of other forms for children (nos. 48-52) show a similar prefix (see below).

KinshipStudies-AthabascanHoijer copy


This is very much in agreement with the presence of Ego-Gender in Proto-Na-Dene sibling terminologies – precisely the feature that gives the only New World branch of Dene-Caucasian its archaic complexity, which is barely found in the Sino-Caucasian languages of the Old World (see above).

Note also how Alter-Gender is neutralized in both Eyak yahs, Avar –as ‘child’ and Basque –saba ‘parent’s sibling’ (without the noun prefixes), a semantic development that likely reflects an archaic emphasis on Ego-Gender vs. Alter-Gender.

Basque –saba ‘parent’s sibling’ (with fossilized possessive s-?) is intriguing in the light of Navaho shibizhi ‘father’s sibling; step-father’. Navaho and Western Apache are unique among Na-Dene languages in neutralizing Alter-Gender in the terms for ‘parent’s sibling’ (see Opler, “The Kinship Systems of the Southern Athabaskan-Speaking Tribes,” 1936) and this is precisely the development observed in Basque. Nav shibizhi was extended to ‘father’s brother’ from the original concept ‘father’s sister’ (Proto-Athabascan *ma-, *me-, *metce ‘father’s sister’ in Hoijer 1956 (see below, although in the light of Basque –seba one may need to reconstruct *ba-, *be-, *betce).

KinshipStudies-AthabascanHoijerFZ copy

It’s likely that the Proto-Na-Dene term for ‘father’s sister’ also covered its reciprocal, namely ‘woman’s brother’s children’ (as in Navaho and Western Apache) – an ancient semantic pattern altogethaer missing from Basque. Bengtson & Starostin lament that Na-Dene internal reconstruction is still work-in-progress and this fully applies to Proto-Na-Dene kinship systems. This is what Kroeber (“Athabascan Kin Term Systems,” 1937) had to say about the cognates of Nav shibizhi:


Finally, a note on the possible connection between Dene-Caucasian and Kartvelian sibling sets. I have already pointed out (also The Genius of Kinship, 325-6) that the structural similarity between Basque, Burushaski and Svan (the most divergent of Kartvelian languages) sibling sets is remarkable, while nothing even remotely reminiscent of the Svan sibling set is found among the so-called “Nostratic” languages. One of Svan sibling terms, udil, widil ‘woman’s sister’ (< *udild, *widild) is composed of a fossilized possessive prefix u-, root –d– and a diminutive –ild. The possessive prefix can be compared with the Dene-Caucasian noun prefix u-. It’s quite likely that a generalized possessive prefix evolved from a more specific Ego-Gender marker (‘my, the woman’s, sister’).



Proto-Indo-European Palatovelars and Palatolabiovelars: The End of the Centum-Satem Division of Indo-European Dialects

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

In an earlier post, I showed that, contrary to the established opinion among Indo-European linguists, PIE labiovelars split into dental, labial and velar reflexes (in various environments) already in PIE times, rather than in the subsequent history of the Greek branch alone. The additional known cases of the labialization of labiovelars in Germanic, Celtic and Italic can now be seen as systematic and interconnected. But, most importantly, a more nuanced etymological analysis has identified cognate sets that prove the presence of the phenomenon of the labialization and dentalization of labiovelars in the so-called “satem” languages (Indo-Iranian, Balto-Slavic and Armenian).

This re-analysis of PIE labiovelars suggests that the division of IE languages into centum and satem languages is likely to be just an artifact of comparativist methodology. This can now be confirmed by a few new etymologies that show that PIE palatovelars were palatalized into /s/ already in PIE times. This is established by showing that a) palatovelars that are clearly attested as such in “satem” languages are also assibillated in centum languages; b) plain velars across satem and centum dialects alternate with /s/ also across all IE languages. The latter implies that some of the reflexes of PIE palatovelars have been misclassified as “plain” velars by Indo-Europeanists because of the flawed belief in the reality of satem vs. centum languages.

Here is some revealing comparanda:

1. IE *k’erd– ‘heart, core, root’ (Hitt kard, Skrt hrd-, Avest zered-, Gk keer [<*keerd-], kardía, kradíee, Arm sirt, Goth hairto-, Lat cor, Gen. cordis, OIr cride [<*kerdyo-], Lith sirdis, Latv sirdsheart, courage, anger’, OPruss seyr [< *seerd-], Slav *srudice) ~ IE *wrH2d– ‘root, branch’ [EIEC 80] (Gk rhiza root’ [< *sridya], rhadiks ‘branch’ (< *sreH2dikos), rhadamnos ‘branch, shoot’, Lat raadiix ‘root’, raamus ‘branch’, Goth waurts ‘root’, OEng wyrt ‘herb, plant’, OHG wurz ‘plant’, ONorse root ‘root’, OIr freen [< *wrdnio], Welsh gwraidd ‘root’, greddf ‘instinct’, Corn gwreydh ‘root’, Alb rrënjë ‘root’ < *wradnya). In the light of the anlaut of Gk rhiza, one has to reconstruct IE *s(w)reH2d-. The affixation of Lat raadix ‘root’ (< *raadi-c-s) is a perfect match for Slav *srudice ‘heart’, while the affixal morphology of Gk kardía, kradíee is built just like that of rhiza. Welsh greddf ‘instinct’ shows the same “psychological” extension of the primary organic, physiological meaning as Lith sirdis ‘courage, anger’.

In view of w– in Germanic, Celtic and Albanian, it’s possible that the isolated Gk phreen ‘diaphragm; Sitz aller Seelentätigkeit, Sinn, Seele, Geist, Verstand, Herz’ (Frisk, GEW, 1041-2) belongs here as well (if from *FreH2d-n– with an aspiration throwback), although the exact phonetic development is unclear.

2. IE *sro-bh– ‘gulp, ingest noisily’ [EIEC 175] (Hitt srap– ‘gulp’, Gk rhopheoo ‘gulp down’, Lat sorbeo ‘sup, swallow, absorb’, Arm arbi ‘drank’, Lith srebiu ‘sup, spoon’, Latv strebju ‘slurp, spoon’, SlavH1esnos *srubati ‘drink noisily’, Alb gjerb ‘sip’) ~ IE *korm– (Gk korennumi, koresko ‘satiate’, Lat cremor ‘thick juice’, Lith seriu, serti ‘feed’, pasaras ‘fodder’, OIr coirm ‘beer’, Slav *kormiti ‘feed’, kormu ‘fodder’).

3. IE *kreuH– ‘blood’ (Gk krea ‘raw flesh’, kreas ‘piece of meat’, Skrt kravis– ‘raw flesh’, Lat cruor ‘thick blood, gore’, MIr kruu– ‘blood’, Welsh crau ‘blood’, Lith kraujas ‘blood’, OPruss krawjan ‘blood’, Slav *kruvi ‘blood’) ~ IE *sreuH– ‘stream, flow’ (Gk rheoo ‘stream, flow’, rhoos ‘stream’, rheuma, rhuma [< *sreumn-], ‘rheum, bodily fluid’, Skrt sravati ‘flow’, Lith srauja ‘stream’, srava ‘blood flow, menstruation’, Latv strauja, Slav *struja ‘stream’. The semantic overlap between the two sets is obvious, and the meaning of IE *sreuH– ‘stream, flow’ is consistent with the existing interpretation of IE *kreuH– ‘blood’ as specifically ‘outside blood’ (EIEC 71) or ‘blood that left the body’ in contradistinction from IE *H1esr ‘blood’ (see no. 5).

4. PIE *k’weH2– ‘tasty, sweet, sour’: IE *sweH2du– ‘sweet’ (Toch A swaar, Toch B swaare ‘sweet’, Skrt svaadhu– ‘sweet’, Gk heedus ‘pleasing to the senses’, Lat suaavis ‘pleasing to the senses’, OHG swuozi ‘sweet, pleasing’, Lith suudyti ‘to salt’) ~ IE *suHro– ‘raw, sour, acid’ (Slav *syru ‘raw, cheese’, *surovy ‘raw, rough’, Lith suuras ‘salty’, Latv suurs ‘salty, bitter’, OPrus suris ‘cheese’, ONorse surr ‘sour, unpleasant’, OHG suur ‘sour’) ~ IE *kveH2t-: Skrt kuthitas ‘stinky’, kvathati ‘boils, brews’, Lat caaseus ‘cheese’, Alb kos ‘sour sheep milk’, Goth hwasoo ‘foam’, Slav *kvasu ‘sweet and sour drink’, *kisly ‘sour’ (< *kuuts– or *kuuds-), Latv kusat ‘boil’, kuusuls ‘spring’. The volatile semantics of this cognate superset is typical for this conceptual zone (comp., [Mallory & Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World, 20.5]). It likely stems from the ambiguous taste of ancient drinks. Strangely enough, IE *sweH2du– ‘sweet’ has never been compared with IE *suHro– ‘raw, sour, acid’ despite their obvious connection supported by the morphology of Toch swaare ‘sweet’ and the complementary geographic distribution of the two sets. The PIE base *kweH2– is enlarged with unrelated affixes –d-, –r– and ?? ??-s-, although the loss of –d– can be expected for Toch A swaar and Toch B swaare (< *sweH2dro-, Adams, 2013, 795]) and suspected for forms such as Slav *kvasu ‘sweet and sour drink’, *kisly ‘sour’ (< *kuuds-) if not for the whole *suHro– nest.

5. PIE *k’eH2u-/*k’euH2– ‘forge’: IE *keu– ‘forge’ (Toch B kaut ‘split’, Lat cuudo ‘hit, strike’, OIr cuad ‘strike, fight’, OHG houwan ‘chop, strike’, Lith kauti, Latv kaut ‘forge, strike’, Slav *kovati, *kujo ‘forge’) ~ IE *seH2ul– (Gen. sH2wens) ‘sun’ (Skrt svar-, Avest xvare (Gen. xveng), Gk heelios [< *saavel-], Lat sool, Goth sauil, sunno ‘sun’, Lith saule, Latv saule, OPruss saule ‘sun’, Slav *slunice ‘sun’, Alb hyll ‘star’). The rationale behind the semantic link is a mythological one. Sun was originally a product of forging by a mythic hero (comp. the Indian celestial blacksmith Tvastar). Slav derivatives such as Ukr koval ‘blacksmith’ and Russ kuznica ‘blacksmith shop’ show the same root extensions as –l– in Gk heelios and –k– in Slav *slunice. The phonetic match, with a laryngeal and a diphthong in both cases, is perfect.

6. IE *H1esr– (Gen. H1esnos) ‘blood’ (Hitt eshar [Gen. eshnas], Toch A yasr, B yasar, Gk ear ‘blood’, Skrt asrk [Gen. asnas], OLat aser, assyr, Arm ariwn, Latv asins ‘blood’) ~ IE *ak’ru– ‘tear’ (Hitt ishahru– [influence of eshar is suggested in Tischler 377-8), Toch A aakar ‘tear’, Skrt asru-‘tear’, Avest asru-azan- ‘Tränen vergiessend’, Lith asara, Latv asara ‘tear’. The TEAR set also includes forms with an initial *d– (Gk dacruma, Lat lacrima, OIr deerArm artaswr, OHG zahar, trahan, OEng teear, tehor) the origin of which remains unresolved. Notably, there is a semantic parallel between the blood-rheum connection in no. 3 and the blood-tear connection in no. 5, which indicates that ancient Indo-Europeans may have distinguished between different bodily fluids not on the basis of their respective sources of origin in the body but on the basis of their texture and other factors.

7. PIE *menk’– ‘skin and meat from any part of the body’: IE *mems– (Gen. memsos) ‘meat’ (Toch B miisa ‘meat’, ‘Gk meenigks ‘skin, meninges’, Skrt maas, maamsa ‘meat’, Arm mis ‘meat’, Goth mimz ‘meat’, Lith mesa ‘meat’, Latv miesa, OPruss mensa, Slav *menso ‘meat’), *mems-ro– (Gk meeros ‘meaty part of the leg, femur’ [Frisk, GEW, 230-1], Lat membrum ‘member’, membraana ‘membrane’, OIr mirr ‘bit’ ([< ‘bit of meat’, EIEC 374-5], Slav *menzdra ‘inner side of skin, hide’ ~ IE *(s)mek’– ‘chin, jaw, beard’ (Hitt z(a)mankur- ‘beard’, Skrt smasru– ‘beard, moustache’, Arm mawruk’ ‘beard’, Lat maala ‘cheek, jaw’ [< *smaksla], maaxilla ‘jawbone, lower part of the face’, OIr smech ‘chin’, OEng smaeras ‘lips’, Lith smakras, Latv smakrs ‘chin’, Alb mjeker ‘chin, beard’. Semantically this superset is somewhat loose (although comp. the meaning of Gk meenigks ‘meninges’ referring to the head region if the body just like all the items in the CHIN set). It’s possible that the original meaning of the root referred to the surface, meaty and skinny parts of the body that were removed from a human or an animal corpse. The superset does show strong morphological affinity. For example, the nasal in Hitt z(a)mankur, otherwise missing from its immediate cognates, is supported by the pervasive nasal in the MEAT set.

8. PIE *k’leu– ‘lock’: Gk kleeis ‘key’, kleioo ‘I lock’, Lat claavus ‘nail’, claavis ‘key’, OIr clo ‘nail’, Slav *kluci ‘key’ next to OHG sliozan ‘lock’, sluzzil ‘key’, OSax slutil ‘key’. The Germanic forms are known to be related to the rest of the IE forms, and the shared protoform usually advanced to explain their onset is *skl-. The identity between PIE *k‘ and *s make the phonetic development more straightforward.

9. PIE *k’leu– ‘listen, hear, obey, oblige’: IE *k’leu– ‘listen, hear, obey, oblige’ (Toch klyos– ‘hear’, Skrt çrosati ‘he listens’, çrustis ‘trust, agreeableness, obligingness’, çrutas ‘famous’, çrutis ‘ear, hearing faculty’, Avest sruti– ‘message’, sruta– ‘heard of’, Gk kleoo ‘I praise’, klutos ‘glorious’, Lat cluere ‘to be called’, inclutus ‘famous’, OIr cloor ‘I listen’ [< *klusoor], clunim ‘I hear’, OHG hlosen ‘listen, obey’, hlut ‘loud’, Arm lu ‘famous’, lur ‘news, message’, Lith klausyti, klausau ‘listen, obey’, Latv sluvet ‘be known for’, sludinat ‘announce’, Slav *slusati ‘listen, obey’, *slysati ‘hear’) ~ IE *sleu-g– ‘serve’ (Lith slaugyti, slaugau ‘support, help’, paslauginti ‘perform work for someone’, slauga ‘service, servant’, paslauga ‘help, service’, OIr sluag ‘military detachment’, teg-lach ‘housefolk’ [< *tegoslougo-], Slav *sluziti ‘serve’, *sluga ‘servant’. The LISTEN-HEAR-OBLIGE subset shows both k– and s– onsets in “satem” languages (Lith klausyti next to Skrt çrosati). The connection between *k’leu- and *sleu-g– was first proposed by V. Terras (“Slavische Etymologien.” Zeitschrift fur Slavische Philologie 19 (1947): 123). Vasmer rejected it for the reason of the incompatibility of the *k’l- and *sl– onsets, a barrier that now can be overcome.

10. PIE *k’ei– ‘lay down seed, procreate, be native to’: IE *seHi– ‘sow’ (Hitt saai– ‘throw, sow’, Toch A, Toch B saary ‘plant’ (< *soHryo-), saarm ‘seed, cause’, Gk heetheoo ‘sift through’, Lat seroo ‘sow’, seemen ‘seed, stock, offspring’, Goth saian, OEng saawan, OHG saa(w)en ‘sow’, Lith seju ‘sow’, semens ‘seed’, Slav *sejo ‘sow’, *seme ‘seed’ ~ IE *k’ei– ‘lie’ (Skrt seva ‘intimate, dear’, siva ‘kind, friendly, auspicious, dear’, Gk koomee ‘village’ [< *kooimeH2], Arm seer ‘devotion’, sirem ‘love’, Lat ciivis ‘citizen’, Goth haims ‘village, countryside’, heiwa-frauja ‘head of the household’, OHG hiiun ‘married couple, parents, family members’, hii(w)o ‘husband’, hii(w)a ‘wife’, heim ‘home’, OEng hiiwen ‘household’, hiiwan ‘members of the household’, haam ‘home’, haeman ‘have intercourse, cohabit, marry’, OPruss seimiins ‘household servants’, kaymis ‘village’, Lith siema ‘family’, kaimas ‘village, countryside’, kiemas ‘courtyard’, Latv sieva ‘wife’, saime ‘family’, Slav *semija ‘family, household servants’. While the resulting meaning of this superset is somewhat broad and abstract, the phonetic match and the shared morphology of the subsets justifies postulating a single protoform.

11. PIE *k’wen– ‘sacred, holy, powerful’: IE *k’wento– ‘sacred, holy’ (Avest spenta– ‘holy’, Goth hunsl ‘sacrifice’, OEng huus(e)l ‘sacrifice, Eucharist’, Lith sventas, OPruss swent– ‘sacred, holy, Latv svinet ‘sanctify, celebrate holiday’, Slav *sventu ‘holy’) ~ IE *swent– ‘strong, healthy’ (Goth swinths ‘strong, healthy’, ONorse svinnr ‘powerful, wise’, OEng swiið ‘strong’, OHG gisunt ‘healthy’) ~ IE *swend-/*swent– ‘disappear, wilt’ (OHG swintan ‘disappear’, Slav *vendati, *venonti ‘fade, wilt, wither’, *onditi ‘smoke, cure in smoke’). The meaning of IE *swend-/*swent– ‘disappear, wilt’ is the exact opposite of IE *swent– ‘strong, healthy’, which can be explained as the outcome of the inherent semantic ambivalence of the notion of ‘power’ in sacrificial contexts because a sacred entity is both other-worldly powerful and this-worldly challenged. Scholars (EIEC 493) also cite Avest suura ‘strong’ and Gk kuurios ‘lord’ in conjunction with IE *k’wento– ‘sacred, holy’ (all presumably derived from the verbal base *k’eu– ‘swell’).

Etymological evidence also warrants the postulation of a complex palatolabiovelar phoneme for PIE.

1. PIE * k’wek’wo– ‘domesticated animals, wealth’: IE *H1ek’wo– ‘horse’ (HierLuw asuwa, Toch A yuk, B yakwe, Skrt asva, Myc i-qo, Gk hippos [< *sekwo-], Lat equus ‘horse’, Goth aihws, OHG ehu– ‘horse’, Lith asva ‘mare’) ~ IE *pek’u– ‘livestock’ (Skrt pasu, Avest pasu ‘cattle’, Lat pecu ‘cattle, livestock’, OEng feoh, OHG fihu ‘livestock, property, money’, Goth faihu ‘money, movable goods’, OPruss peckus, Lith pekus, pekas ‘cattle’. Old Indic pasu included horses, cattle, sheep and goats (EIEC 23), and this seems to be the oldest, undifferentiated meaning from which the meaning ‘horse’ associated with the *H1ek’wo- phonetic form is derived. For the HORSE words, Indo-Europeanists tend to reconstruct a cluster –k’w– instead of a single phoneme. But this leaves the labiovelar, which is clearly attested in Mycenaean, Greek and Latin, unexplained and some form of contamination needs to be postulated. A PIE palatolabiovelar requires no irregular processes. Arm asr ‘wool, fleece’ is typically associated with the *pek’u subset but its phonetic shape is a good match for the HORSE subset. Toch B yok ‘hair, wool’ is compared to Arm asr in [Adams 550] (both are a neuter u-stem) and the connection between yok and Toch A yuk and B yakwe ‘horse’ is straightforward.

2. PIE *skwek’w-/*k’wek’w– ‘see, dream, have a vision’: IE *swep-/*swop– ‘sleep, dream’ (Hitt supp– ‘sleep’, suppariya– ‘dream’, Toch A spam, B spane ‘sleep, dream’, Skrt svapna ‘sleep’, Avest xvafna ‘sleep’, Gk hypnos ‘sleep’, hypar ‘true dream, vision, walking reverie’, Lat somnus [< *swepno-] ‘sleep’, sopor ‘overpowering sleep’, OEng swefn, ONorse svefn ‘sleep, dream’, sofa ‘sleep’, OIr suan, Welsh hun ‘sleep’, Lith sapnas, Latv sapnis ‘dream’, Slav *supati ‘sleep’, *sunu ‘sleep, dream’, Arm k’un ‘sleep’, Alb gjume ‘sleep’ ~ IE *skep-/*spek’– ‘see’ (Gk skeptomai ‘observe, look carefully, consider’, skopos ‘target, purpose, aim, spy’, Lat specio ‘I look, I see’, Skrt pasyati ‘look’, spasa ‘spy’, Avest spasyeiti ‘look’, OHG spehoon ‘regard, spy’, spahi ‘wise, skillful’, ONorse spaar ‘prediction, prophecy’. ONorse spaar and Gk hypar show the best formal and semantic alignment. Toch A spam, B spane ‘sleep, dream’ is shaped just like IE *spek’– forms. The original meaning of the etymon was less about the physical state of sleep (for which there was a different root *ses– EIEC, 527) as the subjective experience of being in a dream-like state. Dreams must have had a prophetic significance for early Indo-Europeans and used as a rationale for critical judgment in the waking state. The “metathesis” found in Gk skeptomai, skopos (see below on the similar Gk form (arto-)kopos as a reflex of PIE *k’wek’w- ‘bake, cook, liver’ likely indicates the ancient root with two (palato)labiovelars. Phonetically and morphologically Gk skeptomai, skopos agrees with Arm k’un. (Comp. different outcomes of the same IE *sw in Armenian in skesur ‘wife’s mother’ and k’oyr ‘sister’.) The velar in Arm k’un, therefore, represents not a late, narrow Armenian reflex of PIE *sw-, as it’s presently believed, but an inherent property of the ancient IE root.

3. PIE *k’weid– ‘to split, to shed (sweat, etc.)’: IE *skeid– ‘to split, to shed’ (Skrt chinatti ‘to cut off, chop, split, pierce’, cheda– ‘cut, section, portion’, chidra– ‘torn asunder, pierced; hole, slit, cleft’, Gk skhidzoo ‘I split, divide’, Lat scindoo ‘I split’, Lith skiesti ‘water down, separate’, skaistas ‘clear, shining’, skaidrus ‘clear’, skystas ‘liquid, thin’, Latv skaidit ‘water down’, Goth skaidan ‘separate’, ONorse skita ‘defecate’, OHG scetan ‘watery, thin’, OEng sceadan ‘divide, separate’, Welsh chwyd ‘break open’, Slav *cediti ‘sift water’, *cistu ‘clean’ ~ IE *sweH2id(ro)– ‘sweat’ (Toch B syaa– ‘to sweat’, syelme ‘sweat’, Skrt svedate ‘perspire’, sveda ‘sweat’, Avest xvaeda ‘sweat’, Gk hidros ‘sweat’, Lat suudor ‘sweat’, OEng swaetan ‘sweat’, Welsh chwys ‘sweat’, Arm k’irtn ‘sweat’, Latv sviedri ‘sweat’, Alb djerse ‘sweat’). The semantic connection between the two sets is very compelling. IE *skeid– offers a plausible source for one of the IE words for ‘sweat’ that likely replaced a more ancient form retained in Hitt allaniye– ‘to sweat’, OIr alias ‘sweat’. Just like in no. 2 above the velar in Arm k’un matches the velar in Gk skeptomai, skopos, here the velar in Arm k’irtn matches the velar in Gk skhidzoo, Lith skaidrus, etc. Aspiration in Gk skhidzoo directly corresponds to aspiration in Arm k’irtn and to -w- in Skrt svedate, etc.

4. PIE *k’wleu– ‘paired body part of ritual significance’: IE *pleu– ‘lung’ (Skrt kloman– ‘the right lung’, Gk pleumoon ‘lung’, Lat pulmoo ‘lung’, Lith plauciai ‘lungs’, Latv plausas, plauksi ‘lung’, Slav *pljuute, *pluutje ‘lungs’) ~ IE *k’louni– ‘buttocks’ (Skrt sroni– ‘buttock, hip, loin’, Avest sraoni– ‘buttock’, Gk klonis ‘coccyx’, Lat cluunis ‘buttock, haunch (of animals)’, Welsh clun ‘haunch’, ONorse hlaun ‘buttocks’, Lith slaunis ‘haunch, hip’, Latv slauna ‘haunch, rump’. The onset of Skrt kloman has never received an explanation based on the principle of the regularity of sound change. Instead, dissimilation pl > kl in the distant environment of labial –m– has been proposed, but this explanation is entirely ad hoc. The reconstruction of *kw– instead of *p– resolves this problem nicely. The origin of IE *pleu– ‘lung’ from the verb base ‘to swim’ (EIEC 359) (under the assumption that lungs looked like a floater to the administers of sacrifices) now seems doubtful as lungs and buttocks are semantically linked not because they ‘float’ but because they are similarly looking paired body parts. In a ritual context, they were similarly separated by a sacrificial knife. In this context, comp. Lat clunaculum ‘culta sanguinarius quod ad clunes dependeat, vel quia clunes hostiarum dividat’ (Waucquier, M. M., and J. Nicolaides. Novum dictionarium tetraglotton. Amsterdam, 1759, 122-3).

3. PIE *k’wek’w- ‘bake, cook, liver’: IE *pekw-/*kwekw– ‘bake’ (Skrt pacati ‘cooks, bakes, roasts, boils’, Gk pesso ‘cook’, peptos ‘cooked’, Toch A pak, Toch B pak ‘cook, boil, ripen’, papaksu ‘cooked’, Welsh poeth ‘baked, roasted, hot’, pobi ‘bake’ (p– < *kw-), Alb pjek ‘I bake’, Slav *peku, *pekti ‘bake, roast, oven’), *pesteni ‘liver’, *pektera ‘cave’ ~ IE *yekwr(t)-/*yekwn(t)– ‘liver’ (Skrt yakrt, Gen. yaknas, Gk heepar, Gen. heepatos [< *sepr-, Gen. *sepn-], Lat iecur, Gen. iecinoris, OHG lebara, OEng lifer, ONorse lifr, Arm leard, Lith jeknos ‘liver’, Slav *(j)ikra ‘calf (of leg), fish roe’) ~ Gk hepso ‘cook, boil’ [< *septyo-). Usually reconstructed as *pekw-, the root COOK-BAKE manifests itself in such forms as Lat coquo ‘cook’, Lith kepukepti ‘bake’, kepenos ‘liver’ and Gk arto-kopos ‘bread-baker’, which point to a labiovelar in the anlaut and not a labial stop. Scholars tend to dismiss them as products of irregular metatheses and assimilations but this is a problematic and unverifiable approach. In the light of Balto-Slav *peken-/*kepen– ‘liver’, which is transparently derived from the root ‘to bake’, the otherwise obscure Gk hepso ‘cook, boil’ cannot be divorced from Gk heepar ‘liver’. The second segment in Lith kepenos ‘liver’ and Slav *pecen– reveal an unmistakable connection to, respectively, Gk Gen. heepatos [< *sepn-] and Lat Gen. iecinoris (< *pecinoris or *kwecinoris), so the loss of kw-/p- has to be postulated to explain Lith jeknos ‘liver’, Slav *(j)ikra ‘calf (of leg), fish roe’), Skrt yakrt, Lat iecur and Gk heepar. OHG lebara, OEng lifer, ONorse  Arm leard remain problematic because of l– but their second consonant is now fully consistent with the reconstructed PIE *kw-.

4. PIE *k’wed– ‘foot, walk, step’: IE *ped-/*pod– ‘foot’ (Hitt pad ‘foot’, Toch A pe-, B paiyye ‘foot’, Skrt padam ‘footprint, foot’, padyate ‘walks, falls’, Avest paidyeiti ‘comes, walks’, pada– ‘footprint’, Arm het ‘footprint’, otn ‘foot’, Gk pous, Gen. podos ‘foot’, pedon ‘ground’, Lat pees, pedis ‘foot’, pessum ‘on the ground, grounded’, Lith peda ‘foot, footprint’, padas ‘sole of foot’, pescias ‘on foot’, Latv peds ‘footprint’, pads ‘floor’, Goth footus ‘foot, step’, OHG gefezzan ‘fall’, OEng fettan ‘fall’, Slav *pesiji ‘on foot’ [< *pedsyos], *padati ‘fall’, *podu ‘under, bottom, ground’) ~ IE *sed-/*sod– ‘walk, sit’ (Slav *sedeti ‘sit’, *xoditi ‘walk’, *sid ‘went’, Skrt sidati ‘he sits’, Avest hidaiti ‘he sits’, hecanim ‘I sit, I ride’, Gk hodos ‘path’, hodeuoo ‘wander, roam’, hoditees ‘wanderer’, hedzomai ‘I sit’, Lat sedeoo ‘sit’, Goth sitan ‘sit’, Lith sedeti, Latv sedet ‘sit’. Phonetically Arm het, Slav *xoditi, Avest hidaiti and Gk hodeuoo show the same weakening of s to h/x. In Armenian, h frequently corresponds to both p and s in other IE languages.

5. PIE *k’wenkw– ‘hand, five, ten, one hundred’: IE *penkw– ‘five’ (Toch A pan, B pis, Skrt panca, Avest panca, Gk pente, Lat quiinque, Arm hing, OIr coic, Welsh pempe, Goth fimf, OHG fimf, Lith penki, Latv pieci, Slav *penti, Alb pese) ~ IE *k’mtom ‘hundred’ (Toch A kant, B kante, Skrt catam, Avest satem, Gk hekaton, Lat centum, OIr cet, Goth hund, Lith simtas, Slav *suto) ~ IE *de-k’mtm ‘ten’ (Toch A sak, B sak, Skrt daca, Avest dasa, Gk deka, Lat decem, Arm tasn, Goth taihun, OHG zehan, OIr deich, Lith desimtis, Slav *desenti, Alb dhjete). There’s a general agreement between scholars that IE *k’mtom ‘hundred’ and *de-k’mtm ‘ten’ are related but the origin of the first segment in *de-k’mtm is subject to different interpretations. Similarly, scholars often link *de-k’mtm ‘ten’ and *penkw– ‘five’ semantically: five is ‘first with clenched fingers’, while ten is ‘two hands’ (Gamkrelidze & Ivanov 747, with further literature). Under the hypothesis of the PIE voiceless palatolabiovelar phoneme, *penkw– ‘five’, *k’mtom ‘hundred’ and the second segment of *de-k’mtm are formally identical. PIE *k’wenkw– shows that the labial, velar and dental phonemes seen in the affix to the underlying root *k’wen– are also likely reflexes of a PIE palatovelar phoneme. Initial h– in Arm hing alternates with -s- in tasn and, as in the case of het ‘footprint’ above, it represents not PIE *p but directly PIE *k’w. Correspondingly, the underlying forms meaning ‘fist, hand, finger’ (Goth figgrs ‘finger’ [< *fingra-], handus ‘hand’, OHG fust [< *funhsti-] ‘fist‘, fingar ‘finger’, hant ‘hand’, OEng fyst [< *funhsti-] ‘fist’, finger ‘finger’, hand ‘hand’, Lith kumste ‘fist’, OPrus kuntis ‘fist’, Slav *pensti ‘palm of the hand, first, hand’) are also related. Persistent attempts to brush off Lith kumste ‘fist’, OPrus kuntis ‘fist’ as belonging to a different root (see Vasmer, III, 423-4) or to explain Lat quiinque, OIr coic, Welsh pempe, Goth fimf as products of irregular assimilation are superfluous and rooted in flawed PIE reconstructions. See also no. 7.

6. PIE *k’wer-/*kwerH2– ‘first, frontal, upper, protruding’: IE *k’erH2– ‘head, horn’ (Hitt karavar ‘horn’, harsar ‘head’, Skrt sira ‘head, skull’, srnga ‘horn, tusk’, Gk keras ‘head, horn’, kranion ‘upper part of the head, skull’, Arm sar ‘tip, end, top, summit’ mountain’, Lat cerebrum ‘brain, skull’ [< *keresrom], cerviix ‘neck’, cornuu ‘horn’, OEng haern ‘brain’) ~ IE *per– ‘first, frontal’ (Skrt purvas ‘first, frontal’, prstham ‘ridge, mountain top’, Avest purva– ‘first’, parsta– ‘back’, Lat postis ‘pole’ [< *porstis], Alb pare ‘first’, Toch A parvat ‘oldest’, B parwesse ‘first’, OEng forwost ‘first, head, leader’, OHG first ‘ridge of roof’, Lith pirmas ‘first’, pirstas ‘finger’, OPrus pirmas ‘first’, pirsten ‘finger’, Latv pirmais ‘first’, pirksts ‘finger’, Slav *pervu ‘first’, *perstu ‘finger’. This is a semantically and morphologically compelling connection (especially revealing is the isogloss linking Hitt harsar, Proto-Italic *keresrom and Balto-Slav *perst-) supported by distributional complementarity: Balto-Slavic does not have reflexes of IE *k’erH2- with the meaning ‘head, horn’ but it does have plenty of derivatives of IE *per- with the meanings ‘first, finger’. Other derivatives from the IE root *k’erH2– ‘head, horn’ such as Slav *korwa ‘cow’, *sirna ‘roe’, Lith karve ‘cow’, Latv sirna ‘roe’, OPruss sirvis ‘roe’, Gk keraos ‘horned’, Lat cervus ‘deer’, etc. show alternation between IE *k and IE *k’ (in the traditional reconstruction).

7. IE *k’wengwh– ‘hand, foot, nail, fist’: IE *H3nogwh– ‘hand, foot, nail’ (Hitt sankui– ‘nail’, Toch A maku, B mekwa ‘nails’, Skrt anghris ‘foot’, nakham ‘nail, claw’, Gk onuks, Gen. onukhos ‘nail, claw’, Lat unguis ‘nail’, ungulus ‘hoof’, OIr ingen ‘nail’, OHG nagal ‘nail’, Lith nagas ‘nail’, naga ‘hoof’, Latv nagas ‘hands and feet’, OPruss nage ‘foot’, Slav *noga ‘foot, leg’, *noguti ‘nail’) ~ IE *pngw– ‘metacarpus, fist’ (Gk pugme, Lat pugnus ‘fist’ (< *pngwn-, with a metathesis), OHG fuust [< *funhsti-), OEng fyst ‘fist’, Lith kumste, OPruss kuntis ‘fist’, Slav *pensti ‘metacarpus, hand, fist’). Toch A maku, B mekwa are thought to derive from PToch *nekwa– but in light of Skrt musti, Avest musti, Toch B masce [ *< masteis] ‘fist’ (EIEC 255) instead of expected *pngwsti-), which belong here as well, the origin of m– may be more complex, namely from *pnkwa-. (On the unmotivated nature of the postulated *nekwa– > *mekwa– development, see Blazek, Vaclav. “Tocharian A muk ?yoke’ and A maku, B mekwa pl. ?(finger)nails’ – why m-?” Historische Sprachforschung 114, Bd. 1 (2001): 191-5.) Lith kumste  is derived from *punkste (EIEC 255, 389), which may be redundant considering the original form had an initial velar anyhow. It’s tempting to include here Lith pentis, OPruss pentis, Slav *penta ‘heel’ (if from *pengwt-) and OHG hant, OEng hand ‘hand’ (if from *kwengwt-) but there’s no trace of a second velar in those forms. Hitt sankui– ‘nail’ proves that there was a palatalized consonant in front of Narrow European *H3nogwh-. Semantically, ‘hand and foot’ (potentially, in their active, aggressive function) seems to be the common denominator across all the forms, with meaning ‘nail’ (toenail and fingernail) emerging later on the basis of that primary meaning. The application of the protoform to both ‘hand’ and ‘foot’ is secure as in the *H3nogwh- subset ‘nail’ means ‘toenail and fingernail’ across all the dialects.

Indo-European Words for “Wheel”: Evidence for Transition from Agriculture to Pastoralism

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

The impetus for this post comes from a recent review by David W. Anthony and Don Ringe “The Indo-European Homeland from Linguistic and Archaeological Perspectives” (Annual Review of Linguistics 1 (2015): 199-219) that summarizes the best-in-class linguistic and archaeological arguments in favor of the Bronze Age Pontic Steppe theory of Indo-European homeland (contra the Neolithic Anatolian model). The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) “wheel” terminology and the earliest archaeological attestation of wheeled transport is an absolutely essential evidential nexus that can prove or disprove the Recent Pontic Steppe theory beyond reasonable doubt. From an archaeological standpoint,

“The invention of the wheel-and-axle principle, which first made wagons and carts possible, is solidly dated by radiocarbon after 4000-3500 BCE, a very well studied external fact (Bakker et al. 1999; Fansa & Burmeister 2004, Anthony 2007). This external fact ties late PIE to a real-world date after wheeled vehicles were invented, that is, after 4000–3500 BCE” (Anthony & Ringe 2015, 201-2).

Indo-European linguists supporting the Recent Pontic Steppe hypothesis adduce as proof not one word for ‘wheel’ but a whole lexico-semantic set related to wheeled vehicles. Anthony & Ringe (2015) illustrate the geographical distribution of reflexes of this set on a map:

KinshipStudies-IndoEuropeanWheelMap copy 2

The distribution of the reflexes of the PIE wheeled transport vocabulary by subfamily is pooled in the table below:

KinshipStudies-IEWheelWords copy

An important observation that can be made from these distributions is that the most divergent Anatolian and Tocharian branches have clear gaps in the wheeled-transport vocabulary compared to the rest of the IE subfamilies. These gaps are different: Anatolian has a reflex of PIE *H2/3eyHos ‘thill’, while Tocharian has reflexes of *kwekwlo– ‘wheel’ (with a meaning shift to ‘chariot’) and *wegheti ‘s/he transports it in a vehicle’. Outside of Anatolian and Tocharian, most branches display transparent reflexes of the reduplicated form*kwekwlo– with the same meaning ‘wheel’ derived from PIE *kwel– ‘to turn, to move around, to cultivate’ (Gk tellomai ‘turn around in circles’, pelomai ‘am in motion, go’, poleoo ‘go around, range, haunt (intrans.); turn up the soil (trans.)’, Lat coloo ‘I cultivate, I inhabit’, Skrt cárati ‘he roams’). Anatolian and Tocharian are also united in having reflexes of PIE *H2werg– with the same meaning ‘turn’: Hitt hurki-, Toch A warkant (< *H2wergwnt-, Adams, Douglas Q. A Dictionary of Tocharian B, 1999, 506), Toch B yerkwanto all mean ‘wheel’. Outside of Anatolian and Tocharian this root is poorly attested and, unlike PIE *kwel-, does not show a plethora of reflexes. The morphology of Hitt hurki and Toch *H2wergwnt- is different, which is usually taken as an indication of a possibility of independent formation from the same underlying root.

Anthony & Ringe spend a long time demonstrating the uniqueness of the *kwekwlo-/*kwekwlos formation shared by most IE languages. It’s the only verb-derived reduplicated formation shared by a large number of IE branches. Plus, it’s a zero-grade root with a thematic vowel and a nominative singular ending. They make a strong case that *kwekwlo– could not have been invented multiple times in already well-differentiated IE branches – the interpretation that the proponents of the Neolithic Anatolian model advocate for.

It’s noteworthy, however, that in Baltic – a subfamily with no reduplicated formations for ‘wheel’ – the same reduplicated root is found with the meaning ‘neck’ (Lith kaklas, Latv kakls). It’s an example of a reduplicated verb-derived noun that, unlike *kwekwlo– ‘wheel’, is found in just one branch of IE. But the very fact that *kwekwlo– can have a meaning other than ‘wheel’ in an IE subfamily suggests that at the time of the formation of the IE wheel-transport vocabulary and long thereafter the root *kwel– ‘to turn’ was productive and, as such, generated nouns in already isolated early IE subfamilies. The Baltic forms for ‘neck’ could not have been derived from *kwekwlo– with the existing meaning ‘wheel’ because the latter are not attested in the Baltic languages (OPruss kelan ‘wheel’, Latv du-celis ‘two-wheeled vehicle’). Slavic languages (that form a sister subfamily to Baltic, by many accounts), too, have only unreduplicated reflexes of IE *kwel– ‘to turn’ with the meaning ‘wheel’ (e.g., Rus koleso) suggesting that Lith kaklas and Latv kakls ‘neck’ are independent reduplicated formations from the underlying verb *kwel– ‘to turn’ that occurred in an early IE geographic area devoid of *kwekwlo– ‘wheel’. Besides Baltic and Slavic, other IE branches have unreduplicated derivatives of *kwel- in their wheeled-transport vocabulary (e.g.., Gk polos ‘axle’).

This also suggests that Fortson’s idea (2010, p. 130) that kwekwlo– was “an expressive neologism for a new gadget,” which Anthony & Ringe (2015, 205) consider a “reasonable speculation” is not reasonable at all, as neck is not a “new gadget.” A more reasonable speculation would be that reduplication iconically represented repetitive circular movement and a product or an agent thereof. This understanding may be helpful to semantically differentiate between two forms for ‘wheel’ reconstructed by Anthony & Ringe (2015) for PIE: *kwekwlo– and *Hroto-: if *kwekwlo– emphasized repetitive, circular but ultimately static movement, *Hroto– interpreted wheel as an enabler of linear, forward movement (from PIE *Hret– ‘to run, to ride’: OIr rethim ‘I run’, Lith ritu ‘I roll’). The two concepts may bleed into each other in daughter languages (comp. Lat rota ‘wheel’ but also ‘circle’ and ‘potter’s wheel’), but the possibility that in PIE wheel was interpreted in two very different ways has implications for the question of PIE homeland and the timing of IE migrations and language divergence.

Earlier, I attempted to show that IE labiovelars (kw in PIE *kwel- and *kwekwlo-) have a more complex system of reflexes in daughter languages. The triple split of PIE *kw, *gw and *gwh into k/p/t, g/b/d and gh/bh/dh (in different phonetic environments, namely before u, back vowels and front vowels, respectively) described for Ancient Greek is in fact a PIE phenomenon. One of the illustrative examples of this overlooked phonetic law has a bearing on the origin of the IE term for ‘wheel’. It’s known that IE root *pol-/*pel- yielded Lat pollen ‘finely milled flour’, pulvis ‘dust’, Gk palee ‘finely milled flour, dust’, Skrt palalam ‘ground seeds’, Lith pelenai ‘ashes’, pelene ‘hearth’, Slav *poleeti ‘burn’, *polmen ‘flame’ and *pepelu/*popelu ‘ashes’. If the etymological material that I advanced in my previous post is correct and labiovelars indeed gave labial reflexes before back vowels already in PIE times, then PIE *kwel– and *pol– are cognates. The meaning ‘ashes, burn, flame, hearth’ found in Balto-Slavic suggests that burning was perceived by early Indo-Europeans as a repetitive, circular movement and ashes as the final product of a cycle. (Comp. in this context tellomai ‘turn around in circles’, teleoo ‘finish’, telos ‘end’.) The robustness of this hypothesis is indicated by the fact that it provides a verbal source for the pol-nouns, which is missing if the two cognate sets are treated separately. Another indication that we are on the right track here is Slav *pepelu/*popelu ‘ashes’ that has the same rare reduplicated morphology as IE *kwekwlo– ‘wheel’ and Lith kaklas/Latv kakls ‘neck’. Importantly, there is a strong semantic link between the two cognate sets: Lat pollen ‘finely milled flour’, Gk palee ‘finely milled flour’, Skrt palalam ‘ground seeds’ make perfect sense in the light of OPruss maluna-kelan ‘mill wheel’ and Lat coloo ‘I cultivate’. Importantly, the semantic link between the two branches of PIE *kwel– – the large *kwel-group and the small *pol-group – exists not on the level of wheeled-transport vocabulary but on the deeper level of agricultural vocabulary. It appears that early Indo-Europeans may have developed the concept of a wheel first on the basis of the idea of repetitive, circular but static movement as manifested in such agricultural tools as a quern, a millstone or a mill wheel. The concept of linear, progressive, forward movement, which is very appropriate for a population that migrates to new lands) and is best represented by PIE *Hroto-, now completely devoid of static agricultural connotations, emerged as a second phase in the evolution of IE wheeled transport.

IE *H2werg– ‘to turn’ manifested in Hitt hurki-, Toch A warkant, Toch B yerkwanto (< *H2wergwnt-) ‘wheel’ is a puzzle because it’s clearly old but it does not have strong cognates (and absolutely no cognates in cultural vocabulary) outside of the two most divergent branches of IE languages. But there’s one IE cognate set that needs to be re-examined in the light of a possibility that early Indo-Europeans derived their first terms for wheeled transport drawn forward by horses from pre-existing static, agricultural applications of the wheel. It’s IE *gwreH2won/*gwreH2nu– ‘millstone, quern’ represented by Toch B karwene ‘stone’, Skrt graavan ‘stone for pressing the soma’, Arm erkan ‘quern’, OIr brau (Gen. broon) ‘millstone, quern, hand-grinder’, Goth asilu-qairnus ‘donkey-mill’, OHG quirn, OEng cweorn, ONorse kvern ‘quern’, OPruss girnoywis, Lith girna ‘millstone’, girnos (pl.) ‘quern’, Latv dzirnus (pl.) ‘quern’, OCS zruny ‘quern’. IE *H2werg– ‘to turn’ and IE *gwreH2won/*gwreH2nu– ‘millstone, quern’ have a lot in common phonetically and morphologically: both have a second laryngeal, a resonant and a labiovelar (Toch *H2wergwnt also shares with *gwreH2won the suffixal enlargement -n-) but the laryngeal and the labiovelar are placed differently in the two roots. Their placement suggests that the two roots are related through a metathesis, so that the more fundamental PIE *gwerH2w– ‘quern’ metathesized into *H2wergw– that yielded Hitt hurki-, Toch A warkant, Toch B yerkwanto ‘wheel’. Consequently, it’s unlikely that *gwreH2won/*gwreH2nu– is derived from *gwerH2– ‘heavy’ (EIEC, 474). Some key reflexes of IE *gwerH2– ‘heavy’ (Gk barus, Lat gravis) do not map well onto the reflexes of *gwreH2won/*gwreH2nu– (missing from Greek and Latin). Instead, there must have been a verbal root *gwerH2– ‘to turn’ that survived in Toch as wark- (Adams, A Dictionary of Tocharian B, 547-8).

A special mention should be made of the fact that Arm erkan ‘quern’ shows remarkable similarity to Toch B yerkwanto ‘wheel’. It’s currently assumed that the Armenian form underwent a typical Armenian metathesis from the CrV-type root to the rC-type root + prothetic vowel e-. But now it appears that, at least in this case, metathesis affected the Hittite and Tocharian forms as well.

Pending the ultimate phonetic validity of these interpretations, this analysis paints a picture of early Indo-Europeans developing their wheeled-vehicle vocabulary on the basis of pre-existing agricultural vocabulary. Rotation as a repetitive, circular, static movement employed by agriculturalists was reinterpreted as linear, progressive movement forward. Querns and millstones, which are archaeologically attested from the 9th millennium BC (first in Neolithic West Asia), seem to be the direct antecedents of wheels used for transportation, warfare and migration. This analysis also suggests that, by the time wheeled-vehicle vocabulary began developing among early Europeans, the agricultural vocabulary had long been in place, which is consistent with the Bronze Age Pontic Steppe theory. IE *gwreH2w-/*H2wregw- should be included into the IE wheeled-transport vocabulary. Although as a form for ‘wheel’ it’s an Anatolian-Tocharian isogloss, it belongs with a wider IE cognate set having a clearly older meaning – ‘quern’. It means that, although early Anatolian and early Tocharian may have been geographically isolated from the rest of IE languages, they don’t appear to be divergent (at least not in this cognate set) from other IE subfamilies in a phylogenetic sense. The gaps in the wheeled-transport vocabulary observed between Anatolian, Tocharian, on the one hand, and the rest of IE languages, on the other, should be interpreted as lexical loss in Anatolian and Tocharian, not as the preservation in Anatolian and Tocharian of an earlier “stage” in the IE lexico-semantic evolution.


Indo-European Labiovelars: A New Look

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

The standard theory behind Indo-European (IE) labiovelars (gwh, gw, kw) is that they were “primitive” IE phonemes that were lost in virtually all IE dialects and yielded velar-only reflexes in most languages outside of Greek. Presumably only Greek shows a triple split into dental (usually before e/i), velar (usually before u) and labial (usually before o and a) reflexes of PIE labiovelars. Some of the well-known examples include Gk theínoo “I strike, kill” < *gwhen-yoo vs. phónos “slaughter” < *gwhón-osdelphús “womb” < *gwelbh– (Skrt garbha-) vs. bíos “life” < *gwih3wos (Goth qius “alive”), tís “who?” < *kwis (Lat quis). A dissenting voice came from A. G. E. Speirs, The Proto-Indo-European Labiovelars (Amsterdam 1978). He argued that the Greek pattern of a triple-split of the PIE labiovelar phoneme depending on the quality of the following vowel was in fact a proto-Indo-European phenomenon and hence dental and labial reflexes of labiovelars can be found in all IE dialects, not just in Greek. Speirs takes three well-known IE roots, *bhudh– ‘ground, bottom’, *dheg’h-n-/*dheg’h-m– ‘earth’ and *pekw– ‘bake, cook’. He notices that in all the three cases some IE dialects show developments that look like an irregular metathesis. But, instead, Speirs suggests, *bhudh– ‘ground, bottom’, *dhegh-n-/*dhegh-m– ‘earth’ and *pekw– ‘bake, cook’ should be reconstructed as roots with PIE labiovelars.


Speirs collected a number of examples in which labial and dental reflexes of labiovelars seem to occur in IE branches other than Greek. However, his effort was dismissed. Most recently, Jouna Pyysalo (System PIE: The Primary Phoneme Inventory and Sound Law System for Proto-Indo-European, 355-6), in an otherwise very thought-provoking and open minded dissertation, summarizes the objections to Speirs’s argument in the following way:

“the underlying superphonemes – allegedly yielding velars, labials and dentals – would violate the principle of the regularity of sound change. On the contrary, it must be concluded that the places of articulation PIE *k p t are irreducible and the oppositions are distinctive. Any attempt to derive these items from other places of articulation is doomed to failure.”

Meanwhile, the velar, dental and labial split of a primitive labiovelar phoneme is a well attested and universally accepted phonetic development in ancient Greek, and there can be no doubt that it does not contradict the “principle of the regularity of sound change.” The counterargument based on a general principle is therefore invalid. It’s all the matter of how well the etymological material from IE languages supports the triple split of labiovelars at the deeper, PIE level. In the following I will show that Speirs was basically right but he didn’t go far enough.

PIE *kw

1. PIE *wlkwo– ‘wolf’ (Gk lukos, Lat lupus, Skrt vrka, Toch B walkwe, Slav *vliku, Lith vilkas, OHG wulf, OEng wolf, ONorse ulfr ‘wolf’, ylgr ‘she-wolf’) ~ Slav *lutyji ‘crazy, vicious, angry’. It has long been observed that the Germanic forms going back to *wulhwaz show a labial reflex of the PIE *kw attested in Latin lupus, and hence labial reflexes of PIE labiovelars are indeed attested outside of Greek and Latin. Slav *lutyji completes the picture and proves that PIE *kw yielded velar, labial and dental reflexes across IE languages. Gk lussa ‘madness’ presently linked to *lukos agrees with the Slavic form semantically and may represent either *luk(w)iyo– or *lutiyo-.

2. PIE *penkwe– ‘five’: Skrt panca, Avest panca, Arm hing, Gk pente, Lat quiinque, OIr coic, Goth, OHG fimf, Toch pan, B pis, Lith penki, Slav penti. This well-known set shows a similar phonetic pattern to the WOLF set. Germanic yields –f– as a reflex of PIE *kw, while Slavic is aligned with Greek in having a dental reflex.

3. PIE *kwekw– ‘bake’: IE *pekw– ‘bake’ (Skrt pacati ‘cooks, bakes, roasts, boils’, Gk pesso ‘cook’, peptos ‘cooked’,  Toch A pak, Toch B pak ‘cook, boil, ripen’, papaksu ‘cooked’, Lat coquo ‘cook’, Welsh poeth ‘baked, roasted, hot’, pobi ‘bake’ (p– < *kw-), Lith kepu, kepti ‘bake’, Alb pjek ‘I bake’, Slav *peku, *pekti ‘bake, roast, oven’) ~ Slav *potu ‘sweat’, *poteti ‘to sweat’. It’s presently assumed that Slav *potu derives from *pokto, with –kt- developing into –t– before a front vowel. A simpler solution, however, postulates that Slav *poteti ‘to sweat’ (comp. Skrt pacati) stems directly from *pokwe-. Speirs above compared IE *pekw– ‘cook, bake, heat’ (with a suggestive “metathesis” seen in Latin coquo, Lith kepu ‘roast, bake’ and Gk –kopos in arto-kopos ‘bread-baker’) and IE *tep– (Skrt tapati ‘be hot, heat, burn’, etc.), with the resulting PIE *kwekw-. This completes the paradigm of labial, dental and velar reflexes of PIE *kwekw– ‘bake’.

4. PIE *yekwr(t)-/*yekwn(t)– ‘liver, innards’: IE *yekwr(t)-/*yekwn(t)– ‘liver’ (Skrt yakrt, Gen. yaknas, Gk heepar, Gen. heepatos, Lat iecur, OHG lebara, OEng lifer, ONorse lifr, Arm leard, Lith jeknos ‘liver’, Slav *(j)ikra ‘calf (of leg), fish roe’) ~ IE *enter– ‘innards’ (Skrt antra ‘entrails’, Gk enteron ‘innards’, Lat interior ‘internal’, Arm enderk’ ‘innards’, ONorse ithrar ‘innards’, Slav *jentro ‘liver, entrails’, *wentro ‘womb, liver, entrails’). Germanic LIVER forms have always been puzzling. Now, the medial labial stops being an anomaly but regularly reflects PIE *kw which is further supported by the medial –t– in the INNARDS set. The nasal infix in the INNARDS set is likely a secondary innovation originally derived from the heteroclitic *yekwn– form (*yekwn– > *yenkwn) and later distributed across the whole paradigm. The INNARDS is morphologically derived as it lost the ancestral heteroclitic paradigm. The initial l– in Germanic and Armenian forms (comp. also Hitt lissi ‘liver’) remains problematic, although it’s reminiscent of the n– in Slav *nentro ‘inside’. One possible explanation is that it dissimilated from *rekwor (> *lekwor) and the latter was formed by the same process of assimilation (*ekwor > *rekwor) as the forms in the INNARDS group (*yekwn– > *yenkwn). For a close morphological parallel see OHG zahar and trahan ‘tear’ (< *dakru-/*daknu-).

5. PIE *leikw– ‘stick, leave behind, leave’: IE *leikwo– ‘leave’ (Skrt rinakti, Gk leipoo ‘I leave’, Lat linquoo ‘I leave, abandon, forsake’, Arm lk’anem ‘to leave’, Goth leihvan, OHG liihan ‘to lend’, Lith likti ‘to stay’, at-laikas ‘remains’, liekas ‘that which is left over’, OCS ot-leeku ‘remains’) ~ IE *lep– ‘to stay, to stick, to leave’ (Skrt lepayati ‘applies ointment’, lipyate ‘glues on, sticks’, Gk lipos ‘grease’, Lat lippus ‘having watery eyes’, Toch lip– ‘stay’, Goth aflifnan ‘stay’, bilaibjan ‘leave’, Lith lipti ‘stick’, lipus ‘sticky’, Latv lipinat ‘stick’, laipns ‘friendly’, Slav *lep– ‘stick, form from clay’, *lipkiji ‘sticky’).

6. PIE *kwel– ‘revolve, turn, move’: IE *kwel– ‘revolve, turn, move’ (Gk kuklos ‘circle’, tellomai ‘turn around in circles’, pelomai ‘am in motion, go’, poleoo ‘go around, range, haunt (intrans.); turn up the soil (trans.)’, bou-kolos ‘cowherder’, ai-polos ‘goatherder’, amphi-polos ‘female servant’, polos ‘axis’, teleoo ‘finish’, telos ‘end’, Lat colere ‘cultivate, move around, inhabit’, Skrt carati ‘he moves, wanders’, cakra ‘wheel’, Toch kukal ‘wagon’, OEng hweohl ‘wheel’, Lith kelias ‘road, way’, kaklas ‘neck’, OPruss kelan ‘wheel’, maluna-kelan ‘miller’s wheel’, Slav *kolo ‘wheel’) ~ IE *pel- ‘flour, dust, ashes’ (Lat pollen ‘finely milled flour’, pulvis ‘dust’, Gk palee ‘finely milled flour, dust’, Skrt palalam ‘ground seeds’, Lith pelenai ‘ashes’, pelene ‘hearth’, Slav *poleeti ‘burn’, *polmen ‘flame’, *pepelu ‘ashes’). The highly productive PIE root with an abstract meaning ‘move in a circle’ could naturally yield forms with the meaning ‘flour, dust’ (the outcome circular movement of millstones). The meaning ‘ashes’ attested only in Balto-Slavic could either evolve by analogy with ‘flour’ or represent an independent development from the underlying notion of circular movement via the agricultural process of slashing and burning (comp. Lat colere ‘cultivate’) or via an existential understanding of ashes as the end (comp. Gk telos) of a cycle of life. The perfect morphological match between Slav *pepelu ‘ashes’, on the one hand, and Gk kuklos ‘cycle’, Skrt cakra ‘wheel’, Toch kukal ‘wagon’ and OEng hweohl ‘wheel’ is a further proof that the two cognate sets are related.

7. IE *kwel– ‘full, fertile’: IE *kwel– ‘crowd’ (Skrt kulam ‘herd, lineage’, OIr clan, cland ‘offspring, lineage, clan’, Lith kiltis ‘clan’, Gk telos ‘crowd’, Slav *celedi ‘serfs, servants’) ~ IE *pel– ‘full, offspring, multitude’: Gk pleerees ‘full’, pleethos ‘multitude’, Skrt puurnas ‘full’, Lat pleoo ‘fill up’, pleenus ‘full’, pleebees ‘crowd’, OIr lan ‘full’, Goth full ‘full’, Lith pilnas ‘full’, Slav *pulnu ‘full’, *plemen < *pled-men– ‘tribe’, *plodu ‘fruit, offspring’. There’s a complete semantic and morphological alignment between Slav *celedi ‘serfs, servants’, OIr cland ‘clan’, on the one hand, and Lat pleebees ‘crowd’ and Slav *pled-men ‘tribe’.

8. PIE *skwel- ‘split, tear, rip’: IE *skel- ‘split’ (Hitt iskallaa(i)– ‘break, smash’, Lith skeliu, skelti ‘split’, skilti, ski?lu ‘crack’, ski?ltis ‘cut piece’, skyle ‘hole’, Gk skallo ‘dig, chop’ , ONorse skilj? ‘divide’, Goth skilj? ‘butcher’, Arm celum ‘split’ [< *sk-] ~ IE *(s)pel– ‘skin’ (Gk spolia ‘fine wolf plucked from the legs of sheep’, pelma ‘sole of the foot’, Lat pellis ‘animal skin, hide’, spolium ‘animal skin, hide’, OHG fel, OEng fell ‘animal skin, hide, pelt’, filmen ‘film, membrane, foreskin’, Lith plene ‘skin (on milk), scab,’ OPruss pleynis ‘meninges’, Slav *pleva, *plena ‘membrane’). It has been observed (EIEC 269) that the underlying verb *(s)pel– ‘to tear’ is implied by the ‘skin’ nouns comprising the *(s)pel- set but is not directly attested in IE dialects. Now it can be seen that this is because this verb is widely attested in the more basic skel– form. The semantic alignment between the two sets is perfect as evidenced by Goth skilj? ‘butcher’ that naturally sits with both groups of forms. Finally, both sets feature s-mobile.

9. PIE *kweH2ur ‘fire’: IE *peH2ur– ‘fire’ (Hitt pahhur ‘fire’, Gk puur ‘fire’, Toch A por, Toch B puwar ‘fire’, Arm hur ‘fire’, hn-oc’ ‘oven’, Goth foon, OHG fiur ‘fire’, ONorse fuurr ‘fire’ (poet.), OPruss panno ‘fire’, Czech pyrzi ‘burning coal, firebrand’) ~ IE *kur– ‘smoke’ (Goth hauri ‘coal’, ONorse hyrr ‘fire’, Lith kurti ‘stoke fire’, Slav *kuriti ‘to smoke, to stoke fire’, Bulg chur ‘smoke’, churia ‘I smoke’.

10. PIE *aukw– ‘seeing faculty’: IE *okw– ‘eye as a physical organ’ (Skrt aksi ‘eyes’, Gk osse ‘eyes’, omma ‘eye’, opsomai ‘I shall see, perceive, inwardly appreciate’, ossomai ‘seeing with the mind’s eye, have a foreboding’, opsis ‘sight’, Lat oculus ‘eye’, Goth augo ‘eye’, Toch A ak, Toch B ek ‘eye’, Arm akn ‘eye’, Lith akis ‘eye’, Slav *oko ‘eye’ ~ Balto-Slav *aupmen ‘intelligence’ (Lith aumuo ‘mind’, aumenis ‘memory, omenis ‘sense, consciousness’, Slav *umu ‘mind, intelligence’). The morphology of the Balto-Slavic root is unmistakably the same as the morphology of Gk omma (< *opmn) and Arm akn (< *akw-mn, according to Olsen, Birgit A. The Noun in Biblical Armenian. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 1991, 171), hence we must postulate a labial in Balto-Slav *aupmen corresponding to a velar in Slav *oko and Lith akis. The loss of –p– before –m– would be an expected outcome of the cluster. The semantic alignment between Gk opsomai, ossomai and the Balto-Slavic forms is perfect (on the non-physical meanings of the Greek reflexes of IE *okw-, see Gonda, Jan. “Reflections on the Indo-European Medium II.” In Selected Studies. Vol. 1. Indo-European Linguistics. Leiden: Brill, 1975. Pp. 179-80). Without the Balto-Slavic forms the non-physical semantics of the Greek words would be an exception considering that in all other IE dialects (and IE *okw– is widely attested) the reflexes refer exclusively to the eye as a physical organ. Finally, the inclusion of the Balto-Slavic group derived from *aupmen explains *au– in Germanic forms for ‘eye’ (Goth augo, OHG ouga, OEng eeage). Hittite evidence confirms the proposed equation between IE *okw– ‘eye’ and Balto-Slav *aupmen ‘mind, intelligence’. It has 1sg. pres. uhhi ‘I see’, 2sg. pres. autti, 1pl. pres. aumeni, 2pl. pres. autteni, which implies *aukwi-, *aut-ti, *aup-meni with the same distribution of reflexes between velar (“laryngeal”), dental and labial places of articulation. The words denoting ‘seeing faculty’ must ultimately derive, by means of a –kw– affix, from PIE *au– seen in Slav *aviti ‘show oneself’, Lith ovyje, ovyties ‘come to someone in a dream’, Ved aavih, Avest aavis ‘obvious, revealed’, Lat audio ‘I hear’, Gk aioo ‘I perceive’ (< *aFioo), aisthanomai ‘I perceive, I realize’ (< *aFisthanomai). The IE forms for ‘ear’ (Gk ous [< *ousos], Lat auris, Goth ausoo, OHG oora, OEng eeare, Lith ausis, Arm unkn, Slav *uxo, Dual *ushi ‘ears, intellect’, Alb vesh ‘ear’) seem to belong here as well but they are formed from the basic root *au– by means of the affix –s– and not –kw-. This solution makes it unnecessary to explain the diphthong in the Germanic forms for ‘eye’ as contamination by the Germanic forms for ‘ear’ or the shape of Arm form for ‘ear’ (unkn < *ukn) as modeled on the form for ‘eye’ (akn). One remaining phonological challenge of this combined cognate set is the initial alternation between o– (H3-) and au– (H2ew-, H2u-). The same alternation is seen in Skrt ukha ‘cooking pot’, Lat aulla ‘pot’ (< *auksla), Goth auhns ‘oven’ next to Arm akut’ ‘hearth’, OHG ofan ‘oven’, OEng ofen ‘furnace’ (< *H2/H3ukw– in EIEC 443 but this doesn’t account for Gk ipnos ‘oven’, Myc i-po-no ‘cooking bowl’). The onset of the IE terms for ‘ear’ is uncertain (Nom. *Hous, Gen. H2eus, H2us are postulated in EIEC 173). Hitt uhhi shows that there was no initial laryngeal in this group (comp. Hitt huhhas but Lat auus ‘grandfather’ < *H2euH2o-) but it also, surprisingly, establishes identity between a laryngeal and a labiovelar.

11. PIE *kwerp– ‘body’: IE *kwerp– ‘body’ (Lat corpus ‘body’, Skrt krpaa ‘beautiful appearance’, Avest kerefs ‘form’, Gk prapis, prapides ‘midriff, diaphragm, understanding, mind’, OHG href, OEng hrif ‘womb, belly’ ~ IE *turp-/*trup– ‘dead body’ (Slav *trupu ‘body, dead body, tree trunk’, Lith trupus ‘breakable, fragile’, trupeti ‘break into small pieces’, Gk trupee ‘hole’, trupaoo ‘I bore’ (Vasmer, Max. Etimologicheskii slovar’ russkogo iazyka. Vol. 4, 109). Pokorny (620) mentions an opinion by Vendryes and Specht that the *kwerp- form could be metathesized *perkw– found in Goth fairhwus ‘life, world’. This fits the tendency noted above whereby roots with two labiovelars may develop mirror-like reflexes that look like products of a metathesis or dissimilation.

12. PIE *kwlokw-/*tlokw– ‘speak’: IE *tlokw– ‘speak’ (Lat loquor ‘say, speak, talk, declare’, Slav *tulku ‘make sense, interpret’, Skrt tarkas ‘suggestion’, tarkayati ‘contemplate’, OIr ad-tluch ‘thank’, totluch ‘ask’ ~ IE *lep-/*lop– ‘talk, mumble’ (Skrt lapati ‘he mumbles, moans, talks’, Pamir loowam, lewam ‘I speak’, Welsh llef ‘voice’ (< *lepmo-), Slav *lepetu, *lopotati ‘babble, talk’, Alb laperdi ‘dirty talk’). Although IE *lep-/*lop– comes across as onomatopoeic (and this may have caused the loss of the initial voiceless stop), but the second consonant is faithful to the underlying sound law. The initial consonant in *kwlokw-/*tlokw– is uncertain. The root very well may be the one with two labiovelars, although only t– forms have survived in the daughter languages.

13. PIE *anekw-/*H2nekw– ‘grandchild, sister’s son, sister’s daughter’: Slav *wnenku-/*wnuku- ‘grandchild’, OCS netiji ‘nephew’, ORus nestera ‘niece’, OIr necht ‘niece’ ~ IE *H2nepoot ‘grandchild’ (Skrt napaat– ‘grandson’, Avest napaat– ‘grandson’, Gk anepsios ‘cousin’, nepodes ‘descendant’, Lat nepoos ‘grandchild’, Lith nepuotis ‘grandson’, nepte ‘granddaughter’, OIr nia ‘sister’s son’, OHG nefo ‘sister’s son’, OEng nefa ‘grandson, sister’s son’, Alb nip ‘grandson, nephew’, mbese ‘granddaughter, niece’ (< *nepotiya). There’s a complete agreement among scholars that  Slav *wnenku/*wnuku ‘grandchild’ is related to the root of IE *H2nepoot- but it’s assumed that the Slavic form has a different affix representing an ancient *-ko-. In the light of the examples above showing that ancient labiovelar phonemes split into dental, velar and labial reflexes already in PIE times it’s possible to postulate that Slav *wnenku-/*wnuku- maintained a velar reflex of the underlying PIE *kw, which yielded /p/ in the majority of other IE dialects. Correspondingly, OCS netiji ‘nephew’ and ORuss nestera ‘niece’ may represent *nekwt– or even *nekwi– > *neti and not *nepti-, as presently assumed. The phonetic reconsideration of the PIE term for ‘grandchild’ as *H2nekw– instead of *H2nepoot– allows one to connect it to Hitt nekna, nikna ‘brother’, nika, neka, nega ‘sister’. Semantically Hitt neka/nekna will be closest to Gk anepsios ‘cousin’. For a parallel semantic development connecting kin categories in Gen 2 with kin categories in Gen0, comp. Lat avus ‘grandfather’, avunculus ‘mother’s brother’ next to Alb vella ‘brother’ (< *awentlo or *awenklo ‘mother’s brother’s son, cousin, brother’).

14. PIE *wekw-/*wokw– ‘give vocal utterance’: IE *wekw– (Gk epos ‘word’, eipon (aor.) ‘spoke, said’, ops ‘voice’, Skrt vakti ‘speaks, says’, vacas ‘word’, vaak ‘voice, sound’, Avest vac– ‘speak, say’, vaxs ‘voice, sound’, Lat vox ‘voice, sound, utterance, cry, call’, Toch wek ‘voice’, OHG giwahan ‘mention’, Arm gocem ‘cry, roar’, OPruss wackis ‘outcry’) ~ IE *wep-/wop– ‘cry out, yell’ (Slav *upeti/*vopiti ‘cry out, yell’, *vopli ‘outcry’, vypu ‘Ardea stellaris’, Latv uupet, uupeju ‘I cry’ (in reference to owls and wild pigeons), upuot ‘cry, call loudly’, upis ‘eagle owl’, Lith upas ‘echo’, OHG ufo, uvo, ONorse ufr ‘owl’, Avest ufyeimi ‘invoco’). OPruss wackis, Arm gocem andAvest ufyeimi secure a strong semantic link between the forms with a velar and the forms with a labial. The semantic integrity of this extended cognate set can be supported by a quote from Carl Buck (“Words of Speaking and Saying in the Indo-European Languages.” American Journal of Philology 36, no. 1 (1915), 16-17): “It is only in Indo-Iranian and Greek that the root has furnished the regular verb of ‘speaking, saying’. The more wide-spread noun, Skt. vak, Lat. vox, etc., means primarily ‘voice’, and the use of the other forms which occur outside of Indo-Iranian and Greek indicate for the parent speech a general application to the voice and to its product, speaking, calling, crying, etc. The more precise semantic source is hidden in the remote past, but it can hardly be doubted that it belongs somewhere under the general head of ‘sound’.”

15. PIE *sekw-/*swekw– ‘sap, juice, syrup’: IE *sekw-/*swekw– ‘juice, sap’ (Gk opos ‘juice’, Lith sakai ‘tree sap’, OPruss sackis ‘tree sap’, Latv svek?i ‘sap, tar’, Alb gjak ‘blood’, Slav *soku ‘juice, sap’) ~ IE *sap- ‘sap’ (OEng saep, ONorse safi ‘tree sap’, Mid Low Germ sabben ‘spit out’, sabbelen ‘make dirty’, Lat s??? ‘syrup, must’, Arm h?m (< *s??m?-) ‘juice’, Avest v?-š???– ‘having poisoned juices’, Slav *sopuli ‘snivel’.

16. PIE *sekw– ‘follow’: IE *sekw– ‘follow’ (Gk hepomai ‘follow’, Lat sequor ‘to follow’, socius ‘companion’, Skrt sacate ‘follows’, sakha ‘friend, companion’, OIr sechithir ‘follows’, Lith seku ‘follow’, OEng secg ‘follower’) ~ IE *sekwtm ‘seven’ (Gk hepta, Lat septem, Skrt sapta, OIr secht, Lith septyni ‘seven’ but sekmas ‘seventh’, OEng seofon, Goth sibun, Toch A spat, Toch B sukt). The IE numeral ‘7’ can be seen as a formation parallel to a well-known Latin derivative of the *sekw– root, namely secundus ‘second’ (“the one that follows”) suggesting that *sekwtm originally meant ‘number that comes after the set of numbers from 1 to 6’. The consolidation of the two sets is facilitated by the presence of forms with –k– in the SEVEN cluster (OIr secht, Toch B sukt, Lith sekmas) and, of course, the presence of –p– forms in the FOLLOW cluster (Gk hepomai). The new cognate set eliminates the need to postulate contamination with okt ‘8’ to explain the anomalous Toch B sukt ‘7’. Uralic is believed (see, e.g., here) to have borrowed several of its forms for ‘7’ from at least two different IE branches (Finno-Permic from Balto-Slavic and Ugrian and Samoyedic from Tocharian B). It will be interesting to see if the reinterpretation of the IE numeral ‘7’ as originally *sekwtm clarifies the prehistory of the Uralic forms in any way.

17. PIE *kwer– ‘oak’: IE *perkwo– ‘oak’ (Lat quercus, Goth fairguni ‘mountain chain’, ONorse fjor ‘tree’, OHG fereh-eih ‘oak-tree’) ~ IE *kwresno– ‘oak, brush’ (Gk prinos ‘holm-oak’, OHG hurst, horst ‘wood, wooded eminence’, OEng hyrst ‘hillock, height, wood, wooded eminence’, Welsh prys ‘woods’, Slav *xvorstu ‘oak, brush’). The semantic alignment between the two subsets is perfect. Under the new reconstruction, Lat quercus does not need to be explained through an (irregular) assimilation from *perkwos as *kw– is original in this superset. The meaning ‘wooded eminence’ for OHG hurst, horst and OEng hyrst is a good match for Goth fairguni ‘mountain-chain’, while the n-affix found in Gk prinos is the same as that of Goth fairguni. Slav *xvorstu likely derives from *skwer. In the light of the possibility that PIE had a complex palatolabiovelar phoneme k’w (by analogy with an aspirated labiovelar gwh), –s– in *kwresno– could represent a palatal reflex of PIE *k’w, while the –kw– of *perkwo– its labial outcome, so that a more complex morphological entity *kwerk’wo– could be assigned to the PIE level.

18. PIE *kwe– ‘father, father’s brother; older male relative’: IE *pH2ter ‘father’ (Toch A paacar, Toch B paacer, Skrt pita, Gk pateer, Lat pater, Arm hayr, Goth fadar, OIr athir) ~ IE *te– ‘father’ (Lith tevas, tetis ‘father’, OPruss taaws, towis ‘father’, thewis ‘father’s brother’, Skrt tata ‘father’ (r.), ‘any male relative or acquaintance’ (a.) [Karve 1953, 38]). Currently one can often read in literature that the laryngeal in *pH2ter does not directly translate into Goth or Arm –a– because in those languages laryngeals are regularly lost and not vocalized (e.g., Goth dauhtar, Arm dustr next to Skrt duhita, Gk thugater). So, for Gothic, it’s assumed that an interconsonantal laryngeal was first lost and then an anaptyctic vowel emerged, which later merged with a. For Armenian, a very short vowel is postulated to occur before or after an interconsonantal laryngeal (Ajello, Roberto. “Armenian.” In The Indo-European Languages, edited by Anna G. Ramat and Paolo Ramat. Pp. 197-227. Taylor & Francis, 1998, 203). For Tocharian, long aa is considered to be analogical with maacer ‘mother’ but this explanation does not work in light of Toch A ckaacar, Toch B tkaacer ‘daughter’. These piecemeal and ad hoc explanations can be dropped if we reconstruct IE *kweH2ter yielding *paH2ter and regularly leading to Toch *pacer, Germ. *fater and Arm *hathir. IE *paH2ter was in complementary distribution with *pH2ter. The latter form prevailed in Sanskrit, Greek and Latin. (For the original CeC- shape of this root see Kloekhorst, Alwin. “Indo-European Nominal Ablaut Patterns: The Anatolian Evidence,” in Indo-European Accent and Ablaut, edited by G. Keydana, Paul Widmer and Thomas Olander. Pp. 107-28. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 2013, 117.) Szemerenyi (1977, 6-7) suspected that the two sets are related and postulated *pte-wis to explain the Baltic group. The proposed new phonetic law simplifies the solution. The difficult Slav *stryju ‘father’s brother’ receives a satisfactory explanation as derived from *tetrujos > *ttrujos > *struju (morphologically identical to Skrt pitrvya and Lat patruus ‘father’s brother’ and in terms of the onset similar to OPruss thewis ‘father’s brother’). Compared to the phonetic chain proposed in (Vey 1931), this new one drops the most difficult first step that required the conversion of pt into tt. (See above for the origin of ORuss nestera ‘niece’ from *netetera < *nekw– instead of *neptera.) Similarly, the otherwise-puzzling Arm yawray ‘step-father’ can now be seen as regularly derived from *tatros (comp. Gk patroos). Arm hayr (< *kweH2ter), just like Arm hur ‘fire’ (< *kweH2ur) above show that the Armenian velar spirant h does not constitute a delabialized reflex of PIE *p (as in p > f > h) but descends more seamlessly from the labiovelar without the change in the place of articulation. It’s likely that Hitt atta, Slav *otici, Goth atta ‘father’ are also derived from *akwa-, and hence there was only one PIE term for ‘father’ (*kwe-, *akwe-) and not two (*pH2ter and *atta) as presently believed. Interestingly, in Gothic, the form fadar occurs only once, with atta being the main term for ‘father’. If the two forms are linked phonetically, the puzzle of why a PIE term for ‘father’ fell out of favor in Gothic simply disappears. Proto-Germanic *fathoo ‘father’s sister’ (OEng fathe, OFris fethe) is a perfect morphological match for Slav *teta ‘father’s sister’.

Unlike *pHter and *te-, which are isolated in a Eurasian perspective, PIE *kwe-, *akwe ‘father’ find plenty of potential cognates in the so-called “Nostratic” or “Eurasiatic” languages (comp. Nostr eka ‘older male relative’ such as ‘father’, ‘father’s brother’, ‘older brother’, ‘grandfather’, etc.).

PIE *gw

18. PIE *wegw– ‘water’, *wegwr ‘water creature’: IE *ngwr- ‘water snake, eel’ (Slav *ongri/*ugri ‘eel’, Lith ungurys, OPrus angurgis ‘eel’, Gk (Hes.) imbeeris ‘water snake’, Lat anguis ‘snake’, anguilla ‘eel’, angis ‘snake, adder’, OHG unc ‘adder’, OIr esc-ung ‘eel, water snake’) ~ IE *udro– ‘water snake, water animal, otter’ (Lith uudra, Slav *wydra ‘otter’, Skrt udras ‘water animal’, Avest udra ‘otter’, Gk hydros, hydra ‘hydra, water snake’, OHG ottar ‘otter’). The first root can be traced back to IE *wegw-/*ugw– ‘wet’ (Gk ugros ‘liquid, fluid’, ONorse vokr ‘wet, moist’ [EIEC 639, with further possibilities). The second root is transparently related to a more basic IE root *wed– ‘water’ (Hitt watar, Toch war, Gk hudoor, Skrt udan, Goth watoo, OHG wazzar, Slav *woda, Lith vanduo) which now needs to be reinterpreted as *wegw-. The nasal infix in the EEL set is secondary and intrusive. It sporadically emerges in the WATER set as well (Lith vanduo ‘water’, Lat unda ‘wave’).

19. PIE *ngwen- ‘bulge, testicle’: *IE *ngwen– (Lat inguen ‘bulge in the genital region, genitals’, Gk adeen ‘gland’) ~ Skrt andas ‘egg’, andam ‘testicle’, Slav *jendro ’round core, kernel’, *jendra pl. ‘testicles’.

21. PIE *gweHw-/*gweHi– ‘be, become, grow, live’: IE *gwiHwo– ‘live’ (Skrt jivati ‘he lives’, jiiva ‘living’, Toch A so, Toch B saw ‘live’, Gk zoooo ‘live’, bios ‘life’, Lat viivo ‘live’, viita ‘life’, Goth qius ‘living’, OHG quek, OEng cwic, ONorse kvikr ‘quick’, OIr beeo, Welsh byw ‘alive’, Lith gyvas ‘living’, gyju ‘become healthy’, Slav *zivu ‘living’, *ziti ‘live’) ~ *IE *bhewH– ‘be, become, grow’ (*bhewHiyo– [pres.]: Lat fiioo ‘become’, OIr biiu ‘become’, Welsh byddaf ‘be’, OEng beeo ‘am’; *bhewH-: Skrt bhavati ‘is’, Gk phuomai ‘grow, become’, phuo ‘beget’, Arm busanim ‘sprout up’, OHG buuan ‘live’, Lith buuti ‘be’, Slav *byti ‘be’, Alb buj ‘lodge, stay’; *bhewH-t-, *bhewH-d– [nomin.]: Skrt bhuuti ‘being’, Gk phyton ‘plant’, physis ‘nature’, phylee ‘tribe’, phytla ‘nature, species’, Lat futurus ‘yet to be, going to be’, OIr both ‘hut’, Welsh bod ‘dwelling’, Lith buutas ‘house’, buukla ‘residence’, Slav *bydlo ‘dwelling, residence; cattle’; *bhewH-s-: Lith busiont ‘future’, Slav *bystru ‘quick’. Semantic alignment between the two cognate sets is compelling (comp., especially, OHG buuan ‘live’ as well as OEng cwic and Slav *bystru). The key phonetic barrier separating them is aspiration in the onset of PIE *bhewH-. However, this can be attributed to the subsequent laryngeal, just like in IE *dhugH2ter a voiced aspirated stop comes from a combination “plain voiced stop + laryngeal” (see below). The variation in the root vocalism of IE *gwiHwo– and IE *bhewH– can be accounted for as a metathesis in the ancient affixed forms *gweHi-wo vs. *gweHw-yo. IE *gwous– ‘cow, cattle’ (Skrt gau, Avest gaus, Toch A ko, Toch B keu, Myc qo-u ‘cow’, Gk bous, Lat boos, Umbr bum, Arm kov, OIr boo, OHG chuo, OEng cuu, Latv guovs ‘cow’, Slav *govedo ‘bull, cattle’, Osset qug, gog ‘cow’), which currently does not have an etymology, seem to belong here as well. The general semantic fit is perfect (cattle was a source of life and a foundation of being for cattle-growing pastoralists). In addition, Slav *byd-lo ‘cattle’ (in Polish and eastern Slavic languages) provides an outstanding formal and semantic parallel to Slav *goved-o ‘cattle’.

PIE *gwh

22. PIE *ghwegwh-: ‘earth, ground, bottom’): IE *dheg’h-/*dheg’h– ‘earth’ (Hitt tekan, Toch A tkam, Toch B, kam, Gk khthoon, Lat humus, Skrt ksam) ~ IE *bhudh-/*dhubh– (Skrt budhna, Gk puthm?nLat fundus, OHG bodam/boden, Slav *du(b)no) ‘bottom’, Lith dubus ‘deep’, Goth diups ‘deep’).

23. PIE *sneghw– ‘sky, snow’: IE *sneigwh– (OPruss snaygis, Lith sniegas, Goth snaiws ‘snow’, OHG sniwit ‘it snows’, Gk neiphei ‘it snows’, nipha ‘snow’, Lat niivit, ninguitnix ‘snow’, OIr snigid ‘it rains, it snows“, Skrt snihyati “it gets wet”) ~ IE *Cnebho– (Hitt nepiš, Luw tappas ‘sky’, Lith debesis ‘cloud’, Gk nephos ‘cloud’, dnophos, gnophos ‘darkness’, Skrt nabhas ‘fog, sky’, OHG nebul ‘fog’, Slav *nebo ‘sky’). The onset remains somewhat enigmatic due to the unexpected d– in Luwian, Lithuanian and Greek. The consolidation of IE *sneigwh– and *Cnebho– cognate sets into one opens possibilities to resolve the puzzling onset but since the SKY group is always reconstructed as *nebho– the connection between the two sets can be easily established on the assumption of an s-mobile in the SNOW group. The diphthong in the sneigwh– group adds a nuance of difference to this comparison. It can be explained as the product of metathesis of an affixal vowel into the root, so that *snegwhyo– > *sneigwho– (see also *Hledhwero > *Hleudhero below).

24.  PIE *gwhe– ‘burn, smoke’: IE *gwher– ‘ burn’ (Skrt ghrnoti ‘shines, burns’, gharmas ‘summer heat’, haras ‘heat’, Gk theromai ‘am burning hot’, theros ‘summer, harvest’, thermos ‘warm’, Arm jer ‘warm, warmth’,OIr gorim, guirim ‘am warming up’, Lat formus ‘warm’, Alb zjarm ‘heat’, Slav *goreti ‘burn’, Lith gariu, gareti ‘burn, get enflamed with anger’, OPruss gorme ‘heat’) ~ IE *dhuH2mo– ‘smoke’ (Hitt tuhhuis, Skrt dhumas, Lat fuumus,Gk thuumos ‘spirit’ > Mod Gk ‘anger’, OHG toum ‘smoke, fog, steam’, Lith dumai, Slav *dymu). The original root *gwhe– is enlarged with –r-, –m– and –H2– determinants, or a combination thereof.

25. PIE *gwhei– ‘strike, slay, beat’: IE *gwhe(n)– ‘strike’ (Hitt kuenzi ‘he/she/it kills’, Gk theino ‘I strike’, phonos ‘manslaughter’, Skrt hanti ‘he/she/it strikes, kills’, Lith genu ‘I hunt, drive’, OCS *goniti ‘hunt, drive’ (< ‘beat repeatedly’) ~ IE *bhei– ‘beat’ (Gk phitros ‘log, tree trunk’, OHG biihal ‘axe’, Arm bir ‘club’, OIr benim ‘I cut, I strike’, Slav *biti ‘beat, strike’, *boju ‘fight’. The diphthong in Gk theino may come not from *thenyo– but represent the original diphthong also reflected in phitros. Alternatively, the bright vowel in phitros may parallel the same “anomaly” seen in Gk bios ‘life’ (< IE *gwiiwo-) instead of expected **dios [see Meier-Brugger 2003, 135].

26. PIE *gwher-/*gwhor– ‘door, court, garden’: IE *dhwer– ‘door’ (Lith durys ‘door’, dvaras ‘court’, Goth daur ‘gates’, OHG turi ‘doors’, Gk thura ‘door’, Lat forees ‘double-sided door’, foris ‘door’, forum ‘court’, Skrt dvaras ‘doors’, Alb dere ‘door’, Slav *dveri ‘door’, dvoru ‘court’) ~ IE *ghordho-/*ghorto– ‘garden, town’ (Skrt grhas ‘house’, Lat hortus ‘garden’, Alb garth ‘fence’, Goth gards ‘house’, Toch B kerciye ‘palace’ [< *ghordhiiom], Lith gardas ‘fence’, Slav *gordu ‘town’).

27. PIE *gwhegwh– ‘yearn, long for, be greedy, ask for’: IE *gwhedh– ‘yearn, desire’ (Skrt thessasthai ‘pray for, beseech’ [< *gwedhiyo-], pothos ‘desire, need, longing’, Avest jaidyat ‘he asked’, OIr guidim ‘I beseech’, Lith pasigendu ‘feel a lack of something’, gedauju ‘wish, yearn, strive’, godas ‘greed’, godus ‘greedy, stingy’, godziuos ‘wish, desire’, Slav *zendati ‘desire, be thirsty’, *zadnyji ‘greedy’) ~ IE *bhogho– ‘devour, part, lot’ (Gk phagein ‘swallow, eat up, devour, consume’ [< *phagFein?), Skrt bhajati ‘endows, allots’, Skrt bhagas ‘lot, happiness’, also ‘bestower’ as an epithet of gods, Avest baxsaiti ‘partakes’, baga– ‘lot, part’, Slav *bogu ‘god’). The semantic connection between the cognate subsets reveals a complex, reciprocal notion of yearning for a missing part (by people) and bestowing it (by gods upon people). The strength of the semantic link becomes evident if one observes that both cognate subsets preserve both the original religious meanings (e.g., Gk thessasthai and Slav *bogu) as well as the reinterpretation of this religious concept as a physical state of being thirsty, hungry (Slav *zendati) or of the act of satisfying hunger (Gk phagein). Interestingly, the second PIE labiovelar reflected as plain g in Gk phagein behaves like labiovelars are known to behave in satem languages (comp. the reflex of the first labiovelar in Lith gedauju) suggesting that the centum-satem division in the treatment of the labial component of a labiovelar (the loss of w in satem languages and the merger of labiovelars with velars) reflects a positional feature of certain roots in both centum and satem languages and not a unique phenomenon of satem languages.

27. PIE *H1legwh– ‘grow freely’: IE *H1legwhu-/*H1legwhro– ‘light, quick’ (Lat levis ‘light’, Gk elakhus ‘low’, elaphros ‘quick, light’, Ved raghu ‘quick, swift’, laghu ‘light, low’, OHG lungar ‘fast’, Goth leihts [with a nasal infix > *H1lngwhu-/*H1lngwhro-], OIr laigiu ‘less, worse’, Slav *liguku ‘light, easy’, Latv liegs ‘light’) ~ IE *H1leudhero– ‘free’ (Skrt rodhati ‘he/she/it grows’, Goth liudan ‘grow’, Gk eleutheros ‘freeman’, Lat liiber ‘freeman’, liiberi ‘children’, OHG liut ‘people’, Lith liaudis ‘people’, Latv laudis ‘people’, Slav *liudu ‘people’. In IE *H1leudhero– ‘free’ the diphthong is likely secondary and emerged from an earlier *H1ledwhero-. The semantic match is perfect as the inclusion of the LIGHT-QUICK set fills is the logical gap between the meaning ‘grow’ and the meaning ‘free’ in the FREE set. The presence of the meaning ‘low’ in the LIGHT-QUICK set (Gk elakhus, Ved laghu) fits the meaning ‘grow’ found in the FREE set. The meaning ‘children, offspring’ recorded in Latin does not look aberrant (as it seems to be among other social terms such as OHG liut, Lat liiber and Gk eleutheros) but ties back to the broader PIE notion of ‘quick, early growth’ supported by both sets. The emergence of the social meaning ‘freeman’ > ‘people’ clearly postdates the split of this cognate set into the LIGHT-QUICK and the FREE groups, as it’s not present in the LIGHT-QUICK group, while both groups show the original organic and pre-social semantic core.

28. IE *(H1)neghwro– ‘kidney’ (Gk nephros ‘kidney’, OHG nioro ‘kidney’, Lat nefrones ‘testicles’) ~ Slav *needro, pl. needra ‘chest, internal area in the body, breasts’. The Slavic form is considered difficult from an etymological perspective. H1 in the KIDNEY set accounts for the long vowel in the Slavic form.

29. PIE *(s)neghw-/*nogwh– ‘dusk, night, cloud, mist’: IE *negwh-/*nogwh– ‘night’ (Hitt nekuz, Toch A nakcu, Toch B nekc, Gk nuks, Lat nox, Skrt nakti, Lith naktis, Goth nahts,  Alb nate, Slav *not’i) ~ IE *sneudh– ‘dusk, cloud, mist’ (Gk nuthon ‘dusk’, Lat nuubees ‘cloud, mist’, Avest snaoda ‘cloud’, Welsh nudd ‘mist’). The NIGHT set is usually reconstructed as *nekw-/*nokw– but the medial stops in all the IE languages is equally compatible with PIE *gwh. Before t labiality, voice and aspiration would all disappear.

Cases with secondary aspiration

As I argued elsewhere (see, e.g., on this blog), some IE voiced aspirates can be explained as a combination of voiced stop + laryngeal, in which a laryngeal is found not adjoining the voiced stop but in the subsequent segment of the form. This rule can explain such a well-known IE word usually reconstructed as PIE *bhreH2ter (> Lat frater, Gk phrater, etc.) as representing earlier mr– (also found in Lat maritus ‘husband’, Gk meiraks ‘boy, girl’, Germ *brudi– ‘bride’, Latv marsa ‘brother’s wife’, etc.). The aspiration inferred from Lat frater and Gk phrater is the result of a feature throwback from the medial laryngeal in the underlying form *mreH2ter. This insight leads to the following comparanda featuring voiced labiovelars, voiced aspirates and medial laryngeals.

30. PIE *gwer-/*gwor– ‘devour; mouth, throat’ > IE *gwer– ‘devour, throat’ (Lith gerti, geriu ‘drink’, gurklys ‘throat, crop, craw’, Latv dzert, dzeriu ‘drink’, OPruss gurcle ‘throat’, Skrt girati, grnaati ‘he devours’, garas ‘potion’, Avest gar– ‘devour’ (in compounds), Arm keri ‘I ate’, Gk bora ‘fodder’, bibroosko ‘I eat, devour’, barathron ‘gulf, pit, muzzle’, Arcad dzerethron, Ion berethron, Lat vooro, voraare ‘I devour’ , Slav *zreti ‘devour’, *gordlo ‘throat’ ~ IE *bhardheH2– ‘beard’ (Lat barba, OHG bart, OEng beard, Lith barzda, Latv barzda, baarda, OPruss bordus, Slav *brada ‘beard, chin’). There is distributional synergy between the two cognate sets: Greek forms are missing from the BEARD set but they are abundantly present in the DEVOUR set. The semantic match is very good: beard grows in the same area of the human head where mouth and throat are located. The consolidation of these two IE cognate sets provides a clear etymological path for the BEARD forms. The morphology of Gk barathron and Slav *gordlo shows the same voiced aspirate *dh as the BEARD forms. In Lat barbab– is not aspirated (comp. Gk barathron), which has always been a problem. Regressive assimilation from –b– of the second syllable (*farba > barba) or a Latin version of Grassmann’s Law (*bhardha– > *bardha– > barba) are the two main explanations. Importantly, both explanations invoke an intersegmental process. For the BEARD forms a laryngeal is usually reconstructed (e.g., EIEC 251) to account for the last –a. It’s precisely this laryngeal that could have added aspiration to the originally unaspirated root *gwer-/*gwor-, so that *gwerdeH2– yielded *bhard-, *bardh– (Lat barba, Gk barathron) and *bhardh– (Goth bart) forms.

31. PIE *gwrew– ‘scruff, brow’: IE *bhrewH– ‘eyebrow’ (Toch A parwaam, Toch B parwaane [dual] ‘brows’, Skrt bhruu-‘ brow’, Avest brvat [dual] ‘brows’, Gk ophruus ‘brows’, OEng bruu ‘brow, eyelash, eyelid’, Eng brow ‘eyebrow, forehead’, ONorse bruun ‘brow’, OIr forbruu ‘brows’, Lith bruvis ‘brow’, Slav *brovi ‘brows’) ~ *gwrewio– ‘scruff, mane’ (> *gwreiwo-) (Skrt griiva ‘back of the head, scruff’, Avest griiva ‘back of the head’, Gk deree ‘neck, back of the head, throat’, Ion deiree ‘neck, throat’, Latv griva ‘mouth of river’, Slav *griva ‘mane’). The semantic connection between eyebrow, eyelash and eyelid, on the one hand, and scruff and mane, on the other, is motivated by both meanings referring to secondary forms of head hair. Both subsets show semantic development from hair to the underlying part of the head: mane > back of the head, eyebrow > forehead. (Notably, in the DEVOUR-BEARD set forms for ‘beard’ show a similar semantic evolution from beard to chin.) The SCRUFF-BROW cognate superset is similar to the preceding DEVOUR-BEARD superset and they may ultimately be related. But for the time being it’s better to keep them separate to avoid excessive semantic latitude. In addition, the DEVOUR-BEARD set and the SCRUFF-BROW set are distinct morphologically. PIE *gwrew– ‘scruff, brow’ is united by the distinctive –w– enlargement with pan-Indo-European distribution. But the emergence of a voiced aspirate from a sequence ‘voiced stop + laryngeal’ can clearly be in seen in both supersets. PIE *gwrewH- and *gwerdeH2- yielded, respectively, *bhrewH– and *b(h)ard(h)H2-, in both cases with a laryngeal throwback.

32. PIE *gwhe-/*gwe– ‘daughter, wife, junior female relative’: IE *dhugH2ter ‘daughter’ (Lyc cbatra, Luw tuwatari, Toch A tkacer, Toch B ckacer, Skrt duhita, Gk thugater, Osc fuutrei (, Goth dauhtar, Lith dukte, Arm dustr, Slav *dutji (OCS dušti)) ~ IE *gweneH2/*gwenH2 ‘wife, woman’ (Gk gunee, Goth qino, Slav *zena, Arm kin, Skrt janih, Toch B sana). The two sets are etymologically linked at the root *gwhe-/*gwe– enlarged by the gH2– + ter suffixes in the DAUGHTER forms and by the nH2/eH2 suffix in the WIFE forms. Lyc cbatra (Kloekhorst reconstructs *dwetr– and this reconstruction secures –w– in this form) likely stems directly from *gwatra and not from *twatra as it’s currently assumed. Aspirated dh in *dhugH2ter may be explained as a throwback from the following laryngeal, so that *gwe– > *du– > *dugH2– > *dhugH2– > *dhugH2ter. As I argued earlier, the same process likely accounted for the origin of IE *bhreH2ter ‘brother’ from the original PIE *mreH2ter < *mer– ‘affine’. Italic represented by Osc fuutir shows that the correspondences PIE *dh ~ Italic f and PIE *gwh ~ Italic f are in fact one and the same correspondence PIE *gwh ~ Italic f. The ending –nH2/-neH2 in the WIFE forms may be a hypocoristic.

Latin doesn’t have either a DAUGHTER or a WIFE reflex of the PIE *gwhe-/*gwe– root suggesting that the form got lost in the history of Italic at the time when it still had the undifferentiated DAUGHTER-WIFE meaning. And indeed Osc fuutrei refers to an epithet of a goddess from Ceres’s circle and not specifically to ‘daughter’. The semantic connection between ‘daughter’ to ‘woman, wife’ can be illustrated in the light of the peculiarities of Roman marriage. There were two kinds of legal marriages (justae nuptiae, justum matrimonium, legitimum matrimonium) in Rome: cum conventione in manum and sine in manum conventione. In the former case, a woman severed her ties with her natal family and became materfamilias in the family of her husband. She was entitled to a share of inheritance in her new family. In the latter case, a married woman remained a member of her father’s family. Uxor was a woman who entered into a connubium on the sine in manus conventione basis and was therefore a wife of her husband and a daughter of her father at the same time. In Cicero’s (Top. 3) words, “uxor is a genus of which there are two species; one is materfamilias, ‘quae in manum convenit;’ the other is uxor only.” (Materfamilias was a kind of daughter to her husband as well, and jurist Gaius in Institutes (I, 3; I, 118; II, 159) literally says just that – Usu in manu conveniebat quae anno continui nupta perseverabat: nam velut annua possessione usucapiebatur, in familia viri transibat filiaeque locum obtinebat.) (L.S. 1870, 740; Bierkan et al. 1907, 310). A 19th century German legal scholar Rudolph Sohm (2002, 365-366) echoes him saying that “An uxor in manu (materfamilias) stands legally, by virtue of the manus, ‘filiaefamilias loco’. The relations between her and her husband – both as regards her person and her property – are governed by the same rules of law as apply to the case of a child… The relations between a wife in manu and her children are governed by the same rules as apply between brother and sisters.” From an early period, however, this transfer of a woman from her father’s manus to her husband’s manus began to be avoided, at least in wealthy families, thus retaining the woman, along with rights to her dowry and inheritance in her familia of origin. Manus was rare by the end of the Republic and virtually extinct by Gaius’s time (Gardner & Wiedemann 1991, 6, n. 1).

The newly reconstructed onset for the PIE term for ‘daughter; wife’ *gwe– casts light on the enigmatic Lat uxoor ‘wife’. The Latin form can now be easily derived from *weksoor < *gweksoor (PIE *gw regularly gives v in Latin as in viivos ‘living’ < *gwiivo-) < *gwegH2soor (by analogy with *sosoor ‘sister’) < *gwegH2ter. Apparently in proto-Italic there were two complementary roots – *gwegH2– (> Lat uxoor) and *gwheg– (Osc fuutir). The unaspirated onset of *gwegH2– finds support in IE *gweneH2 ‘wife’ and in Skrt duhita ‘daughter’. Skrt duhita is usually taken as an example of Grassmann’s Law, which presumably operated independently in Indic, Greek, Tocharian and Latin, but considering that the onset of *gweneH2 is unaspirated either it’s more likely that *dh reconstructed on the basis of Gk thugater, Arm dustr and Goth dauhtar represents a secondary development caused by “aspiration throwback,” with the aspiration feature derived from medial H2. This means that only one of two consonants could carry aspiration in PIE: Gk thugater comes from *dhugH2ter, while Arm dustr and Goth dauhtar from *dhugter (and not *dhughter).

33. PIE *gwheighw– ‘build from stone or clay’: Slav *zidati build, erect, create (especially from stone or clay)’, Lith žiedžiu ‘form, shape from clay’, žaidas ‘oven’, židinys ‘hearth’, Goth deigan ‘form out of clay, smear’, OHG teig ‘dough’, Skrt dehmi ‘I smear’, dehi ‘damb’,  Gk teikhos ‘stone wall’, toikhos ‘wall’, Lat fingoo, fictus ‘I form, smear’. This is a well established cognate set that shows a root alternation suggestive of an original pair of labiovelars: Balto-Slavic points to *zeid, while all the other dialects *dheigh-. These forms can be linked to an otherwise isolated Greek-Slavic isogloss – Slav *ziduku ‘liquid, watery’, *ziza ‘slop’, Gk deisa ‘sludge’ (< *gweidhya-) showing that the original protoform must have been *gweigwH-, with the subsequent collapse of gw and H into gwh and a laryngeal throwback seen in Goth deigan.

34. PIE *gwor– ‘move quickly’: IE *gworH– (Gen. *gwr-H-) ‘mountain, forest, wind’ (Skrt giris? ‘mountain’, Avest gairi– ‘mountain’, Gk (Hom.) boreees,  (Att.) boreaas, boraas ‘northwind’, OPruss garian ‘tree’, Lith giria ‘forest’, Latv dzira ‘forest’, Slav *gora ‘mountain’,  Alb gur ‘rock’) ~ IE *bhur– ‘move quickly’ (Skrt bhurati ‘moves quickly, twitches, fidgets’, Lat furoo ‘rage’, Latv bauruot ‘to moo’, OIr buriud ‘mooing’, burach ‘tear the ground’, ONorse byrr ‘tailwind’, MidLowGerm borelos ‘windless’, Lith paburmai ‘furiously, rapidly’, Slav *bura ‘storm’). The laryngeal is reconstructed for the first set but not for the second but aspiration shows up in the second set. But the semantic link carried by Gk boreees, boreaas, boraas ‘northwind’ and ONorse byrr ‘tailwind’, MidLowGerm borelos ‘windless’, Slav *bura ‘storm’ is strong. Apparently, the abstract concept of ‘quick, violent movement’ stands behind such diverse natural referents as ‘mountain’ (product of violent natural forces), ‘forest’, ‘wind’, etc.

35. PIE *gwer-H– ‘carry; heavy’: IE *bher– ‘carry’ (Skrt bharati, bibharti ‘he carries, brings’, bhr?tis? ‘carrying, content, reward’, Avest baraiti ‘he carries’, Gk phero ‘I carry’, Arm berem ‘I carry’, Alb bie ‘I bring’, Lat fero ‘I carry’, fors ‘occurrence’, Goth baira ‘I carry’, baurþei ‘burden’, OEng byrðen ‘load, weight, charge, duty’, OIr biru ‘I carry’, brith ‘birth’, Slav *brati ‘to take’) ~ IE *gwreHu-/*gwrHu– ‘heavy’ (Toch A kraamaarts ‘heavy’, B kraamaar ‘weight, heaviness’, kramartse ‘heavy’, Skrt guru– ‘heavy’, Avest gouru– ‘heavy’, Lat gravis ‘heavy’, Gk barus ‘heavy’, Welsh bryw ‘live, vigorous, strong’, Latv gruuts ‘heavy’), Alb zor ‘heaviness, trouble’. The Tocharian forms (< *gwremr-) are especially close morphologically to Gk pherma ‘foetus’, Skrt bharma ‘care, preservation’, bhariman ‘carrying, preservation’, Avest bareman ‘carrying, preservation’, Slav *brema ‘burden, pregnancy’ (< *bhermn). If in the HEAVY set the laryngeal is reflected as a in Greek and Latin, in the CARRY set it must have turned an original voiced stop attested in the HEAVY set into a voiced aspirate. The meaning transformation went from the notions of ‘carry’ and ‘burdensome’ to the notion of ‘heavy’.

A Greek-Slavic isogloss *gwrebh– represented by Gk brephos ‘foetus, new-born, baby’ and OCS zrebe ‘foal’ seem to be of the same root *gwerH– enlarged with suffix –bho– (< –bo-, see below, no. 36).

36. PIE *gweH-l– ‘to mother’ > ‘to nurse, to give birth’: IE *gwelbho– ‘womb’ (Gk delphus ‘uterus’, adelpheos ‘brother’ [<*sm-gwelbheyos ‘from the same womb’], dolphos (Hes.) ‘womb’, Skrt garbha ‘uterus’, Avest gerebus ‘new-born animal’, garewa ‘uterus’, Goth kalbo ‘calf’, OHG chalb, chalp ‘calf’, kilbur ‘ewe lamb’, OEng clifor lamb ‘ewe lamb’, cealf ‘calf’, ONorse kalfr ‘calf’) ~ IE *dhe-l– ‘to suckle, to nurse, to milk, to mother’ (Gk theelee ‘mother’s breast’, theelus ‘female (animal), feminine’, Lat feelo ‘suck’, feelix ‘fertile, happy’, Arm dal ‘colostrum’, OHG tila ‘woman’s breast’, OEng delu ‘nipple’, ONorse dilkr ‘lamb’, Lith pirm-dele ‘cow which bears a calf for the first time’, Latv dels ‘son’, Alb dele ‘sheep’, MIr del ‘nipple’, delech ‘milk cow’. The new principle of grouping of cognates brings together such semantically and phonetically perfect matches as Gk a-delpheos ‘brother’ and Latv dels ‘son’, ONorse kalf ‘calf’/OHG kilbur ‘ewe lamb’ and ONorse dilkr ‘lamb’.

The PIE root *gweH– also spawned a variety of forms with different affixation: Gk *theesthai ‘milk a cow’, theesato ‘he sucked’, theenion ‘milk’, Skrt dhayati ‘suckles’, dhatri ‘nurse’, dadhi ‘yogurt, sour milk’, dheena ‘milk cow’, Avest daeenu ‘female quadruped’,  Lat feetus ‘offspring, pregnancy’, feemina ‘woman’, OIr dinu ‘lamb’, Goth daddjan ‘to nurse’, OHG diien ‘to nurse’, Arm diem ‘suck’, Latv deju ‘suck’, OPruss dadan ‘milk’, OCS dojiti ‘give breast’, deeva ‘maiden’ (the ending is like that of Gk theelus ‘female (animal), feminine’ [<*dhelFos?]), deeti ‘child’. Although there is a clear semantic specialization around the notion of ‘nursing’, ‘milking’ and ‘suckling’ the more neutral meaning of ‘mothering’ (whether through birth or through nursing) is seen in such form as Lat feetus.

Phonetically, aspiration initially carried by a laryngeal (prior to its loss with compensatory vowel lengthening) was redistributed across the consonants of the morph: e.g., in Gk delphus (< PIE *gweHlbo-) the second consonant became aspirated, while the first one stayed plain, while in Gk theelus (< PIE *gweHlwo-) the first consonant got aspirated (in the absence of the second one). The same pattern can be seen in Gk pherma ‘foetus’ and brephos ‘foetus’ (see above, no. 35).

37. PIE *gwhegwho– ‘limb, run’: IE *bhaghus/*bheH2ghus ‘(fore)arm, foreleg’ (Toch poke ‘arm’, Toch B pokai ‘arm, limb’, Skrt baahu ‘forearm, arm, forefoot of the animal’, Avest baazu ‘arm, foreleg’, Gk peekhus ‘elbow, forearm’, OHG buog ‘shoulder’, OEng buog ‘shoulder, arm, bough’, ONorse boogr ‘arm, shoulder’) ~ IE *gwhegw– ‘run’ (Gk phebomai ‘I run’, phobos ‘stampede, fear’, Lith begti ‘run’, Latv begt ‘run’, OCS beezati ‘run’). Notably, Balto-Slavic *beegeeti ‘run’ attests a long vowel that’s prominent in the forms for FOREARM-FORELEG but is missing in Gk phebomai. IE *bhaghus shows –u– suggestive of an earlier labiovelar. The original meaning likely referred to the animal, rather than human body part and its action. The contrast between Gk peekhus/Skrt baahu and Gk phebomai parallels the contrast between Skrt duhita (expected Gk tukhater**) and attested Gk thugater.

Complex cases

There are cognate sets in which the sound correspondences characteristic of the descendants of PIE labiovelars have been clouded by seemingly irregular processes involving sonorants.

38. PIE *gwhn-/*gwhngwhe– ‘mouth, cheek, jaw, tongue’: IE *dng’huH2-/*dngwheH2– ‘tongue’ (Lat lingua, OLat dingua, Osc fangvam, Goth tuggoo, Skrt jihvaa, Avest hizva, Slav *jenzyku, Lith liezuwis, Arm lezu, Toch A kantu, Toch B kantwo, OIr tengae) ~ IE *g’enu-/*g’endho– ‘cheek, chin, jaw’ (Gk genus ‘chin, jaw’, gnathos ‘jaw’, Skrt hanus ‘jaw’, Avest zaanu ‘jaw’, Lat gena ‘cheek’, Goth kinnus ‘cheek’, OIr glun‘ mouth’, Arm cnaut ‘jaw, cheek’, Toch A sanwem ‘jaw’, Lith zandas ‘jaw, cheek’). These are two classic IE roots widely attested across IE dialects and subjected to a myriad of phonological analyses. The semantics of the two sets holds no barriers for comparison, as both sets refer to the physical area of the mouth. The formal properties of the members of the TONGUE set have been most difficult to reconcile phonologically. While it’s generally agreed that the IE words for ‘tongue’ go back to *dnghuH2-/*dngwheH2-, the Osc fangvam points to *dhenghwen, Skrt jihvaa and Avest hizva to *gighwaa, Slav *jenzyku and Lith liezuwis to Balto-Slav *ingwu-. The CHEEK-CHIN-JAW set contains one “anomaly,” namely Skrt hanus which points to *g’henu. The TONGUE set contains a familiar “metathesis” (Toch A kantu, Toch B kantwo) that we’ve also encountered in the EARTH and BUILD sets and that seems to represent a “signature” of sets containing two labiovelars. This “metathesis” reveals the formal similarity between the two sets (Toch A kantu, Toch B kantwo next to Toch A sanwem). Skrt jihvaa doesn’t look like a product of assimilation anymore, but is rather a regular outcome of PIE *gwhngwhe-. Osc fangwam, too, now logically continues *gwhngwen. OIr glun ‘mouth’ (transparently from *gnun) may hold a key to the origin of the obscure l-onset in Lith liezuwis and Arm lezu. While it’s commonly assumed that the l– in the Lithuanian and Armenian forms suggests two independent cases of contamination with the IE verb ‘to lick’, it’s more likely that liezuwis and lezu comes from *dningwu– or, better, *gningwu- (comp. Slav *gneezdo ‘nest’ next to Lith lizdas) followed by *glingwu- and *lingwu. Gk gnathos and Lith zandas contain a clear affix *-dh-, which corresponds to the medial *-g’wh– in the TONGUE set morphologically but to the initial *d(h)– in the TONGUE set phonologically. This suggests that the medial *-g’wh– in the TONGUE set is a secondary enlargement of the original shorter root *dn-/*gwhn-. With this analysis, the d-forms found in the TONGUE set (OLat dingua, Goth tuggoo, OIr tengae) increasingly look marginal and secondary (in the –e/-n environment?) to the g– forms, which find full support in the entirely d-less CHEEK-CHIN-JAW forms. Gk gloossa ‘tongue’, which is sometimes considered as another anomalous member of the TONGUE set, now fits the larger MOUTH-CHEEK-JAW-TONGUE set more organically as it displays an original velar in the onset and the intrusive –l-, which can now be explained, following the lead of OIr glun ‘mouth’, Lith liezuwis and Arm lezu ‘tongue’, as stemming from *gnundhya > *glundhya > *gloossa. Alb gjuhë (< *glusaa [Orel 1998: 138]) must have undergone a similar development to the Greek form.

39. PIE *gw(h)egw(h)no-/*gw(h)egw(h)ro– ‘smooth, hairless, naked’: IE *negwno-/*negwro– ‘naked, hairless’ (Hitt nekumant, Gk gymnos, Skrt nagnas, Avest magna, Arm merk, Lat nuudus (< *nogwodos), Goth naqaths, OIr nocht, Lith nuogas, Slav *nagu) ~ IE *ghladh– ‘smooth’ (Lat glaber ‘smooth, hairless, bald’, OHG glat ‘smooth, shiny’, OEng glad ‘smooth’, Lith glodus, glodnas, glodnus ‘smoothly lying upon’, Slav *gladuku ‘smooth’. The suffixal morphology of the two sets is fully compatible: the *-no-/*-ro– ending is present in both cases. The semantic match is perfect, especially considering that IE *negwno– is thought to mean ‘naked’ in the sense of ‘hairless’, not just ‘undressed’ (EIEC 45). The NAKED set is widely considered irregular due to the unexpected sonorants in Avest magna, Arm merk, Gk gumnos and a “metathesis-like” structure of Gk gymnos (assumed to be from *nogwno– > *gwon-no– > gymnos). The presence of –l– in IE *ghladh– seems to be an insurmountable barrier for the consolidation of the two cognate sets. However, the existence of Arm lerk ‘bald, hairless, soft’ and olork ‘smooth, polished’ (both likely related but without a good etymology [Falileyev, Alexander, and Petr Kocharov. “Celtic, Armenian and Eastern Indo-European Languages: Comments on a Recent Hypothesis.” In Ireland and Armenia: Studies in Language, History and Narrative, edited by Maxim Fomin, Alvard Jivanyan and Seamus Mac Mathuna. Washington, 2012,  72-3]) overcomes this difficulty. Representing *legwro-, they form a bridge between such a form as Lat glaber ‘smooth’ and Arm merk ‘naked’ (< *megwro-). A plausible protoform that can account for the –l– of Arm lerk, olork and the –l– of IE *ghladh-) is *gwnegw(h)no-/*gwned(h)no-> *gwlegwno-/*gwled(h)no-. From *gwlegwno-/*gwled(h)no- the –l– spread to their heteroclitic counterpart *gwnegwro-/*gwled(h)ro-. Another challenging aspect of the proposed etymology is the presence of voiced aspirates in the SMOOTH set. Germanic forms (OHG glat, OEng glad) indicate that (at least from the point of view of the classic model of PIE phonology) both stops were aspirated in PIE. But PIE *gh is regularly lost before l in Latin, so the expected form is **laber, not *glaber. It’s assumed, therefore, that Latin underwent the dissimilation of aspirates (*ghladhro– > *gladhro-) akin to the process known as Grassmann’s Law described for Greek and Sanskrit but independent from it. But the –b– in glaber does not directly suggest aspiration either (it’s assumed that PIE *dh reflects as f word-initially but as b medially but the fact remains). Under the new interpretation proposed herein, Gk gymnos is expected to go back to *gugw(h)nos (comp. Gk amnos ‘lamb’ < *abnos > *agw(h)nos). The rest of the IE NAKED forms must therefore represent *gwhegwno– assimilated to *gwhnegwno– with the subsequent loss of initial gwh– in a cluster environment.


On the Dual Reflexes of Indo-European Laryngeals: A Note on Jouna Pyysalo’s “System PIE: The Primary Phoneme Inventory and Sound Law System for Proto-Indo-European”

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Jouna Pyysalo has written a very bold and thought-provoking dissertation that revisits some fundamentals of Indo-European historical phonology. He attempts to bring Indo-European linguistics, which has been plagued in the 20th century by fanciful multilaryngeal reconstructions, back to its frugal Neogrammarian virtues. Following Zgusta, Szemerenyi, Tischler and Burrows (but strangely missing Russian monolaryngealists such as V. Dybo, S. Starostin, A.Kassian), he rejects the complex combinatorics of H1+e, H2+e, H3+e, H4+e frequently postulated by Indo-Europeanists in favor of a single laryngeal /H/ firmly attested in the so-called “Old Anatolian languages” (Hittite, Luwian, Hieroglyphic Luwian, Cuneiform Palaic and Cappadocian) but lost elsewhere. The intriguing part of the dissertation is the hypothesis that Old Anatolian /H/ covered a voiceless and a voiced variants inherited from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) stage and that they had no coloring effect on neighboring vowels (in the languages outside of the Old Anatolian cluster) and no syllabic (vocal) allophones in PIE. To account for the statistical regularity of association between Old Anatolian h and Narrow Indo-European a, Pyysalo postulates for PIE diphonemic sets *Ha and *aH: while laryngeals as obstruents get lost in Narrow Indo-European and New Anatolian languages (Lycian, Lydian, etc.), the associated vowel survives (or changes into other vowels, according to the phonetic rules of individual IE branches). Along the way, Pyysalo also simplified a portion of the Neogrammarian legacy by deconstructing a) labiovelars – hypothetical phonemes poorly unattested in actual IE languages – as a combination of velars and /w/; b) palatovelars as combinations of velars and /y/; c) voiced aspirates as combinations of voiceless stops and the voiced laryngeal, by analogy with the more widely accepted interpretation of Indic voiceless aspirates as combinations of voiceless stops and the (voiceless) laryngeal. Pyysalo’s c) has been my conviction since I’ve realized that *bhr– in the IE cognate set BROTHER (PIE *bhreH2ter > Lat frater, Gk phrater, etc.) derives from earlier mr– (also found in Lat maritus ‘husband’, Gk meiraks ‘boy, girl’, Germ *brudi– ‘bride’, Latv marsa ‘brother’s wife’, etc.) and that the aspiration of *bh– is the result of a feature throwback from the medial laryngeal in *mreH2ter) (see Dziebel G. V.2006. “Reconstructing ‘our’ kinship terminology: Comments on the Indo-European material in A. V. Dybo’s and S. V. Kullanda’s The Nostratic terminology of kinship and affinity,” in Algebra rodstva 11, 67-68). This etymology supports Szemerenyi’s (“Introduction to Indo-European Linguistics,” 1996, 144) contention (quoted by Pyysalo, p. 398):

“Since according to our conclusions the ‘laryngeal’ was a glottal spirant h, it is also clear that the unvoiced and voiced aspirates originally represented the combinations unvoiced stop+h and voiced stop+h, which in Indo-European counted as monophonematic.”

Pyysalo ends up with the following PIE phonemic inventory:


Pyysalo (p. 58) puts Indo-European linguistics on a hot seat by observing that


While it’s rewarding to see an Indo-Europeanist openly talking about the problems with Indo-European reconstructions (instead of just praising the remarkable achievements and the scientific rigor of comparative Indo-European studies), the root of these problems, as I have extensively wrote on the pages of the Algebra rodstva almanac from 2000 on, is not in the inability of Indo-Europeanists to come to terms with the Old Anatolian data. It’s the methodological weakness of the traditional comparativist method that is holding the Indo-European historical phonology back. This weakness stems from the logical contradiction inherent in the definition of a cognate set. Sound laws are supposed to be derived from the material assembled in the least law-like manner – by simple visual inspection in search of similarities in form and meaning. This approach can detect obvious cognates but it’s not well suited to detect cognates subject to more dramatic transformations of form and meaning due to accelerated language change, great time depth or other factors. Under the current approach to linguistic comparativism, formal similarity dominates over semantic relationships. Only once a protoform is reconstructed, it’s subjected to semantic interpretation. As a result, sounds laws are constrained by a linguist’s naive perception of “similarity” in the lexical material, while proposed etymologies are often dubious on semantic and anthropological grounds.

A gignetic approach to the reconstruction of kinship terminological systems and to linguistic comparativism broadly focuses on this initial stage of cognate set composition and uses semantic variation as an important counterpart to formal variation. Semantics is not an afterthought but an essential criterion actively contributing to a more in-depth definition of a cognate set. A more complexly defined cognate set – in reality a combination of two or more one-dimensional cognate sets – should yield a more sophisticated, complete and sound laws of linguistic change in a particular family of languages.

Pyysalo (p. 80) feels himself on a firm ground when he declares:


It’s precisely when the doubts seem to recede completely that the traditional comparativist method shows its limitations, while the gignetic method creates a breakthrough. The first cognate set listed by Pyysalo contains forms with the initial velar (Slav *kosti ‘bone’, Lat costa ‘rib’) (conveniently omitted by Pyysalo), while the second one cannot be divorced from PIE *pek’– (Skrt pášu, Avest pasu ‘cattle’, Lat pecu ‘cattle’, pec?nia ‘money’, Goth faíhu ‘money, movable goods’, OHG fihu, OEng feoh, ONorse f? ‘livestock, property, money’, Lith pekus ‘cattle’). The perfect semantic fit between the two sets can be clearly observed in such forms from the first group as Gk ??? ‘flock of sheep’, ???µ?? ‘guardian, herder’.

Having the alternation such as *peH-/*pek’– in mind, we can observe the same correspondence between, for example, Hitt haluga ‘message’ (a word with obscure etymology under the known sound laws) and PIE *k’lewo– (Gk kleFos ‘glory’, klu? ‘I hear’, Skrt srávas, Old Arm lulsem, Slav *slovo ‘word’, etc.). Similarly, IE *H3osdo– ‘branch’ (Hitt hasduir, Arm ost ‘Ast, Zweig’, Gk o?zdos ‘Ast, Zweig’, Goth asts ‘branch, palm branch, leafy branch’, etc.) shows parallel forms with an initial velar (possibly, labiovelar, which would be consistent with the labial component of /H3/ inferred from such forms as Gk o?zdos): OHG questa ‘bunch’, ONorse kuistr ‘branch’, Slav *gvozd ‘forest’ (> Russ gvozd’ ‘nail’). Also, Hitt huidar, HLuw huidar ‘wild animals, fauna’, Palaic huidumar ‘Lebe, Lebenwesen’ can be linked to PIE *gwiwo– ‘life’ in addition to forms such as ONorse vitni ‘creature’ (referenced in Pyysalo, p. 79-80) resulting in the identification of /H3/ with labiovelar.

Pyysalo (pp. 91-92) uses another well-known IE cognate set to demonstrate the lack of connection between vowel quantity and vowel coloring in PIE. Hitt mehhur/n ‘time, noon’ corresponds to Skrt m?ti, mím?te ‘to measure’, m?tr? ‘measure’, Lat m?tior ‘I measure’, m?ni ‘in the morning’,Goth mitan ‘to measure’, m?la ‘measure of grain’, OHG mezzan ‘measure’, Lith metai ‘year’, Alb mat, mas ‘I measure’, mot ‘year, weather’, etc. Again, this set finds its counterpart in PIE *meg’h– usually glossed as ‘great’ (Hitt megi– ‘big’, Gk megas ‘great, large, mighty’, Lat magnus, Gothic mikils, Old High German mihhil, Skrt mahan, etc. Pyysalo treats this set separately from the meH-set on p. 408. But both sets neatly derive from PIE *meg’h– or *meH– ‘to measure’; some forms chose the semantic path of TIME’, others the semantic path of SIZE and STRENGTH. The Gothic forms show a perfect morphological match between the me-l and the miki-l extensions reinforcing the phonetic similarity. Whether we postulate a law of velar weakening in some to-be-determined phonetic environments (potentially in non-accented syllables), a combination of a plain velar and a laryngeal (voiced in Pyysalo’s interpretation or voiceless in Szemerenyi’s interpretation) yielding the Indo-European palatovelars and labiovelars, or an entirely different ancient phoneme, Hittite (mehhur/n) doesn’t appear any more archaic in its phonetic development from the PIE root than Sanskrit (mahan) or Old High German (mihhil). Old Anatolian uniqueness is reduced to providing supporting evidence that, the TIME subset, too, contains the trace of an ancient consonant.

From a formal perspective one can conclude that the Indo-European material shows alternation between –ek’-/-eg’-/-ek– and –a-/-o– in correspondence sets that include Old Anatolian /H/. The “loss of the laryngeal” is only one path taken by non-Anatolian languages, the other one being a velar reflex. Both Puhvel and Kurylowicz are correct.

Importantly, one doesn’t need Anatolian evidence to establish a connection between IE *pa– ‘protect’ and IE *pek’– ‘livestock’. Overall, PIE *meg’h– or *meH– ‘to measure’ supports Pyysalo’s contention that Old Anatolian /H/ stood for both voiceless and voiced variants, but it undermines his belief that the advancement of the Neogrammarian agenda of the scientific study of Indo-European historical phonology can be achieved by tackling Old Anatolian data. Contra Pyysalo, the key to progress in Indo-European linguistics lies not in the preferred analysis of Anatolian data (obviously, it needs to be further studied but it shouldn’t command any priority over any other IE branches) but in the improvement of comparativist methodology itself.

Pyysalo comes face-to-face with the situation of a dual reflex of PIE “laryngeals” in languages outside of Old Anatolian when he correctly observes that Lycian sometimes shows /0/ where Old Anatolian has /H/ and sometimes a velar. Examples without the loss of a laryngeal include

Pyysalo-LycianThey are contrasted with the examples where Old Anatolian /H/ corresponds to Lyc /x/ (phonetically a voiceless velar, not a fricative [Melchert, Anatolian Historical Phonology, 40]) such as Lyc xuga next to Hitt huhhas ‘grandfather’ and Latin avus and Lyc xawa next to CLuw haui– ‘sheep’.

Pyysalo’s solution is to ignore the unmistakable similarity in form and meaning between the Old Anatolian and Lycian words and to make Lyc xuga and xawa unrelated to any other standard IE terms for ‘grandfather’ and ‘sheep’ but instead connected to obscure Hesychian forms. In the case of xuga, he relates it to

Pyysalo-Xugaand, in the case of xawa, he clusters it with

Pyysalo-xawa This solution is hardly convincing and contradicts the opinion of the majority of Indo-Europeanists. On the other hand, Lyc /x/ as a parallel to Anatolian /H/ remains tenuous unless we can show that the correspondence of the laryngeal to a velar is systematic in these cognate sets. And we indeed find that IE cognate sets GRANDFATHER and SHEEP are likely incomplete. PIE *Howi– (Skrt a?vi-‘sheep’, Arm hoviw (*ou?i-p?-) ‘shepherd’, Gk ???, ???, Lat ovis, OEng ewi, OHG ouwi, Lith avi?s, a?vinas, Slav *ovica ‘sheep’, etc.) can be compared with PIE *k’uwon-/*k’un– ‘dog’ (Skrt s?v??, s?(u)v??, Arm šun, Gk ????, ?????, Goth hunds, OEng hund, Lith šuo? (Gen. šun?s), Toch A ku, Toch B kunder. The morphological derivation of the DOG forms from the SHEEP forms by means of an n-extension is straightforward, while the semantic link is natural considering that proto-Indo-European pastoralists, with all certainty, used their dogs as shepherds and modern Europeans continue to call several dog breeds ‘shepherds’.

The situation with Lyc xuga ‘grandfather’ is more complicated. While the cognation of Hitt huhhas with Lat avus, Goth awo ‘grandfather’, OIrish (h)aue ‘grandchild’ is clear, a number of other forms, including Lyc xuga (< *xuxa, with voicing developing in an intervocalic position [Kloekhorst A. “Studies in Lycian and Carian Phonology and Morphology,” Kadmos 47 (2008), 125]), are similar enough to warrant serious consideration as belonging to the same group. Skrt susa ‘grandmother, grandfather, progenitor’ (from PIE *suHsiya), IE *suH– ‘son’ and Alb gjysh (from PIE *suHsos) ‘grandfather’ provide a case in point.

Importantly, Hitt huhhas is a reduplicative (comp. Neapolit vava ‘grandmother’ [Zimmermann 1922, 150] or USorb wowa ‘grandmother’ [Schuster-Šewc 1961; 1984, 796-797; 1987, 1682-1683; Machek 1968, 40] and hence the original form does not have to be *HewHo-. It could be *weHo-/*uHo- or even *CweHo-/*CuHo– assimilated into *HweHo-/*HuHo-. Skrt susa and Alb gjysh may, therefore, have preserved the original shape of the PIE GRANDFATHER root, while Hitt huhhas (and its direct cognates in other IE branches), so iconic in the context of the laryngeal theory, stems from earlier *suhhas. On the strength of OIr (h)aue ‘grandchild’ (Gen. aui ‘grandson’ [*awios < *awyios, with –i– developing into –e– under the influence of the following o [Maille 1910, 49-50]), úe ‘granddaughter’ (Meyer 1912, 183) and, now, IE *suH– ‘son’ (Toch we can confidently postulate a self-reciprocal meaning for PIE *suHo-/*sweHo– ‘grandfather; grandchild’. In many IE languages the GRANDFATHER-GRANDCHILD root spawned a host of derivatives including Lat avunculus ‘mother’s brother’, OIr amnair ‘uncle’ (through the assimilatory nasalization from *abn-air < *awn-air [McCone 1996, 49, 86] < PCelt *awen-tro), Welsh ewythr and OCorn eviter, Lith avýnas ‘mother’s brother,” OLith avà ‘mother’s sister, uncle’s wife’, OPrus awis (< *awio-s) “mother’s brother”, Slav *uj? ‘mother’s brother’, Alb *vella ‘brother’ (< *awnlada-< *awentlo– [Huld 1984, 128-129]). Morphologically, forms such as OIr (h)aue, OPrus awis and Slav *uj? have the same extensions as Toch A se, B soy, Gk huiús ‘(< *huios) son’ supporting the overall connection between the forms with s– and the forms with Old Anatolian h– and its accepted Narrow-IE counterparts.

The above interpretation of the PIE form for GRANDFATHER-GRANDCHILD yields to the clarification of the etymology of a widely-spread IE affinal term *swék’uro- ‘husband’s father’ (Skrt švašura ‘father-in-law’, Avest xvasura ‘father-in-law’, Prasun ?üj? [< *?u? < *?va?r < *sva?r-], Kati ??styü? [Buddruss 1976, 29-31], Gk ‘?????? ‘husband’s father’, Lat socer ‘father-in-law’, Goth swaihra ‘father-in-law’, OHG swehur ‘father-in-law’, OEng sw?or ‘father-in-law’, ONorse sv?r, OLith šešuras ‘husband’s father’, Slav *svek’?r? ‘husband’s father’, Alb vjerr, vjehër ‘father-in-law’, Arm. skesrayr ‘husband’s father’, Welsh chwegrwn, OCorn hwigeren ‘father-in-law’) and *swekr?s ‘husband’s mother’ (Skrt švašr?– ‘mother-in-law’, Avest xusr?, Waigali ??tr [dissimilated from *???r] [Buddruss 1976, 29-30], Gk ‘????? ‘husband’s mother’, Lat socrus, Goth swaihr?, OHG swigar, OEng sweger, ONorse sv?ra, Welsh chwegr, OCorn hweger  ‘mother-in-law’, Slav *svekry ‘husband’s mother’, Alb vjehërrë ‘mother-in-law’, Arm skesur ‘husband’s mother’.

The morphology of Lat avunculus (< *avonculus), PIrish *awentro, Welsh ewythr and OCorn eviter, PAlb *awentlo– parallels that of *swék’uro-. The forms with –t– may in fact be analogical with the respective terms for FATHER (PIE *pHter) and MOTHER (PIE *meHter, Alb motre ‘sister’), while –c– in Latin avunculus is identical to –c– in socrus (PIE *k’). The –n– in also likely intrusive and represents a secondary “nasal infix.” We therefore can align PIE *swék’uro-  ‘husband’s father’ with the Italo-Celtic-Albanian isogloss *awekro ‘mother’s brother’. Outside the Latin, Celtic and Albanian worlds, there are a few other indications that the IE terms for GRANDFATHER>MOTHER’S BROTHER and HUSBAND’S FATHER are cognates. Skrt švašura and OLith šešuras ‘husband’s father’ are assimilated from, respectively, *svašura and *sešuras just like Hitt huhhas and its counterparts in Narrow-IE languages assimilated from *suhhas (< *suHo-). Arm skesur ‘husband’s mother’ (judging by other IE forms, originally ‘husband’s father’) can be compared with k’eri ‘mother’s brother’. Until now, k’eri (< *sweriyos) was an isolate among IE terms for MOTHER’S BROTHER but in the light of the proposed reconstruction it’s naturally connected to skesur. Skesur shows the same assimilation of the earlier *k’esur into skesur as Skrt švašura and OLith šešuras.

Now that the various IE forms for GRANDFATHER, MOTHER’S BROTHER and HUSBAND’S FATHER have been shown to be aligned morphologically and subject to the same assimilatory processes, it becomes clear that PIE *k’ in *swék’uro corresponds to hh in PAnatolian *suhho-. The difficult Albanian –h– in vjehër ‘father-in-law’ (sometimes interpreted as a reflex of *H4 by multilaryngealists) matches the Old Anatolian hh nicely. The present analysis furnishes a better interpretation to another puzzling form. OHG ?heim, OEng eám ‘mother’s brother’ (< *eaham, with a syncope [Schhoof 1900, 232]) (Grimm & Grimm 1889, VII, 1198; De Vreese & Boekenoogen 1910, XI, 16; Lendinara 1990, 298) undoubtably contain the formant *au(n)– ‘grandfather’, but the final segment –heim causes problems. Gothic does not show this form but, according to the Grimms, it should be *áuhaims. The latest Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Deutschen (1993, II, 830, 915, 945) seems to take the Old English form as the basis and to explain the OHG voiceless fricative as phonologically conditioned in the intervocalic position. The majority of scholars, however, tend to consider ?heim an original form and to treat it as a compound going back to *au(n)-haimaz. The latter, however, is an ad hoc form without any parallels in other IE branches. The present analysis suggests that –h– in ?heim is part of the root and corresponds to –hh- in Hitt huhhas, -g- (< *-x-) in Lyc xuga, -h- in Alb vjeher, c in Lat avunculus and the reflexes of IE *k’ in the various HUSBAND’S FATHER terms in the satem and centum languages. Finally, an aberrant isogloss with Arm ustr ‘son’ corresponding to OEng suhterga ‘brother’s son’ becomes more understandable: semantically it belongs with  Toch A se, B soy, Gk huiús ‘(< *huios) ‘son’ but morphologically with the IE terms for HUSBAND’S FATHER (*swek’ro-/*suk’ro-).

To conclude, Pyysalo is correct in stressing the obstruent nature of the PIE “laryngeal,” the existence of voiced and voiceless laryngeal variants in Hittite and the polyphonemic nature of IE labiovelars and palatovelars. He is also justified in postulating diphonemic sets *Ha and *aH to explain the wide-spread correlation between Old Anatolian h and Narrow-Indo-European a. The evidence presented above, however, refutes a) Pyysalo’s (and others) conviction that “laryngeals” were lost outside of (Old) Anatolian and b) monolaryngealists’ reduction of all “laryngeals” to just one phoneme. In fact, we can provisionally postulate the following diphonemic sets for PIE:

1. *H2a/*aH2~ *k’e/*ek’                   *H2a/*aH2 ~ *g’e/*eg’

2. *H3o/*oH3 ~ *kwe/*ekw              *H3o/*oH3 ~ *gwe/*egw

3. *H1e/*eH1 ~ *ke/*ek                     *H1e/*eH1 ~ *ge/*eg

While the latter set is given here only for completeness (I can’t adduce any etymological material to support it), the former two are intimated in the correspondences laid out above. What they seem to be telling us is that PIE palatovelars and labiovelars were identical to, respectively, PIE H2 and H3. Both pairs were obstruents, both sets covary with their respective vowels (a and o) and both are “extinct” phonemes.

An example from IE numerals can illustrate the alternation between palatovelars and labiovelars in one root form:

PIE *ok’to– /*H3ek’to ‘eight’ and PIE *kwetwor-/ *kwetur– ‘four’ can be related to each other via PIE *H3eH2t-. The otherwise obscure medial a-vocalism of Lat quattuor ‘four’ fits well with –k’- in *H3ek’to, while the initial o-vocalism of *ok’to– corresponds to the labiovelar in *kwetwor-. The known Hittite corpus does not have reflexes of either roots. A connection between the numerals ‘2’ and ‘4’ in IE was noticed before (see Kassian A. “Anatolian *meyu– ‘4, four’ and Its Cognates,” Journal of Language Relationship 2 (2009): 65-78). Kassian argued that PIE *ok’to– /*H3ek’to- used to mean ‘four’ (comp. Iran *ašti– ‘(breadth of) four fingers’ (measure of length)) and he called the *kwetwor-/ *kwetur– root “enigmatic.” The enigma disappears if we accept the formal evidence presented above that IE palatovelars and labiovelars were initially found in complementary distribution with IE vowels a/aa and o/oo. Intriguingly, PIE *H3eH2t- ‘four; eight’ shows a good formal and semantic fit with Uralic *kekta ‘two’. Whether the connection between the two represents common descent between IE and Uralic or a borrowing from Uralic to IE or from IE to Uralic, it documents the progressive complexification of a numeral system with numeral ‘2’ serving as a generator of high-order numbers ‘4’ and ‘8’.

Victor Golla on Proto-Athabascan Grandparental Terminology and Apachean Conservatism

Monday, November 4th, 2013

In The Genius of Kinship (2007), I hypothesized that proto-Athabascan kinship terminology had 4 self-reciprocal grandparental terms. The western (Apachean) branch of Southern Athabascan preserved the original 4-term pattern better than any Northern Athabascan language. Southern Athabascan languages demonstrate all the stages of the transformation of the original complexly differentiated pattern, with Kiowa-Apache sporting the most transformed and simplified model (see below, Table 34).

KinshipStudies-AthabascanKinshipWhat my analysis was missing at that time was the formal phonomorphological and etymological proof that Proto-Athabascan kinship terminology indeed had 4 self-reciprocal grandparental terms, that this ancestral pattern underwent simplification and dereciprocalization in Northern and Pacific Athabascan branches and that Apachean preserves the Proto-Athabascan grandparental set better than any other branch.

Recently, Victor Golla sent me an e-mail (cc-ing Jack Ives, Michael Krauss, Johanna Nichols and James Kari) in which he attached a short unpublished manuscript “Where Does Navajo náli Come From?” providing the necessary formal support for my original typological inference. In it, he demonstrates that, in addition to Apachean, Eyak, too, featured a 4-term self-reciprocal pattern in Gen +/-2.


The Apachean reconstruction by Golla largely repeats the Eyak kinterm set.

KinshipStudies.SouthernAthabascanGollaTo quote from Golla, the Eyak

“MoMo/wmDaCh root is clearly cognate with Athabaskan *-chu — no surprise — but believe it or not the FaMo/wmSoCh root *-k’i?h just as regularly corresponds to Athabaskan *-ch’?ne, and the FaFa/maSoCh root –?uh is a plausible cognate of Wailaki and Kato –?a?e ~ –?ah.”

Proto-California Athabascan (PCA) retained the 4-term pattern in Gen +/-2 but it lost self-reciprocity between the grandparent and grandchild forms. At the same time, one of Eyak grandparental terms, namely –?uh FF, mSC, is cognate with PCA *-’a?. This means that the Apachean-PCA isogloss *-nyale is a formal but not semantic innovation.


Northern Athabascan grandparental set (see below) consisting of just 2 terms for grandfather and grandmother appears to be the most derived.

KinshipStudies-NorthernAthabascanGollaTwo Northern Athabascan languages have retained forms pointing in the direction of the ancestral 4-term system:  1) Wets’uwet’en (Babine-Carrier) distinguishes MM (tso’) from FM (ts’inï’) — using terms cognate with those of PCA, Apachean and Eyak; 2) Tahltan similarly attests a *chu vs.*ch’?ne contrast in the grandmother terms.

Golla concludes that the diversity of grandparental kinterms in Athabascan languages

“misleadingly suggests that the simple kin terminology found in most Alaskan and Canadian languages represents the Proto-Athabaskan situation, and that PCA and Apachean constitute an innovating ‘Southern Athabaskan’ clade of the sort that Matson and Magne posit… the Proto-Athabaskan-Eyak language must be assumed to have had a 4-term lineage-distinguishing grandparental terminology, which ‘survived intact’ in PCA and Apachean instead of being innovated there.”

The drastic simplification from 4 terms to 1 term in Kiowa-Apache stems from Plains influence.

Jubilating over these conclusions, the following is essentially what I wrote back to Golla.

There are three more areas of research where my broader typological inferences could be tested against actual phonological and lexical data.

1. Typologically the self-reciprocal equations found in some Southern Athabascan languages between “father’s brother” and “man’s brother’s son,” “mother’s sister” and “woman’s sister’s daughter,” “father’s sister” and “woman’s brother’s daughter,” and “mother’s brother” and “man’s sister’s son” could go back to Proto-Eyak-Athabascan (PEA) times as well. They would complete the self-reciprocal picture contained in the 4 grandparental terms that Golla reconstructed. There are kin terminologies in North America and beyond that have 4 self-reciprocal grandparental terms plus all aunt and uncle terms are self-reciprocal, too. Interestingly, one old unpublished Russian source on Ket lists one of those equations (koj or qo.j MoBr =MoSi = SiSo). Ives, Rice and Vajda only give MoBr =MoSi for qo.j, plus other secondary meanings, but not the self-reciprocal one.
2. Southern Athabascan sibling terminologies lexicalize Ego-Sex and Relative Sex in addition to Relative Age. Again, this is something that Northern Athabascan sibling terminologies must have lost as they only have terms marked for Relative Age. Eyak and Tlingit has Ego-Sex/Relative-Sex in addition to Relative Age, which again supports the archaism of Southern Athabascan compared to Northern Athabascan. But I’m not aware of any formal reconstructions that would test the hypothesis of progressive reduction of sibling set complexity in Athabascan languages. There are several studies of Austronesian languages that seem to support this diachronic universal.
3. Going back to the PAE grandparental terminology, it’s now time to compare it with Yeniseian. One hypothesis I have is that Ket qip ‘grandpather’ and ‘grandmother’ are based on the same root morpheme and this morpheme is cognate with Eyak k’i?h/Athabaskan *-ch’?ne FaMo = wSoChi. In general, I noticed that Ket takes the reduction tendency observed in Northern Athabascan languages to the extreme (e.g., Ket has one single term for siblings bisep with no terms reflecting Relative Age, Relative Sex/Ego Sex; one single root morpheme for nephew/niece and, then, only one for son/daughter), so it wouldn’t be surprising if the loss of linear distinctions that Golla observed in the treatment of grandparental terms in many Athabascan languages (Connector Sex is neutralized) is continued in Ket in the form of a neutralization of the Referent Sex distinction in the root morpheme. This is exactly what happened with grandparent terms in Kiowa-Apache.
Golla’s reconstruction of 4 self-reciprocal terms for grandparents in PEA changes the nature of the conversation among kinship theorists around the earliest form of Athabascan kin terminologies from the “Dravidian” to the “Kariera” model. It also makes PEA look clearly “Amerindian” and not “Northeast Asian” as 4 self-reciprocal terms for grandparents is not an East Asian trait. It brings up a question of EA phylogeny as Southern Athabascan looks like a conservative branch now (at least in this one dimension, potentially complemented by others in the kinship domain, as I outlined above as well as in my book). At least from a kinship systems perspective, SA doesn’t look like a recent offshoot of a Subarctic population but more of a proto-Athabascan relic that drifted southward along the western slopes of the Rockies from British Columbia to Plateau through Great Basin and into the Southwest.

Molecular Variance Across Genetic Systems in Modern Humans and Their Kinship Structures

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

Global patterns of sex-biased migrations in humans 

Chuan-Chao Wang, Li Jin, Hui Li.


A series of studies have revealed the among-population components of genetic variation are higher for the paternal Y chromosome than for the maternal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which indicates sex-biased migrations in human populations. However, this phenomenon might be also an ascertainment bias due to nonrandom sampling of SNPs. To eliminate the possible bias, we used the whole Y chromosome and mtDNA sequence data of 491 individuals from the 1000 Genomes Project Phase I to address the sex-biased migration dispute. We found that genetic differentiation between populations was higher for Y chromosome than for the mtDNA at global scales. The migration rate of female might be three times higher than that of male, assuming the effective population size is the same for male and female.


The paper contains a rundown of inter- and intragroup diversity values for both mtDNA and Y-DNA on a worldwide scale (see below).


As far as I know, this is the only paper that has pooled it all together for the two haploid systems. This is consistent with the classic observation that most of the variation found among modern humans is concentrated within human groups. But it’s noteworthy that the continents differ in the degree in which this pattern is manifested. Some continents and populations buck the general human trend by accumulating more variation between groups than others. The notable pattern in this data, as Wang et al. (2013) point out, is that

“the between-population component of genetic variation was slightly higher for mtDNA than for the Y chromosome in America and Africa (by 5~6 times), but not in Europe and Asia. In Europe and Asia, between-population component of genetic variation was about 10~20 times higher for Y chromosome than for the mtDNA.”

What this pattern likely means is that Amerindian and Sub-Saharan African populations have been more consistently matrilocal/uxorilocal/matrilineal, while populations outside of Africa and America more consistently patrilocal/virilocal/patrilineal. Wang et al. (2013) confirm this interpretation and refute the conclusion reached by Wilder et al. 2004 (“Global Patterns of Human Mitochondrial DNA and Y-Chromosome Structure Are Not Influenced by Higher Migration Rates of Females versus Males,” Nat Genet 3610, 1122-1125) that there is no correlation between social structure and sex-biased migration rates, on the one hand, and molecular variation at haploid loci, on the other.

Wang et al.’s data and interpretations are consistent with the worldwide data from social anthropology on the relative frequencies of matricentric vs. patricentric social structures. Burton et al. (“Regions Based on Social Structure,” Current Anthropology 37 (4), 1996, 93) define matri- and patricentric forms of social organization in the following way:

“Matricentric social organization traits include localized or dispersed matrilineal groups, matrilocal or uxorilocal residence, monogamy and the absence of marriage exchange. Matricentric societies tend to organize kinship groups around women through matrilocal or uxorilocal residence or through matrilineal kinship groups. Patricentric social organization traits include nomadic or seminomadic settlement patterns, clan communities, localized or dispersed patrilineal groups, patrilocal residence, polygyny and bridewealth payments. Hence, patricentric societies tend to organize kin groups around men, through patrilocal residence, patrilineal descent or polygyny.”

The worldwide distribution of matri- vs. patricenrtic structures is skewed between Africa, the Pacific and America, on the one hand, and Eurasia, on the other (see below, from Burton et al. 1996, 109), which is consistent with Wang et al.’s data from mtDNA and Y-DNA. North American Indian societies is the only exception from this pattern – they fall on the patricentric side.


My own kin-terminological data shows the paucity of “Crow” terminologies (highly correlated with matrilineal descent) in Western, Eastern Eurasia, Southeast Asia and Australia and their relative salience in Sub-Saharan Africa and America (as well as in the Pacific). “Omaha” systems (highly correlated with patrilineal descent) are the only descent-skewed terminologies found in those areas.

Now that we have global molecular variance data for the haploid loci, we can compare them with the same statistics derived from autosomal loci (see below, from Tishkoff et al. 2009. “The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans,” Suppl.Mat., Table S3).

Anthropogenesis-MolecularVariance-Tishkoff2009Tishkoff et al.’s data is broken down by continent, by population and by economic system. Notably, African hunter-gatherers in general and Khoisans in particular show a different pattern from African pastoralists and farmers: they are closer to Amerindian and Oceanic populations in having a greater fraction of their variance come from inter-group values. This is consistent with the more specific data that we have on Hadza, linguistically the most divergent among Khoisan languages, that shows that Hadza has less intragroup variation than other Sub-Saharan Africans and is consequently closer to the Amerindian pattern of variance (see here and here). In turn, the Amerindian pattern of variance (more intergroup diversity, less intragroup diversity) is similar to the one found in Denisovans.

If molecular variance at the haploid loci points to the impact of residence and unilineal descent on the genetic structure of human populations, the sociodemographic reality behind the autosomal variance statistics is that older human populations associated with a more ancient subsistence pattern were smaller, more isolated from each other, more endogamous and affected by inbreeding and genetic drift to a larger degree than more recent populations associated with more recent subsistence patterns.

Cross-posted at

Crow-Omaha: A Classic Problem Still Without a Solution. A Review of Trautmann and Whiteley

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

Crow-Omaha: New Light on a Classic Problem of Kinship Analysis, edited by Thomas R. Trautmann and Peter M. Whiteley. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2012. (Amerind Studies in Anthropology). x, 348 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm.

A classic problem / Thomas R. Trautmann and Peter M. Whiteley — Crow-Omaha in theory — Crossness and Crow-Omaha / Thomas R. Trautmann — Tetradic theory and Omaha systems / Nicholas J. Allen — North America — Omaha and “Omaha” / R.H. Barnes — Crow-Omaha kinship in North America : a Puebloan perspective / Peter M. Whiteley — Phylogenetic analysis of sociocultural data : identifying transformation vectors for kinship systems / Ward C. Wheeler, Peter M. Whiteley, and Theodore Powers — Africa — A tetradic starting point for skewing? : marriage as a generational contract : reflections on sister-exchange in Africa / Wendy James — Crow- (and Omaha-) type kinship terminology : the Fanti case / David B. Kronenfeld — Deep-time historical contexts of Crow and Omaha systems ; perspectives from Africa / Christopher Ehret — South America — The making and unmaking of “Crow-Omaha” kinship in central Brazilian ethnology) / Marcela Coelho de Souza — Schemes of kinship relations and the construction of social categories among the Mebe?ngo?kre? Kayapo? / Terence Turner — Australia — Omaha skewing in Australia : overlays, dynamism, and change / Patrick McConvell — “Horizontal” and “vertical” skewing : similar objectives, two solutions? / Laurent Dousset — Afterword — Crow-Omaha, in thickness and in thin / Thomas R. Trautmann and Peter M. Whiteley.

Introduction: Revitalization of Kinship Studies vs. Evolution of Kinship Studies

Normally this review would have been submitted to an anthropology periodical. But remembering the difficulties that Pat McConvell faced trying to publish his review of Early Human Kinship (Allen et al. 2008) and The Genius of Kinship (Dziebel 2007) (he wound up posting it online at Kinsources), I decided to avoid any possible bureaucratic red tape, get my thoughts out immediately and hopefully collect some feedback. Periodical updates will be highlighted in the text body. A print publication of an updated review may then follow. For a PDF version of this blog post click here.

The contributors to the Crow-Omaha volume should be congratulated on having another testament to the resilience of “traditional kinship studies” see the light of day. The last 10-15 years have seen what many have heralded as the “resurgence of kinship studies.” I personally don’t consider my work as falling under the revitalization rubric – more like “business as usual” taking place in new a post-Cold War space allowing for intellectual connections between the East and the West to happen – but considering the displacement that kinship studies suffered in U.S. and West European academia in the 1970-1990s “revitalization” makes perfect sense for these intellectual markets.

Laudable as it is, the collective effort led by University of Michigan’s Trautmann and American Museum of Natural History’s Peter Whiteley seems to prioritize revitalization over evolution. There are a few new names in the volume as compared with who would have been the contributors in the 1960s but essentially the “classic problem” of Crow-Omaha terminologies has remained what it always was. A puzzle. And this may very well be the intent of the volume – to bring together scholars to celebrate an enigma, to bask in the unswerving ability of Mother Kinship to baffle scientists and to fancy the future times when a brilliant solution will miraculously arrive. But this mood of the Trautmann & Whiteley volume is so different from the constructive and adventurist pragmatism I expressed in 2007 in The Genius of Kinship (written in the spirit of Lewis Henry Morgan’s pioneering work) that I wished more of my findings drawn from a publicly available database of 2500 kin terminologies and a global bibliography of 20,000+ entries were applied by the Trautmann & Whiteley team to their respective regional cases of Crow-Omaha. When I published Fenomen rodstva in 2001 (Dziebel 2001b) in the midst of passionate debates around Nick Allen’s tetradic theory, kinship studies and comparativist linguistics, descent and filiation that raged on the pages of Algebra rodstva (the only periodical in the world specifically devoted to kinship studies), I had no illusions that it wouldn’t reach a Western reader. Because we knew that our Western colleagues read no Russian. An “iron curtain” that separated the Soviet bloc from the West for 40 years is a see-through veil compared with the intractable language barrier between Russia and the West going back perhaps to the time of the original divergence of Indo-European languages. But then when I put my original Russian research on “Stanford steroids” and came out with The Genius of Kinship I was certain it would be widely read and applied. Because it was written in the language everyone can read – English. Not so fast! Although the themes raised in the Genius fall squarely within the themes raised by Trautmann & Whiteley’s Crow-Omaha and 5 years elapsed between the two volumes allowing for enough reading time, Trautmann & Whiteley still failed to address my approach and findings. Again, the findings that drew on a publicly available database of 2500 kin terminologies and summarizing years of research on both sides of the Atlantic and the Urals. A particularly disappointing statement can be found in Trautmann’s “Crossness and Crow-Omaha” (p. 48):

“We may hope that ultimately kinship analysis will join with archaeology and primatology to elucidate the deep history of kinship systems. A beginning has already been made (Allen et al. 2008; Chapais 2008; Trautmann, Feeley-Harnik, and Mitani 2012), but the process clearly has a long way to go.”

As a matter of fact, The Genius of Kinship has already made quite a few strides in assessing global kinship variation from the point of view of deep population prehistory and comparing it with population genetic and linguistic findings. Alan Barnard (2012) who is exploring the links between social anthropology and modern human origins recently compared my interpretation of kinship and linguistic evidence to the traditional out-of-Africa view. McConvell’s article in Trautmann & Whiteley’s volume is aligned with my belief that kinship terminological patterns (including “Crow-Omaha”) can reflect population and demographic processes. Kinship studies was one of the first disciplines to conduct studies of global trait variation and to amass worldwide databases of trait types. The progress that has been made in the past 30 years by geneticists and linguists imposes high standards on kinship studies in terms of typologizing, mapping, quantifying and historicizing kinship terminological variation, and it’s time for students of kinship to catch up with these developments. At the same time, population genetic studies would benefit from gaining an understanding of how the evolution of marriage practices among Homo sapiens (say, from elementary to complex forms of alliance, in the famous Levi-Straussian model) has affected the continental patterns of genetic variation. All the population genetic models that led to the formulation of the out-of-Africa thinking are based on the assumption of a panmictic ancestral population. [UPDATE, 09.03.13: If, as social anthropologists argued throughout the 20th century, ancestral human societies were not panmictic but heavily structured due to culturally induced prescriptive marriages with close kin (especially bilateral cross-cousins), then the statistics of modern human genetic variation and the inferred phylogenetic trees should be different (see more here)]. It’s understandable that Trautmann & Whiteley’s may have been scared away by the out-of-America version of human population history advanced in The Genius of Kinship but my bold thought experiment grounded in some undeniable data patterns should not have deterred Trautmann from engaging with and taking advantage of some uncontroversial aspects of my work.

Crow-Omaha and the Varieties of Generational Skewing

The Trautmann & Whiteley volume approaches Crow-Omaha from an inherently (and inherited-ly, comp. George P. Murdock’s typology) flawed angle. It considers it a version or a transformation of Iroquois or Bifurcate Merging systems. One quote from Trautmann (“Crossness and Crow-Omaha,” p. 31) that “Crow-Omaha kinship—by which I mean kinship terminologies containing skewing—invariably also contains crossness” may be invoked as a justification for the overall Bifurcate Merging-centric stance, but Trautmann’s claim is simply not true cross-culturally – Crow-Omaha equations are readily found in terminologies without crossness (see Popov 1977). The kinship terminology of Crow Indians themselves groups female categories of Gen +1 in a “Hawaiian” fashion: masake (ref.), iga (voc.) M, MZ, FZ (Lowie 1917). Popov’s (1977) worldwide survey of Crow-Omaha patterns discovered that only Lineal terminologies are known not to be compatible with Crow-Omaha equations.

Crow-Omaha cannot be described as a version or an evolution of Bifurcate Merging because a Bifurcate Merging principle is a principle of horizontal (same-generation) grouping of kin categories, while Crow-Omaha is a principle of vertical (cross-generation) grouping. They are different in principle and one doesn’t evolve from the other and can’t be a subset of the other. (This doesn’t mean that they cannot be related or cannot co-vary on the scale of a kin terminological system as a whole) When it comes to the horizontal types of nomenclatures, Trautmann & Whiteley stick to the canonical quadripartite model made of Bifurcate Merging (Iroquois and Dravidian), Generational (Hawaiian), Bifurcate Collateral (Sudanese) and Lineal (Eskimo).

From: Trautmann T.R. "Crossness and Crow-Omaha," p. 32

From: Trautmann T.R. “Crossness and Crow-Omaha,” p. 32

Notably, the figure above doesn’t show female kintypes. It doesn’t show them because it’s assumed that female kintypes  simply mirror the mergers affecting male kintypes. This creates an impression that horizontally kin terminologies only merge and bifurcate at the Connecting-Relative Sex nexus (FB and MB are different because their connecting relatives – Mother and Father – are), not at the End-Relative Sex nexus. In the meantime, worldwide sampling reveals that kin terminologies may mix and match male and female kintypes in Gen +1. For instance, Bogaya in Papua New Guinea call mamuwn MB and MZ, while keeping MB and MZ different from F/FB, on the one hand, and M and FZ, on the other (Sillitoe, 1995, 185). Similar classificational approaches were taken by speakers of some North American Indian and Australian languages – and taken to a more complete degree! -, as The Genius of Kinship documented, so the Bogaya situation is geographically widely attested. This example illustrates that there is a whole lot of categorical variation going on in the “real world” that classic typological labels are not capturing (see below, from Dziebel 2007, 204; “Incorporating” = Generational).

TW-Horizontal typesOmaha equations are a subset of vertical equations described in The Genius of Kinship under such rubrics as Self-Reciprocal terminology, Siberian Generational equations (mentioned by Nick Allen in “Tetradic Theory and Omaha Systems,” p. 54), Alternate Generation Sibling Skewing type, Alternate Generation Cousin Skewing type, etc. It’s an open question whether “Crow-Omaha” is a true terminological type clearly separated from others in the “family” of vertical, cross-generational equations. Dousset (“Horizontal” and “Vertical” Skewing Similar Objectives, Two Solutions?”, p. 274), pace R. H. Barnes, quotes from Godelier who had Needham in mind when he said that “some anthropologists … refuse to recognize Crow-Omaha systems as a separate type.” For instance, it’s often forgotten that many Crow and Omaha terminologies equate older siblings with MB and FZ and younger siblings with ZC and BC. The terminology of the Crow Indians (and Hidatsa, for that matter) has a fully developed system of these equations (biika moB, mMB, mMMB, basare woB, wMB, wMMB, matsuka yB, mZS, basakata oZ, M, MZ, FZ, basatsiita myZ, mZD [Lowie 1917, 59-60]). Uralic and Altaic systems in Siberia that have both Omaha skewing and Siberian Generational equations include such equations as FZ = oZ, yZ and BD). Now, it’s accepted that equations such as GF = MB are Omaha and GM = FZ are Crow, but less known and widely distributed equations such as GF = oB, GM = oZ (“Alternate Generation Sibling Skewing” type in The Genius of Kinship) are not. The reasons for this biased membership of cross-generational equations in the “elite” Crow-Omaha class have never been addressed in the literature. The Trautmann & Whiteley volume glosses over this problem, too, although they do acknowledge that the “Crow-Omaha” label is controversial.

A more all-encompassing definition of generational skewing would help in the cases such as South Asia where according to Trautmann (p. 42)

“only Dravidian crossness has been shown—not a single instance of Iroquois crossness and no skewing.”

While textbook Crow-Omaha equations are indeed nonexistent in South Asia, equations such as GF = oB, GM = oZ, PPF = FoB, PPM = MoZ, MMB = MB = OB, etc. are fairly common among both Dravidians and Munda (see. e.g., Parkin 1988; In addition, instead of Iroquois, Dravidians and Munda often possess Bifurcate Collateral systems tied to Self-Reciprocity and Relative Age in Gen +1/-1, which, as I argued in The Genius of Kinship (see also below)  empirically yield Bifurcate Merging (Iroquois and, possibly, Dravidian – see below about Byansi) nomenclatures in a number of well-documented cases from different parts of the world. Bifurcate Collateral systems tied to Self-Reciprocity, Relative Age and Relative-Age-based Generational Skewing is an areal feature frequently found in Munda, Dravidian, Sino-Tibetan, Uralic and Altaic kinship terminologies. (Tyler [1990] suggested that in Munda these forms may have been borrowed from Dravidian.) So South Asia is not as aberrant as it appears. In fact it looks rather systematic if Crow-Omaha and Iroquois are placed into a broader picture of worldwide kinship terminological variation along, respectively, vertical and horizontal axes.

Crow-Omaha: Crossness vs. Self-Reciprocity

A no-less-important omission in the Trautmann & Whiteley’s volume is the role of Self-Reciprocal terminologies or Alternate-Generation equations in the genesis of Crow-Omaha terms and systems. Notably, it was Lewis Henry Morgan who, again, was the first to detect these unusual systems found among westernmost North American Indians. The Genius of Kinship fleshed out a hypothesis (first put forth in Dziebel 1992 and later independently alluded to by Alf Hornborg, see Dziebel 2007, 243) that Crow-Omaha skewing originates from Alternate-Generation equations. Not from Iroquois or Dravidian systems, which is a sheer conceptual confusion, but in a very literal sense from systems in which MB = mZC, FZ = wBC, FB = mBC, MZ = wZC, GF = mCC, GM = wCC (actual terminologies may have some of these equations or all of them and they may exhibit variation in the way they express them logically). Symmetric equations that maintain the separation between parallel and cross-relatives are severed and asymmetric ones linking parallel and cross-relatives (MB = MBS, MZ = MBD, ZS = FZS, FZ = FZD, FB = FBS, BD = MBD) are erected in their stead.

One of the contributors to the Trautmann & Whiteley’s volume, Pat McConvell, in his review of my book, wrote,

“Among the related hypotheses is the idea that Crow-Omaha skewing systems descend from earlier self-reciprocity between adjacent generations (p.245-6). Dziebel acknowledges that other functional motivations might be involved (eg the association of skewing with lineality). Dziebel predicts however that in addition to this, ancestral adjacent-generation self-reciprocity will also be found in the history of groups with Crow or Omaha skewing. I am very doubtful about this, but having such a hypothesis on the table is a useful spur to research.”

The reasons for McConvell’s upfront doubts are totally unclear to me. It’s also strange that he has not tested my hypothesis with his extensive Pama-Nyungan data on the distribution of “skewed” reflexes of the ancestral *kaala MyB (> MBC in many Pama-Nyungan daughter languages). McConvell is compelling in showing how the progressive Omaha skewing of the ancestral *kaala MyB is emblematic of the westward expansion of Pama-Nyungan languages from their Cape York homeland in the early Holocene times (see below). The associated rules of exogamy and patrilineal inheritance were well suited to the task of securing control of the land by the expanding population.

From: McConvell P. "Omaha Skewing in Australia: Overlays, Dynamism, and Change," p. 254

From: McConvell P. “Omaha Skewing in Australia: Overlays, Dynamism, and Change,” p. 254

What McConvell fails to mention is that Cape York has some of the most intricate systems of self-reciprocal equations in Australia (see The Genius of Kinship, p. 224). While Australian kinship terminologies are famous for their equations of grandparents and grandchildren, adjacent generations (+1 and -1) are rarely seen linked by self-reciprocal terms. (The trend is reversed in Papua New Guinea.) In Wik-Mungkan (Middle Pama) and Kandju (Northeastern Pama), muka MoSib is clearly cognate with mukaiya (mukato) yZC. The MyB terms have already lost self-reciprocity (kala MyB) but MoSib (< MoB; note the rare and unorthodox equation MB = MZ discussed above) still carries it. Cross-linguistically, there are terminologies in which both MoB and MyB (or MoZ and MyZ) kintypes are associated with self-reciprocal terms, so it’s not a stretch of imagination that Cape York systems used to have this feature on both MoB and MyB. In fact, a full set of self-reciprocal equations involving FoZ = wyBC, FyZ = woZC, FoB = myBC, FyB = woBC, MoZ = wyZC, MyZ = woZC can be provisionally suggested for proto-Pama-Nyungan based on Cape York data (Kandju pinya FoSib, pinyato yBC, pipa FyB, pi’ato oBC, with the patrilateral side holding the self-reciprocal “charge” better than the matrilateral side). Outside of Cape York, all of these self-reciprocal equations were lost (in the course of the Pama-Nyungan expansion, to follow McConvell’s lead) and *kaala MyB, moZC was likely the first one to go.

Pending further research, McConvell’s own Australian material is fully consistent with my hypothesis that Crow-Omaha skewing evolved from Self-Reciprocal terminology. It’s likely that the same picture will emerge from the study of Papua New Guinean systems. McConvell (2009) applied the interpretative framework that he developed for Pama-Nyungan to Trans-New Guinean arguing, following Cook & O’Brien (1980, 464) that the same proliferation of Omaha-type kinship terminological systems occurs at the edge of the Trans-New Guinean expansion, namely west of the Strickland Gorge but not in eastern Papua New Guinea. This observation can be paired with another one: a preliminary review of the Papuan database at reveals that it’s precisely in eastern Papua New Guinea that one finds symmetrical systems with both Amito- (FZ = wBC) and Avunculoreciprocity (MB = mZC) and without skewing. Strong examples include: Barai, Koitabu, Managalasi, Tairora, Usurufa, Kuman, Oksapmin. In a number of languages, Avunculoreciprocity without Amitoreciprocity and Amitoreciprocity without Avunculoreciprocity were detected.

Let’s see if the same evolutionary pathway from Self-Reciprocal terminology can be inferred for Crow equations. Chris Ehret (“Deep-Time Historical Contexts of Crow and Omaha Systems Perspectives from Africa”) contributed another iteration of his wonderfully detailed reconstructions of kin terminological evolution among Nilo-Saharan peoples in Africa. Nilo-Saharan offers another case of Holocene language spread. Archaeological, paleoecological and linguistic evidence work hand-in-hand documenting the stepwise transition from a) post-glacial climate improvement in eastern Sahara between 12,700 and 10,800 BC that resulted in the initial expansion of proto-Nilo-Saharan to b) the early period of foraging to cattle-breeding evolution around 8500 BC corresponding to the proto-Northern Sudanic stage to c) the development of full blown pastoralist economies that led to the westward expansion of proto-Sahelians after 6000 BC from their east Saharan homeland (see map below).

From: Ehret C. "Deep-Time Historical Contexts of Crow and Omaha Systems Perspectives from Africa," p. 176.

From: Ehret C. “Deep-Time Historical Contexts of Crow and Omaha Systems
Perspectives from Africa,” p. 176.

Ehret did not find evidence for “Dravidian kinship” in proto-Nilo-Saharan because affinal-consanguineal equations are not typically found in any of the branches of Nilo-Saharan. He therefore reconstructs “Iroquois” for proto-Nilo-Saharan. But then he starts finding evidence for Crow skewing (FZ = FZD) at several nodes of the Nilo-Saharan language tree beginning with the very deepest ones represented by Gumuz (proto-Koman), Kunama (proto-Northen Sudanic), For (proto-Sahelian) and Songhay (proto-Western Sahelian). He interprets the evidence as showing multiple back-and-forth shifts from Iroquois to Crow and back to Iroquois (FZ > FZD > PxSibC) after the founding Iroquois-to-Crow shift. He calls attention to this unique and surprising case of ancient phylogenetic reticulation that contrasts with such more recent unilinear evolutionary sequences as Iroquois > Crow, Iroquois > Omaha, Iroquois > Sudanese, Crow > Sudanese, etc.

Ehret misses an opportunity to sink his teeth deeper into Nilo-Saharan kin terminological evolution by ignoring a set of ancient self-reciprocal equations with clear proto-Nilo-Saharan roots. In his earlier work (Ehret 2008, 259-260), he reconstructs PNS *nam ‘mother’s brother; sister’s child (ms)’ on the strength of Uduk ZC(ms); CSud: Mbay MB, ZC(ms), Gula MB; Kunama FZ, DH(ws); Maban: Aiki MB; Ik HZ. Interestingly, the Kunama form is associated with consanguineal-affinal semantics, which cast doubt on Ehret’s assertion that “Dravidian” equations are not visible in Nilo-Saharan. MB is a kintype instrumental in creating Omaha equations (MB = MBS). According to Ehret, Omaha equations are recent (1400-1500 A.D.) and geographically restricted in Nilo-Saharan and don’t show up until the time of the formation of the Western Nilotic (e.g., Acholi, Lango), Eastern Nilotic (e.g., Bari, Maasai) and Southern Nilotic (e.g., Nandi, Endo mentioned by Ehret, plus Tugen and Kipsigis, see branches. This is not entirely so. Although it’s true that the Nilotic cluster is especially rich in Omaha systems, other cases have been recorded as well. In the Surmic group Mursi has oine, ona MB, MBS, MBSS, ngosoni ZC, FZC (Jorgensen 2011, 50-54, 83-84); Suri (Chai) maama M, MBD (Abbink 2006). Although the examples of Omaha in Surmic languages lengthens the pedigree of this terminological feature in Nilo-Saharan languages, they don’t take away from Ehret’s conclusion that Omaha systems in Nilo-Saharan are recent developments, and, one might add, they emerged more than once independently in different branches of Nilo-Saharan.

Ehret (p. 191) repeats the erroneous assumption of the editors of the volume that Crow-Omaha emerges from earlier Iroquois systems.

“The speakers of two near-neighbor Kalenjin dialects in western Kenya, Endo (Marakwet) and Nandi, also have Omaha systems. In these dialects the development of Omaha terminology dates to the period following the separate divergences of Nandi and Endo out of proto-Central Kalenjin, which had an Iroquois system.”

Meanwhile, Endo features mamaa with both self-reciprocal and skewed meanings MB, mZC, MBS (Moore 1986). So does Keiyo wherein mama MB, MBS, FZC, ZC (Tornay 1969). Tugen has dropped Avunculoreciprocity (the term for the MB = mZC equation introduced in The Genius of Kinship) from the polysemy resulting in the pure Omaha equation mamae MB, MBS, MBSS (Kettel 1975). The etymological status of such key Omaha lexemes as Bari mana’nye MF, MB, MBS (Seligman 1928, 438), Acholi nera MMB, MBS, MBS (Seligman 1965, 117) or Lango nero MB, MBS (Driberg 1923, 176), Endo, Keiyo mama(a) in relation to PNS *nam is unclear but the structural sequence Avunculoreciprocity (not “Iroquois”) > Omaha seems to be well supported by the Nilo-Saharan-to-Nilotic evidence. At the same time, it’s noteworthy that precisely in Nilotic dialects we find the mirror image of Avunculoreciprocity, namely Amitoreciprocity. Forms such as Endo sanga and Tugen sengee mean FZ, wBC.

Uduk, one of the two languages from the most divergent Koman branch of Nilo-Saharan, has preserved a number of self-reciprocal terms, which are important to understanding the origins of Crow skewing in Nilo-Saharan. In Uduk one finds diti FZ, wBC, tata MB, mZC and iya FB = mBC (James 1979, 282-283). The phonetic reflex of PNS *nam is represented by Uduk nam ZC but PNS avunculoreciprocity is preserved in the semantics of tata (or shwakam in Southern Uduk [James 1979, 284]). Now, Uduk tata MB is a formal descendant of PNS *tatha ‘father’s sister’ found with this meaning (without Amitoreciprocity) in Kunama as well as in Ik and Soo (Eastern Sahelian) (Ehret 2008, 260). While the details of phonetic and semantic development need to be clarified by Nilo-Sahararianists it seems highly plausible that the original PNS arrangement included FZ = wBC, FB = mBC and MB = wZC – three alternate generation equations later replaced by an ancient Crow shift and a more recent Omaha shift. (The Southern Nilotic Barabaig or Datooga system that includes both Crow and Omaha features may not be aberrant after all, see Ehret, p. 191). The dialects that went the Crow way maintained avunculoreciprocity, while the dialects that went the Omaha way (Nilotes) maintained vestiges of Amitoreciprocity. What Ehret refers to as the Crow-to-Iroquois transition FZC > PxSibC in Gen 0 seems to have been replicated in Gen +1 by the semantic development of PNS *tatha FZ  through the non-canonical (from the point of view of Trautmann’s quadripartite matrix above) equation FZ = MB (PxSib) to MB in Uduk.

There are other self-reciprocal forms sporadically found across Nilo-Saharan dialects (see TableAfrica.xls at, and their antiquity and role in the genesis of generational skewing will remain to be clarified. Since Ehret was not advised by anthropologists to look for self-reciprocal terminologies in his search for the genesis of skewing in Nilo-Saharan, his expertise in the Nilo-Saharan languages remained underutilized.

On the horizontal side, Uduk iya FB = mBC suggests that ancient self-reciprocity tended to spread across both cross and parallel relatives in Gen +1/-1.(McConvell’s Pama-Nyungan data analyzed above supports this observation.) This means that Uduk may have preserved an original Bifurcate Collateral situation in Gen +1/-1 from which an Iroquois structure evolved after the collapse of alternate-generation equations. Ehret reconstructs PNS *eeya with the gloss ‘father’ (an alternate to another PNS terms for father *baaba) but puts a question mark against the FB position. Uduk iya FB = mBC suggests that PNS *eeya meant ‘father’s brother; man’s brother’s child leaving *baaba as the sole term for F. If this hypothesis proves to be correct, then Crow skewing in Nilo-Saharan is a cross-generational counterpart to Bifurcate Merging, both emerging with the dissolution of alternate generation equations in the early post-glacial stages of the evolution of the Nilo-Saharan family. It’s therefore possible that the original horizontal background of Crow skewing in Nilo-Saharan was Bifurcate Collateral, so that it started with FZ = FZD, FB = FZS, with F = FB being a later development occurring next to other horizontal shifts such as MB = FZ referred to above.

Thus, we have seen in two widely separated geographical areas – Australia and Africa – that self-reciprocity is a more primitive principle of vertical equations than Crow-Omaha. Crow-Omaha arises with the dissolution of alternate-generation equations. A third area represented in the Trautmann & Whiteley volume, North America, also furnishes an example of the priority of Self-Reciprocity over Crow-Omaha. Whiteley’s own Hopi case study (“Crow-Omaha Kinship in North America: A Puebloan Perspective”) illustrates this evolutionary pattern. According to Whiteley (p. 85), Hopi kya FZ = FZD represents a core Crow equation. But from the general Uto-Aztecan perspective one can observe that Hopi kya is a reflex of Proto-Uto-Aztecan (PUA) *ka which has self-reciprocal meanings ‘grandmother; granddaughter’ in a number of daughter languages (see below no. 496 in Wick Miller’s Uto-Aztecan Cognate Sets).

From: Miller W. "Uto-Aztecan Cognate Sets." Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. P. 67.

From: Miller W. “Uto-Aztecan Cognate Sets.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. P. 67.

Self-reciprocal terminology is a PUA feature (Shimkin 1943). It’s noteworthy that Hopi is an independent branch of Uto-Aztecan coalescing with other branches carrying alternate-generation equations at the PUA level and it’s the only branch that’s characterized by generational skewing. With Self-Reciprocity comes preference for Bifurcate Collateral arrangements in Gen +1/-1, so “crossness,” as defined by Trautmann & Whiteley (“father’s brother is equally a father (crossness)”, p. 6), may well be a derived feature in Uto-Aztecan speech communities.

Horizontal and Vertical Dimensions in Kinship Terminological Systems

There are reasons to believe that horizontal and vertical principles of grouping co-vary in kin terminological systems but their interactions are complex. For instance, in The Genius of Kinship I reported high correlation between Crow skewing and the relative-sex classification of siblings and, correspondingly, between Omaha skewing and relative-age sibling classification. However, the Trautmann & Whiteley volume is creating an impression that all Crow-Omaha systems indiscriminately are an evolutionary step forward from the more basic, non-skewed Bifurcate Merging (Dravidian or Iroquois) situation as defined by the merger F = FB and M = MZ. Dousset (“Horizontal” and “Vertical” Skewing Similar Objectives, Two Solutions?”) likens the Hawaiianization of Gen 0 terminology found in such classic examples as Aluridja in Australia and sometimes called “Cheyenne type” in North America to generational skewing because both regulate marriages in a similar way by making cross-cousins (or a subset thereof) unmarriageable. (It’s worth pointing out that Vladimir Popov introduced the notion of chirality (“sided-ness”) to describe the mirror-image relationship between Crow and Omaha skewing and he considers Generational and Bifurcate Collateral as another example of this principle in kinship terminological systems [Popov 1982, 69, n. 106].)

I concur with Trautmann that we need to discriminate between more primitive Cheyenne type and Hawaiian type proper. Trautmann (“Crossness and Crow-Omaha,” 40) writes,

“Cheyenne is unmistakably Iroquois in crossness, and the suspension of crossness in ego’s generation does not change that. It is necessary to emphasize this point, because Murdock, in his cross-cultural comparisons, which use ego’s generation as the criterion, regularly assigns the Cheyenne pattern to the Hawaiian sector of the fourfold typology. This is wrong and misleading, giving, for example, an impression that there are many terminologies of Hawaiian laterality in
North America, among others of Iroquois type. True Hawaiian or generational terminologies are the negation of crossness.”

There is a problem with Trautmann’s thinking, however. He focuses on “Cheyenne type” because it allows him to still celebrate crossness in its canonical F = FB ? MB form but he leaves out another North American Indian type called by Leslie Spier (1925, 76-77) “Mackenzie Basin.” Mackenzie Basin neutralizes the cross-parallel distinction in Gen 0 (just like “Cheyenne” type) but it enhances it in Gen +1/-1 by distinguishing three categories of relatives – MB, FB and F, or FZ, MZ and M. As I argued in The Genius of Kinship, in the same way, as the cross-parallel neutralization in Gen 0 has nothing to do with straight “Hawaiian” systems (see above the quadripartite matrix), the Bifurcate Collateral configuration in Gen +1/-1 has nothing to do with “Sudanese” type. In archaic kinship systems (Nick Allen’s tetradic theory reaches the same conclusion [see “Tetradic Theory and Omaha Systems,” p. 52] but through a different logical path), Gen 0 and Gen +1/-1 were categorically opposed and structured differently, hence Generational classification in Gen 0 and Bifurcate Collateral in Gen +1/-1 are not disharmonious or aberrant in any way. What is definitively derived in kinship terminological systems is Generational, or Hawaiian nomenclature in Gen +1/-1 and Bifurcate Collateral, or Sudanese nomenclature (especially with Descriptive term morphology) in Gen 0. But, contra Trautmann, this has nothing to do with negating or affirming crossness as defined by F = FB ? MB. There are well-documented cases of Bifurcate Merging systems developing from Mackenzie Basin systems (see The Genius of Kinship). Hence, the merger of adjacent generations in Crow-Omaha (and the breaking down of symmetricity inherent in Self-Reciprocal Terminology) and the merger of adjacent horizontal categorical positions in Bifurcate Merging (coming to replace the symmetricities of the Mackenzie Basin type) may be more of a legitimate analogy than Dousset’s dubbing of cross-parallel neutralization in Gen 0 “horizontal skewing.”

It’s rewarding to see the contributors to the Crow-Omaha volume citing the work of the Soviet social anthropologist Mikhail Kryukov on the evolutionary typology of kinship terminological systems. My own initiation into kinship studies wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Kryukov’s magnus opus Sistema rodstva kitaitsev (Chinese Kinship System) published in Moscow in 1972. It’s a classic text in Russian anthropology and Kryukov drew on his original research into the history of Chinese kinship to formulate a general theory of kinship terminological change that was made available to English readers in 1998 (Kryukov 1998). However, Sistema rodstva kitaitsev not only impressed me but also frustrated. The deepest stratum of Chinese kinship terminology accessible through direct archival research (3d century BC) was still too shallow of a time period to base a world-historical model of evolutionary transformations on. In addition, Kryukov’s postulation of Bifurcate Merging as the ground-zero of Chinese kinship evolution was based on an assumption that one of the earliest attested kinship terms relevant to the typological attribution of Chinese kinship system such as shifu FyB and shufu FoB as well as tsunmu MZ actually presuppose earlier fu FB and mu M explicitly recorded in the earliest relevant Chinese text “Erya” only with the meaning ‘father’. Presumably the morphological differentiation between F and FB happened later out of the need to differentiate the two kintypes conceptually. But what evidence do we have to be sure that not the reverse happened? In pre-shufu/shifu times FB used to be called by an entirely separate stem and then kintype FB merged with kintype F and the merger received a formal expression. There are kinship terminological systems such as Keraki (Papua New Guinea) where FyB is morphologically linked to F, while FoB is fully merged with its direct reciprocal myBC (Williams 1969). Kryukov went on to adduce Lat patruus FB and matertera MZ as supposedly showing the same morphological differentiation from earlier *pater F = FB and *mater M = MZ. But in no IE language does a reflex of PIE *pater mean both F and FB or a reflex of PIE *meHter mean both M and MZ. In a number of branches the terms are connected morphologically. Similarly, Lat avunculus MB is derived from avus PF and one may argue that originally avus (PIE *HeuHo-) meant both PF and MB. But this polysemy is not attested in any Indo-European language (Mallory & Adams 1997, 610) and all MB terms in Indo-European languages are derived from PIE *HeuHo– through independent morphological processes. As a matter of fact, the actual evidence shows that that PIE *HeuHo– had a self-reciprocal, not a skewed meaning  (see below).

Worldwide cases of Bifurcate Collateral <> Bifurcate Merging in Gen +1/-1 and Generational <> Bifurcate Merging in Gen 0 need to be thoroughly re-examined to ascertain which direction transformation actually goes. The situation has been clouded for many decades by the implicit assumption that the derived nature of “Hawaiian” in Gen +1/-1  and “Sudanese” in Gen 0 automatically means the ancestrality of Bifurcate Merging across all generational levels. [UPDATE: 09.03.2013: Anthropologists should not automatically assume that if the term for FB is derived from the term for F (and the term for MZ from the terms for M) that both kintypes were called by exactly the same form at the previous stage in the evolution of the kinship terminological system. The linguistic aspects of the formation of kinship terms need to be typologized  holistically, cross-linguistically and globally in their own right (see Dziebel 2007) and not used as props for semantic typologies.]

Crow-Omaha: Self-Reciprocity, Dravidian and Tetradic

My hypothesis of the origin of Crow-Omaha systems from Self-Reciprocal systems seems to support Nick Allen’s tetradic theory (see “Tetradic Theory and Omaha Systems”). Tetradic theory postulates the absence of generational distinction in archaic kinship systems and the merger of alternate generations. This means the following set of equations: PF = mCC, PM = wCC, MB = mZC, FZ = wBC, MZ = wZC, FB = mBC (Wendy James [“A Tetradic Starting Point for Skewing? Marriage as a Generational Contract: Reflections on Sister-Exchange in Africa,” pp. 146-148] mentions this latter equation in the context of Uduk iya FB = mBC). Allen writes,

“To transform into an Omaha type, the tetradic model…must be unfolded so as to introduce generations in the normal sense. Ascending generations now contrast with descending, by having (at least some) different kin terms.”

But here the similarity between my thinking and Allen’s seems to end. While well familiar with the argument I put forth in The Genius of Kinship, Allen does not explicitly say that alternate-generation merging as dictated by tetradic logic is the formal antecedent of Crow-Omaha generational skewing. The reason for this reticence is not entirely clear, but it may reflect the fact that Allen’s own geographic area of expertise – Tibeto-Burman-speaking South Asia – furnishes an example of a transition from “Dravidian” to “Omaha” without any alternate-generation merging in sight. Byansi and Sherpa, Allen writes, speak related Western Tibeto-Burman languages but Byansi has a “Dravidian” terminology and a rule of bilateral cross-cousin marriage, while Sherpa (and, one might add, a large number of other Tibeto-Burman languages) has an “Omaha” terminology and no marital prescription. But “Dravidian” terminologies (as an analytical type) don’t have alternate-generation equations. So, Allen is left with suggesting that it’s the rupture of prescriptive equations only that led to the formation of skewed Omaha terms. But this doesn’t explain the skewing! The issue needs to be resolved with the help of lexical reconstruction of proto-Tibeto-Burman kinship. While Tibeto-Burman languages are dominated by Omaha skewing (no Crow systems pop up in my database), one of the most divergent branches, namely Bodo-Garo (part of Sal) features a set of alternate-generation equations. E.g., Bodo –b?w PF, CS, –b?y PM, CD, mamay MB, mZC, a-doi FyB, moBC, yon PPF, FoB, yBC, a-noi FZ, wBD (Kelkar 1968; Benedict 1941, 251ff, 467). (The retention situation is reminiscent of Nilo-Saharan where the divergent Uduk language harbors a number of alternate-generation equations from which generational skewing in core Nilo-Saharan languages can be derived.) These equations may still be visible in some Northern Naga languages (Tase Naga aghu MB, aghek ZC) (Dutta 1959) but the data is incomplete.

A separate problem is the troubling uncertainties in the existing recordings of Bodo-Garo kinship terminologies. In 2009, I corresponded with Robbins Burling regarding these alternate generation equations in Bodo-Garo languages, including Riang, Rabha and Bodo. He was intrigued by this evidence as alternate-generation equivalences “seem strange in this group of languages” but could not verify the data. Bodo mamay is a likely borrowing from Indo-Aryan where MB and ZC terms are not self-reciprocal, but this only suggests that there used to be a native Bodo term with the self-reciprocal meaning recently replaced by mamay. But assuming the recordings of alternate-generation equivalences in Bodo-Garo are correct, a “Dravidian” configuration does not need to be the only option for a proto-Tibeto-Burman system considering that pan-Tibeto-Burman “Omaha” structures can be derived from those. But the problem for Allen is that Bodo-Garo systems are also Bifurcate-Collateral in Gen +1/-1 and their Bifurcate Collaterality is tightly linked to the alternate-generation equations (a-doi FyB, moBC, yon PPF, FoB, yBC, but ba F). But, then, if we re-read Allen (1975), Byansi is a Bifurcate Collateral nomenclature in Gen +1 (ba F, babu FoB, kaku FyB, na M, pochi MoZ, chenchi MyZ), despite the presence of symmetric-prescriptive equations for cross-relatives. So, it’s nor really “Dravidian” in the first place because it doesn’t have “crossness,” at least in Trautmann’s definition thereof. Bifurcate Collateral is not part of the tetradic model, which assumes Bifurcate Merging, but the question arises: do classificatory, prescriptive and alternative generation equations co-exist in the “real world,” or one tends to conflict with the other?

Allen notes that the “Dravidian,” prescriptive equations in Byansi are an anomaly among Tibeto-Burman languages. Unlike Dravidians of India or Amazonian Indians “Dravidian” systems do not form a systematic areal feature and the Byansi language is not a divergent language in the Tibeto-Burman linguistic phylogeny. The reconstruction of “Dravidian” crossness for proto-Tibeto-Burman is therefore problematic from a linguistic perspective, although may be favored by an anthropologist on typological grounds. Interestingly, this is not the only example of “Dravidian” crossness occurring at the terminal branches of a linguistic phylogeny. Trautmann praises (p. 41) Per Hage’s discovery of “Dravidian” in Africa but Hage (2006) detected it in Yao, again an isolated instance of a Bantu language in Nyasaland, which is much downstream from the root of the Niger-Congo phylogeny and the geographic source of the Niger-Congo expansion. Khoisan peoples which are generally considered to be the oldest population in Africa don’t have “Dravidian” kinship. Hage thought the ‘Dravidian” pattern in Yao could evolve from an Iroquois system and that ultimately only a linguistic reconstruction can decide on the direction of evolution. Similarly, Hage (2001) showed that the West Futuna-Aniwa kinship terminological system in Polynesia belongs to the “Dravidian” type. While a number of Polynesian societies (Bellona, Rennell, Taumako, etc.) picked cross-cousin marriage as a result of demographic depression and created separate terms for cross-cousins (Generational > Bifurcate Merging), only West Futuna-Aniwa developed a full-blown “Dravidian” nomenclature. It’s clear that considering the downstream position of the West Futuna-Aniwa language in Austronesian and the late colonization of Polynesia its “Dravidian” system is secondary to the earlier cognatic system. Hage interpreted the unique case of “Dravidian” in Oceania as the product of a substrate effect exerted on the original cognatic system by a pre-Austronesian, “Papuan” social structure. This may be the explanation to be used for the sudden emergence of isolated instances of “Dravidian” kinship in Byansi and Yao but this substratum hypothesis can hardly be tested. It’s possible that we’re dealing here with some forms of late, pseudo-Dravidian and pseudo-Amazonian kinship no more archaic than the Lineal pattern in English that merges affines and consanguines in such a recent pattern as, e.g., Eng father F and father-in-law SpF, mother M and mother-in-law SpM, etc. Be it as it may, the use of these pseudo-Dravidian examples as sources for more standard kinship terminologies within a linguistic family (like Allen does for the Sherpa among Tibeto-Burman peoples) is problematic.

Crow-Omaha: Social Anthropology Meets Philology, or Does it?

In his paper, Allen who has spent decades researching Indo-European mythology and ritual draws a connection between the hypothesis of “Omaha” kinship in Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and his own theory (build off of Georges Dumezil’s triad) that proto-Indo-European ideology was based in 5 functions (transcendence, knowledge, force, plenty and devaluation) that mirrored 5 patrilineal clans engaged in a semi-complex marital exchange model. Indeed, it has been suggested (Friedrich 1966; Mallory & Adams 2006: 202-218) that PIE kinship was “Omaha” in type. But, as Hettrich (1985) pointed out, the diagnostic Omaha pattern in IE languages (Lat avunculus, Bret eontr, Lith avynas, Slav *uijos, OHG oheim MB, all from PIE *HeuHo– ‘grandfather’) is branch-specific and there is no single form reconstructible for PIE that would indicate an Omaha-type of polysemy. (Only the Latin and Celtic forms above may indicate Proto-Italo-Celtic *awentlo MB). This means that Omaha skewing took place independently in a number of IE branches but that PIE was not “Omaha” but pre-“Omaha.” Albanian offers an interesting evidence for ancient Omaha skewing: its ‘brother’ term vella derives from *awnlada-< *awentlo– (Huld 1984, 128-129), the same form that underlies the Italo-Celtic isogloss above. Albanian term for ‘sister’, motre, comes from *matriia, which is derivative of PIE *mater ‘mother’ and, judging by its morphology, most likely meant ‘mother’s sister’ (see Huld 1984, 95-96 who, however, assumes an unmodified PIE *meHter M, MZ). One can hypothesize that pre-proto-Albanian *awentlo– MB and *matriia MZ also included, respectively, MBS = MZS = B  and MBD = MZD = Z. With the loss of the skewing and a shift from Generational to Lineal nomenclature in Gen 0, the semantic range of these terms shrank to include only B and Z. Depending on the position of Albanian in the IE language tree, this may be indicative of Omaha skewing in PIE or Omaha skewing in an ancient Albanian-Italo-Celtic protolanguage or contact area. The latter is more likely considering that a) other IE languages that have Omaha skewing used their own morphological means to derive the MB from the term for PF and not the putative PIE **HeuH-n-tlo; b) a number of key branches such as Greek, Armenian, Indo-Aryan, Tocharian and Anatolian do not show “Omaha” terminology at all. In the case of Anatolian and Tocharian this may be a matter of poor lexical preservation. In any case, at present, there is no evidence that “Omaha” skewing was a PIE feature. Allen’s argument for a semi-complex alliance in PIE times forming a foundation for a pentadic structure of PIE ideology loses its force because it was originally based on some selective reading by a social anthropologist of IE philological literature.

What Indo-European data does show is that PIE *HeuHo– (attested in Hittite huhhas PF and morphologically stable across IE dialects) was likely a self-reciprocal term because in Old Irish its reflex (h)aue means ‘grandson’. Naturally, –ntlo- in Latin, Celtic and Albanian, *-ijos in proto-Slavic, –ynas in Lithuanian and *-haimaz in Proto-Germanic were affixed to the originally self-reciprocal stem to create the term for MB (and MBS in Albanian) once the self-reciprocal equation broke down. Most likely, MB used to be called by an entirely different stem and then an Omaha-kind skewing brought PF and MB closer to each other conceptually while maintaining some degree of formal separation.

Rodney Needham (1987, 9) once commented that “to the present, however, neither the original nature of Indo-European terminologies nor their relation to prescriptive systems has been satisfactorily worked out.” One of the reasons for this strange – considering how well-studied the IE language family is – gap in knowledge is the lack of collaboration between historical linguists and social anthropologists at the level of etymological work itself. In (Dziebel 2006) I reported a strong sign of marital prescription in PIE detected through a more in-depth etymological work enhanced by knowledge of kinship typologies. The PIE root *mer– yielded both consanguineal (IE *bhreHter ‘brother’) and affinal (Gk meirax ‘boy; girl, Lat maritus ‘husband’, Germ. *brudi ‘bride’, etc.) meanings in Gen 0 in the IE daughter languages. Pending the acceptance of this new etymology by Indo-Europeanists, the hypothetical Nostratic extension of PIE *mer– can be found in Dravidian languages where the root *mar– means ‘younger cross-cousin; grandchild; wife’s brother; brother’s wife” (Alternate Generation Cousin Skewing type with additional prescriptive polysemy) (see Tyler 1990, 159; also here). Social anthropologists such as Allen (also Hage 2003) and historians (e.g., Kullanda 2002) are making a mistake by relying on purely linguistic theories of Indo-European and Nostratic kinship terminological reconstruction, which are not informed in their very core by comparative kinship studies. Needham’s skepticism is a more realistic attitude. Unlike American anthropology where linguistics and ethnology originally, in Boasian times, formed a unity of method and practice, Indo-European linguistics evolved in Europe as an entirely autonomous discipline. But kinship studies is a field in which social anthropology and linguistics, or phonology and semantics, should be inherently tied together for both phonological and semantic reconstructions to be accurate (Dziebel 2000a; Dziebel 2000b; Dziebel 2001a). The reduction of the formal diversity of kin terminological systems to a few rigid evolutionary types (including “Crow-Omaha”) by social anthropologists is one negative outcome of keeping social anthropology and linguists separate. The phonology-only approach to etymology practiced by the majority of historical linguists is another one.

Crow-Omaha, the Semiotic Status of Kinship Terms and the Nature of Human Kinship Systems

I believe that the contradictions surrounding the ancestral state of classificatory and prescriptive equations stem from the presence in ancient kinship terminological systems of additional “categorical constraints” in addition to the need to just encode relations by birth (consanguinity) and relations by marriage (affinity). As I propose in The Genius of Kinship, one of them is adoption, the other one is death. Cross-culturally, FB and MZ and their reciprocals are prototypical adoption categories, hence their separation from F and M in Bifurcate Collateral terminologies with Self-Reciprocity (FB = mBC, MZ = wZC) may reflect a adoption prescription parallel to the marital prescription that sets apart cross-categories such as MB and FZ.

There is a growing interest on the part of scholars to see human kinship as an ontological category succinctly expressed by Pitt-Rivers’s term “consubstantiality” (see Pitt-Rivers 1973; Dziebel 2001; Dziebel 2007; Sahlins 2011; Dousset 2013). This reinterpretation of the nature of kinship should lead to the correlative reinterpretation of the semiotic (logical and linguistic) nature of kinship terms. As a first step, to follow the lead of the British logician, Augustus de Morgan (1806-1871), kinship terms need to be understood as relational nouns (see Dziebel 2007). This puts kinship terms on the same test bench as proper names and personal pronouns as linguistic items that not only communicate meanings but also point to (index), pick out and construct referents, including Ego. The referents exist in a field of consubstantiality spanning a broad ontological universe demarcated by the axes of birth-death and alliance-adoption and segmented by relative age, relative sex (Ego Gender, parity), speech act roles, baptism act roles and reciprocity.

Instead of taking this holistic and ontological view of “kinship,” the Trautmann & Whiteley volume is biased toward naturalistic and alliance-only explanations for Crow-Omaha skewing. While its contributors are aware of high cross-cultural correlation between Crow system and matrilineal descent, on the one hand, and Omaha systems and patrilineal descent, on the other (and Kronenfeld continues to explain Crow skewing in Fanti as product of inheritance rules), there is a clear desire on the part of Trautmann & Whiteley to reduce Crow-Omaha to various alliance configurations. This does not mean that forms of alliance do not contribute to the shape of kinship terminological systems. They do but only as part of a more holistic social system. One paper in the Crow-Omaha volume that bucks the trend to focus narrowly on alliance is Coelho de Souza’s “The Making and Unmaking of “Crow-Omaha” Kinship in Central Brazil(ian Ethnology).” She explicitly argues that generational skewing in Northern Ge speech communities comes from their cross-generational naming practices (see below). (Similarly, Robert Parkin [1988] tied what I call “Alternate Generation Cousin Skewed” and “Alternate Generation Sibling Skewed” terminologies to name and soul substance transmission in South India.) Crow and Omaha systems form an east-west gradient from Crow among Eastern Timbira to Omaha among Kayapó, Xikrin, and Kïsêdjê, with Krinkati, Apinaye and others in the middle combining both Crow and Omaha features.

From: Coelho de Souza M. "The Making and Unmaking of “Crow-Omaha” Kinship in Central Brazil(ian Ethnology) Marcela Coelho," p. 211

From: Coelho de Souza M. “The Making and Unmaking of “Crow-Omaha” Kinship in Central Brazil(ian Ethnology),” p. 211

Ge individuals typically inherit ceremonial names from their MB, for men, and FZ, for women. The sharing of names means sharing of identities (substances), so namesakes end up calling their relatives by the same kinship terms. This creates Crow-type polysemies if male name transmission is assumed, or Omaha-type of polysemies if female name transmission is assumed. By suggesting that identification between MB and mZS and FZ and wBD derived from ceremonial naming practices causes Crow-Omaha skewing in everyday kinship terms, Coelho de Souza echoes my Self-Reciprocal hypothesis for the origin of Crow-Omaha skewing (see above). (On her Fig. 10.1 reproduced above one would need to replace M with MZ and F with FB to begin seeing an underlying Self-Reciprocal pattern we encountered above among aborigines of Cape York and Nilo-Saharan-speaking Uduk.) Importantly, it appears that in Ge societies cross-consanguines are re-adopted as ceremonial namesakes and thus become “true relatives” or perfect substitutes for each other in the event of death. Coelho de Souza writes (p. 214):

What Amerindians are trying to produce or create, most of the time, is people, that is, persons of a particular kind: fully social, human persons—relatives—as opposed to other types of persons that inhabit their cosmos (animals, spirits, enemies, strangers. . .). What I suggest is that an understanding of the way Northern Gê employ certain symbolic devices in the constitution of their relationships for the making of human beings or relatives is the key to understanding what we call their “kinship systems” – to its dynamic (or “dialectical”) structuring, too often lost in our segregation of terminology/behavior, synchrony/diachrony, classification/action, and so forth. Naming may be seen as a specific transformative route in the making of persons correlated with another route: marriage. My argument is that both are directed to the making of kinship. If kinship has to be made, it is because it is not given; even when it is already there, as a product of the kinship making of previous generations, it has to be sustained, for otherwise it lapses. Naming may be viewed as a way of blocking such lapsing and marriage as a means to reverse it.”

By submitting to naming dynamism, kinship terms reveal their referential continuity with proper names. Personal names entered kinship studies relatively late but the dependence of kinship term usage on underlying name and substance transmission patterns have now been amply documented from such diverse societies as African Khoisan (Marshall 1957), Inuits in the American Arctic (Fienup-Riordan 1983) and the various tribes of Amazonia. Personal names complicate the standard division of forms of classification into relative or egocentric (kinship terms) and absolute or sociocentric (names of social categories such as Australian sections) (reiterated in this volume by Allen, p. 51) as they are neither. In addition to the intersections between kinship terms and personal names, recent research has brought up similar formal synergies between kinship terms and pronouns. In a number of Australian aboriginal languages (Arrernte/Aranda, Lardil, Arabana, Nyungar, Parnkalla, etc.) personal pronouns are marked not only for grammatical categories such as person, number, exclusive and case but also for such social categories as moiety belonging. For example, in Kaytej non-singlular pronouns come in 3 forms; form I is used when referents are in the same patrimoiety and generation (section); form II when referents are in the same patrimoiety but opposite generation (section) and form III when referents are in the opposite moiety (Koch 1982).

Coelho de Souza notes (p. 208) the richness of social deixis in Ge languages. Ge Indians are also the only example in the New World of triadic kin terms (forms such as “your mother, who is my sister), which are otherwise found only in aboriginal Australia. Ge don’t live by a rigid classificational model but operate with several flexible sociosemiotic systems. This is something Kronenfeld (“Crow- (and Omaha-) Type Kinship Terminology: The Fanti Case”) also notes about Fanti in West Africa. They operate with three kinship terminological systems – unskewed, Crow skewed and courtesy – depending on social context. Kronenfeld (p. 164) believes the Crow-type system is “an overlay on the unskewed variant.” Other contributors to the volume concur that generational skewing is a surface-level “social technology” (Trautmann & Whiteley, p. 290) sitting on top of the more fundamental semantic structures based on the horizontal principles of merging and bifurcation. But isn’t it just “anthro-speak” for what linguists and semioticians have already invented better terms, namely “pragmatics” or “pragmatics” and “syntactics”? Kronenfeld’s paper exemplifies this self-absorbed focus on kinship terms as a “semantic system” subject to a formal mathematical analysis, which was characteristic of kinship studies in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then linguists, ethnolinguists and sociolinguists have brought attention to the fact that kinship terminological systems are grammatical systems (Dahl & Koptjevskaja-Tamm 2001) and pragmatic systems (Luong 1990) in addition to forming a semantic system. And this in turn can be seen as a revival of the convictions of Kroeber and Sapir who were led to believe by American Indian kin terminologies (including Self-Reciprocal terminologies) that kinship systems express not as much sociology as language and thought (see The Genius of Kinship, pp. 96-97). With respect to Kryukov’s typology, linguists working with North Caucasian languages criticized it on formal syntactic grounds because it failed to differentiate between the Arabic version of Bifurcate Collateral in which all the terms are morphologically simple and those other systems (Abkhazian, Ossetian and others) that use only descriptive phrases to form kinship terms for any collateral categories (Shinkuba 1985).

A pragmatic and syntactic account of generational skewing will not take us away from the core anthropological interests in the sociological rationale behind skewed terminologies. On the contrary, reaching an understanding of what sociological, cultural or demographic reality generational skewing actually reflects requires a proper method of describing what Crow-Omaha is and what antecedent terminological form it descends from. In this context an interpretation of Crow-Omaha skewing among Kayapo by Terence Turner (“Schemas of Kinship Relations and the Construction of Social Categories among the Mebêngôkrê Kayapó,” pp. 238-239) provides a relevant starting point:

“The most important point, in my view, is that the generation skewing of crosscousin terms is a product of schemas for producing extended family segments of standardized form out of linked elementary families. The specific relations involved in linking elementary families to form the segment may take various forms, such as descent, residence, marriage exchange, or other types of collective grouping, ritual performance, or combinations of these…To implement such a regular pattern of relations of production of segmentary extended family units virtually requires that a society possess a superstructure of collective groupings or ritual processes that coordinate the reproduction of segments of the same type by the community as a whole. This is my second general point: societies with Omaha or Crow terminologies will generally be found to constitute hierarchical systems, with a lower level of segmentary units of identical structure, and an upper level comprising a communal framework of collective groups and ritual activities….This is not to dispute the relevance of specific forms of interfamily linkage and segment formation that have been foregrounded by many attempts to account for generation skewing terminologies, such as forms of descent or prescriptive marriage, demographic fluctuations, or other causes. Rather, it is to supply the need, unmet in a number of existing theories, of a specific social and conceptual mechanism for mediating the effects of such factors to forms of classification.”

Not content with a narrow marriage alliance-kind of explanation, Turner argues that Crow-Omaha represents a higher level of encoding of social relations corresponding to higher level social structures that coordinate the reproduction of society as a whole through orchestrating connections between lower-order social segments such as nuclear families. This resonates with McConvell’s hypothesis that Omaha skewing in Pama-Nyungan languages expresses the sociodemographic macrorealities associated with a population spread as well as with Mikhail Kryukov’s (1993) observation that Crow-Omaha systems tend to pop up in geographic areas characterized by the proliferation of cross-ethnic clan identities. What is the semiotic depth of Crow-Omaha polysemy, what is that macrosociological reality that non-skewed terminologies cannot express and how the need for a linguistic sign to orchestrate those powerful global processes affects its formal properties?

Crow-Omaha systems remain a stumbling block for the students of human kinship. Trautmann & Whiteley contributed more thinking and regional data to the problem but the volume is weakened by a number of “blind spots.” Whether the fixation on “crossness” on the theoretical level, or the drawing on a handful of examples at the time when large databases should form a basis for judgment, or on kinship terminologies as a “semantic” system divorced from other facets of language and discourse, the Crow-Omaha volume restores dignity to some of the old debates but doesn’t take full advantage of the research that has taken place globally over the past 40 years.


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Shinkuba, A. E. 1985. Opyt analiza terminov rodstva u abkhazov. Izvestiia Abkhazsskogo instituta iazyka, literatury i istorii. Seriia istoria i ekonomika. Vol. 13. Tbilisi.

Sillitoe, Paul. 1995. A Blend of Cultures: The Bogaia of the Southern Highlands. In Papuan Borderlands: Huli, Duna, and Ipili Perspectives on the Papua New Guinea Highlands, edited by Aletta Biersack. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Spier, Leslie. 1925. The Distribution of Kinship Systems in North America. University of Washington Publications in Anthropology 1 (2): 69-88.

Tornay, Serge. 1969. Essai sur le vocabulaire de parenté des Keyo du Kenya. L’Homme 9 (4): 113-135.

Tyler, Stephen A. 1990. Alternating Generation Kinship Terminology in Proto-Dravidian. In Die Vielfalt der Kultur: Ethnologische Aspekte von Verwantschaft, Kunst und Wweltauffassung. Ernst Wilhelm Müller zum 65. Geburtstag. Herausgegeben von Karl-Heinz Kohl, Heinzarnold Muszinski und Ivo Strecker. Pp. 144-166. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.

Williams, F. E. 1969. Papuans of the Trans-Fly. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Visiting Lewis Henry Morgan: Birth, Marriage, Adoption and Death as the Calculus of Kinship

Monday, August 5th, 2013

MorganTomb-MountHopeCemetery-3At the end of July 2013, I drove through Rochester, NY, and visited the tomb of Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881), the “grandfather” of American anthropology (assuming Franz Boas is the “father”) and one of the founding students of human kinship systems and terminologies. President of the Friends of the Mount Hope Cemetery (so reminiscent of those 19th century societies of the “friends of American Indians” one of which Morgan initiated), Marilyn Nolte, kindly walked me to the mausoleum which Morgan originally erected as the last abode for his two daughters. I dedicated my book “The Genius of Kinship” (2007) to Morgan and the title contains a double-entendre that refers to the spirit of a dead relative, an innate talent and the patron of a science or art.  In the course of my historiographic research for the book, I unearthed a few intriguing facts about the intersections of science and the lifeworld in 19th century America. Morgan married his mother’s brother’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth Steele, thus reenacting one of the most iconic forms of human marriage in 20th century’s kinship studies. His friendship with an educated Iroquois, Ely Samuel Parker, led to his adoption by the Seneca Indians, which in turn resulted in Lewis and Ely becoming collaborators in the project of writing the first ethnography of an American Indian tribe, “The League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee, or the Iroquois” (1851). Kin and affines at the same time, Lewis and Mary were happy together but their first son, Lemuel, was born with mental retardation. Under the influence of his personal circumstances, Morgan the scholar grew to become critical of the rule of cousin marriage as too close of a union to generate viable offspring. As for his daughters buried at Mount Hope, they died young and the scholar blamed their premature death on his own immersion in the emerging science of anthropology.  Morgan’s lifelong protectionism of American Indians deemed by mainstream America a “vanishing race,” his salvage ethnography of the Iroquois, his field trips and the monumental studies “The Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family” (1871) and “Ancient Society” (1877) absorbed a lot of Morgan’s energy which he believed could have protected his daughters. The grandiose project of comprehending the various facets of the “human family” resulted, Morgan began to fear, in the corresponding neglect for his this-worldly family. Long kept outside of the purview of kinship studies, with its pseudo-self-evident focus on birth, death as a cultural and ontological category is now increasingly believed to be part of the field of kinship studies (see, e.g., my post on Hamlet). My visit to the founder of kinship studies’ grave was a symbolic affirmation of this epistemological stance. Morgan’s life was an embodiment of everything that “human kinship” is about: birth, marriage, adoption and death.

Kinship and Conklin at the 111th American Anthropological Association Meetings

Monday, November 19th, 2012

I just came back from the 111th AAA Meetings in San Francisco (November 14-18, 2012). At the end of my stay I was lucky to have a conversation with one of the early practitioners of kinship studies and ethnoscience, Harold Conklin (see on the left). A student of Alfred L. Kroeber, Conklin, despite his advanced age, attended the Stanford Anthropology reception, was full of energy and charm, and stole the show from some of the younger professors. It was fascinating to learn that Harold was brought to anthropology and into kinship studies by his precocious interest in American Indians (he was adopted by the Mohawks at the age of 13). We had a good laugh about how both of us took the same path into the discipline and how the whole discipline was founded by a man, Lewis Henry Morgan, with the same passion for American Indian cultures and human kinship.

At the meetings, I presented a paper entitled “Kinship Across Cultures and Disciplines:  Leanings from the Global Interdisciplinary Bibliography of Kinship Studies.” Dwight Read and Fadwa El-Guindi organized a session “Boundaries of Discipline, Boundaries of Kinship” that brought together an international group of scholars with widely-ranging interests in human kinship. Another session with a strong focus on kinship studies within a broader theme of the evolution of culture and cognition (“Evolutionary Understandings of Cultural Practices,” organized by Douglas Jones), happened simultaneously with the Boundaries one, and people were wondering why AAA did not assign them into completely different time slots to enable participants and listeners to attend both panels. A day earlier, Kathryn Goldfarb and Caroline Schuster ran another kinship session entitled “(De)Materializing Kinship: Relational Borders and Troubled Crossings.”

With kinship not a central concern of anthropology anymore, I did not have high expectations for my panel’s attendance. I was pleasantly surprised to observe that this year kinship commanded quite a bit of public interest, with the audience numbers reaching 50-70 people during some of the talks. People had to stand along the wall of the conference room or sit on the floor, as all the seats were taken. Marshall Sahlins‘s paper (“What Kinship Is Not – Biology”) read by Michael Silverstein naturally attracted a few extra people, but, even without it, attendance was very impressive. My paper is below.

German V. Dziebel (111th AAA Meetings, San Francisco, November 15, 2012)

Kinship Across Cultures and Disciplines:  Leanings from the Global Interdisciplinary Bibliography of Kinship Studies

Since the mid-1990s, I have been compiling comprehensive bibliographies of kinship studies (including the study of family, adoption, marriage/mating, and divorce) across the social sciences. One part of the project involves works published in Russian and the languages of the former Soviet Union. The other part covers works published in Western languages. The Russian bibliography containing 2000+ entries is now complete and submitted for publication. The bibliography in Western languages is available as PDF files here and is being updated regularly. It now contains upwards of 20,000 entries.

As an anthropologist with a strong interest in linguistics, I originally began tracking publications on human kinship authored within the anthropological tradition of studying systems of kinship and kinship terminologies and the linguistic tradition of analyzing kinship terms as a lexico-semantic field. My main research focus was the compilation of a worldwide database of kinship terms and semantic patterns with the goal of constructing plausible pathways of kin terminological change as reflection of changes in marriage rules, residence, descent rules, etc. in the tradition of Lewis H. Morgan, W.H.R. Rivers, Robert Lowie, George P. Murdock, Gertrude Dole, Mikhail Kryukov, Nick Allen and others. This involved an audit of all publications in which kin terminological systems were described either as part of the ethnographic description of a culture, as a formal system of classification or just a lexical set in a classified or thematic dictionary. I have been tracking kinship vocabularies (with or without a corresponding linguistic or anthropological analysis) across a wide range of sources, including books, papers, Ph.D. dissertations, Master’s theses, fieldwork notebooks, and magazine articles. This has resulted in a database of kin terminological patterns and terms from some 2500 languages (almost half of the 6000+ languages currently spoken in the world). The focus is primarily on such terminological phenomena as sibling classification and cross-generational equations. Some of the conclusions derived from the study of the database of kinship terminologies were published in my book The Genius of Kinship: The Phenomenon of Kinship and the Global Diversity of Kinship Terminologies (2007).

The bibliographic references on which the database drew are organized according to the Ethnologue language classification and cover 150 language families and isolates. The Ethnologue classification for such areas as Papua New Guinea and South America is still work-in-progress and is periodically updated to reflect new developments in the field. I re-organize my bibliographic references accordingly.

In addition to the empirical research devoted to or containing meaningful information about a culture’s kinship system, the bibliography contains theoretical and methodological works divided by anthropological school (evolutionism, functionalism, structuralism, constructivism) and thematic divisions representing intersections between the study of kinship and the study of other anthropological subjects or cultural domains and phenomena, including myth, ritual, gender, age, ethnicity, race, religion, literature, popular culture, music, globalization, gay and lesbian studies and others.

Early on I began noticing that, in both Russia and the West, kinship is not a pre-occupation of anthropology alone. A whole variety of other disciplines and subdisciplines – including linguistics, logic, sociology, history, psychology, evolutionary biology, primatology, demography, epidemiology, theology – study kinship or use the metaphor of kinship to analyze their subject matter. In many cases, these non-anthropological traditions in the study of kinship have a long history going back to the 18th century and earlier. For example, in Russia there was an influential school of historical thought initiated by a German historian, Gustav Ewers, in 1829, and further developed by the foremost Moscow historian, Sergei Soloviev (1820-1979), that sought the roots of the Russian state in ancient Russian kinship structures. This school preceded the launch of kinship studies in the U.S. by Lewis Henry Morgan by several decades but fundamentally it was grounded in the same principle of reifying consanguineal kinship as the cornerstone of pre-modern social and political organization as Morgan’s work. Although this Russian historical school died out by the end of the 19th century, there are some similarities between its focus on kinship structures in the Slavic world with the relatively recent interest of European historians in the structure of pre-modern and early modern European family as exemplified by the periodical Journal of Family History, collected volumes such as Family Forms in Historic Europe and one-author monographs such as Plakans’s Kinship in the Past: An Anthropology of European Family Life, 1500-1900 (1984).

In both Russia and the West, kinship and marriage constituted a prominent concern of legal historians, law practitioners as well as Christian ministers who deemed it necessary to explain to their parishioners the church rules of marriage. This tradition of thinking about kinship goes back to at least 1400s in the West when Italian expert on canon law Johannes Andreae, or Giovanni d’Andrea published his influential Super arboribus consanguinitatis, affinitatis et cognationis spiritualis et legalis and to the book by a provincial Russian minister, Mikhail Zadorin, entitled “On the Marital Union. A Practical Guide to the Rules of Kinship” (1866). It is within this tradition that kinship and connections were visualized as either “trees” or “networks” for the first time. The founder of kinship studies in anthropology, Lewis H. Morgan, was himself a lawyer, and the 19th century German legal scholar, Josef Kohler, was a prolific writer on group marriage and mother right across cultures and the founder of Zeitschrift fur Vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft.

Logicians picked up on the peculiar logical structure of kinship terms, namely their relationality, back in the 1850s independently of anthropologists and linguists. In 1859, the British logician Augustus de Morgan (whose name ironically is identical to that of Lewis Henry Morgan who at that time was working on his Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family) published a treatise on the logic of relations. This treatise so profoundly influenced the American philosopher Charles Peirce that he used kinship terms as a prototype for the kind of sign he called an icon and for the kind of logic he called abduction. Kinship terms were different from the other kinds of nouns in being both subjects and predicates. Peirce wrote,

 “A relative is just that, an icon, or image, without attachments to experience, without ‘a local habitation and a name,’ but with indication of the need of such attachments.”

 Anthropology’s interest in the matters of kinship, marriage and the family in the mid-19th century developed side by side with Victorian fascination with heredity. The now-largely forgotten founder of eugenics Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911), the cousin of Charles Darwin, was a child prodigy himself and the author of Hereditary Genius (1865) the book that purported to explain the hereditary basis for talents and pronounced physical and psychological abilities.

Galton is considered to be one of the early contributors to network analysis (see Freeman, 2004) and an admirer of logical analysis of kinship terms in the style of Augustus De Morgan. Galton was interested in calculating the probability of the extinction of noble families. In 19th-century Europe, noble lineages were associated with death and extinction, hence it comes as no surprise that Freud considered fantasies about being an offspring of a noble parent to be neurotic. Nobility was thought of as a reactionary force, standing in the way of economic progress and biological evolution. It was opposed to active selection, and Galton was eager to help his cousin Darwin with bringing about the triumph of this natural force in the intelligent human world clouded with degenerate “nobility.”

Most interestingly, studying “family likeness” (comp. Peircean “icon”) in size, stature, eye-color and mental abilities, Galton invented two statistical operations that are still widely used, namely regression and correlation. In one study, Galton compared fathers’ heights to their sons’ heights. The heights of sons both of unusually tall fathers and of unusually short fathers was typically closer to the mean height than their fathers’ heights. It means they were more like their ancestors than like their parents. Regression toward the mean blends the qualities of time progression with spatial distribution. Since the fathers of exceptionally tall people also tend to be closer to the mean than their sons, the overall variability of height among fathers and sons is the same. What later became known in statistical theory as “independent” and “dependent” variables was in Galton’s original kinship terminology simply “father” and “son.” In Galton’s mind, all reciprocal kinship positions were mutually correlated: father was correlated with son, grandfather with grandson, uncle with nephew, and so forth. The correlation eventually became associated with the name of Galton’s student and protégé, Karl Pearson (1857–1936), who founded the first statistics department at a university (University College, London) and is universally credited as a founder of modern statistics.

The Peircean typology of signs as well as Pearson’s correlation coefficient are widely known but their indebtedness to the logical structure of kinship terms came up only as a result of the bibliographic and historiographic inquiry into kinship studies as an interdisciplinary subject matter.

The peculiar logical structure of kinship terms may explain why kinship terms have always occupied a liminal place between anthropology and linguistics. Linguists developed their own interest in kinship terms back in the mid-19th century when in 1848, first, Jacob Grimm (Geschichte der Deutschen Sprache) used Indo-European kinship terms as proof of the relatedness of Indo-European languages, and then in 1848 and 1867 Russian philologists, Fyodor Buslaev and Pavel Lavrovsky, published two comprehensive analyses of Slavic and Sanskrit kinship terms as a distinct semantic domain. In 1889, Berthold Delbrück’s monumental Die Indogermanischen Verwandtschaftsnamen inaugurated a long string of philological and linguistic articles, dissertations and books exclusively devoted to the phonology, morphology, semantics and etymology of Indo-European kinship terms. Descriptive linguists working on other language families followed suit. Historical linguists even adopted the term “kinship” to describe the phenomenon whereby regular sound correspondences unite various independent languages into such genealogical units as families and megaphyla. If anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan introduced a semantic analysis of kinship terms within a single language and compared these systems across languages (and Alfred Kroeber and other Boasians considered kinship terms as facts of language, rather than social organization), historical linguists interpreted regular similarities between all and any element of language as signs of kinship between underlying speech communities. There seems to be an intriguing complementarity between the linguistic notion of kinship between languages and the historical typology of kinship terminologies.

Reading the 19th century literature on kinship across anthropology, biology, statistics, logic and linguistics leads to a surprising discovery that  such seemingly disparate notions as “statistical correlation” and “kinship between languages” are concepts that are literally related, a finding that may have implications for the statistical approaches to the determination of kinship between second-order language families, or megaphyla such as Nostratic, Eurasiatic, Dene-Caucasian and others.

The confluence of anthropology, language, mathematics and logic came about again in the 1950s-1960s with the development of formal approaches to the study of kinship terminologies (componential analysis, equivalence rules analysis, generative analysis and others). The latest addition to this slew of studies counting at upwards of 500 in my bibliography are the applications of Optimality Theory to kinship nomenclatures.

Psychology and social psychology hold a strong focus on the theme of kinship, family, marriage and divorce, too, in conjunction with social deviance and psychological disorders. Voluminous literature has been published within the schools of thought known as Family Therapy, Object-Relations, Jungian Psychology and Psychoanalysis, and in the past anthropologists (especially Bronislaw Malinowski and Gregory Bateson) engaged with it bringing perspectives from non-Western cultures.

Evolutionary biology, population genetics, demography and epidemiology frequently tackle the problems of human kinship. A long string of articles documents the presumed effects of the cultural practices of close consanguineal marriages and post-marital residence on genetic diversity in a population, fertility and effective population size, economic development, mental abilities and frequency of congenital diseases. A study of surnames, or family names and genealogies in search of molecular patterns indicative of migrations provides an interesting nexus of onomastics, genetics, demography and anthropology. An example of an interesting bibliographic reference is

“Population Genetics and Social Anthropology.” Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology (1950) 15: 401-408.

 In this rare instance of collaboration, anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn and geneticist Charles Griffith partnered to identify the ways in which marital rules and post-marital residence affect patterns of molecular genetic variation. More recently, Per Hage and Jeff Marck (without referencing Kluckhohn and Griffith) proposed that the excess of Papuan Y chromosomes in Austronesian-speaking populations in Oceania can plausibly be explained as product of matrilocality, a practice which was reconstructed for proto-Oceanic using ethnological and linguistic information. But overall the current studies of modern human origins conducted by population geneticists suffer from unfortunate neglect for the impact of the social institutions of kinship and marriage on the patterns of genetic variation.

By way of a quick summary, what one can learn from the 20,000-entry strong interdisciplinary bibliography of kinship studies is that kinship studies have a strong potential to be developed into a fully interdisciplinary, cross-functional science. The peculiarity of the phenomenon of kinship lies precisely in its strong and consistent appeal to different disciplines and the existence of strong overlap in the approaches to kinship coming out of seemingly different fields. In a sense, kinship, marriage and the family may constitute the nexus of the social and biological sciences, the place where different disciplines can come to celebrate their underlying unity. The decline of kinship studies in anthropology from the late 1960s on can be explained not only as an outcome of cultural and epistemological shifts within anthropology, but also as the necessary product of a trans-anthropological nature of the kinship phenomenon itself. Was it anthropology that shed kinship, or was it kinship that outgrew anthropology? At the same time, scholars working in such fields as economics, sociology and philosophy have noted that, regrettably, relatively little attention is given to kinship in these disciplines. There seems to be an opportunity to export the learnings from the more kinship-focused sciences such as anthropology, linguistics, psychology and law into these other fields. Observations on the comprehensive interdisciplinary bibliography of kinship studies seems to bolster the recent controversial proposal by Marshall Sahlins (and in my Russian book The Phenomenon of Kinship (2001), I developed a similar thought drawing on Martin Heidegger’s philosophical anthropology) that kinship is an ontological, rather than a biological, social or symbolic reality.

Reviving Kinship Studies or Re-Inventing the Wheel? A Comment on Stephen Levinson

Friday, September 14th, 2012

On the heels of Kemp & Regier’s article “Kinship Categories Across Languages Reflect General Communicative Principles” published in Science, Stephen Levinson calls for a revival of kinship studies. Dan Sperber echoes with a post entitled “Is Kinship Back?” Levinson’s specialty is language and cognition, his piece was published in the Psychology section of Science. It fascinates me how versatile “kinship” is. People with different academic backgrounds end up talking with each other about the same thing – kinship. That’s why it has been possible to build a comprehensive bibliography of kinship studies across a wide range of scientific disciplines – anthropology, linguistics, psychology, economics, history, biology, etc. All these studies turn out to be interrelated either in the kinds of underlying questions being tackled or, more directly, in the overlapping references.

Levinson’s plea is of course very welcome. One thing to be mindful of is the danger of re-inventing the wheel under the pretext of reviving something. Kinship terminologies have always been the mice of the social sciences in a sense that a myriad of types of formal approaches were either designed for or tested on kinship terms. I’m talking about componential analysis, scalogram method, equivalence-rule analysis, graph theory, set theory, optimality theory, etc. Kemp & Regier (2012) add another layer to this plethora of formalizations. But it remains unclear what problems all of these approaches are trying to solve and whether the questions have already been answered or should not be asked in the first place. One of the problems with “traditional” kinship studies was their insularity. The formal approaches tend to reaffirm it because it is impossible to concisely model something that has empirical connections to naming, pronoun use, reported speech and a host of other phenomena. But it is precisely the multi-faceted nature of kinship terms (not their boundedness as a lexico-semantic class) that needs to be accounted for.

On another note, Levinson suggests the application to kinship studies of “computational techniques of biological phylogenetics to extract the historical development of patterning in cultural categories.” “Traditional” kinship studies out of anthropology has been doing this for the past 150 years since Lewis H. Morgan’s “invention of kinship” and my book “The Genius of Kinship” is the 2007 state-of-the-art in this subfield. Biological phylogenetics may be a more distant cousin to these approaches, while the comparative methodology in historical linguistics is a close sibling. And it’s precisely in the extent to which students of kinship can cross-pollinate with historical linguists that the visible progress in the dynamics of language-bound categories can be made. The application of Bayesian method derived from biological phylogenetics to kinship terminological evolution, as exemplified by Fiona Jordan’s 2011 paper “A Phylogenetic Analysis of the Evolution of Austronesian Sibling Terminologies” referenced by Levinson as showing “patterns of irreversible evolution,” can be misguided because the essential units of analysis, which require knowledge of both anthropology and linguistics, are not coded properly. (I communicated the problem to Fiona but apparently it was too late to fix it, hence the paper came out in its original form.) This will correspondingly result in the revival of “conjectural history” decried by Radcliffe-Brown, not of kinship studies.

Levinson is trying to enter kinship studies but, from the very onset, he does it with a wrong set of assumptions about kinship studies. These questionable assumptions can be dispelled by a thorough historiographic dive or they can be solidified by a narrow focus on the some of the most recent works that just scratch the surface of the field.

Svan Terms for ‘Sister’ and the Kartvelian Term for ‘Mother’ (With Notes on Basque and Burushaski)

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

As a follow-up to my earlier post, Heinz Fähnrichs Kartwelisches Etymologisches Worterbuch (2007, p. 119-120), which had existed in Georgian for 15 years before being translated into the more accessible German, contains an interesting etymological analysis of the Svan terms for ‘man’s sister’ and ‘woman’s sister’.

Svan is unique among Kartvelian languages in having special terms to denote siblings depending on Ego Gender. The pattern of contrasting man’s brother, woman’s brother, man’s sister, woman’s sister is very rare cross-linguistically. Unlike Klimov, Fähnrich sees the same root da– in both Svan u-d-il ‘woman’s sister’ (*udild, with the diminutive *-ild) and da-chwir ‘man’s sister’ (also in da-j ‘husband’s sister’). According to Klimov, the more specific meaning ‘woman’s sister’ found in Svan is original to the generalized meaning ‘sister’ found in the other Kartvelian languages. Another apparent archaism is the presence of the “frozen” obligatory possessive affix u– in the Svan form. We don’t know what the formant –chwir in ‘man’s sister’ comes from.

Since cross-linguistically (see The Genius of Kinship) sibling sets tend to lose semantic distinctions, rather than gain them, Svan must have lost the original term for either ‘man’s sister’ or ‘woman’s sister’. Root *da– came to replace it but it’s unclear which term is a survivor and which one is a replacement.

It’s possible that the underlying root *da– is further related to Kartvelian *ded- ‘mother, grandmother, woman, wife, mother-in-law’, which Fähnrich (pp. 128-129) presents in the following way:

If the Kartvelian term for ‘mother’ in its unreduplicated form is the ultimate source for the Svan terms for ‘man’s sister’, ‘woman’s sister’ and ‘husband’s sister’, then it’s easy to understand how the original independent stems for ‘man’s sister’ and ‘woman’s sister’ got replaced by a single-stem term. The system pulled a female term lacking Ego Gender semantics from the upper generation to create a new Ego-Gender-neutral form in the Ego generation. The morphology of u-d-il vs. the morphology of da-chwir are so different that it suggests that, since the replacement of the original terms for ‘man’s sister’, both u-d-il and da-chwir have undergone significant changes.

A close semantic parallel to the Kartvelian situation is furnished by Indo-European. Lith mosha ‘husband’s sister’ is a diminutive derivative of mote ‘mother’, while Albanian motre ‘sister’ goes back to IE *meH2ter ‘mother’. In the case of Albanian, it’s likely that the lowering of the ‘mother’ form to denote ‘sister’ (also Alb vella ‘brother’ comes from *awentlo-, which is found in Lat avus ‘grandfather’, Lat avunculus, Lith avynas and Breton eontr ‘mother’s brother’, see Huld, Martin E. 1984. Basic Albanian Etymologies. Columbus.) springs from an Omaha-type skewing in Proto-Indo-European (PIE) associated with patrilineal social organization. As part of this generational skewing, PF = MB = MBS and M = MZ = MBD. A later shift to ‘Hawaiian” or Generational nomenclature in Ego generation resulted in the form *awentlo– to acquire the meaning ‘mother’s brother’s son, mother’s sister’s son’, brother’. Finally, the shift from Generational to Lineal terminology led to the narrowing of the MBS = MZS = B semantic cluster to just refer to ‘brother’ (historical vella). It’s possible that Kartvelian has undergone a similar change and that the cognation of *ded– ‘mother’, *u-d-il ‘woman’s sister’ and da-chwir ‘man’s sister’ indicate that Proto-Kartvelian had an Omaha-type generational skewing, too.

Another Eurasian language that has the same 4-way division of sibling categories is Burushaski. But the neutralization woman’s sister ~ man’s sister in Svan is different from the neutralization found in Bur –co ‘a man’s brother; a woman’s sister’. In the Svan case, Ego Gender is neutralized, in the Burushaski case Referent Gender is neutralized.

Finally, Basque is the third language in Eurasia that displays the same pattern of classifying siblings. In all the Basque dialects but Biscayan (anaya mB, arrabea mZ, neba wB, aiztia wZ) Ego Gender is neutralized in the term for ‘brother’, so that Labourdin, Navarese, Guipuzcoan, Souletin have anay B, arreba mZ, ahizpa wZ.

While the three languages modify the original 4-term set in three different ways and the specific lexical forms don’t seem to be related, it’s possible that the rare sibling terminology attests to an ancient macrophylic unity underlying West Nostratic and West Dene-Caucasian.

From Complex to Simple: The Evolution of Tupi Sibling Terminologies

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Robert Walker has led another team of scholars applying the phylogenetic method to cultural and linguistic data. This time the paper entitled “Cultural Phylogenetics of the Tupi Language Family in Lowland South America” (free access) is about the reconstruction of the ancestor states for a set of 11 cultural variables for proto-Tupi (paternity beliefs, dances, sibling terminologies, post-marital residence, etc.), mapping it on the internal classification of the Tupi language family and circumscribing the likely geographical homeland for Tupi-speakers. Rob and I corresponded about this project back in 2006. Pursuant to those exchanges, Walker et al. used my database of kinship terminologies to code Tupi sibling terminologies for this paper (trait no. 5 in the table below). To simplify the coding they broke the Tupi sibling sets into two groups – complexly organized sets (type G) that lexicalize the semantic features of relatives age, relative sex and Ego-Sex and the simple sets without those distinctions. Walker et al.’s type G encompasses a wider variety of sibling set types than Murdock’s type G and my types G-5, G-6, G-8, but overall this rough division gives Walker et al. a good handle on understanding the dynamics of change in Tupi sibling terminologies. Notably, their conclusions are consistent with the evolutionary trend toward the simplification of sibling sets that I identified in the global sample. Now in addition to the well-documented sibling nomenclature simplification in Austronesian languages (see “The Genius of Kinship” for details and references), we have the case of Tupi languages displaying the same trend. It’s noteworthy, however, that in some cases Tupi languages show a more dramatic simplification of sibling sets, with languages such as Siriono going all the way from type G to type A (anóNge Sib) within the time afforded by the differentiation of the Tupi language family, but for the most part they maintain complexly differentiated sibling sets. At the same time Austronesian sibling terminologies show a less dramatic simplification from type 10 (the daughter type of G-8 and G-6) to type 1 but type 1 is very frequently found among them.

Walker et al. put the simplification trend in a concrete historical perspective pertaining to the evolution of Tupi social organization as a whole:

“Our phylogenetic reconstructions suggest that Proto-Tupi was likely characterized by a higher level of cultural complexity than seen in many contemporary Tupi societies and similar in many ways to the more complex Tupi societies (e.g., Munduruku and Tupinamba). Given correlations among several of the cultural traits examined here, it seems likely that some cultural traits are commonly lost together in culture-loss processes that reduce complexity in multiple social domains. The most extreme examples are for nomadic Tupi-Guarani hunter-gatherers that lived in small bands (Guaja, Siriono/Yuqui, Xeta, Ache). Trait reconstructions over the linguistic phylogeny indicate that these societies lost a number of cultural traits including canoes, shamans, ‘‘G’’ sibling terminology, and corporate structure, in addition to losing horticulture and sedentarism, in at least 4 independent events toward reduced cultural complexity.”

Walker et al. leave Juruna sibling terminology uncoded (? in their table on the left) but we do have information on Juruna sibling terms (uuraha o\\Sib, uidza y\\Sib, uadidja wB, uaibi mZ), which would make it fall into Walker et al.’s type G. Technically speaking, it’s type 10, according to the nomenclature adopted in The Genius of Kinship, which is derived from the most complex type G. It’s very rare in the New World but is typical for Austronesian-speakers and Papuans (likely an independent development from type G in both areas).

The divergent position of Karitiana in the Tupi linguistic tree (see below) caught my attention because of the complex nature of Karitiana kinship terminology outside of the sibling set. As described by Rachel Landin (Kinship and Naming among the Karitiana of Northwestern Brazil. M.A. thesis. University of Texas at Arlington, 1989), Karitiana kinship terminology is Bifurcate Collateral with Relative Age and Relative Sex distinctions in the parent generation. These distinctions are not typically found in Amazonia and the Relative Age distinctions in combination with Bifurcate Collateral segregation of same-sex and opposite-sex siblings of parents is more reminiscent of North American Indian terminologies (e.g., Uto-Aztecan, South Athabascan) than of South American ones. Intricate forms of name inheritance further complicate the kinship classification. It would be ideal to be able to compare Karitiana with Tupinamba and Munduruku to determine exactly the kind of social complexity is reconstructible for proto-Tupi. But overall the thesis of the simplification of Amazonian societies is consistent with the theory advanced by Paul Henley (South Indian Models in the Amazonian Lowlands. Manchester, 1996).

Finally, Walker et al. assume a genetic connection between Tupi and Carib languages (a linguistic proposal by Aryon Rodriguez that has received support from population genetics). Sibling terminologies seem to be consistent with this grouping as both Tupi and Carib languages are rich in examples of complexly differentiated sibling sets, all the way to Murdock’s and my type G. A few sibling terms in Tupi and Carib dialects are related, according to Rodriguez (see on the left, from Rodriguez 1985, p. 381, with Bk Bakairi, Gl Galibi, Tb Tupinamba, Tp Taulipang, Tr Tupari, Wn Wayana). If the same logic of simplification applies to the Tupi-Carib protolinguistic community, type G is reconstructible for this proto-language as well. Walker et al. may be able to prove or disprove this hypothesis applying the method of cultural phylogenetics.

Reading Ivan Bunin’s “A Merry Courtyard” Through the Lens of Marshall Sahlins’s Thoughts on Kinship

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

I was thoroughly pleased to read Marshall Sahlins’s two-part piece in JRAI entitled “What Kinship Is,” as it conjured up some the themes of my own book “The Phenomenon of Kinship” published in Russian in 2001. Basically, Sahlins argues for the need to think of kinship as an ontological problem transcending the nature-culture, natal-postnatal, real-fictive dichotomies politicized and perpetuated by the Schneiderian downturn in kinship studies. Sahlins amassed an impressive array of ethnographic examples that show that human kinship is fundamentally about the “mutuality of being,” as expressed through the dense networks of shared biological, material and mental substances that spring from the same ontological ground. Kinship involves fellow humans participating in each other’s existence, and, conversely, humanity is engendered, from an evolutionary standpoint, by the capacity for sharing psychological states with others, which is missing from the populations of big apes.

Sahlins refused to “drag the discussion of kinship into dark philosophical waters” – the risk I readily took in “The Phenomenon of Kinship.” When it came to the task of going beyond the pesky existential dichotomies in the study of kinship, it was too tempting for me not to attempt to read the anthropological turn in philosophical ontology that began with Martin Heidegger against anthropology, especially since anthropology is apochryphally defined as “empirical philosophy.” Sahlins latched on Descrates’s cogito ergo sum to exemplify the solipsistic orientation of Western philosophy, whereas I went a step further in trying to express the new kinship-like ontology as cogito ergo progigno (I think therefore I procreate). At the same time, Sahlins imports the generic concept of “ontology” into the anthropology of kinship by referring to the domains of kinship, nationalism, religion (in Schneider), magic and gift (in Viveiros de Castro) as ontologically (rather than “culturally,” as Schneider had it) similar. He sides with Viveiros de Castro in an anti-Schneiderian move to elevate kinship to the status of a cosmic totality instead of taking it off the table as a research subject. (I did the same thing in “The Phenomenon of Kinship” by coining the term “kinship cosmos.”) Sahlins follows Viveiros de Castro in inviting indigenous epistemologies to determine the exact way in which kinship acquires the status of a cosmic totality but at the same time he remains blind to the non-anthropological traditions of research into some of those ontologically kinship-like domains. Sahlins gives only a passing nod to linguistics, while mechanically cataloging the connections of his anthropological “mutuality of being” to such linguistic phenomena as personal pronouns, possessive predication and naming. “‘I think therefore I am’, said Descartes. ‘I also think. Therefore, I’m Descartes’.” Sahlins drops this Cartesian bon mot into an endnote without attempting to analyze the deictic and metapragmatic constituents of this philosophical paradox. Again, I chose to engage with linguistics on a much deeper level sensing the fundamental relevance of anthropological accounts of the social role of kinship terms, on the one hand, to linguistic approaches to “shifters” and speech act pragmatics and philosophical (as in Saul Kripke) approaches to naming reference, on the other. I arrive at a definition of kinship that emphasizes the interpenetration of the symbolic and the material, the cultural and the biological: kinship involves thinking with entities of your own kind, kinship is about treating fellow humans as signs of one another, a kinship system is a system of reproduction of unique human selves. Articulated in this way, kinship is renewed as a central object of anthropology, while putting anthropology in the center of linguistic, philosophical and other inquiries.

It’s rewarding to see Sahlins include death into his discussion of the “mutuality of being.” He borrows from Janet Carsten a catchy phrase “kinsmen are people who live each other’s lives and die each other’s deaths.”Most common,” writes Sahlins (pp. 231-232), “are mourning practices that signify a mutual death: that is, dying with one’s kinsmen by self-mutilation, tearing one’s clothing, going unwashed, not working, and other such forms of withdrawal from normal sociality.” I, too, both in “The Phenomenon of Kinship” (2001) and “The Genius of Kinship” (2007) integrated death into the definition of kinship and drew on Heidegger’s use of death as the way to give ontology a human, Da-Sein dimension. My interest in death from a kinship perspective originally stemmed from pure logic: if kinship is about birth and every birth is followed by death, then kinship must be equally about death and about birth. Sahlins’s examples (that can be further expanded, see “The Genius of Kinship”) demonstrate that, indeed, non-Western cultures treat death as much a kinship-constituting event as we treat birth. Among Inuits and !San, for example, it’s the reincarnation of a deceased person in a new born or the patterns of name inheritance that determine what kin relations are going to be and how kin terms are going to apply. This creates an impression of fluidity and arbitrariness of kinship relations but this is only because the exact paths of reincarnation and name inheritance are not as well understood as relations established through birth and marriage.

From a cross-cultural perspective, there’s something very limiting and artificial (in a curious contradiction to the notion of “fictive kinship”) in the folk Western and pre-constructivist anthropological focus on birth as the key constituent of what we call “kinship.” It’s not a matter to giving preference to biology vs. culture, as death is just as biological as birth. It’s a matter of cutting lived experience into arbitrary chunks. And Schneider, although he ostensibly revolted against the arbitrary labels, didn’t care about restoring the unity of lived experience, which is still longing for the “lost relatives” to re-unite.

In the context of the pronounced separation of kinship and death in Western cultures, it’s all the more intriguing to find an instance of the pairing of death and kinship in the Western literary tradition. The theme of kinship and death is explored by the Russian writer, Ivan Bunin, in “A Merry Courtyard” (Veselyi dvor) published in 1911 as part of a cycle of short stories about the Russian peasant countryside. They stand out as a departure from the more traditional 19th century depictions of Russian village life, such as Ivan Turgeven’s, centered on the estate of a landowner (dvorianskoe gnezdo, lit. “gentry’s nest”). Bunin’s writings tend to be uncompromising, illusion-free, critical, persnickety, often somber inquiries into the true nature of the Russian peasant condition. I’ve already blogged about Bunin here, here and here. This new gem goes to the heart of the issues raised by Sahlins for anthropological kinship studies.

The title of the story is sarcastic – villagers so dubbed one impoverished, unlucky, abusive household. It was run by a widow Anisya Minaeva, a woman so skinny from malnutrition that neighbors nicknamed her Ukhvat (Pan Handle). She was hard-working, humble, self-effacing and quiet. She lived there with her son, Yegor Minaev, who was a spitting image of his father – a foul-mouthed, ne’er do well who smoked like a chimney. They were different in only one way – Yegor was nicer and not abusive. Neighbors were okay with him and considered him a good stoveman, but despised him for being incapable of accruing wealth and building a life of his own. In every inner and outward respect, Yegor looked and acted the opposite from his mother, so that it was hard to believe they were parent and child. He was blondish, broad-boned, had a nasty habit of never taking off his shoes, always sick, sometimes cowardly, sometimes unabashed, always partying with other people away from home just to let another day pass by quicker. She was dark, skinny, dried-out “like a mummy,” even-tempered, humble and quiet, never sick, always barefoot, always lonely with an empty stomach, suffering from gripping sadness. Her other kids died, her husband froze to death, and her household soon after began to deteriorate. After a cock pecked her eye out, Anisya couldn’t find anymore work. The garden that she had – Yegor sold it. Every now and then she had to beg for food and money, but never did she remind her neighbors that there were times when she was helping them. “The earth has forgotten me, the sinful one,” Anisya used to say. Her sole purpose of existence was to save the house for Yegor when he gets married. But Yegor saw no reason to get married: “I never gonna marry. These days I’m free as a Cossack but once I marry I’ll have to care for my wife.” Yegor “didn’t care for family, property or motherland.”

One day Yegor was hired by a wealthy landowner to guard his woods, and he moved 15 miles away from his mother. His wages were paid in food with very little cash, so, once he moved out, he entirely stopped helping his mother. But he would use his elderly and sick mother as a pretext to ask his employer for advance wages, which he then would fritter away on booze with his buddy, a blacksmith. Sucking on the last morsel of bread, Anisya collected herself to go visit him hoping to live with him over the summer and partake of his food. “Even a defected child is beautiful in his mother’s eye,” she thought. “A son won’t refuse food to his mother,” a neighbor encouraged her. After a sleepless night, with her legs burned by bedbugs and stung by flies, she set out on her journey thanking God for the happiness of starting a new life, enjoying a new day and loving her son. But Anisya was too weak to handle the trip, and when she didn’t find Yegor in his roofless guardian’s dwelling, she lay down on a bench and passed away. Yegor, in the meantime was drinking vodka with his blacksmith buddy in another village close by talking about whether one can become a saint by eating only radish and whether tempering one’s body with ice-cold water will make it withstand putrefaction after death. When he returned home, he found her body and bellowed with his coarse voice scaring his dog out of her hideout in the bushes. Later, at the funeral Yegor drank so much that he almost passed away. “He danced right there at the grave for everybody’s entertainment oddly twisting his feet dressed in bast sandals, throwing his cap on the ground and giggling.” He felt a mix of emptiness and freedom. He aged quickly, within a month after his mother’s death. While she was alive, he felt younger – now nobody would call him “Anisya’s son,” just Yegor. “And the earth, the whole earth, just got empty.” Soon, when he was on a night watch with a group of teenagers and slept near railroad tracks, he suddenly woke up at dawn. The boys realized that something was wrong but Yegor calmed them down by smiling and saying he saw an apparition of sorts. They stayed awake and Yegor began telling them a story, while smoking, coughing and cursing after every word. As he heard a train approaching, he abruptly got on his feet, ran up the slope to the tracks and threw himself under the train.

As the drama was coming to an end, Bunin shifted from highlighting the differences between Anisya and Yegor to making some stark moral contrasts (the pointless procrastination of Yegor taking place at the time when his mother was dying in a forlorn guardian dwelling) and unearthing some critical similarities (“Yegor has been feeling lately what Anisya was feeling: physical frailty, diffused anxiety and disorderly thoughts”). Although far from being old, Yegor shared with his elderly mother the strange forebodings of death. His sight weakened, the darkness of the forest began assuming demonic shapes, and his guardian’s house started giving him nightmares. Anisya’s death came upon her through neglect by others, including Yegor. And Yegor himself kept having suicidal thoughts. Eventually, these suicidal thoughts came to fruition, thus laying bare the invisible ties of kinship that connected Yegor and his mother.

Reading Turgenev: Genealogies among Russian Serfs

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

In “Raspberry Water,” one of Ivan Turgenev’s “Sportsman’s Sketches” (1852), one finds a note related to genealogical reckoning among Russian serfs. He introduces the reader to Stepan (Stepushka), a young serf of unknown parentage who wasn’t listed in peasant censuses and didn’t receive any pay (in money or goods) from the landowner. This serf had no known kinship ties, no past and no residence. Then Turgenev mentions Grandpa Trofimych, ostensibly another serf, who knew the genealogies of all the serfs up to the fourth generation. Trofimych recalled that Stepan was a relative of a Turkish girl that the deceased landowner brought back from a military expedition.

19th century Russian kinship system was of Lineal type, with both maternal and paternal kin equally recognized and with no unilineal groupings. Hence genealogies were not diligently maintained by each and every family. Deep genealogies existed among nobility, as a tool legitimizing their rights and privileges. Among serfs, families had shallow genealogical knowledge. Only specialists such as Trofimych possessed interest in serf genealogies and they maintained them for a wide range of households. Interestingly, not only that serf Stepan didn’t have any known kindred, he wasn’t listed in censuses either. While in large-scale, state-run societies censuses provided a more accurate and comprehensive demographic outlook than genealogies, both form of human resource management complemented each other, so that an individual who had no kin didn’t make it into the census either.

Russian Kinship Thesaurus: I

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

In “Sukhodol” (1911), Ivan Bunin documents a saying “a wolf is no affine to a horse” (volk koniu ne svojstvennik) (Bunin I. A. Derevnia. Moscow, 1981, p. 171).

I personally have never heard this expression but recall a similar one “A horseman is no partner to a person on foot” (konnyj peshemu ne tovarisch). It’s likely that “affine” is an early symbol of contractual obligations superseded during the Soviet times by a new label generalized social contract – tovarisch “partner, comrade.”

Kinship Systems Shaped by Vertical Transmission, not Environment

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

One of the fundamental premises my book “The Genius of Kinship” is that human kinship systems and their linguistic expressions, kinship terminologies, are largely unacknowledged sources of insight into human prehistory and direct partners to historical linguistics and population genetics in the task of unraveling the enigma of modern human origins and dispersals. The following quote from an evolutionary anthropologist, Barry Hewlett, reinforces the same point:

“We are conducting further studies to evaluate the coevolution of genes, culture, and language in Africa and the Americas, and preliminary data suggest that kinship and family beliefs and practices tend to be conserved along with genes. In other words, aspects of kinship and family tend to be highly conserved, similar to genes, and their distribution across the landscape does not appear to be linked to adaptations to particular natural environments…The data imply that the current distribution of kinship and family patterns is due to demic diffusion and conservative cultural transmission. This is supported by a nonevolutionary study of kinship by Burton et al. (1996) where he uses a sophisticated analysis of kinship and family patterns to describe culture areas. His kinship culture areas fit very nicely with the world’s language and genetic distance trees (Jones 1999). He systematically generates two key dimensions of variability in family in kinship – a matricentric-patricentric continuum and a bilateral-unilineal continuum. For instance, Africa is strongly unilineal, but relatively egalitarian on the gender dimension, whereas the middle Old World (North Africa, the Middle East, South and Central Asia and most of China) is unilineal but patricentric. The distrubution of the various culture areas of kinship are linked to the movements and expansions of dominant peoples (e.g., demic diffusion and vertical transmission) throughout history (e.g., Bantu expansion)” (Hewlett, Barry S. “Neoevolutionary Perspectives on Human Kinship,” in New Directions in Anthropological Kinship, edited by Linda Stone. Lanham, 2001, p. 105).

It has taken evolutionary anthropologists 150 years to come around to the notion pioneered by the young Lewis H. Morgan that human kinship systems reflect what we might call these days “populational processes,” rather than abstract evolutionary stages. The Morgan of the “Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family” (1871) is very different from the Morgan of “Ancient Society” (1877) because of his new strong focus on those stages, rather than on geographically localized and demically conditioned types of kinship systems (the very name “Turano-Ganowanian” in the “Systems” was supposed to relate Tamil and Iroquois kinship systems into a tangible historical unity derived from the hypothesis of a migration of the ancestors of American Indians from Asia to the New World). While in those concrete specifics Morgan was wrong, the overall classification of kinship systems into “classificatory” and “descriptive” remains valid and finds parallels outside of kinship studies.

Generational Reversal in Names and Kinship Terms

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Lucy Mair in “Marriage and Family in the Dedza District of Nyasaland,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 81 (1-2), 1951, (p. 103) reports on the pragmatic functioning of descent names among Bantu-speaking Ngoni and Cewa.

Not only are they used vocatively, as one would expect, in the respect register but also, conversely, in playful address to small children. Typically, cross-linguistically, older and younger relatives are treated differently: older relatives are addressed using respectful forms, while younger children are addressed using familiar forms. For instance, children can often be addressed by their personal names, while they in turn must use kinship terms when addressing adults. But there’s a known property to kinship terms whereby in some cultures (Arabic, Georgian, Hopi, see The Genius of Kinship, pp. 156-157, for a more complete roster) adults and children within the same family reverse their normative kinship terms in direct address to each other, so that a child becomes “father,” “mother,” “grandfather,” “grandmother,” “uncle,” or “aunt” to a corresponding adult, and the other way around. It seems that among the Ngoni the use of a descent name in playful interactions with children belongs to the same category of pragmatic phenomena. It may function as an educational device, so that children learn descent names from an early age, or as a restricted relaxation of verbal prescription and taboos in specialized playful contexts.

Kinship and Naming: A Note about Warao

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

In his doctoral dissertation (The Warao: A Study in Microevolution.  University of California – Los Angeles, available online from HRAF), Mark Fleischman (pp. 65-66) reports on the centrality of kinship terms among the Warao:


“In small village groupings ego is unlikely to have much contact with very distant relatives. The social interdigitation of people living closely with one another would lead naturally to a greater complexity of terminology for people within the group. This specificity of kinship terminology within a small village group would negate any need for proper names for individuals, since, in most instances, the kinship term used by ego would show which individual he is addressing or talking about. Knowledge on the part of the others of all of ego’s relatives is necessary under these circumstances. Such information would be difficult to maintain in large living groups, or in groups where people are distantly, if at all, related. The Warao conform to the above expectations, and prior to missionary contact placed little importance on proper names.”


One of the key features of personal names is their referential precision. They are capable of referring to one individual and one individual only. The important point in the Warao quote above is that in small populations kinship terms possess greater specificity over personal names. It’s also noteworthy that Fleischman identifies the reason for why small populations often exhibit unusual complexity of their kinship categories and why complexity is not always of recent origin. This is the point I made in “The Genius of Kinship” when I postulated that Murdock’s “Complexly Differentiated Sibling Type” represents an evolutionary archaism and not a recent development. In a situation when other linguistic domains, such as personal names, numbers or pronouns, may be suppressed and underdifferentiated because of the lack of a strong functional need for these classifications, kinship terminological systems acquire a greater prominence as they take over some of the functions of those other linguistic domains.