Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ehe śoṣi! Hello world! The Tocharian A dictionary is now public!

Tocharian A dictionary
We have just added a Tocharian A dictionary in the languages section. It is fully browsable and material additions/updates are ongoing!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Language and genes: Let's think twice about it

We live in a period of time where information about anything is available to anyone. That includes papers in linguistics and genetics. Just because a person can read them, doesn’t mean that he/she can fully comprehend, process and evaluate the information given. Both linguistics and genetics are advanced sciences that require special studies and great commitment, it is not just something one can pick up in no time. They are also relatively new sciences, which means that there has been a period where those two fields have been maturing and are still maturing allowing views that were later found to be obsolete. Does that ring a bell? Maybe that many things in those fields are still open to everyone’s interpretation/selection?

You’ve definitely come across many blog/forum posts regarding languages and genes. With the rise of nationalism in our times, many have attempted to relate ethnic groups with each other, based on scarce linguistic or genetic data. Sometimes we know close to nothing about the language of a population, yet a common gene from a very small sample size is enough to make dithyrambic statements about it.

Even in the academic world the eagerness of explaining the relationship between languages and genes is a fact. For example, Cavalli-Sforza et al.’s (1992: 5620) concluded that “events responsible for genetic differentiation are very likely to determine linguistic diversification as well”. This view is not shared by most historical linguists for two reasons:

  1. A person has only one set of genes, while that person (or a population) can be multilingual, representing multiple languages.
  2. Individuals or whole communities can abandon one language and adopt another. People cannot abandon their genes nor adopt new ones.
Language shift (replacement) is common and there is no deterministic connection between languages and gene pools. Languages become extinct in populations that survive genetically while language replacement and extinction are frequent. Let’s have a look at some examples from both linguistics and genetics. A typical example of language adaptation/abandonment is seen in the near east. Many populations dropped their mother tongue for Arabic. Az-Zubayr ibn Al-Awam conquered Egypt with just 12000 men around 640 CE. The numbers of an invading army are in most cases not comparable to the local population. It is questionable if all those Arabs stayed in Egypt, but even if that is the case they were a tiny minority compared to the native Egyptian population, whose descendants today speak Arabic. The regions where Hurrian and Urartian were spoken are today inhabited by people who speak languages belonging to 3 different language families (Indo-European, Turkic and Semitic). On the reverse the same region exhibits some interesting cases. The J2 Y-haplogroup has a high frequency (and is even dominant) in populations speaking languages belonging to 5 different language families namely: Indo-European (Greeks/Cypriots, Italians, Albanians, Armenians, Kurds, Aromanian/Vlachs, Ossetians), North-East Caucasian (Ingush, Chechen), South Caucasian (Georgians, Laz), Semitic (Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, Jews) and Turkic (Anatolian Turks, Azeri, Kumyks). The original bearers of this haplogroup spoke a language predating all the above and in most cases unrelated to any of those families. The genetic lineage of a population, exceeds the life-time of a language. The vast majority of populations that once spoke a dead language did not die out, but rather shifted to other languages. While the current Greek speaking Cretans of the Lasithi plateau are genetically identical to their Minoan ancestors, the Minoan language is long gone along with any unknown to us related languages. On the reverse again, Saami people, despite having parallels with Siberian peoples in mythology, dermatoglyphics and some cultural features, show almost no genetic relations to Siberian populations. The examples are so many, ranging from the notorious “Hungarian case” to the current language situation in the Americas. We can practically go on forever!

Nevertheless, all the examples above do not prohibit a relation between languages and genes. Significant contributions from linguistic-genetic collaboration are possible. Territories sparsely inhabited can be settled by a large number of newcomers. Although this does not happen too often, a group of people may come to uninhabited territories and nobody else comes there after them. Such events occurred way back in human history, while their frequency was reduced after the adoption of an agricultural lifestyle which in turn lead to permanent settlement and population growth.

One thing is certain and that is the fact that both linguistics and genetics will continue to intrigue people. They are going to talk about it and spread their interpretation and understanding, even when they do not master any of these sciences.

Further reading/listening

Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca, Eric Minch, and J. L. Mountain. "Coevolution of genes and languages revisited." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 89.12 (1992): 5620-5624.

Campbell, Lyle. "Do Languages and Genes Correlate?." Language Dynamics and Change 5.2 (2015): 202-226.

Burlak, Svetlana. "Languages, DNA, relationship and contacts." Вестник Российского государственного гуманитарного университета 5 (106) (2013).

Klein W., “Language and Genetics”, Research Perspectives of the Max Planck Society (2010)

Mallory J.P., "Indo-European Dispersals and the Eurasian Steppe", Penn Museum Silk Road Symposium, March 2011, retrieved January 5 2017

Language and genes

Can you guess the mother tongue of these people and the language their ancestors were speaking 80 generations back?

Language and genes

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Major update in the Proto-Indo-European dictionary

Proto-Indo-European roots and their outcome in various languages
We've made a major update to the Proto-Indo-European dictionary. More than 250 roots have been updated/revised, while ~ 2100 new roots have been introduced. There might be few duplicates, but we're going to merge them soon.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Urartian dictionary is available!

As promised, a browsable Uratian dictionary is now available in the public dictionaries section. We have collected a huge number of sources making this dictionary the most complete you will find online. We still have work to do regarding the commentary, the Hurrian equivalents, the loans from and to Armenian, personal names, toponyms and the affixes.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Palaeolexicon version 3 is here!

We have a new website which will improve your overall experience, especially on small devices! Be sure to check the following new features:

  • Optimized for better mobile and tablet experience.
  • Improved search engine looking for relevant terms e.g. wife > married woman.
  • Reversed meaning - word index.
  • Heurestics AI helping you to spot fast related words across languages. Read more about it here.
  • A table of (macro-) Altaic phonology was added.
  • New languages layout allowing you to switch from grid and tree view.
  • Updates on some of the language articles. 
  • The result grids can now be controlled with the keyboard (Arrow buttons and ENTER).
Last but not least we have posted a new article called: Pre-Pre-Greek: Traces of a hunter gatherer substrate in Greek.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pre-Pre-Greek: Traces of a hunter-gatherer substrate in Greek

The Greek language is a gold mine of substrate words, consisting of  > 1000 non-Indo-European words. Among those there are two large distinct groups: a) Pre-Greek1 words that are restricted to Greece proper and the Aegean (incl. Asia Minor), b) Mediterranean words that are shared with Latin, Armenian, Akkadian and other languages of the near east. There is however one more small group of words that have been marked by Furnée, Beekes and others as ‘European’. Those have no Indo-European root, but do occasionally appear in other Indo-European languages2. What is striking about those words is that they could belong to the vocabulary of a hunter-gatherer.

Let us have a look on few examples:

  • βάσκιοι ‘bundles of firewood
  • βόνασος ‘aurochs
  • γλοιός  ‘glutinous substance, gum’, CS glěnъ ‘slime’, OHG klenan ‘stick, smear’, Latin glittus ‘sticky
  • γράβιον ‘torch, oak-wood’, Ru. grab ‘horn-beam’, OPr. wosigrabis
  • γῡ́πη  ‘cavity in the earth, den, corner’, γύπας/γύψ  ‘hut, den, nest of young birds, a habitation below the earth, caverns’, connected with a Gm. word for ‘room, cave, etc’ ON kofi , OE cofa, MoHG koben, etc.
  • τρύφ-/θρυπ- ‘fragment, softness, wantonness’, Latv. drubaža ‘piece, fragment’, OIr. drucht ‘drop’, ON drjupa ‘to drip
  • καμασήν ‘name of a fish’, Lith. šãmas ‘sheatfish’, Latv. sams
  • καπνός ‘smoke, steam’, Lith. kvãpas ‘breath, smell’, Goth. af-ƕapnan ‘to extinguish’ - could however be Pre-Greek and not European.
  • καρβάτιναι ‘shoes of unprepared leather’, Lith. kùrpė ‘shoe’, Cz. krpě, ON hriflingr, OE hrifeling, OIr. cairem ‘shoe maker
  • καρπός ‘fruit, fruits of the earth, corn, yields’, Latin carpo ‘to pluck (off)’, Lith. kerpu ‘to cut with scissors’, OHG herbist ‘autumn’ < *karpistrobest time to pluck
  • κλαγγή ‘(shrill) sound, cry of an animal’, ON hlakka ‘to cry’, Latin clango
  • κρόμμυον ‘onion, Allium Cepa’, MIr. crim, OE hramsan, MoHG rams, Lith kermùšė ‘wild garlic’, Ru.čeremšá ‘Allium ursinum
  • σκάπτω ‘to dig, dig out, work the earth’, scabō ‘to scratch’, OHG ‘scaban’, Lith. skabiu ‘to scoop out with a chisel
  • τραπέω ‘to tread’, ἀτραπός ‘foot-path’, PGrm *trappon, MLG trappen ‘to stamp


  1. By the term Pre-Greek we refer to a substrate of one or more non-Indo-European languages spoken before the arrival of the first proto-Indo-European speakers to Greece. This substrate might be a so called agricultural substratum, carried by the first farmers who settled in Greece approximately 9000 years ago. Pre-Pre-Greek as the title reads would be the language spoken before what we refer to as Pre-Greek.
  2. The fact that a word appears in several Indo-European languages does not make it Indo-European, as it might not fit the Proto-Indo-European phonology and morphology.

Further reading

Beekes, Robert Stephen Paul, and Lucien Van Beek., Etymological dictionary of Greek. Leiden: Brill, 2010.
Furnée, Edzard J.  Die wichtigsten konsonantischen Erscheinungen des Vorgriechischen: mit einem Appendix über den Vokalismus. Mouton, 1972.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Alexarchos of Macedon, the word maker (350-290 BC)

If you think that spending hours for language studies constitutes a modern priviledge/habit, you're wrong! Apparently there were lunatics like you (and all of us) in the ancient world. One of them was Alexarchos of Macedon, a scholar and (unfortunately) an officer. Worst of all, he was son of Antipater and brother of Cassander, the king of Macedon. Why is that so bad you will ask? Well, you're about to find out.

According to Athenaeus (3.54) citing Herakleides Lembos, this guy was very keen on creating his own words and ways of speech. Here's exactly what he says:

Such a man was Alexarchos, the brother of Cassander, who was king of Macedonia and who built the city called Ouranopolis. Heracleides Lembos speaks concerning him in the seventh book of his Histories, and says “Alexarchus, who founded the city Ouranopolis, imported many peculiar words and forms of speaking into the language: calling a cock ὀρθροβόας (he that crows in the morn/right time),  and a barber βροτοκέρτης (one who cuts men) and a drachma he called ἀργυρὶς (a piece of silver) and a chœnix he called ἡμεροτροφὶς (what feeds a man for a day) and a herald he called ἀπύτης (someone with a loud voice). Once he wrote a letter to the magistrates of the Cassandrians in this form: αλέξαρχος ὁ μάρμων πρόμοις γαθεῖν. τοὺς ἡλιοκρεῖς οἰῶν οἶδα λιποῦσα θεωτῶν ἔργων κρατήτορας μορσίμῳ τύχᾳ κεκυρωμένας θεοῦ πόγαις χυτλώσαντες αὐτοὺς, καὶ φύλακας ὀριγένεις.” But what that letter means think that even the Pythian Apollo himself could hardly tell. 

Now imagine; an ambitious man, brother of your king, whose dialect was only surpassed in horridness by Eleian and Pamphylian, sends you a letter with his own language "innovations", that YOU have to answer or comment on.

Good luck - have fun!

PS: Alexarchos words are nevertheless included in the database. It is the least we can do for him today.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Let the Hittites and the Luwians speak!

We're so excited to announce that the Hittite and Luwian dictionaries are now available for browsing! For starters we provide you the basic vocabulary (with cuneiform representations), but as time passes the dictionaries will be enriched with more words. You will find the dictionaries in the "Languages" page, under Indo-European/Anatolian. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Summer update

There are some nice updates and news available this for you week:

  1. There's a new article about the biblical Goliath and the etymology of his name. Was he a Carian?
  2. We've got a new, very useful tool available that will help you with the basic sound correspondences between major Indo-European groups.
  3. We're working on some new dictionaries, specifically cuneiform Luwian, Hittite and Ancient Macedonian. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Was Goliath a Carian?

That's a bold title isn't it? It doesn't matter. Let's start with the basics: Who was Goliath? Don't take it for granted that everyone knows.

Old testament, book of Samuel, chapter 17

και συνάγουσιν οι αλλόφυλοι τας παρεμβολάς αυτών εις πόλεμον και συνάγονται εις Σοχώ της Ιουδαίας και παρεμβάλλουσιν αναμέσον Σοχώ και αναμέσον Αζηκά εν Αφεσδομίν και Σαούλ και οι άνδρες Ισραήλ συνάγονται και παρεμβάλλουσιν εν τη κοιλάδι της τερεβίνθου ούτοι και ούτοι και παρατάσσονται εις πόλεμον εξεναντίας των αλλοφύλων και αλλόφυλοι ίστανται επί του όρους ενταύθα και Ισραήλ ίσταται επί του όρους ενταύθα και ο αυλών αναμέσον αυτών και εξήλθεν ανήρ δυνατός εκ της παρατάξεως των αλλοφύλων Γολιάθ ην όνομα αυτώ εκ Γεθ ύψος αυτού τεσσάρων πηχέων και σπιθαμής και περικεφαλαία χαλκή επί της κεφαλής αυτού και θώρακα αλυσιδωτόν αυτός ενδεδυκώς και ο σταθμός του θώρακος αυτού πέντε χιλιάδες σίκλων χαλκού και σιδήρου και αι κνημίδες αυτού χαλκαί επί των σκελών αυτού και ασπίς χαλκή αναμέσον των ώμων αυτού και ο κοντός του δόρατος αυτού ωσεί μεσάντιον υφαινόντων και η λόγχη αυτού εξακοσίων σίκλων σιδήρου και ο αίρων τα όπλα αυτού προεπορεύετο αυτού και έστη και ανεβόησεν εις την παράταξιν Ισραήλ και είπεν αυτοίς ινατί εκπορεύεσθε παρατάξασθαι εις πόλεμον εξεναντίας ημών ουκ εγώ ειμι αλλοφύλος και υμείς Εβραίοι του Σαούλ εκλέξασθε εαυτοίς άνδρα και καταβήτω προς με και εάν δυνηθή πολεμήσαι μετ΄ εμού και πατάξη με και εσόμεθα υμίν εις δούλους εάν δε εγώ καταδυναστεύσω αυτού και πατάξω αυτόν έσεσθε ημίν εις δούλους και δουλεύσετε ημίν και είπεν ο αλλόφυλος ιδού εγώ ωνείδισα την παράταξιν Ισραήλ σήμερον εν τη ημέρα ταύτη δότε μοι άνδρα και μονομαχήσομεν αμφότεροι και ήκουσε Σαούλ και πας Ισραήλ τα ρήματα του αλλοφύλου ταύτα και εξέστησαν και εφοβήθησαν σφόδρα.

The foreigners (Philistines) gathered their army for battle. They collected at Socho in Judea. They piched camp at Aphes Dammin, between Sokoh and Azekah. Saul and the men of Israel gathered and camped in the valley of Terebinthos and drew up their battle line to meet the foreigners (Philistines). The foreigners (Philistines) occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the canyon between them. Then a strong man came out of the camp of the foreigners (Philistines), named Goliath, of Gath. Goliath was enormous in size, over three meters (nine feet) tall, and wore a bronze helmet and a coat of scale armour of bronze and iron weighing 60 kg (132 lbs). On his legs he wore bronze greaves and between his shoulders a bronze javelin. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed 7 kg (15 lbs). His shield bearer went ahead of him. Goliath shouted to the Israelite battle lines “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a foreigner (Philistine) and are you not the Hebrews of Saul? Choose yourselves a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us”. Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” When Saul and his Israelites heard this they were dismayed and terrified.

Does this sound familiar so far? If not then lets make a long story short... David from the Israelite side accepted the challenge and killed the enormous Goliath with a single sling shot. 

The point of this article though is not to narrate you a story with a happy ending. David is not our man in this case. Goliath is. He bears a name that is definitely not Semitic. The Philistines, his people, are believed to belong to the so called “sea people”. The sea people are believed to have come from the Aegean region, but their ethnicity is a matter of discussion. Most probably, they consisted of a number of ethnic groups. Goliath might have belonged to one of them.

Few years ago, a late Iron Age I/early Iron Age II Old Canaanite inscription was found in Tell es-Safi/Gath (where Goliath came from). The inscription derives from a clear archaeological context and is written on a fragment of a chronologically indicative, red-slipped and hand-burnished ceramic bowl. 

The inscription contains two personal names ʾalwt and wlt. Those names were reminiscent of Lydian names such as Alyattes as well as Hittite names ending in -wattas, although objections were raised in regard to the phonology. Few years after the discovery of the Gath ostracon, some Carian inscriptions from Thessaloniki, Greece came into light.

In one of them the name wljat appears. This name has a perfect match with the Carian names rendered in Greek Ολιατος / Υλιατος. So we have Carian wjliat and Canaanite wlt. That's a good match, but it is still not Goliath. How does the initial /g/ (gimel) in Hebrew explain its presence? Ancient Hebrew does have a /w/, but one does not find words beginning with /w/, because proto-Semitic *w became *j in this language. Therefore, a substitution of the Carian /w/ with a gimel is fully possible. Such a substitution is far from unique e.g. English William → French Guillaume.

There you go... The non-Semitic name Goliath, was most probably a Carian name. That of course doesn't make all the Philistines Carians. Carians used to fight for foreign powers as mercenaries e.g. in Egypt. The person who inscribed the name 'wlt' was apparently not the mythical Goliath, but most probably a Carian soldier spending some time inscribing his name on ceramics.

Regarding the etymology of the name W(u)ljat / W(o)ljat, it probably comes from a PIE verbal root which means ‘to be strong’ (*ṷelH-) and in this sense would fit very well with the strength of the giant who is described in the Greek text of Samuel as ανήρ δυνατός 'strong man'.

Further reading

Aren M. Maeir, Stefan J. Wimmer, Alexander Zukerman and Aaron Demsky, "A Late Iron Age I/Early Iron Age II Old Canaanite Inscription from Tell eṣ-Ṣâfī/Gath, Israel: Palaeography, Dating, and Historical-Cultural Significance", Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 351 (Aug., 2008), pp. 39-71

Mariona Vernet Pons, "The etymology of Goliath in the light of Carian pn Wljat/Wliat: a new proposal", Kadmos Bd. 51, S. 143–164© WALTER DE GRUYTER 2012

Ignacio J. Adiego - Michalis Tiverios - Eleni Manakidou - Despoina Tsiafakis, "Two Carian Inscriptions from Karabournaki / Thessaloniki, Greece", Stephanèphoros de l’économie antique à l’asie mineure, Bordeaux 2012

Image sources

David and Goliath - By Jack Hayes
Defiance of Goliath James by Tissot (1836-1902) Jewish Museum, New York

Friday, May 1, 2015

The pre-Celtic substratum.

The Celtic languages were spread in a vast area of western and central Europe. There's no doubt that these regions, had been settled by humans for many millennia before any speakers of Celtic languages could have arrived there. With exception to few known languages (e.g Basque, Rhaetic), there is no attested documentation of these pre-Celtic languages. Some scholars have attempted to identify evidence for their survival into the first millennium CE via the examination of lexical items which bear phonological features which, they argue, cannot be Celtic, in fact not even Indo-European.

In the beginning of the 20th century, Morris Jones was the first to focus on a number of syntactic
parallels between Welsh and Egyptian (also Berber to some extent). He did not propose that an Afro-Asiatic substratum was necessary to explain the insular Celtic features, but he did raise the question. Many followed this idea for several decades, including Hewitt (2009) who listed 39 features which have been proposed as diagnostic of contact between proto-insular Celtic and a language of Afro-Asiatic type. In 1949, Julius Pokorny saw parallels not only from Afro-Asiatic languages, but also from Bantu, Basque, Caucasian, Finno-Ugric, and Eskimo-Aleut. Heinrich Wagner (1959) followed Pokornys steps, but focused mainly on the verbal system which is of Afro-Asiatic typology, but not necessarily Afro-Asiatic genetically. It would be wise to keep Wagner's conclusion in mind.

In general the Afro-Asiatic substratum theory, although enjoying some popularity, has never found much favor with scholars of the Celtic languages. Graham Isaac (2007) for instance was very critical and attacked this substratum theory. He noted, just like Hewitt, that many of the proposed parallels with Afro-Asiatic are common cross-linguistically. T. A. Mikhailova (2007) calls those theories (including Basque, Uralic, Altaic, Kartvelian, Hamito-Semitic etc) "fantastic speculations" and that the problem itself has become a perpetuum mobile of Celtic and Germanic studies. Of course, Basque cannot be denied as a substratum in continental Celtic, but we cannot speak of Basque substratum wherever Celtic was spoken.

Many of these theories focus mainly on insular Celtic. The number of languages that were spoken in the continental region is unknown. The same is true for the British isles. Whenever the Celtic speakers arrived there, they were probably not numerous (in comparison to the local population) — there is hardly any archaeological evidence for large-scale migrations into Britain or Ireland in the Bronze Age. Most probably there were many substratum languages when the Celts entered the British isles, and the languages of those Celts were already differentiated by that time. The same can be seen in the Italian penisnsula, where Picene and Etruscan were unrelated to each other. Then we have the migrations of the early farmers into Europe. They in turn must have been speaking a language totally different from any of the aforementioned language groups of this article (a language related to Hattic, to Urartian or another unknown language?) and possibly made some contribution to the development of Celtic in the central European regions.

So, what is the deal with pre-Celtic? We do not attempt to reach a conclusion on this article, other than the substrata influence on Celtic may have had numerous sources.

Further reading

Hildegard L.C. Tristram (ed.),  ʻThe Celtic Languages in Contactʼ, 2007 Potsdam University Press
S. Hewitt, ʻRemarks on the Insular Celtic / Hamito-Semitic questionʼ, 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
R. Matasović, ʻThe substratum in Insular Celticʼ, 2012 Journal of Language Relationship
J.F Eska, ʻContact and the Celtic Languagesʼ in "The Handbook of Language Contact", 2010 Willey - Blackwell

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Safaitic is the first Semitic language to enter the list of public dictionaries!

The first Semitic language to have a public dictionary is Safaitic, an ancient north Arabic dialect. There was not even a font for it, so we had to create one from scratch. It's not a beauty, but we will improve it by time. When it is good enough, we will release it for free.

As for the dictionary, it is by no means complete. It is more or less the basic vocabulary.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Vikings are here!

It took some time, but it is finaly here! A browsable old Norse dictionary including the runes is available under the languages section. On top of that you get a proto-Kartvelian word list as a bonus. Meanwhile a massive update with a browsable Tocharian B dictionary is on the way.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Eteocypriot dictionary!

A new dictionary is available under the Aegean-Anatolian branch of the language tree called Eteocypriot. Eteocypriot is an unknown language (or languages) that appears in various Cypriot documents. Even though it is possible to read it, the language(s) is not understood and therefore the "dictionary" (it is more of a word index actually) has no meanings attached to its words. Basic commentary regarding the inscriptions is available, but work is still in progress.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The black sea deluge, the Samothracian language and a new ancient Macedonian inscription

There are new articles available on the articles section:
  1. The great deluge - a pre-Abrahamic version of the flood as told by the people of Samothrace
  2. One more ancient Macedonian inscription?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

One more ancient Macedonian inscription? - updated 2014-07-20

(this article has received an update, presented below the original post from the 2014-07-15, on the 2014-07-20)

Since 1930 thousands oracular lamellae inscriptions have been found in Dodona. Most of them are very short and fragmented. However some are complete and since the visitors usually wrote the questions in their own dialect (or asked local writers to do it for them), they offer a great opportunity for studying those ancient Greek dialects. The northwestern Greek dialect is dominating, since Dodona is located in the region it was spoken, however there are several inscriptions that are of special interest. One of them took the attention of Julian Mendez Dosuna, who released a monograph about the Dodonean lamellae few years ago. The inscription reads:
Ζεῦ καί Διώνα ᾖ ἔσσονται παῖ-
δες ἐκ τᾶς γυναικός Κεβαλίωι
τᾶς νῦν ἔχει κ[α]ι ζώσοντι;
Zeus and Dione,
will Kebalios have children from his current wife? Will they live?
Now this inscription is full of peculiarities: a) it is not Attic-Ionic (e.g. ζώσοντι instead of ζώσουντι, Διώνα / τᾶς instead of Διώνη / τῆς), b) it is not Doric (ἔσσονται / ζώσοντι instead of ἐσσέονται / ζωσέοντι), c) it is not Boeotian (for a number of reasons like for example Zeus would be written Δεῦ, ἔσσονται / ζώσοντι would be ἔσσονθη / ζώσονθι) and d) it is most probably not Thessalian (for a number of reasons again, one of them being the dative Κεβαλίωι instead Κεβαλίου).

So what is it? Dosuna says that those peculiarities are to be found as exceptions in Thessalian inscriptions, but there are good reasons to believe the inscription is not Thessalian, but Macedonian. There is no doubt that the name Κεβάλιος is a dialectal form of a name deriving from κεφαλή “head”. Hesychius equates the orphan κεβαλή with κεφαλή in his dictionary. The use of β in the place of φ is a typical characteristic of Macedonian.

Dosuna underlines that a single anthroponym cannot be a definite criterion for the dialectical classification of an inscription, but all those peculiarities together speak strongly for a distinct Greek dialect - possibly Macedonian. If that is the case, this would be the third longer Macedonian text (the other two being the Pella katadesmos and the Arethousa text) available to us. Dialectical inscriptions from Macedonia exist, however their small length does not allow any safe conclusions.

The inscription is unfortunately not widely known. Until recently the inscription was still unpublished and it's current status remains unknown. In the beginning of the year the library of the archaeological institute in Athens published two volumes called «Τα χρηστήρια ελάσματα της Δωδώνης των ανασκαφών Δ. Ευαγγελίδη» which should contain the inscription. We don't have it in our hands yet, but if anything new comes up, you'll know it immediately.

Source: Julián Víctor Méndez Dosuna - Παρατηρήσεις στις νέες πινακίδες της Δωδώνης, Studies in Greek Linguistics 27, 2007

UPDATE 2014-07-20

Apparently the inscription is now published (Dakaris, Vokotopoulou & Christidis, No2493A, Dodona Museum, 871) and is dated to the 4th century BC. It is presented by J. M. Dosuna (2012) as a dialectal inscription that might represent written Macedonian.

The name Κεβαλινός, that is essential in the context, enjoyed a certain popularity during the Hellenistic period all over Greece. Emilio Crespo (2012) makes some very important comment on the name regarding it's phonology. He considers it to be a hybrid, that is to say it mixes together a Greek and a Brygian¹ treatment of the inherited aspirates. Below you'll find his analysis:

Κεβαλῖνος derives from the root *gʰebʰ(e)l- witnessed in OHG gebal ‘skull’ (see Chan traine, DELG s.v. κεφαλή). The first plosive in Κεβαλῖνος is in keeping with what is expected in Greek, but its second consonant presents the characteristic Macedonian voiced plosive instead of the expected voiceless aspirate of other Greek dialects. The regular phonetic outcome would be Κεφαλῖνος in Greek and *Γεβαλῖνος in the supposed Brygian. Κεβαλῖνος is not a borrowing from Brygian *Γεβαλῖνος, but the result of a partial phonetic interference on Greek Κεφαλῖνος. In other words, we can recon struct the following sequence of changes for Greek:

  1. inherited form: *ghebʰ(e)l-;
  2. pre-Mycenaean devoicing of inherited voiced aspirates: kʰepʰal-;
  3. post-Mycenaean dissimilation of aspirates (Grassmann ’s Law): kepʰal-;
  4. partial phonetic interference caused by a non-Greek Indo-European language in which the inherited aspirate plosives lost their aspiration: kebal(īnos).

If this chronological sequence of changes holds, the conclusion to be drawn is that the influence of the supposed non-Greek language on the Macedonian dialect of Greek is post-Mycenaean. It should be noted that Κεφαλῖνος  is not the Brygian outcome, but a hybrid that mixes together a Greek and a Brygian treatment of the inherited aspirates. This means that Κεβαλῖνος is not a lexical item borrowed as such by Greek, but a Greek word that underwent the transfer of a plosive as a result of the phonetic interference caused by the consonant that the same word had in another language spoken in the same community. 

1. Brygian is the hypothetical language spoken by the remaining Phrygian population in the Balkans. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The great deluge - a pre-Abrahamic version of the flood as told by the people of Samothrace

Today we're going to talk about another flood story, not widely known to the public. Most of you probably know there are about 200 flood stories out there including Noah, Gilgamesh, Manu, Deucalion and so on. This one is different for a number of reasons. Let us explain:

  • It claims it predates the other floods that hit other people.
  • The flood is not initiated by some god for punishing humanity, instead the victims are asking the help of their gods.
  • It narrates more or less the flood known among geologists as the Black Sea deluge.
  • It mentions an unknown pre-historic language.

So, who tells us about it? It is the people of the island of Samothrace, through the narrations of Diodorus Siculus

Greek English (by C. Oldfather)
Περὶ δὲ τῶν κατὰ τὴν Ἑλλάδα καὶ τὸ Αἰγαῖον πέλαγος κειμένων νῦν διέξιμεν, τὴν ἀρχὴν ἀπὸ τῆς Σαμοθρᾴκης ποιησάμενοι.

ταύτην γὰρ τὴν νῆσον ἔνιοι μέν φασι τὸ παλαιὸν Σάμον ὀνομασθῆναι, τῆς δὲ νῦν Σάμου κτισθείσης διὰ τὴν ὁμωνυμίαν ἀπὸ τῆς παρακειμένης τῇ παλαιᾷ Σάμῳ Θρᾴκης Σαμοθρᾴκην ὀνομασθῆναι.

ᾤκησαν δ´ αὐτὴν αὐτόχθονες ἄνθρωποι· διὸ καὶ περὶ τῶν πρώτων γενομένων παρ´ αὐτοῖς ἀνθρώπων καὶ ἡγεμόνων οὐδεὶς παραδέδοται λόγος.

ἔνιοι δέ φασι τὸ παλαιὸν Σαόννησον καλουμένην διὰ τοὺς ἀποικισθέντας ἔκ τε Σάμου καὶ Θρᾴκης Σαμοθρᾴκην ὀνομασθῆναι.

ἐσχήκασι δὲ παλαιὰν ἰδίαν διάλεκτον οἱ αὐτόχθονες, ἧς πολλὰ ἐν ταῖς θυσίαις μέχρι τοῦ νῦν τηρεῖται.

οἱ δὲ Σαμόθρᾳκες ἱστοροῦσι πρὸ τῶν παρὰ τοῖς ἄλλοις γενομένων κατακλυσμῶν ἕτερον ἐκεῖ μέγαν γενέσθαι, τὸ μὲν πρῶτον τοῦ περὶ τὰς Κυανέας στόματος ῥαγέντος, μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα τοῦ Ἑλλησπόντου.

τὸ γὰρ ἐν τῷ Πόντῳ πέλαγος λίμνης ἔχον τάξιν μέχρι τοσούτου πεπληρῶσθαι διὰ τῶν εἰσρεόντων ποταμῶν, μέχρι ὅτου διὰ τὸ πλῆθος παρεκχυθὲν τὸ ῥεῦμα λάβρως ἐξέπεσεν εἰς τὸν Ἑλλήσποντον καὶ πολλὴν μὲν τῆς Ἀσίας τῆς παρὰ θάλατταν ἐπέκλυσεν, οὐκ ὀλίγην δὲ καὶ τῆς ἐπιπέδου γῆς ἐν τῇ Σαμοθρᾴκῃ θάλατταν ἐποίησε·

καὶ διὰ τοῦτ´ ἐν τοῖς μεταγενεστέροις καιροῖς ἐνίους τῶν ἁλιέων ἀνεσπακέναι τοῖς δικτύοις λίθινα κιονόκρανα, ὡς καὶ πόλεων κατακεκλυσμένων.

τοὺς δὲ περιληφθέντας προσαναδραμεῖν εἰς τοὺς ὑψηλοτέρους τῆς νήσου τόπους· τῆς δὲ θαλάττης ἀναβαινούσης ἀεὶ μᾶλλον, εὔξασθαι τοῖς θεοῖς τοὺς ἐγχωρίους, καὶ διασωθέντας κύκλῳ περὶ ὅλην τὴν νῆσον ὅρους θέσθαι τῆς σωτηρίας, καὶ βωμοὺς ἱδρύσασθαι, ἐφ´ ὧν μέχρι τοῦ νῦν θύειν· ὥστ´ εἶναι φανερὸν ὅτι πρὸ τοῦ κατακλυσμοῦ κατῴκουν τὴν Σαμοθρᾴκην.
We shall now give an account of the islands which lie in the neighbourhood of Greece and in the Aegean Sea, beginning with Samothrace.

This island, according to some, was called Samos in ancient times, but when the island now known as Samos came to be settled, because the names were the same, the ancient Samos came to be called Samothrace from the land of Thrace which lies opposite it.

It was settled by men who were sprung from the soil itself; consequently no tradition has been handed down regarding who were the first men and leaders on the island.

But some say that in ancient days it was called Saonnesus and that it received the name of Samothrace because of the settlers who emigrated to it from both Samos and Thrace.

The first and original inhabitants used an ancient language which was peculiar to them and of which many words are preserved to this day in the ritual of their sacrifices.

And the Samothracians have a story that, before the floods which befell other peoples, a great one took place among them, in the course of which the outlet at the Cyanean Rocks was first rent asunder and then the Hellespont.

For the Pontus, which had at the time the form of a lake, was so swollen by the rivers which flow into it, that, because of the great flood which had poured into it, its waters burst forth violently into the Hellespont and flooded a large part of the coast of Asia and made no small amount of the level part of the island of Samothrace into a sea;

and this is the reason, we are told, why in later times fishermen have now and then brought up in their nets the stone capitals of columns, since even cities were covered by the inundation.

The inhabitants who had been caught by the flood, the account continues, ran up to the higher regions of the island; and when the sea kept rising higher and higher, they prayed to the native gods, and since their lives were spared, to commemorate their rescue they set up boundary stones about the entire circuit of the island and dedicated altars upon which they offer sacrifices even to the present day. For these reasons it is patent that they inhabited Samothrace before the flood.

Note that Pontus refers to the Black sea. Another interesting detail is the pre-Greek/pre-Thracian language of the island, whose words apparently partially survived until Diodorus time. We don't get any information about them, but it is worth to mention that one of their gods was called Kasmilos, a name that bears a striking similarity with the Anatolian (Hattic specifically) god  Ḫasammil. Beekes (2004) dedicates a whole article on the Kabeiroi making the following statements in his abstract.

R.S.P Beekes -  ‟The origin of the Kabeiroiˮ, 2004 Leiden
It is argued that Kadmilos, one of the Kabeiroi, has a typical (non-IE) Anatolian name. And further that the name Kabeiroi itself is a variant of Kabarn-oi. New insight in Pre-Greek shows that this word is a typical Pre-Greek name, and that the original form is *Kabar(y)-. This shows that the old connection with Semitic (kabìr- ‘great’) must be definitely given up.'

Of course, the Kabeiroi might have been gods that were imported by the Anatolian farmers, who in turn started to move because of this flood. We can't really know.

Now, in case you wonder when this event took place, geologists date it around 7500 B.P or 5500 B.C. The hypothesis on this event was first published on New York Times, the 17th of December 1996. You can read the article here:

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The index of pre-Greek toponyms has been released

We're happy to announce the release of the index of pre-Greek toponyms. You will find it in the languages page, under the tab "other dictionaries". The commenting is still laconic, but we will add more information on the way. As always, work is always being done in the background. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Proto-Albanian word list released

We are glad to announce the first part of the Proto-Albanian word-list. This is just a small body of words, but more are going to be added gradually. It is well documented and has lexical comparisons. You will find the dictionary under the Palaeo-Balkan languages in the language tree.

Also, don't miss our latest article: Zurna, davul and other ancient Anatolian instruments