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.