12 January 2016

Enter the Beaver

Beaver rampant
Arms of Biberach an der Riß

Arthur Charles Fox-Davies
A Complete Guide to Heraldry (1909)
Wikimedia Commons
Most etymological dictionaries, introductions to Indo-European studies, as well as online sources (including Wikipedia and Wiktionary) inform the reader that the Proto-Indo-European word for ‘beaver’, *bʰébʰrus, is a reduplicate derivative of the root *bʰer- or *bʰreu-, meaning ‘brown’. The same root is often claimed to account for the Germanic ‘bear’ word, *βer-an- (a nasal stem), as if from *bʰer-on- ‘the brown one’. There are several problems with these etymologies.

To begin with, neither *bʰer- nor *bʰreu- is attested as a stem. At best, there are several words in different Indo-European languages which contain reflexes of * and *r (and sometimes of *u) and mean something like ‘brown’; it is, however, hard to connect them formally within a plausible etymon. We can agree that Modern English brown, Modern German braun and Modern French brun (borrowed from Frankish) are “basic colour terms” and can be used to describe the colour od a beaver’s coat. It doesn’t follow, however, that the same can be claimed of their Proto-Germanic ancestor, *βrūna-. In early Germanic languages the word meant ‘dark, swarthy, dusky’ (as well as ‘shiny, bright’, often with reference to forged metal or the sea), and while it could be used to modify virtually any hue for which there was a name, it was hardly a specific colour term itself. Its extra-Germanic connections are anything but secure: although Greek pʰrū́nē (f.), pʰrũnos (m.) ‘toad’ might or might not be cognate, there is no related Greek colour adjective. The “colour conspiracy” of the modern languages of Europe, which have developed identical or very similar basic colour systems, is a case of recent cultural convergence. As late as the seventeenth century, German braun could still refer to hues in the violet/purple range (e.g. the colour of the amethyst).

Modern version of the same
(we know so much more about beavers today).
Wikipedia
Lithuanian bė́ras does refer to shades of brown, but is used as a specialised horse-coat term (like English bay), not a generally applicable colour word, and can’t be directly connected with *βrūna- anyway. Vedic babhrú- means ‘deep brown, reddish-brown’ and is practically identical with the reconstructed ‘beaver’ word, but it is probably derived from the animal’s name, not vice versa. The ancient Indo-Aryans had migrated too far from the geographical range of the beaver to have retained the original meaning, but they did keep the derived descriptive adjective.[1] Secondarily substantivised, babhrú- may refer to several rather different animals of India, from the brown mongoose to the Jacobin cuckoo.

The ‘bear’ connection is dubious too. A “weak” (n-stem) noun would presuppose an adjective like *bʰer(o)-, not recoverable as a Proto-Indo-European colour term (even the isolated East Baltic adjective mentioned above isn’t a perfect match), and there is an attractive alternative: the *βer- part can be derived either directly from the root noun *ǵʰwēr-/*ǵʰwer- ‘wild animal, beast’ (Ringe 2006: 106) or more plausibly from the corresponding thematic adjective ‘wild, savage’ (cf. Lat. ferus). To be sure, the hypothesis that word-initial *gʷʰ and *ǵʰw yield Germanic *β remains somewhat controversial (there are a small number of examples), but the etymology of bear as ‘the ferocious one’ is semantically unassailable. The substantivisation of an adjective by turning it into an n-stem is a common morphological process.

Instead of trying to guess in advance what the *-bʰr- part of the beaver’s name stands for, let’s have a look at the full reconstruction first. It’s usually cited as a stem in *-u-, perhaps primarily because of the Sanskrit ‘deep brown’ word, but the total Indo-European evidence is indecisive:

  • In Slavic *bobrъ, *bebrъ, *bьbrъ (note the variation of the echo vowel)[2] the final *-ъ may reflect *-o-s or *-u-s. Some old derivatives and toponyms plus accentual considerations suggest that the word was originally a u-stem in Slavic or perhaps vacillated between the two types, for there’s some evidence supporting an o-stem as well.
  • Baltic shows both u-stem and o-stem forms – the former in Old Prussian bebrus and in the Lithuanian variant bebrùs, the latter in Lith. bẽbras, bãbras, and Latvian bȩbrs.
  • Iranian has an o-stem reflex: Proto-Iranian *babra- > Younger Avestan baβra-, with the variant baβri-; cf. also Pahlavi babrag < *babraka-, with the very productive “colloquialising” suffix *-ka-.
  • Latin has fiber (second declension), as if from *bʰibʰro- (with an i-echo), beside sparsely attested feber.[3]
  • In Celtic, the inherited ‘beaver’ word has been buried under layers of lexical innovations (especially *abankos ‘river animal’) and borrowings. It can be detected in some Gaulish, Old Brittonic and Old Irish toponyms, ethnonyms and personal names, but its exact Proto-Celtic form is difficult to recover: *bebro-, *bebru-, *bibro- and *bibru- possibly coexisted in early Celtic.[4]
  • Finally, the word is excellently preserved in Northwest Germanic. [5] We have e.g. Early Old English bebr, bebir, beber, later befer, befor, beofor; Old High German bibar, bibur; and Old Icelandic bjórr < *bjǫβurr < *beβ(u)raz. All these forms can in principle reflect Proto-Germanic *βeβraz < *bʰebʰro-, though a u-stem can’t be completely ruled out. [Afterthought]

The ‘beaver’ word has a relatively wide attestation, but since the animal itself has occurred mainly at northerly attitudes in historical times, it’s poorly attested in Indo-Iranian and Italic, and not at all in Armenian or in Greek (where we find kástōr instead, borrowed also into modern Albanian). Alas, although beavers lived in parts of ancient Anatolia, we don’t know what the speakers of Hittite or Luwian called them: they weren’t thoughful enough to write something about beavers for posterity. The Germanic and Balto-Slavic languages have preserved the word best, and it’s in Balto-Slavic that we find the greatest diversity of variants.[6] What shall we make of this variety?

I will try to answer this question in the next blog.

[REDUPLICATION: back to the table of contents]

———

[1] Cf. also Hurrian babrunnu, a technical horsey adjective borrowed from the language of the “Mitanni Indo-Aryans”.

[2] The echo vowel in the modern Slavic languages most often reflects *o (found in all Slavic languages today). The minor variant with *e has a wide but scattered distribution (Serbian Church Slavonic, dialectal Bulgarian, Slovene, Upper Sorbian, Old Russian) and looks like a locally surviving relic (see also the Polish river-name Biebrza, and Romanian breb, borrowed from Slavic). The modern prevalence of *o may be due to a Slavic tendency (inconsistent and poorly understood) to introduce and generalise *o in CV-reduplications. Borrowing is less likely, though Iranian influence has been suspected (as an indication of prehistoric trade in beaverskins and castoreum). Western Lithuanian bãbras seems to be Slavic-influenced. The variant *bьbrъ is rare (Old Russian, Serbo-Croatian dȁbar, with a dissimilated initial stop). It could be regarded as an aberrant local innovation, were it not for the fact that (unlike *bobrъ) it has several exact counterparts in other branches (West Baltic hydronymic *bibru-, Lat. fiber, Celtic *bibru- ~ *bibro-).

[3] Replaced by loanwords (some related to it) in Vulgar Latin and Proto-Romance.

[4] It seems that beavers never colonised Ireland after the last ice age, which of course does not mean that the Irish Celts were unaware of their existence. “Beavery” tribal names could also have been brought to Ireland from Great Britain and/or the continent during prehistoric migrations.

[5] Its absence from the Gothic corpus is due to the usual reason: no beavers in the Bible.

[6] Some East Slavic dialects preserve a uniquely specialised, evidently archaic word for ‘beaver lodge’, *zer(d)mę < *gʰerdʰ-mn̥, with a curious “hyper-satem” treatment of the root *gʰerdʰ- ‘gird, encircle, fence about’, cf. Slavic *gordъ ‘fort, town’, Lith. gar̃das ‘enclosure, stall’, Vedic gr̥há- ‘house’, Albanian gardh ‘fence’. The ‘beaver lodge’ word has been borrowed into standard Polish as żeremie (with a hypercorrect ż).

84 comments:

  1. The Germanic 'beaver' word was treated by me in two articles (both appeared 2004), with different conclusions: 1) The Nordic word need not reflect *bebur- but might be explained from *bebru-, or 2) the original form might rather have been *bebur- ~ *bebr-, as in some other words like *ebur- ~ *ebr- 'boar', *weþur- ̃~ *weþr- 'ram'.

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    1. Thanks, Martin! I haven't seen your articles for a while (I'll have to refresh my memory), but this is part of the reason why I said it was difficult to exclude a u- stem.

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    2. On second thoughts I would say that the OHG raising can be most economically explained by reconstructing a u-stem:

      WGmc. *beβru > *bibru > bibr̥ (bibar etc.)

      Even an inherited i-reduplication would still require *-u to prevent the lowering of *i (exceptions are rare in OHG). So, yes, the Germanic evidence mostly favours a u-stem. It's a pity 'beaver' is so rare in the old corpora, and we have so few inflected forms.

      I don't find the reconstruction of a consonantal stem attractive. There's no real support for it outside of Germanic, and the Germanic facts can be accounted for otherwise. A related word like *bʰébʰr̥ may well have existed at some stage, but not as an animate noun meaning 'beaver'.

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    3. By the way, anyone interested in the articles Martin Kümmel mentioned above can view them at his Academia.edu profile. I recommend them very much:

      Link 1
      Link 2

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  2. To be sure, the hypothesis that word-initial *gʷʰ and *ǵʰw yield Germanic remains somewhat controversial (there are a small number of examples), but the etymology of bear as ‘the ferocious one’ is semantically unassailable.
    That's right. The reduction of labiovelars in Germanic is unusual (we've also got *kʷ > *f in the numerals '4' and '5') but it would indicate these words belongs to a different stratum that other IE lexicon. Incidentally, this etymology is also found in Altaic *bí:re 'a kind of predator' (EDAL 175). Apparently, reduction of labiovelars also happened in Proto-Altaic.

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  3. I had a hunch that you’re heading a certain place, so I looked up a certain PIE root and it makes all the sense in the world. But I won’t spoil the fun!

    - Olivier

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  4. I think I've guessed it too, but I'll probably be proved wrong... At any rate I'm enjoying the drama.

    One thing I'm wondering about - a very basic question about the comparative method really. Given the degree of variation sometimes found within languages - as in the English, Slavic and Cetic variants of the beaver word - why is there generally such an onus on being able to construct single PIE roots that are capable of generating (give or take a little levelling here and there) all the reflexes in the daughter languages? Why do we not see linguists appealing more to synchronic variation in PIE to explain troublesome derivations? Is it just that that way madness lies? Or is there some reason to think that there was less synchronic variation in the proto-language, e.g. the theory that it was a fairly small group of speakers?

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  5. ...Or is it just that the average word in observed languages does not have significant variants, so that ought to be the assumption?

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    1. Speech communities are populations descended from populations.

      The view of language as a pool of variants is what I'm advocating all along. That's why I devoted some space to showing how the competing variants of 'wheel' survived split after split and continued their competition in the daughter languages, occasionally spawning more variants and adding them to the pool. I think it's fascinating that we can sometimes reconstruct ancestral variation. It's more interesting than homogeneity.

      As for roots generating things: roots are abstractions, not actual linguistic objects. If words are historically and derivationally related, there must be some common core they coalesce into when you play back sound changes and derivational processes. Linguistic behaviour is roughly regular, so PIE morphology can be reduced to an inventory of lexical morphemes ("roots") plus recurrent morphological patterns. We use a conventional notation to identify well-established roots and to catalogue them for easier reference, but they should not be confused with reconstructible word-forms. They are not historically primary.

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    2. ... when you play back sound changes and derivational processes.

      Oops, I meant to write "play backwards".

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    3. I was being very sloppy in using the word 'root'. I just meant ancestor - the word that the later reflex derived from.

      I take the point that you are advocating variation and selection in principle. But in general you and other comparativists work hard to rigorously constrain the derivations as much as possible. So with Gk. zepʰō, you ruled out *h₃óibʰ-e/o- on the grounds that it was postulating an unmotivated metathesis from the already reconstructed form *(h₃)jébʰ-e/o-. This seems to me like a wise scepticism; but in principle you might have said it's just a variant form, related but in a way that can't currently be elucidated from internal reconstruction. After all, if we had no language outside, say, the Celtic group, we would have a bunch of obviously related variants whose 'exact Proto-Celtic form', as you say, 'is difficult to recover'.

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    4. Heuristically, it's better to have a maximally constrained model. We know that sound change is not quite regular, but it's the regular component that helps us to distinguish real relationships from chance similarity. Once we have established a solid framework, we can deal with less regular cases on a firm basis. For example, the problem with *h₃óibʰ-e/o- is not just that an unmotivated matathesis is proposed but that (1) we have a good reason to think that *h₃j- was simplified already in PIE (as argued e.g. by Byrd), that is before the rise of the "simple thematic" class of presents (what coloured the *e, then?); and (2) such a metathesis would be without precedent, which diminishes its plausibility.

      As for the Celtic 'beaver' word, the multiplicity of varians is still a problem if you take other languages into account, as some of them (Balto-Slavic) also show similar variability, and others point in different directions (o-stem vs. u-stem, bʰi- vs. *bʰe-). It's precisely one of those cases where shoehorning the variants into a unique PIE form may be undesirable. See my 2013 article on the IE 'crane' words, where I managed to pack the variety into two separate, though different reconstructions. The usual solution had been to propose a vague root equation and blame the messy details on "you know how messy popular bird names can be". I would argue that my approach is more constructive.

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    5. It's a matter of science theory.

      1) Falsifiability: the more specific your hypothesis, the easier it is to find evidence that is incompatible with it. Lots of things and their opposites are equally compatible with "you know how messy popular bird names can be".

      2) Parsimony: if (and as long as) several unfalsified hypotheses explain the same data, those which require the fewest additional assumptions must be preferred. Metatheses certainly happen, and they sometimes happen without easily reconstructible reasons; but the fewer such events we need to assume, the better.

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    6. From your and Professor Gasiorowski's replies, I don't think I posed my question clearly - which probably means I need t think harder about what I'm actually asking.

      But for the record, I wasn't arguing for the metathesis explanation, or against our host's etymology, which seems convincing. I was saying that there is a third option - that it is not a metathesis or any other adaptation of the form reconstructed from Sanskrit and Slavic, but a parallel variant, clearly related but not transparently derivable from it or from a common source. Like the Celtic 'beaver' words.

      Now in this particular case we have a better explanation, the one hypothesised in the post. But often we don't. So I'm just surprised, in the light of the data in this and other recent posts, that 'synchronic variation' is not invoked more often as a way out of trouble.

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    7. Because it's too easy to invoke synchronic variation – it's too hard to falsify.

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  6. *bHi-bHr-u = carrying? (the wood-carrier)?

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    1. I'm afraid you'll have to wait a day or two. I can't very well answer "yes" or "no" and leave it at that. ;)

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  7. *bHer-on is a construction analogous to *h3er-on "eagle".

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    1. Well, they are both nasal stems, which doesn't necessarily make them parallel formations. The nasal suffix in the 'eagle' word has a function similar to the *-(e/o)nt- of present participles. It is added to a recognisable verb root meaning 'rise, soar'. A good Germanic analogue would be *xan-an- 'cock' (literally, 'singer'). If the Germanic 'bear' word is deadjectival, it's like those widespread nicknames (substantivised epithets) referring to someone's prominent trait or characteristic, like Latin Catō 'the shrewd one' or Greek Στράβων 'the squinting one'. So if *ǵʰwer-o- is 'acting like a wild beast, ferocious', *ǵʰwer-o- + *-on- = 'the ferocious one'.

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    2. Although certainly possible, I don't think Germanic 'bear' is derived from a thematic adjetive like you suggest. The existence of Altaic cognates would make this *ǵhwer- a very ancient lexeme, surely older than the common IE word for 'bear', which is absent from Germanic.

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    3. It's absent from Slavic and Baltic as well. But the 'bear' words in those groups are branch-specific, transparent epithets. *h₂ŕ̥tḱos is well-attested on both sides of the Anatolian/Core division, which guarantees its PIE status.

      I am afraid we have different ideas abut what constitutes a "cognate" and warrants the use of the word.

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    4. I'm also afraid ortodox IE-ists don't pay enough attention to external data, as if the IE family existed in a vacuum.

      On the other hand, IE *h₂ŕ̥tḱo- has some interesting issues, namely Latin ursus. The genealogical tree model is an oversimplification, and while it can explain many things, it certainly doesn't explain everything.

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    5. I thought it was commonly accepted that *ǵʰwer-o- was derived from the root of Sanskrit hvarati / hvalati 'dévier (du droit chemin), aller de travers', describing the motion of some beasts when they approach their prey, and thus have nothing to do with the notion of "danger" -- am I mistaken?

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    6. The idea of a deverbal root noun goes back at least to Schindler. It is accepted commonly (me included) though not quite universally, partly because some people insist on reconstructing the 'beast' word as *ǵʰweh₁r-, partly because the verb is attested only in Indo-Iranian. I see no need to introduce a laryngeal; *ǵʰwēr-/*ǵʰwer- does the job much better. Note, however, that *ǵʰwer-o- is not directly deverbal but derived from the root noun, so its semantics could have drifted away from the meaning of the verb: 'like a wild beast' (in any respect) rather than 'walking crookedly' or 'crouching in wait' (or whatever else the verb could mean).

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  8. The existence of Altaic cognates would make this *ǵhwer- a very ancient lexeme

    That isn't contradicted by any of the above. The thematic adjective (which would, as mentioned in the OP, have yielded Latin ferus) would itself come from a root noun which has a wider distribution in IE, e.g. Greek θῆρ "wild/dangerous beast".

    Contrariwise, the Altaic comparandum is called "a western isogloss" in the database entry you link to, because it hasn't been found in Korean or Japonic.

    Finally, you're proposing a regular sound correspondence based on one word. I actually have one more word to offer, but I do hope you'll agree that this requires further research before we can take it for granted and use it as a giant on whose shoulders to stand!

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    1. Actually, the inclusion of Korean and Japonic in the Altaic family has been controversial, but never mind. :-)

      On the other hand, the Altaic counterpart of the IE word for 'bear' would be *karsi 'fox, marten', another "Western isogloss" for the EDAL authors.

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    2. You can't very well say the inclusion of Korean and Japonic is controversial and then cite Moscow School work as your only source... are there even any explicit "micro-Altaic" proponents left? As far as I can tell (which isn't very far; I'm not an insider), the debate has completely polarized between "macro-Altaic" and full-on phylopessimism.

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    3. I'm not either, but I can't see the significancy you attached to the label "Western isogloss" in the cases of *bí:re and *karsi.

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    4. I was trying to say that *ǵʰwēr-/*ǵʰwer- is at least as widespread in IE as *bí:re and *karsi are in Altaic.

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    5. That could give us some clues about the source language of these words. BTW, the second one has a Caucasian correspondence: *χHVr[ʨˀ]V 'marten; otter' (a Nakh-Dargwa isogloss).

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    6. Not until you've established regular sound correspondences. Have you?

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    1. I wonder too. It is a bit of a problem for those who believe Rix's Law operated in Latin in the same way as in Greek, so they would expect initial *ar-. But there's little evidence for that, especially if argentum, a thematic derivative, has a new full grade in the first syllable.

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    2. Not exactly. The Latin word looks like a loanword *r̥kso- from a satem language. This is the most parsimonious solution, in my opinion.

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    3. To begin with, you have to assume a whole hitherto unknown Satem language from which it could have been borrowed. How parsimonious is that?

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    4. Most languages spoken in the past disappeared without leaving any written records, but only a small minority did, so it's no wonder there're missing pieces in the puzzle.

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    5. The consonant cluster *-rkts- was unusual enough that simplification to *-rs- is unsurprising even without any satem influence.

      Undocumented substrate languages are easy to assume and hard to falsify; so are migrations that didn't leave a trace in the archeological record. Use them sparingly.

      I know you've postulated a few other words as evidence of contact between Italic and satem, but they're similarly weak comparisons.

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    6. I won't call "Italic" Cisalpine Gaulish and Lepontic, not to say Etruscan.

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    7. Sorry, I misremembered. The geographic argument holds, though.

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    8. There're also loanwords from a Baltic-like or "Baltoid" substrate language commonly attributed to Gaulish in despite they haven't got a Celtic etymology. For example, French bourbe 'mud, sludge' can be linked to Baltic *purwā > Lithuanian pũrva 'smudge, dregs', Latvian pùrvs, purve 'morass, swamp'.

      A good source of this material is Grzega, Joachim (2011): Romania Gallica Cisalpina.
      Etymologisch-geolinguistische Studien zu den oberitalienisch-rätoromanischen Keltizismen
      .

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    9. Actually, the idea isn't new, because it was first coined by the Catalan linguist Joan Coromines, who called this substrate language "Sorothaptic" because he linked it to the Urnfields culture. However, apparently he conflated it with a different "Italoid" (i.e. Italic-like) language.

      I'm not saying that Baltoid/Sorothaptic is necessarily the source of that verb in Cisalpine Gaulish, Lepontic and Etruscan, but my point is substrate languages do exist, even if neglected by most mainstream linguists.

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    10. I'd rather connect bourbe with tourbe, with assimilation as a mocking way of expressing disgust. Maybe the same even happened independently in Baltic...

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    11. I don't think so, among other things because the reconstructed Gaulish protoform is precisely *borwā, for which specialists have proposed a Celtic etymology, which IMO is semantically inappropriate. It looks like Gaulish acted as an intermediate between the source language (Baltoid) and Romance.

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    12. I know you've postulated a few other words as evidence of contact between Italic and satem, but they're similarly weak comparisons.
      In my opinion, Latin caesius 'blue' is an Etruscan loanword whose ultimate origin is Baltic. However, in many cases the source language is a substrate.

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  10. And Sanskrit bhalla "bear"? <*bhe/or-lo- ?
    Could we try a heteroclitic L/N like *seh2u-el, gen. *sh2u-en-s / *sh2u-n-ós "sun". *bHer(H)-el, gen *bHr(h)-en-s / *bHr(h)-nos, later reshaped to *bHer-(H)en?

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    1. Such heteroclitics are neuters. Don't do that to the bear.

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    2. About *beran: any assimilation or dissimilation involved? For example *breran *Cberan (where C is any clustering consonant). Or *beran < *bHiron, trying to link it to the same root of *bi:o:n "bee".

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  11. Could *beran be a non-IE cognate source of Germanic *baiza/baira "boar", Welsh baedd "boar" (*basio-/baiso-), and, perhaps, Phaia, the name of the monstrous Cromyon Sow killed by Theseus. Perhaps a Pre-IE *baiz-/bazi-.

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    1. This is extremely unlikely, not to say impossible, due to semantic mismatch. Boars are ungulates, i.e. hoofed animals, while bears are carnivores.

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    2. How strange that in folk taxonomies cetaceans are often regarded as fish! This should be impossible, since they are actually artiodactyls. ;)

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    3. If it walks like a dog and barks like a dog, then it's a dog. Good! But if it swims like a fish, then is it a fish? By no means. :-)

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    4. Boars are omnivores, and they're almost as dangerous as bears.

      Plus, there's no such thing as an ungulate. :-) Artio- and perissodactyls might still be each other's closest extant relatives, but even that remains unclear.

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    5. Plus, there's no such thing as an ungulate. :-)
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ungulate :-)

      Semantically speaking, a generic word designating ungulates can drift either to 'boar/pig', 'horse', 'goat' and the like. By contrast, 'bear' belongs to the same league than other carnivores such as felids and canids. We shouldn't confuse zoological taxonomies with semantical fields, as they're different categories.

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    6. Do you have examples for such a drift?

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    7. Yes. There's a Nostratic (in the sense intended by Kerns) lexeme found in Kartvelian *eʃw 'boar, pig' and Caucasian *ɦɨ[n]tʃwi (~ -e) (NCED 211) 'horse', a Wanderwort which reached IE. But in other Eurasian languages the Cw cluster gave a labial stop and the initial "laryngeal" got hardened, hence IE *(w)epero- 'boar' and *kapro- 'male goat'. Possibly also Altaic *kʰjá:pʰa 'a k. of young ungulate (EDAL 1046) belongs here.

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    8. I think David meant an example from a real language. Semantic specialisation is not unheard of, cf. Germanic *ðeuza- 'animal' > 'wild animal' > 'deer', but a general word for 'ungulate' including wild boars and horses? Do we find it at all before people develop some kind of natural philosophy and attempt to classify things in a (pre-)scientific way? But of course the more general the proposed meaning, the easier it is to collect miscellaneous lookalikes.

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    9. Oops,that's incomplete. Germanic *ðeuza- 'animal' > OE dēor 'wild animal' > ME dẹ̄r 'wild animal' (but especially a cervid in Late ME) > Mod.E deer.

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    10. Piotr, I think our ancestors from the Upper Palaelithic and Mesolithic were able to tell hoofed animals (i.e. ungulates) from the rest of wild fauna. This would explain why some semantic drifts are more likely than others. Don't forget also we're dealing with time depths in the order of several to many millenia.

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    11. "Beeing able to tell" is different from having a special word for them. Pliny was able to describe animals as hoofed, even-hoofed or odd-hoofed, but Latin did not have a noun for any of these concepts.

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    12. Yes, but this doesn't prove anything, among other things because Latin was spoken and written several millenia later than the domestication of animals such as the horse, pig or goat took place, and thus those drifts already happened.

      My point is a word referring some kind of ungulate drifted over millenia to designate another kinds of ungulate in different languages. However, I think it's very unlikely for a word meaning e.g. 'boar' to drift into 'bear' or the other way around.

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    13. I think it's very unlikely for a word meaning e.g. 'boar' to drift into 'bear' or the other way around

      Yes, you've repeated that a few times now. What you haven't provided is a reason why you think so. I'm afraid your theory of semantic change is no better than German Dziebel's.

      In some kinds of German, the term for a male domestic pig is Saubär. That's exactly what you think it is: "sow" + "bear". It's like a bear, but it's actually related to sows... it's the piggy kind of bear.

      I think our ancestors from the Upper Palaelithic and Mesolithic were able to tell hoofed animals (i.e. ungulates) from the rest of wild fauna.

      Sure they were able. But why would they have? What motivation did they have to make a phylogenetic classification?

      There are people in New Guinea who classify the cassowaries with themselves rather than with any other birds.

      I think David meant an example from a real language.

      That's not even the problem. The problem is that these reconstructed forms are related if and only if we circularly assume that such semantic changes are at all likely.

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    14. One more case of classifying bear and boar together in German: men's names! Bernhard "hard/tough/strong as a bear", Eberhard "...as a boar".

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    15. Your examples are compound words, which are an entirely different thing.

      BTW, it's a compliment you compared me to Dziebel. :-)

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  12. Greek pʰrū́nē (f.), pʰrũnos (m.) ‘toad’ might or might not be cognate

    Is there anything else could it be?

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    1. Derivation from *bʰreuH- 'blast, swell up, break open' is also thinkable; cf. Ved. bhrūṇá- 'embryo'. The typical defensive stance of the common toad is, I suppose, more striking than its colour.

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    2. The same root from *bHreh1ur-, bHrh1wens/bHrh1unós "well, spring".

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    3. If we had to give a name to the bear, what would be the best?
      1) "the big one"
      2) "the brown one"
      3) "the big-head"
      4) "the honey-eater"
      5) "the tailless one"
      6) "the maneless one" (if the people knew lions)

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    4. I give my vote for "the honey-eater", since this is what we call the bear in these parts, but our Baltic neighbours opted for "the shaggy one" (not in the list).

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    5. So let's include a 7) "the shaggy, hairy one"

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    6. Has Baltic *tla:ki- a PIE etymology?

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    7. *tlāko- 'shaggy hair' is Balto-Slavic, not just Baltic. I don't know of any extermal cognates, but then I haven't given it much thought yet.

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    8. Looks a bit like MIr. tlám 'a handful of wool or flax', Bret. tleuñv 'quenouillée' < PCelt. *tla:mo-. But that would then be a root etymology (and what would the root be?) The traditional etymology of Celt. *tla:mo- is AFAIK from the root *telh2- 'to support'.

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  13. With regard to PIE *ǵʰwēr-/*ǵʰwer- ‘wild animal, beast’ and PGm. *beran- ‘bear’, I’m reminded of a particular hunting word: MDu. bersen ‘to hunt with dogs or birds of prey’, Du. bersen ‘to stalk game’, MHG birsen, pirsen ‘to hunt’ (cf. birse f. ‘hunt’, beside birse f. ‘criminal court’), G pirschen, arch. birschen ‘to hunt, stalk, creep’, (cf. G Pirsch, arch. Birsch f. ‘hunt’).

    German -rsch- might have developed naturally from -rs-, like in herrschen, but we also have to account for West-Flemish berschen ‘to walk with force’ and LG (Gronings) birsken ‘to work hard, quickly’.

    These are supposed to have been borrowed from Old French berser, bercer ‘to hunt with bow and arrow’, Medieval Latin bersare ‘to hunt’ (cf. bersa ‘hunting enclosure’), but since those don’t have an etymology and given the Frankish ancestry of the nobles doing the hunting, I wonder whether the word isn’t ultimately of Germanic origin.

    - Olivier

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    1. We also have Old Icelandic bersi, bessi 'he-bear', as if from *βer-s-an- (Guus Kroonen), but bassi (same meaning) is harder to explain (I would suggest contamination with bassi, one of the ON words for 'wild boar'.

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    2. Now that you mention it, Kroonen also lists EDu. bers, bors ‘bear’. (Wherein the latter is taken for a secondary form; cf. *trannjan- > MDu. trennen, ternen, tornen ‘to unsew, unstitch’ > Du. tornen ‘id.’)

      Assuming a Germanic origin for the moment, if the hunting verbs I mentioned were derived from this noun, i.e. through *barsjan- (and not *berisōn-), it might preserve a trace of an older, more general meaning ‘wild animal, beast’.

      Otherwise a more direct connexion with *ǵʰwer- ‘to go crooked’ > ‘to sneak, creep, move like a wild animal’ is worth a thought.

      Another possibility would be derivation from an e-grade cognate of *barsa- (Du. baars, E bass) and *barza- (ON barr ‘pine needle’) and thus point to the pointy things involved in hunting, but there is no evidence of such a word.

      And in case of a Celtic origin, cf. PCelt. *beru- ‘spear, spit’ (OIr. bir, biur, MW ber, MBret. ber, OCo. ber), which Matasović traces to PIE *gʷeru-, although I wouldn’t know how to explain the -s-.

      What a mess – please excuse my saturnial rambling.

      - Olivier

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    3. Oops, I meant to write *bersjan- there.

      - Olivier

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    4. It depends of the original meaning of *ǵʰwer-. Latin ferus, Greek ther, Balto-Slavic *zver- seems to refer to wild mammals, although extended to the meaning of "fierce, dangerous animal", including snakes. Another guess would be a meaning "cave lion, tiger, leopard", lost in European and Northwestern Asian newer languages.

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    5. PIE is too young to have a word for "cave lion". Regular lions apparently expanded north into Romania 3000 years ago, but no further. I'm not aware of evidence that the Caspian tiger reached the Black Sea; and unless the PIE or P-Neo-IE Urheimat was south of the Caucasus (not actually an option for P-Neo-IE anymore), leopards are right out.

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    6. From Sommer and Benecke (2006):

      In deposits, assigned to the end of the Atlantic/beginning of the sub-Boreal (5500–3000 BC), the presence of lions is more frequent. In this period P. leo is recorded from the Pannonic Basin, in the Dobrudja, and from the Black-Sea region of the Ukraine (Bibikova, 1973; Vörös, 1983; Ribarov, 1994)(Fig. 6).

      They also mention Iron Age and Roman Age leopard remains from Ukraine, but the context suggests that the leopards were brought by humans from across the Black Sea.

      Here's some more info, with further references, on the record of SE European lions.

      I'd say an Indo-European 'lion' word is not entirely out of the question. One could even toy with the idea of a connection between the 'lion' and 'lynx' words, perhaps.

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  14. I didn't mean to say that PIE knew lions, but perhaps their older ancestors did. Later, this lion word could remained but changing to another sense. Compare, for example, with the words for crocodile turned into dragon in Chinese.

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  15. And how berserkr fits in *beran? Bear-serk or Bare-serk? Ber/serkr or Bers/erkr?

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