Germanic substrate hypothesis

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The Germanic substrate hypothesis is an attempt to explain the distinctive nature of the Germanic languages within the context of the Indo-European language family. It postulates that the elements of the common Germanic vocabulary and syntactical forms, which do not seem to have cognates in other Indo-European languages, suggest that Proto-Germanic may have been either: a creole or contact language that subsumed a non-Indo-European substrate language, or; a hybrid of two quite different Indo-European languages, from the Centum and Satem types respectively.

The non-Indo-European substrate theory was first proposed by Sigmund Feist in 1932, who estimated that roughly a third of Proto-Germanic lexical items came from a non-Indo-European substrate and that the supposed reduction of the Proto-Germanic inflectional system was the result of pidginization with that substrate.[1] Which culture or cultures may have contributed the substrate material is an ongoing subject of academic debate and study. Notable candidates for possible substrate culture(s) are the Maglemosian and Funnelbeaker culture but also older cultures of northern Europe like the Hamburgian or even the LRJ (Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanowician).

Against the theories regarding substrata, a profound sound change in the Germanic languages known as Grimm's law has been put forward as evidence for the Germanic languages being non-substratic and having mutated of their own accord, away from other branches of Indo-European. Grimm's law affected all of the stops that were inherited from Proto-Indo-European. The Germanic languages also share common innovations in grammar as well as in phonology: The Germanic verb has been extensively remodelled, showing fewer grammatical moods, and markedly fewer inflections for the passive voice.[2][3]

Non-Indo-European influence[edit]

The non-Indo-European substrate hypothesis attempts to explain the anomalous features of proto-Germanic as a result of creolization between an Indo-European and a non-Indo-European language. Germanicist John A. Hawkins sets forth the arguments for a Germanic substrate. Hawkins argues that the proto-Germans encountered a non-Indo-European speaking people and borrowed many features from their language. He hypothesizes that the first sound shift of Grimm's Law was the result of non-native speakers attempting to pronounce Indo-European sounds, and that they resorted to the closest sounds in their own language in their attempt to pronounce them. The Battle-axe people are an ancient culture identified by archaeology who have been proposed as candidates for the people who influenced Germanic with their non-Indo-European speech. However, this culture was spread through a wider range of regions across eastern and central Europe close or in contact already with areas inhabited by Indo-European speakers and the putative area of origin of these, and none of the proto-Indo-European languages produced so and their succeeding languages developed - whether Celto-Italic, Illyrian, Slavic, Baltic and others - along the much larger line of extension of the Boat-axe culture appear to have been affected by the same changes limited to the Proto-Germanic. Alternatively, in the framework of the Kurgan hypothesis, the Battle-axe people may be seen as an already "kurganized" culture built on the substrate of the earlier Funnelbeaker culture.

A number of root words for modern European words seem to limit the geographical origin of these Germanic influences, such as the root word for ash (the tree) and other environmental references suggest a limited root stream subset which can be localized to northern Europe.[4]

Kalevi Wiik, a phonologist, has put forward a hypothesis – generally rejected by specialists in the field, however – that the pre-Germanic substrate was of a non-Indo-European Finnic origin. Wiik claimed that there are similarities between mistakes in English pronunciation typical of Finnish speakers and the historical sound changes from Proto-Indo-European to proto-Germanic.[5][6] Wiik's argument is based on the assumption that only three language groups existed in pre-Indo-European Europe, namely Uralic, Indo-European, and Basque, corresponding to three ice age refugia. Then, Uralic speakers would have been the first to settle most of Europe, and the language of the Indo-European invaders was influenced by the native Uralic population, producing the Germanic proto-language.[5][6]

Existing evidence of languages outside the three refugia that he proposes (e. g., the Tyrsenian language family) creates a complication for Wiik's theory, meaning it relies upon an undemonstrated link between each of these languages and one of the three proto-languages he proposes. Moreover, his thinking relies on an interpretation of Indo-European origins different from the mainstream, and most damningly, an extremely improbable picture of the linguistic landscape of Neolithic Europe.

Theo Vennemann has hypothesized a Basque substrate and a Semitic superstrate in Germanic;[4] however, his speculations, too, are generally rejected by specialists in the relevant fields.

Words claimed to be derived from non-Indo-European languages[edit]

Hawkins moreover asserts that more than one third of the native Germanic lexicon is of non-Indo-European origin, and again points to the hypothetical substrate language as the cause. Certain lexical fields are dominated by non-Indo-European words according to Hawkins. Seafaring terms, agricultural terms, engineering terms (construction/architecture), words about war and weapons, animal and fish names, and the names of communal and social institutions are centers of non-Indo-European words according to Hawkins. Some English language examples given by Hawkins include

Seafaring
English German Dutch Icelandic Latin Greek Russian
sea See zee sjór mare άλς
(áls)
море
(morè)
ship Schiff schip skip navis νάυς
(náus)
плот (судно, корабль)
(plot (sudno, korabl'))
strand (beach) Strand strand strönd litus, acta αιγιαλός
(aigialós)
берег
(bèrèg)
ebb Ebbe eb efja decessus, recessus άμπωτις
(ámpōtis)
отлив
(otliv)
steer steuern sturen stýra guberno κυβερνώ
(kubernṓ)
управлять
(upravljat')
sail segeln zeilen sigla navigo πλέω
(pléō)
плавать
(plavat')
keel Kiel kiel kjölur carina τροπίς
(tropís)
киль
(kil')
north Norden noorden norður septentriones βορράς
(borrás)
север
(sèvèr)
south Süden zuiden suður australis, meridies νότος
(nótos)
юг
(jug)
Warfare/weapons
English German Dutch Icelandic Latin Greek Russian
sword Schwert zwaard sverð gladius (ensis, ferrum) ξίφος
(ksíphos)
меч
(mèch)
shield Schild schild skjöldur scutum ασπίς
(aspís)
щит
(shchit)
helm(et) Helm helm hjálmur galea κράνος
(krános)
шлем
(shlèm)
bow Bogen boog bogi arcus τόξον
(tókson)
лук
(luk)
Animal/Fish
English German Dutch Icelandic Latin Greek Russian
eel Aal aal áll anguilla χέλι
(khéli)
угорь
(ugor')
calf Kalb kalf kálfur vitulus μόσχoς
(móskhos)
телёнок
(tèl'onok)
lamb Lamm lam lamb agnus αμνός
(amnós)
ягнёнок
(jagn'onok)
bear Bär beer björn ursus άρκτος
(árktos)
медведь
(mèdvèd')
stork Storch stork
(archaic)
storkur ciconia πελαργός
(pelargós)
аист
(áist)
Communal
English German Dutch Icelandic Latin Greek Russian
king König koning konungur/kóngur rex βασιλεύϛ
(basileús)
король, князь
(korol', kn'az')
knight* Knecht knecht knakkur servitus ὑπηρέτης
(upērétēs)
слуга
(sluga)
thing Ding ding þing res πράγμα
(prágma)
вещь
(vèshch')
Miscellaneous
English German Dutch Icelandic Latin Greek Russian
drink trinken drinken drekka bibo πίνω
(pínō)
пить
(pit')
leap (run) laufen lopen hlaupa curro τρέχω
(trékhō)
бегать
(bègat')
bone Bein (meaning leg) been (meaning bone or leg) bein os οστούν
(ostoún)
кость
(kost')
wife (woman) Weib wijf víf uxor γυνή
(gunḗ)
жена
(zhèna)
bride Braut bruid brúður nupta νύφη
(núphē)
невеста
(nèvèsta)
(bride)groom (Bräuti)gam (bruide)gom (brúð)gumi maritus γαμπρός
(gamprós)
жених
(zhènix)

Notes:

  • The common Dutch word for "stork" is ooievaar, but the older word stork still exists in dialects.[7]
  • knight/Knecht/knecht/knight are all related, but in German and Dutch they mean "servant", which is presumed to be the original meaning, whereas in English and Swedish they refer to a specific type of nobleman.[8]
  • German Bein and Dutch been mean both "leg" and "bone". (In German, but not in Dutch, the meaning "bone" is archaic.)
  • German Weib and Dutch wijf mean "woman" in general (not restricted to "spouse"). Both are pejorative, however. The normal words are Frau and vrouw respectively.

Controversy[edit]

Many of Hawkins's purported non-etymologies are controversial. One obvious way to refute the Germanic substrate hypothesis is to find Indo-European etymologies for the words on Hawkins's list. This process continues, but several cited as examples by Hawkins can likely be eliminated. For example, it is generally agreed that helmet represents IE *kel-, "a concealing covering" (cf. Thracian zelmis - "skin", Old Prussian salmis - "helm"). East relates to IE *h2eus-ro-, "dawn".

Some of the words may have Indo-European derivations that are simply not well preserved in other Indo-European languages. For example, it has been suggested that wife is related to Tocharian B kwipe, "pubes; vulva", from a reconstructed root *gʷʰíh2bʰo-. Other possible etymologies include:

  • ebb: from *h2epo "off, away"
  • north: from *nr̥tro- which is in turn from *ner- "under, on the left," north being to one's left when facing the rising sun.
  • south: from *sunto- which is in turn from *sun-, from the oblique stem of *sóh₂wl̥ "the sun"
  • west: from *westo- which is in turn from *wes-, reduced form of *wespero "evening"
  • shield: from *skel- "to cut"
  • stork: from *str̥go- which is the zero-grade form of *ster- "stiff"
  • bear: "the brown one" (a taboo avoidance term, or taboo deformation) from *bʰer- "bright, brown"; or directly from *ǵʰwer- "wild animal"
  • drink: from *dʰreng-, presentive of *dʰreg- "to draw, glide"
  • groom: (as in bridegroom) from *(dh)ghm̥on which is the zero-grade suffixed form of *dʰgʰom- "earth". The word bridegroom derives from Middle English bridegome and Old English brȳdguma, a compound of brȳd 'bride' and guma 'man'. The intrusive r in Modern English bridegroom is due to contamination with the word groom (of different meaning), the origin of which is unknown.
  • ship: from *skei-, a root originally meaning "to cut", or compare Greek σκάπτω (skáptō) = "I dig", referring to a dugout boat.
  • strand: from *ster-, meaning "wide, flat".
  • king: from Old English cyning. The cyn- part is cognate with Modern English "kin" and related to Latin genus, etc., from *ǵenh1- "beget, engender". Even the derivation has IE parallels, such as Hittite ḫaššu- "king" from ḫāš-, ḫašš- "engender".

Similarly, the word "bear" may not be unique to Germanic languages. In Russian, a bear's lair is berloga, sometimes etymologized as "the lair of ber". Others hold that berloga could be derived from a proto-Slavic word for 'swamp' that also influenced the originally West Slavic origin of the city name Berlin as a "town built on swampy grounds". A number of Slavic languages have cognates of medved for "bear", which meant "honey-eater" < *medʰu + *ed- (though was later taken to mean "honey-knower" by folk etymology). This suggests that a possible ancient Slavic word ber may have been replaced by a euphemism (although the older Slavic word predating ber for a bear was "oster" as in the Oster River in Ukraine[citation needed]). However, supporters of the Germanic substrate hypothesis such as Max Vasmer explain the obvious relation between berloga and the Germanic word for 'bear' by the fact that early Old Norse influences on East Slavic languages cannot be disregarded — see the prevalent Normanist theory regarding the Varangian origin of the Rus people from Scandinavia, from whom also the name of Russia is derived.

Calvert Watkins's 1969 appendix of Indo-European roots in the American Heritage Dictionary listed several roots that were believed to be unique to Germanic at that time. More recent editions have substantially reduced the number of roots claimed to be uniquely Germanic.

More recent treatments of Proto-Germanic tend to reject or simply omit discussion of the Germanic substrate hypothesis. Joseph B. Voyles's Early Germanic Grammar makes no mention of the hypothesis, nor do many recent publications on the Germanic language family.

Nonetheless, the hypothesis remains popular in some circles, such as the Leiden school of historical linguistics. The first etymological dictionary of any language to systematically take the hypothesis into its discussions is the new Dutch dictionary influenced by the thinking of the Leiden group: Marlies Philippa et al. (ed), Etymologisch woordenboek van het Nederlands, Amsterdam University press, in 4 volumes, 2003–2009.

Centum-satem hybridisation as conjectured cause[edit]

It has been suggested that Proto-Germanic arose as a hybrid of two Indo-European dialects, from the Centum and Satem types respectively.[citation needed]

As this map of Indo-European isoglosses shows, the Proto-Germanic language is classified as a centum language (green border), but also shares phonological properties with the Baltic and Slavic languages (pink border) which are satem languages.

This hypothesis may help to explain difficulties in the classification of Germanic languages. They are classified as Centum languages, because of the sound correspondences, exemplified in the formations *hund- (e.g. "hundred", ~ centum with a velar fricative according to Grimm's law) and *hwis(e.g. "who", ~ Latin quis), rather than !sund and !his respectively. However, the Germanic languages, in common with the Baltic and Slavic families, both of which are Satem, is more likely to feature -m- (as opposed to *-bh-) in instrumental, dative, and ablative plurals, as well as certain singulars and duals. (See the map of Indo-European isoglosses, right.)

However, the above features may just as easily be explained by a non-Indo-European substrate common to proto-Germanic and proto-Balto-Slavic.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Feist, Sigmund (1932). "The Origin of the Germanic Languages and the Europeanization of North Europe". Language (Linguistic Society of America) 8 (4): pages 245–254. doi:10.2307/408831. JSTOR 408831. 
  2. ^ Not all consider languages such as Sanskrit to be conservative. Prokosch (1939) wrote: "the common Indo-European element seems to predominate more definitely in the Germanic group than anywhere else."
  3. ^ In regards to this issue, Polomé (1990) wrote: "Assuming 'pidginization' in Proto-Germanic on account of the alleged 'loss' of a number of features reconstructed by the Neogrammarians as part of the verbal system of Proto-Indo-European (...) is a rather specious argument. ... The fairly striking structural resemblance between the verbal system of Germanic and that of Hittite rather makes one wonder whether these languages do not actually represent a more archaic structural model than the further elaborated inflectional patterns of Old Icelandic and Hellenic."
  4. ^ a b Cf. Vennemann (2003).
  5. ^ a b Kalevi Wiik, Eurooppalaisten juuret (Finnish) ("Roots of Europeans"), 2002
  6. ^ a b Kalevi Wiik, Suomalaisten juuret (Finnish) ("Roots of Finns"), 2004
  7. ^ http://www.etymologiebank.nl/trefwoord/stork
  8. ^ http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=knight

Notations[edit]

  • Eduard Prokosch (1939), A Comparative Germanic Grammar (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Linguistic Society of America). ISBN 99910-34-85-4
  • John A. Hawkins (1990), Germanic Languages, in The Major Languages of Western Europe, Bernard Comrie, ed. (Routledge). ISBN 0-415-04738-2
  • Edgar C. Polomé (1990), Types of Linguistic Evidence for Early Contact: Indo-Europeans and Non-Indo-Europeans. In: Markey-Greppin (eds.) When Worlds Collide 267-89.
  • Joseph B. Voyles (1992), Early Germanic Grammar (Academic Press). ISBN 0-12-728270-X
  • Robert S. P. Beekes (1995), Comparative Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction (John Benjamins). ISBN 1-55619-505-2
  • Calvert Watkins. ed. (1985), The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (Houghton Mifflin) ISBN 0-395-36070-6
  • Calvert Watkins, ed. (2000), The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, second edition (Houghton Mifflin). ISBN 0-618-08250-6
  • Orrin W. Robinson (1992), Old English and its Closest Relatives: A Study of the Earliest Germanic Languages (Stanford). ISBN 0-8047-2221-8
  • Theo Vennemann (2003), "Languages in prehistoric Europe north of the Alps," Languages in Prehistoric Europe, eds Alfred Bammesberger & Theo Vennemann (Heidelberg: C. Winter), 319-332.
  • Kalevi Wiik (2002), Eurooppalaisten juuret (in Finnish; "Roots of Europeans".
  • Kalevi Wiik (2004), Suomalaisten juuret (in Finnish; "Roots of Finns").