Atlantic (Semitic) languages
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The Atlantic languages of Semitic or "Semitidic" (para-Semitic) origin are a disputed concept in historical linguistics put forward by Theo Vennemann. The theory has found no notable acceptance in academic circles, and is criticised as being based on sparse and often misinterpreted data.
Theory and lines of argumentation
According to Vennemann, Afroasiatic seafarers settled the European Atlantic coast and are to be associated with the European Megalithic Culture. They left a superstratum in the Germanic languages and a substratum in the development of Insular Celtic. He claims that "Atlantic" (Semitic or Semitidic) speakers founded coastal colonies beginning in the fifth millennium BC. Thus "Atlantic" influenced the lexicon and structure of Germanic and the structure of Insular Celtic. According to Vennemann, migrating Indo-European speakers encountered non-IE speakers in northern Europe who had already named rivers, mountains and settlements in a language he called "Vasconic". He considered that there were toponyms on the Atlantic coast that were neither Vasconic nor Indo-European. These he considers derive from languages related to the Mediterranean Hamito-Semitic group.
Vennemann bases his theory on the claim that Germanic words without cognates in other Indo-European languages very often belong to semantic fields that are typical for loanwords from a superstratum language, such as warfare, law and communal life. Likewise, he proposes Semitic etymologies for words of unknown or disputed origin; for instance he relates the word bee to Egyptian bj-t or the name Éire, older *īwerijū to *ʼj-wrʼ(m), 'island (of) copper', as in Akkadian weriʼum 'copper'.
Other evidence he adduces for a Semitic superstratum include a Semitic influence on the Germanic form of the Indo-European ablaut system and similarities between Germanic paganism and Mesopotamian mythology, for instance the parallelism between Freyja and Ishtar, goddesses of war and love.
The idea that there is a connection between Insular Celtic and Afroasiatic goes back to John Davies (1632). It was expanded by John Morris-Jones in 1913 and developed further by Vennemann. This position is supported by Pokorny (1927–49) and Vennemann identifies Phoenicians as the likely people. A key factor is the dominant word order in Insular Celtic compared to other IE languages, together with lexical correspondences. Another important factor is the identification of the people later known as Picts. Vennemann holds the position that they spoke an Atlantic language. This belief was also held by Zimmer (1898) but is not generally accepted.
Hayim Y. Sheynin, adjunct professor of Jewish Literature at Gratz College, critically reviewed the work Europa Vasconica - Europa Semitica (2003) in which Vennemann laid out his arguments for the existence of a Semitic (or "Semitidic") superstratum in the Germanic languages. He concludes that Vennemann's arguments are unacceptable on several grounds. He notes that Vennemann based important parts of his main claim on long-outdated and critically rejected literature, that many of the words presented by Vennemann as evidence of an Atlantic (Semitidic) superstratum display nothing more than "mere ad hoc sound similarities", and that Vennemann's claims made in reference to Semitic range from "objectionable" to "ridiculous". In summary, Sheynin concludes "that [Vennemann] failed in this book not only as comparative linguist, or etymologist, but even in his narrow specialization as a Germanist. ... In short, we consider the book a complete failure."
The book has also been reviewed by Baldi and Page (Lingua 116, 2006). They too are critical of his Germanic part of the theory. There are no Phoenician inscriptions in Britain though traders may have visited the island, so the Insular Celtic part of the theory depends on linguistic evidence. The period of the fifth millennium is very early for Celtic speakers in Britain compared with other theories, for example Mallory suggests a date around 1000 BC, though more recently a third or fourth millennium date has controversially been suggested by Gray and Atkinson (and even more controversially, by Forster and Toth). Vennemann's view of the establishment of megaliths is not supported by mainstream archaeologists, who view their construction as having a widespread local origin along Oceanic Europe or one that spread from Portugal long before the Bell Beakers or any possible Cardium Culture influences from the Mediterranean. Eska (1994) argues that the change from verb-noninitial word order in Continental Celtic to verb-initial in Insular Celtic is internally motivated. Baldi and Page say that the strength of Vennemann's proposals lies in his lexical arguments and that these merit serious consideration. The origin of the Picts is unknown, see discussions by Jackson and by Wainright as well as those by Kitson and by Forsyth. (It is now – since about 2000 – generally held that Pictish is Celtic, clear evidence of Pre-Indo-European elements being absent.)
- Alfred Bammesberger, Theo Vennemann: Languages in prehistoric Europe. Winter, Heidelberg 2003, 319-332. ISBN 3-8253-1449-9.
- Philip Baldi, Richard Page: "Review of Europa Vasconica - Europa Semitica", Lingua 116 (2006) pp 218–223.
- Eska J F: "Rethinking the evolution of Celtic constituent configurations". Münchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft 55, 7–39 (1994).
- Forsyth K:" Language in Pictland", Studia Hameliana, 1997.
- Jackson K: "The Pictish Language", in Wainright (ed)
- Kitson P R: "British and European river names". Transactions of the Philological Society 94, 73-118 (1996).
- Mallory J P: In Search of the Indo-Europeans (1989).
- Morris-Jones J: "Pre-Aryan syntax in Insular Celtic", in The Welsh People, Rhys and Brynmor-Jones (1900).
- Sheynin H: "Review of Europa Vasconica - Europa Semitica", Linguist List 15.1878, Mon Jun 21, 2004.
- Wainright F T: The Problem of the Picts, 1955.
- Homepage of Theo Vennemann
- Review of Europa Vasconica - Europa Semitica by Hayim Y. Sheynin
- Review of Theo Vennemann's Europa Vasconica-Europa Semitica, by Philip Baldi and B. Richard Page, in Lingua, volume 116, issue 12, December 2006.