An Accidental Reprise

My recent etymological proposals in the previous post have turned out to not be news after all. Petri Kallio has informed me that essentially identical etymologies for the Finnic words for “aspen” and “horse”, ie. based on a metathesis of Late Proto-Finnic *ahpa and *ëhpo to *haapa and *hëpo, have been previously proposed by O. Nikkilä, of LÄGLOS fame, [1] in 1991!

I wonder if we can consider this circumstantial evidence for the validity of the etymologies. :)

A difference though is that Nikkilä suggests the latter to be of Germanic origin as well. Indeed, Germanic *ehwaz explains without complications the *h and particularly *ë: after all, the majority of the Proto-Finnic *ë-words are from Germanic or Baltic, rather than Indo-Iranian.

Getting from Germanic *w to Finnic *p presents some challenges, though, since the cluster /hv/ is perfectly possible in common Finnic vocabulary. But perhaps this is not a decisive obstacle.

From the viewpoint of Modern Finnish, /hv/ can represent several sources, e.g.:

  1. Most frequently, as a substitution for foreign /f/ in loanwords up to the 19th century, usually thru Swedish. Thus, sohva “sofa”, pihvi “steak” (cf. beef), kahvi “coffee” (only accidentally similar to the original cluster in Turkic kahve, Arabic /qahwa/).
    (At the present day, /f/ has however finally made it into the phonology of Modern Standard Finnish, after a persistent siege of about two thousand years: toffee “toffee”, riffi “riff”, etc. It thus seems there will be no more cases of incoming /hv/ for the time being.)
  2. As an irregular substitution [2] for Germanic *ww, in the common Finnic *rahvas “folk” ← PGmc *θrawwaz “powerful”.
  3. As a reflex of EPF *šŋ, in ahven “perch” (cf. Samic *vōsŋōn).

Unclear cases include lehvä “bough” and rehva- “boastful”, which appear to be some kind of irregular derivatives or variants of lehti “leaf” and rehti “honest, reliable”, and the entirely unetymologized kahva “handle”, kohva “frozed snow”, and vahva “powerful”. [3]

It is noticable that there however do not seem to be any cases that would go back to EPF *šw, or even to a Germanic loan original with *-hw-. So perhaps an explanation similar to what I proposed for the Indo-Iranian path still applies: *p would have been substituted here for phonotactic reasons. Some similar parallels in Germanic loanwords in particular are known. I’ll need to read Nikkilä’s original article of course.

As I mentioned in a footnote last time, already by MPF times there was no shortage of obstruent + *v/*w clusters though. We’d have to date this loan as very early then, perhaps prior to the development *d₁ → *t that created the first of these clusters, *tv. And this definitely means a date long before the shift *š → *h in inherited vocabulary. This would imply that *h actually first arose as a loanword phoneme in Finnic! I’ve suspected as much for a while now, actually. A particularly suspicious case are numerous loanwords where Modern Finnic syllable-final *h corresponds to an Indo-European laryngeal — routing these words thru *š seems very inefficient to me. (I’ve written about this in slightly more detail in an ongoing discussion thread over at Language Evolution.)


I might as well mention here another example of an idea being independently rediscovered that I recently ran into. A 2005 article by J. Koivulehto [4] presents a Germanic loan etymology for the word family including Finnish painaa “to press”, from PGmc *spannija- “to strain”.  To explain the sound correspondences here, he ends up assuming a development PGmc *nj → EPF *ń → LPF *jn. I’ve previously noted that this had actually been already proposed by K. Bergsland decades ago. Koivulehto also rediscovers the inclusion of Samic *puońō- “to dip” in this etymon, and that the development of the long vowel in e.g. PU *küńəl(ə) → LPF *küünel “tear” can be considered supporting evidence for the soundlaw *ń → *jn.

It’s impressive how well different researchers can reach similar conclusions from the same data — and a valuable confirmation that our general methodology of etymological and language-historical research here is, at least, internally consistent.

[1] I.e. the etymological dictionary Lexicon der älteren germanischen Lehnwörter in den ostseefinnischen Sprachen.
[2] I can think of a motivation though: perhaps this was adopted after the Gothic/Scandinavian shift from *ww to *ggw, but still sufficiently early that *hv was considered a more acceptable substitute than *kv.
[3] Though I actually have an idea on kahva. This requires some further investigation yet however so I’ll leave this as a footnote for now.
[4] Koivulehto, Jorma (2005): Ein neuer autochthoner Grundstamm? In: Finnisch-ugrische Mitteilungen vol. 28/29, pp. 249-255.

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10 comments on “An Accidental Reprise
  1. David Marjanović says:

    Indeed, Germanic *ehwaz explains without complications the *h and particularly *ë:

    Sure, but why did the *z disappear instead of being borrowed as *s or *r?

    I can think of a motivation though: perhaps this was adopted after the Gothic/Scandinavian shift from *ww to *ggw, but still sufficiently early that *hv was considered a more acceptable substitute than *kv.

    Or perhaps early enough that *ggw still was [ɣːw].

    • Juho says:

      Sure, but why did the *z disappear instead of being borrowed as *s or *r?

      Hard to tell why exactly, but parallel cases of loanwords being acquired as *o(j)-stems where *-as would be expected are known. I’d have to spend time digging thru the literature to get any kind of a comprehensive list together, but for some examples, there’s e.g. “cock”: F. *kukkoj ← Gmc. *kukkaz, or “orphan”: F. *orpoj ← IE *orbʰos (exact loaning branch not identifiable). At least in the latter case this was probably some sort of a secondary suffix swap in Finnic, given Samic *oarpēs, Mordvinic *urvəs and Mari *ʊrweźə which all point to original *orpas. The same is also indicated by F. *repoj ~ Mo. *ŕivəś ~ Ma. *rəwəž “fox”, loaned from Indo-Iranian, which was then loaned on to Scandinavian as *rebaz.

      Conversely, not all Finnic *-as-stem loanwords seem to go back to the same in IE. On rare occasions this even turns up unmotivated in inherited vocabulary, e.g. #loxna → *lounas “south/southwest”, *mäktə → *mättäs “mound”.

      Or perhaps early enough that *ggw still was [ɣːw].

      That’d do the trick too, yes, which would put this on line with a small number of loans where *-ɣ- was substituted by *-h- (OTTOMH at least *saha “saw”, *maha “stomach”, *laho “rotten (of wood)”).

      • David Marjanović says:

        Interesting, thanks!

        • Juho says:

          I might add some quite recent examples of secondary -as-stems in loanwords: Finnish piiras “pie” and saapas “boot”, from Russian пирог and сапог. The former exists alongside a more original variant piirakka, and the latter also has cognates that still indicate *k, e.g. Veps sapug. This type of suffix exchange must have been, and continues to be frequent in all Finnic languages — but outside of loanwords it’s going to be difficult to identify any old examples.

      • M says:

        In the case of kukko, is it possible that the -o was motivated by the desire to avoid potential confusion with the stem of kukka or kuka (an unmodified loan would have been in the form *kukas, I think)?

        Maybe that doesn’t fit with the relative chronology of these words’ development, but I thought I’d ask regardless.

  2. M says:

    A while back, I read a Google-books snippet of Koivulehto’s article on the “painaa” word, but it didn’t let me view the section where he actually presented his etymological proposal. Then I forgot to write down the exact title of the article, and I’ve Googled for it in vain ever since — until now.

    So, thanks. :)

    How does JK attempt to surmount the fact that the Germanic *spann- words generally mean “pull/stretch (the end(s) of something)”, while painaa and its cognates mean “press (against something)”? Or, do the stems have more semantic diversity than I’m implying here?

    • Juho says:

      How does JK attempt to surmount the fact that the Germanic *spann- words generally mean “pull/stretch (the end(s) of something)”, while painaa and its cognates mean “press (against something)”?

      Apparently older usage was less separated here. He cites Fritzner’s dictionary of Old Norse for a meaning “to push” alongside “pull, stretch”, and digs up some examples of older Finnish usage where the meaning seems to be “stretch, bend”, e.g. paina panta pihlajastapaina a headband out of rowan”

      In the case of kukko, is it possible that the -o was motivated by the desire to avoid potential confusion with the stem of kukka or kuka (an unmodified loan would have been in the form *kukas, I think)?

      Maybe that doesn’t fit with the relative chronology of these words’ development, but I thought I’d ask regardless.

      Yes, this might risk an anachronism. Kukka “flower” is only attested from Northern Finnic + Votic (perhaps as an Ingrian loan in the latter), compared to a pan-Finnic distribution of *kukkoi. The former is from a root meaning something like “top”, also found in kukkula “hill” and kukkura “heaped (of a measure)”. It may be a back-formation/clipping; I’m not sure if Estonian lill for “flower” should be considered an innovation, or an indication that the Finnic languages have developed their words for “flower” separately. Moreover, √kukka carries a somewhat descriptive tone (and an origin as a combination of *kumpu “hill” + the demin. suff. *-kka doesn’t seem impossible) — roots of this kind usually yield for “full” lexical items.

      Consonant gradation would have kept a hypothetical **kukkas and the pronoun kuka separate in all case forms, so this isn’t a problem.

      • M says:

        Hi,

        Apparently older usage was less separated here. He cites Fritzner’s dictionary of Old Norse for a meaning “to push” alongside “pull, stretch”

        Is this for the verb spenna? I checked the entry for this verb in Koebler’s ON dictionary, and he lists “spannen, festbinden, fügen” as the meanings — no mention of “push” here.

        Koebler isn’t an exhaustive source, of course, but this makes me wonder if the “push” semantics of this verb aren’t simply an isolated outgrowth of the “pull” semantics in highly specific contexts — and therefore not very convincing when it comes to a connection with painaa.

        and digs up some examples of older Finnish usage where the meaning seems to be “stretch, bend”, e.g. paina panta pihlajasta “paina a headband out of rowan”

        I’m no expert on making headbands, but I don’t see where the “stretch” meaning comes in here — do rowan fibers have to be stretched before they can be bent?

        Isn’t it also possible to interpret this as “press/push rowan fibers into a band shape”?

        Regards,
        M.

        • Juho says:

          Is this for the verb spenna? I checked the entry for this verb in Koebler’s ON dictionary, and he lists “spannen, festbinden, fügen” as the meanings — no mention of “push” here.

          Yes. Koivulehto quotes Fritzner’s glossing as “omgive, omslutte, omspænde med noget; klemme, trykke, trænge, plage”. And yes, this does sounds like “to push” would be a rarer meaning.

          I’m no expert on making headbands, but I don’t see where the “stretch” meaning comes in here — do rowan fibers have to be stretched before they can be bent?

          No, this one looks like simply an example of “bend” semantics. For “stretch” K. mentions older Estonian nahka paenama “to stretch leather”.

          He also mentions Lönnrot’s glossing of the verb in his Finnish dictionary from the late 19th century: “väga, tynga, trycka, bända, klämma, nedtynga, nedtrycka, gravera, besvära; trycka (tyger, böcker), färga; böja, bända”.

          I don’t find the semantic difference much of a stretch really (no pun intended) — after all, to push an elastic or malleable substance flat is to also stretch it sideways, and vice versa. Consider also the derivative paino “weight” – usable for e.g. stretching straight a cord or a fishing line just as much as for pressing something flat.

          • M says:

            For “stretch” K. mentions older Estonian nahka paenama “to stretch leather”.

            I don’t know much about leather-stretching techniques, but I think that one method involves soaking leather in water, and perhaps this was thought of as applying (water) pressure to the leather?

            väga, tynga, trycka, bända, klämma, nedtynga, nedtrycka, gravera, besvära; trycka (tyger, böcker), färga; böja, bända”.

            Is JK’s argument that färga, böja, bända reflect earlier (artesanal?) meanings of painaa, rather than being extensions of the “press” meaning?

            I don’t find the semantic difference much of a stretch really (no pun intended) — after all, to push an elastic or malleable substance flat is to also stretch it sideways, and vice versa.

            The development you describe (pushing on an elastic substance ↔ stretching) is one possible avenue for getting from one meaning to the other, but whether a given word has actually undergone this development is a separate question. In the absence of a systematic methodology for investigating semantic change (analogous to what the comparative method does for sound change), I’m not sure how to convincingly answer this question one way or the other.

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