Koibal Addenda

In the recent years, Tamás Janurik has been releasing online numerous papers, small surveys and reference materials on the Uralic languages, particularly Samoyedic and Hungarian (all mainly thru his academia.edu page). Last week the roster has been joined by what seem like two particularly notable works: Kamassz szótár and Kojbál szótár, two “doculectal-comparative” dictionaries that aim to arrange together and morphologically analyze all currently available lexical material on these extinct Samoyedic languages. Despite titles and introductions in Hungarian, the bulk of both dictionaries actually use German as their main metalanguage. Conveniently (if not for anglomonoglots), basic glosses are also provided in no less than three languages: German, Hungarian and Russian.

The haul is respectable: 1456+114 word groups for Kamassian and 570 for Koibal (with Russian loanwords in Kamassian listed separately from the “native Siberian” word stock [1]). A comparison that easily springs to mind is with the etymological lexicon of Helimski’s Die matorische Sprache, documenting 1134 word groups across all varieties of Mator, and at least the Koibal dictionary might reach similar status as a standard lexical source. For Kamassian there still remain unpublished archive materials though, some already from the main field researchers Castrén, Donner and Künnap. Given their close relationship, in principle it might be also a good idea to eventually arrange all Kamass–Koibal material in a single etymological database or the like.

So far I’ve been poring over the Koibal data and its etymological remarks. Going back to the original sources of Spasskiy and Pallas (and also cataloguing their later appearences especially in the works of Klaproth), Janurik turns out to identify a good couple dozen more Koibal cognates for Kamassian and other Samoyedic languages than are listed in earlier reference works. No more than four of these lack Kamassian equivalents altogether, though: from Spasskiy корламъ ‘to ask’ (PS *kå-), пысва ‘rotten’ (PS *poså- ‘to rot’), тугуламъ ‘to gnaw’ (PS *t¹okɜ-); from Pallas chailàn ‘gull’ (PS ? *kələjə). This could be though in part due to how Janurik does not seem to propose any entirely new Proto-Samoyedic roots, and limits himself to adducing new Kamass and Koibal reflexes for previously known ones. This still leaves a good number of unetymologized vocabulary awaiting further research. All these are now at least well identified and collected together. Janurik employs an admirably detailed scheme of marking each word group with an etymological code: P1–P5 for words that seem native to some extent within Samoyedic, L1–L3 for post-Proto-Samoyedic loanwords, XX for entirely isolated words. The distinction between his layers P1 (Proto-Uralic) and P2 (Proto-Samoyedic) is not quite up to speed on 21st-century research, but this is a minor detail here. Similarly I wonder about at least the naming of his group P3 (Proto-South Samoyedic), when it is Janurik himself who has presented one of the clearest arguments against assuming such a subgroup. [2] But it is certainly of some value to distinguish Kamass–Koibal words with and without northern Samoyedic cognates, as the latter e.g. might be more likely to turn out to be areal loanwords rather than actual common inheritance.


The newly identified cognates so far already provide food for thought anyway. For a simple example, the aforementioned chailàn ‘gull’ seems to be slightly off compared to the earlier PS reconstruction, suggesting rather something like *kəjələ. A slightly better match in root structure could be actually UEW’s *kaja(-ka) ‘gull’; or, since PU *a > PS *å > Kamass–Koibal a is a minority development (normally *å > o, u) and incompatible with the potential Nenets and Selkup cognates that certainly require *ə, maybe the best solution would be independent formation after all from a mimetic root √kaj-.

A second bird name that leaves me thinking is Km. šēgə ~ Kb. сега ‘cuckoo’. This could be derived entirely regularly, together with cognates in Selkup, from PS *käkV. Clearly this is another old mimetic term, at least predating the assibilation of PS *k to *š; but how old exactly? Several compareable words for ‘cuckoo’ turn up again also further west in Uralic, including Khanty *käɣii, Udmurt /kikɨ/, Komi /kɤk/ and Finnic *käki (the first three reported but considered improbable in SSA). The medial consonants and vowel correspondences do not entirely behave though. At best Khanty and Finnic would point to *käkə, Samoyedic and Permic to *käkkä; or maybe Samoyedic and Khanty to *käkä. This all might not be fatal in a bird name; some of this could be reshaping to retain a more iconic shape for the word (whereas e.g. from *käkə we would otherwise expect *kä in Samoyedic). But then we could ask as well if this is not due to the words being independently formed; or borrowed even: the Finnic words have been often considered to be loaned from Baltic (cf. Lithuanian gegužė with a dialect variant gegė), though this remains uncertain too for similar reasons. — Really the entire distinction between “reshaping” and “independent formation” seems somewhat vacuous when dealing with words of this sort that have had an iconic motivation available all along. Quite likely Proto-Uralic did have a name for the cuckoo that was something like #kVkV, but if this has actually survived in an expected regular shape anywhere would have to be guesswork. [3]

Next up, the case I find the most interesting are the Kamassian and Koibal words for ‘son-in-law’. I’ve already noticed earlier that the former would go well with a hypothesis I have on the reconstruction of this word in Proto-Uralic, and Janurik’s newly adduced Koibal cognate seems to support the idea further. Actually even the Kamassian cognate has not appeared in etymological references earlier as far as I can tell. This is not a major surprize, since the form is malmi, quite far from either SW’s Proto-Samoyedic reconstruction *wiŋə or UEW’s Proto-Uralic reconstruction *wäŋe.

The first key to this puzzle is provided by Kamassian alma ‘dream’. Nominally this comes very close to Ugric forms for the same (e.g. Hungarian álom : álmo-), and UEW goes as far as to support a wild proposal of a loanword from Khanty. Janhunen in SW however suggests a different solution. Within Samoyedic a clearly different root can be reconstructed for ‘dream’: *äŋwå, and the Kamassian word could be derived from this via assimilation–then–dissimilation, *ŋw > *ŋm > lm. Such a sound change series would already provide more grounds for comparing malmi with PS *wiŋɜ (note also that *w- > *b- > m- before a word-internal nasal is a known regular sound law). The Koibal cognate identified by Janurik comes in at exactly this point: we find here the form манмемъ (most likely an 1PS possessed form ‘my son-in-law’), suggesting that also this instance of Km. /lm/ has indeed evolved from *ŋm. I would not be certain on if this should be taken as still containing /ŋm/ however (thus Janurik) or, as it can be read prima facie, /nm/. This latter could be still archaic with respect to Kamassian of course, i.e. in more detail we would have *ŋm > /nm/ > /lm/. (The other possible routing I guess is *ŋm > *ɫm > /lm/, slightly more awkward since there seems to be no reason to assume a distinct velarized *ɫ at any point in the history of Kamassian.)

Where would this word-internal *m < *w come from then? I suspect it has actually been there all along. For one, we already have various forms like Finnish vävy and Mator mijüh (миюгмэ) pointing to some kind of an original labial element near the stem vowel, which has already led to newer reconstructions along the lines of PU *wäŋəw(ə) rather than bare *wäŋə. [4] For two, the Samic reflexes of this word shows a long-standing minor problem: they indicate Proto-Samic *vivë, with a seemingly Finnic-like development *ŋ >> *v. I would suggest that this issue is due to incorrect segment alignment: that Samic *v does not continue the original 2nd-syllable *ŋ, but instead the 3rd-syllable *w, and original *ŋ has been instead lost to a vocalization process of some sort. If correct, this would show direct evidence for a reconstruction *wäŋəwə (i.e. ruling out anything like **wäŋü with a labial vowel in PU already), making the PU shape of the word actually a relatively good fit at least for the consonant skeleton of Kamassian and Koibal. I could even suggest reconstructing for PU a morphophonologically alternating paradigm, with a vowel stem *wäŋwə- (> Samic, Km–Kb) : consonant stem *wäŋəw- (> Finnic, Nenets, Nganasan etc.); though this is motivated also by some other considerations that would take us fairly well afield from the current topic.

There is definitely still room for skepticism about this however, and in particular the vowel correspondences continue to be quite irregular: in the first syllable, none of PU *ä, PS *i and Kamass–Koibal a regularly corresponds to each other, while in the 2nd syllable, Km. -i ~ Kb. -e most typically continues PS / PU *-ä, not *-ə.

So far I have not started any systematic investigation of the entirely unetymologized Kamassian and/or Koibal vocabulary remaining. However, for closing, one simple observation on this front: kuro- ‘to be angry’ (in both Km. and Kb.) probably continues PU *kurə ‘anger’.

[1] i.e. native Samoyedic words, Turkic and Mongolic loanwords, and all vocabulary of unknown origin.
[2] Janurik, Tamás. 2012. Volt-e a déli-szamojéd (PSS) alapnyelv?Per Urales ad Orientem. Iter polyphonicum multilingue: 145–162.
[3] A further complication still is the potential Mator cognate / reflex: géihe in Pallas, кига in Müller, per Helimski suggesting PS *-jk- rather than plain *-k-. However the precedent of PS *äjmä ‘needle’ > Kamassian ńīmi ~ Koibal неме would maybe then seem to predict ˣšīgə for ‘cuckoo’, and we are right back in not knowing which way irregular correspondences in iconic or onomatopoetic vocabulary should be interpreted.
[4] This final *-w(ə) is strictly speaking not segmentable, but it is probably originally the same formant as also in two other in-law terms: PU *käləw(ə) ? ‘sister-in-law’ and *nataw(ə) ? ‘brother-in-law’.

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Posted in Commentary, Etymology, News
6 comments on “Koibal Addenda
  1. David Marjanović says:

    Balto-Slavic and Germanic cuckoos derived from a PIE root that meant “hide” and plenty of morphology. Read the comments to find out where the Germanic *k comes from.

  2. Ante Aikio says:

    The addition of Kamas /malmi/ as a cognate of *wäŋiw ‘son-in-law’ is an engenious observation in Janurik’s dictionary, and the related idea of some kind of alternation (*wäŋiw : *wäŋwi-, or the like) in Uralic *w-stems that is suggested in this blog post is a very interesting hypothesis – although still quite hypothetical at this point, of course.

    A couple of potentially relevant observations come to mind. I wonder if such an alternation could also offer an explanation for the sound correspondence Finnic *koivu ~ Samoyed (?)*kuǝ- ‘birch’ and Finno-Saamic *polwi ~ Samoyed *puǝ- ‘knee’. In these cases Samoyed shows no sign of a postconsonantal *w, and perhaps the duality could be explained by assuming similar alternations (?? *kojiw(V) : *kojwV-, ??*poliw : *polwi-, or the like) which then became analogically levelled in different ways.

    One more word with a -Cw- cluster showing weird correspondences is Finnish parvi ‘flock; raft’; could this perhaps also reflect ealier *pariw : *parwi-, or the like?

  3. j. says:

    Good followup questions as well. It was not quite in my mind earlier, but this now also brings to mind Ganschow’s old idea of PFU *əɣ-stems, which he saw as the source of several stem types in Finno–Samic, including *CVCwə and *CVCU, at the time without suggesting any conditioning factors though.

  4. B. Blasebalg says:

    I briefly browsed through the work on Kamassian, particularly the Janhunen section.

    What caught my eye, as completely ignorant of Kamassian, was the apparently regular initial fortition, up to orthography and dependent on the following vowel:
    PS *j- > Kamassian KW t-, t’ś-, d’-, ďź-, KS dж-, A dsch-, CW t’-
    (I suppose these spellings indicate alternative realizations of palatal /c/);
    but sometimes also *j- > n-.
    These changes almost seem like an attempt to blur any similarities with the proto-language …

    Also, PS *åê-, Kamassian īgɛm “sein” struck me as odd.
    I suppose -m is a 1st ps sg ending (“I am”), but where does the -g- come from?
    Inferring from the rest of the comparisons, it does not seem to have phonetically arisen. But is it just some mysterious “extension”, or can it be explained?

    • j. says:

      Fortition plus possible devoicing and affrication of *j- as well as intervening development to n before a word-medial nasal are indeed regular features of Kamassian. *j > ď is decently common in Uralic, the latter however are more specifically areal Sayan, shared with Mator and partly Siberian Turkic. (E.g. *jumurtka ‘egg’ seems to yield Khakassian nɨmɨrxa, Shor nɨbɨrtqa, Tofa ńumurxa; Tuva čuurɣa.)

      -gɛ- is an aorist/present tense marker that probably continues the usual Samoyedic *-ŋA-, though strangely only on a few verbs; others include miŋ-gɛ-m ‘I go’ (by Castrén’s time still miŋäm, apparently with regular *ŋk > *ŋg > ŋ), nu-ɣa-m ‘I stand’. Basically all other simple verbs instead use innovative -ľA-.

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