Tocharian’s snakes for lions and camels for leopards

As peoples in northern Europe became dimly aware of Near Eastern animals through the Bible or trade links, some amusing lexical shifts and new coinings occurred. Indo-Europeanists may know the trivia that the Gothic (ulbandus) and Slavonic (velĭbǫdŭ < Goth.) words for ‘camel’ are ultimately drawn from Greek ἐλέφας ‘elephant’, those peoples having never seen the species in question themselves. When Mikael Agricola was translating the New Testament into Finnish in the mid 16th century, he had no clear idea of a lion and so coined the term jalopeura ‘noble deer’ for the animal.

Now we have more trivia of such wacky misunderstandings thanks to Kryzsztof Tomasz Witczak’s 2013 article “Two Tocharian borrowings of Oriental origin” in Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hung. Vol. 66 (4). Witczak argues that Tocharian A ārṣal, B arṣāklo ‘serpent’ is a loanword from Turkic, namely *ar­salan ‘lion’. The Tocharian B word par­tāk­to ‘camel’ on the other hand was borrowed from East Iranian *par­dāk(u)-tā (pl.) ‘leopards’. The phonetic aspects of these derivations are unquestionable.

It’s a fun paper with many interesting digressions on a large number of Central Asian languages, so I highly recommend seeking it out.

Online Tocharian language course

Wanting to get into Tocharian, I was daunted by the seeming lack of an introductory textbook, which would necessitate the need to cobble together a view of the language from Pinault’s deceivingly titled Introduction au tokharien and Malzahn’s The Tocharian Verbal System, the only books on the subject I have at hand. Continue reading Online Tocharian language course

Indo-European loans in Turkic

I’ve long heard that words for ‘apple’ and ‘gold’ are well-traveled Wanderwörter, appearing in languages from northwestern Europe to the eastern extremes of Asia. Common Turkic, for example, has alma and altïn respectively. But there’s a suspicion that many more examples of common vocabulary can be found in both Indo-European and Turkic, perhaps loaned from Tocharian. Jonathan North Washington, a graduate student at Indiana University, has compiled a long list of Turkic words which appear at least superficially similar to words in other language groups. Thought-provoking reading.

An earlier, shorter list was compiled by I.A. Baskakov. He contributed a paper to the festschrift Tatarica, compiled for the 60th birthday of University of Helsinki turkology docent Ymar Daher on November 11, 1970 and not actually published until 1987 (which must be a record of some sort). In his ‘О некоторых тохарских заимствованиях в лексике тюркских языков’ (On some Tocharian loanwords in the Turkic languages) he gives the following comparisons:

  1. Turkic bes ~ bes ~ peš ~ pis ‘5’ < Tocharian B pi’s.
  2. Turkic bil- ‘to know’ < Toch.A päl-, Toch. B pal- ‘to think’.
  3. Turkic čantal ‘butcher’ < Toch. B caṇṭal.
  4. Turkic čäk- ‘to pull’ < Toch.A, B tsäk- ‘to haul’.
  5. Turkic alaqan ‘palm’ < Toch.A äle, Toch. B āl ‘palm’.
  6. Turkic höküz ~ ögüz ‘bull’ < Toch. B okso ‘bull’.
  7. Turkic jap- ‘to do’ < Toch.A, B jam- ‘to do, to work’.
  8. Turkic jez ‘copper, tin’ < Toch.A wäs, Toch. B jasä.
  9. Turkic jigirmi ~ žigirme ‘20’ < Toch. B ikäm.
  10. Turkic ikki ~ eki ‘2’ < Toch.A wīki.
  11. Turkic kert- ‘to cut’ < Toch. B kär.
  12. Turkic kes- ‘to cut’ < Toch. B käs.
  13. Turkic kün ~ gün ‘day, sun’ < Toch.A koni ~ kom, Toch. B kaum ~ kom.
  14. Turkic sol ‘left’ < Toch.A sāl, Toch. B swal.
  15. Turkic tam ‘wall’ < Toch.A stām, Toch. B stäm ‘tree’.
  16. Turkic tör ‘honorary place in front of a door’ < Toch. B twere.
  17. Turkic tört ~ dört ‘4’ < Toch.A śtẃar, Toch. B stwer.
  18. Turkic tümen ‘10,000’ < Toch.A tmam, Toch. B tumane ~ tmame.

I can’t say I find many of Baskakov’s comparisons convincing, however. I’d like to read about more examples of such substantial borrowing of numbers from other languages.