Pre-greek Loanwords in Greek (Beekes)

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A. Introduction

The substrate language of Greek will be called Pre-Greek in this dictionary; this is a translation of the German term das Vorgriechische. No written texts exist in this language, but it is known from a considerable number of loanwords in Greek.

The study of Pre-Greek has had an unfortunate history. In the past century, it was called Pelasgian and considered a dialect of Indo-European. This idea fascinated scholars, and research concentrated on this proposal. But the whole idea was clearly wrong, and by now, it is generally agreed that the substrate was non-Indo-European. Therefore, the term Pelasgian can no longer be used. Frisk already had strong doubts about the Pelasgian theory, but nevertheless, he often mentioned the proposals of its adherents. Since all work following this line has turned out to be useless, I decided to make no mention of the theory anymore in the dictionary.

When Frisk completed his dictionary in 1972, Furnes book Die wichtigsten konsonantischen Erscheinungen des Vorgriechischen, which was his dissertation written under the supervision of F.B.J. Kuiper, had just appeared. It was an elaboration of Kuipers 1956 study on Greek substrate words, which opened a new chapter in the research of the field. Furne rejected the Pelasgian theory, too (see especially op. cit. pp. 40-55).

Furnes book met with fierce criticism and was largely neglected. In my view, this was a major mistake in Greek scholarship. True, some of his identifications are improbable, and his repeated claim that certain forms were expressive leads nowhere. What remains, however, is that he studied a great number of relevant forms and drew obvious conclusions from them. PreGreek words often show a type 0f variation which is not found in inherited words. It is self-evident that this variation must be studied, and this is what Furne did. It has turned out (as Kuiper had already shown) that this variation shows certain recurrent patterns and can be used to recognize Pre-Greek elements.

Furnes book is not easy to use: every form is discussed at three or four places, each time in a different context, so that it may be difficult to find out what his point really is. On the other hand, his treatment is very careful, and there hardly any obvious mistakes. I found a number of cases which he had not recognized (e.g. ), but this does not change the fact that his book was the best collection at the time. Furne worked on it for twenty years, and even now it is the only hand-book on the subject. The short overview which follows below is based on Furnes material and on my own research of more than thirty years.[1]

Furne went astray in two respects. First, he considered almost all variation to be of an expressive character, which is certainly wrong: it is evident that the variation found is due to the adaptation of words (or phonemes) of a foreign language to Greek. We shall see below that many variants can be understood in this way. Secondly, Furne was sometimes overzealous in his search for inner-Greek correspondences. Many of Furnes discoveries are brilliant (see s.v. for an example), but sometimes he went too far: not every alternation necessarily points to Pre-Greek origin. The author can hardly be blamed for his enthusiasm. He was exploring new ground, and it can only be expected that he sometimes overplayed his hand.

Several scholars were baffled by Furnes proposals and hence rejected the whole book altogether. His method, however, was correct and I have only filtered out the improbable suggestions. In many cases, of course, we cannot be absolutely certain, but this cannot be an objection. Except for a very small number of cases, Furnes material does consist of PreGreek words. His index contains 4400 words, and taking into account that many of these words concern derivatives and variants, as well as a few IndoEuropean words, I estimate that Furnes book discusses some 1000 PreGreek etyma.[2]

In general, I have given only a few personal names and toponyms, and no material of this kind from outside Greece and Asia Minor. The comparison with Basque or Caucasian languages has not been considered in this dictionary, as this is not my competence; it is likely that there are such connections, but this must be left to other scholars.

My suggested reconstructions are not essential. One may ignore them and just consider the variation itself. These variants are often explained as incidental phenomena (assimilation, influence of other words, etc.), and such explanations may be sometimes correct, but if we know that some variants frequently occur, we will have to consider PreGreek origin. Existing etymological dictionaries often seem to avoid the conclusion that a word is a substrate element. It is remarkable that Chantraine was quite aware of the problem in his Formation, but in his dictionary he often withdrew his earlier evaluation (which in my view was correct). It looks as if substrate elements were not welcome there.

The relationship with Anatolian languages is a separate problem. A Greek word is often called a loan from an Anatolian language, while it may just as well be borrowed from the Pre-Greek substrate. It is generally accepted, on the basis of toponyms, that there was a language which was once spoken both in Greece and in western Asia Minor.[3] In most cases, however, it is impossible to distinguish between substrate words and loans from Asia Minor (the latter are from a later date). A word may have been adopted through commerce, as often happens between two neighboring countries, or starting from the time when Greeks settled in Asia Minor, probably as early as the 15th century. From a methodological point of view, I think it is better to consider such words as PreGreek, and to define them as loanwords from an Anatolian language only when there is reason to do so. Still, it is clear that we may often make mistakes here. A case in point is clew, ball of wool ready for spinning. The word is clearly related to Luwian and Hitt. taluppa/i lump, clod. The Greek word is typical of PreGreek words: the structure CaCup (with a appearing as o before u) and the absence of an Indo-European etymology (Melchert Orpheus 8 (1998): 4751 is not convincing) imply that the word is PreGreek or Pre-Anatolian. On the other hand, clew is not a word that is easily brought from overseas; it is an everyday word that the speakers of Greek and Anatolian must have picked up not far from home. I completely agree with Furnes interpretation (3533) that the word was brought to Greece by settlers from Anatolia who spoke the language, which, from another perspective, we call PreGreek. In other words, is a loan from an Anatolian language, but this (probably non-Indo-European) language was also spoken in large parts of Greece before the Greeks (speaking an IndoEuropean language) arrived there.

It is essential to realize that substrate words are a frequent phenomenon. One may regret this (for instance, from the Indo-Europeanist point of view), but this is irrelevant; the existence of Pre-Greek words is simply a fact that has to be accepted. To me, it is fascinating that in this way we can learn something about the oldest language of Europe (including Anatolia), of which we otherwise have no evidence.

The Pelasgian theory has done much harm, and it is time to forget it. The latest attempt was Heubecks Minoisch-Mykenisch (discussed by Furne 55-66), where the material was reduced to some ten words; the theory has by now been tacitly abandoned.

B. Phonology

1. The phonemic system of PreGreek

Voiceless, voiced and aspirated stops may interchange in Pre-Greek words, without any apparent conditioning factors. This fact shows that voice and aspiration were not distinctive features in PreGreek.[4] On the other hand, the Linear B signs (graphemes) for rjo, rja and tja show that palatalization probably was distinctive. This is confirmed by the sign pte (e.g. in ra-pte-re /hrapteres/ with the agent suffix ter), which must go back to an earlier pye. In the Pre-Greek material, such a phoneme may underlie examples like . One may wonder whether points to py > pt, which was realized with aspiration. Further, the signs two, twe, dwo, dwe, nwa, swa, swi, point to labialization as a distinctive feature, i.e. two, twe, dwo, dwe, nwa, swa, swi. Note that palatal and labial forms of graphemes are found both with resonants and stops, which is a phenomenon alien to Indo-European languages. The existence of labiovelars is confirmed by qa-si-re-u = , etc. (see further Beekes Glotta 73 (1995/6): 12f.). We may thus posit the following system[5]:

p py pw t ty tw k ky kw s sy sw r ry rw l ly lw m my mw n ny nw

Of course, it is possible that one or more of the posited phonemes did not occur in Pre-Greek (e.g., my is a rare sound in the languages of the world).

We can now use this insight in explaining the surfacing Greek forms. Thus, / () can now be explained from a Pre-Greek form *dakwn.[6] In the former form, the labiovelar yields a labial stop . In the latter, it is rendered by , with anticipation of the labial feature, while the labiovelar turns up as a velar, possib-ly by dissimilation from ukw. Again, note that aspiration is not phonemic in Pre-Greek. It is very important to note that we cannot predict how a Pre-Greek form will surface in Greek: sometimes a stop turns up as an aspirate, sometimes as a voiced stop (e.g. / , see B 5.1. below). As a consequence, it may happen that there is a large number of variants, but it may also be that there are no variants at all.

As a second example, we may also understand / Lesb. from a pre-form *ankwn. The latter form is directly understandabl