LINGUIST List 15.2644

Fri Sep 24 2004

Disc: New: Re: Review: Linguist 15.1878: Vennemann

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        1.    Robert Mailhammer, New: Re: Review: Linguist 15.1878: Vennemann

Message 1: New: Re: Review: Linguist 15.1878: Vennemann

Date: 24-Sep-2004
From: Robert Mailhammer <>
Subject: New: Re: Review: Linguist 15.1878: Vennemann

Dear Linguists, 

This is a comment on the review of Th. Vennemann (2003), Europa Vasconica - Europe Semitica, Berlin/N.Y. by Dr. Hayim Y. Sheynin, published in Linguist 15.1878. Apart from providing a summary, the reviewer also attempts to evaluate some of the book's most central points. Critical statements in a review are in principle welcome, however, in this case numerous points the reviewer makes are unfounded and show an unfortunate lack of diligence. This is all the more in need of correction as the LinguistList reaches a large audience of linguists all over the world. Consequently, a high standard for published reviews ought to be maintained.
First of all, in a number of instances the reviewer attacks points which are not actually made in the book or which are fully elaborated on in a separate publication.
- The full etymologies for G _Adel_ and G _Sippe_ are not part of the reviewed book, but they are only available as separate articles, which the reviewer admits to be ignorant of (p. 10). Nonetheless, the reviewer rejects both etymologies on the basis of a short passage in the introduction of the book without knowing the full account. Moreover, the introduction was written by the editor of the book under review and not by its author. Nowhere in the book are G _Adel_ or its Germanic equivalents translated as 'rulers'. Even the introduction only speaks about "term for the rulers" (p. xviii). In addition, the semantic development from 'root' to 'noble' can even be seen in Semitic as is pointed out in the relevant article.
- On p. 4 the reviewer reports that Vennemann traces back the non- etymologised words of Germanic to a substratum. This incorrect as every article dealing with Germanic prehistory carefully distinguishes substratum influence form superstratum influence (e.g. ch. 18). The very first article (ch. 1) even argues vehemently against a pure substratum theory.
- The reviewer claims that, according to Vennemann 2003, "the tribes of the Picts and the Vans" were part of the Semitidic society. In the relevant article (chapter 11, p. 382), Vennemann explicitly says that the Vanir (more correctly) are a mythological tribe whose correspondences to the Picts are not physical but cultural. In other words, it is not assumed that the Vanir existed physically, or that they are related to the Picts, but only that the society of the Picts and the mythological Vanir share some important cultural properties. Moreover, the reviewer (p.5) claims that there is no "linguistic evidence" allowing inferences on the Picts' language. However, chapter 11 discusses this problem and possible evidence in detail. An even more serious misinterpretation is the reviewer's claim that Vennemann admits the lack of linguistic evidence by quoting only a part of the passage included in ch. 11 (p. 381-382). Firstly, as the remainder of the passage reveals, it is a confirmation of the Pictish origin of an Irish saga and secondly, this is used as an argument of the connection between Picts and Atlantic people as the paragraph following the quote makes clear (p. 382).
- According to the reviewer, Lakarra (1996:without page number) claims that Vennemann does not mention that _p_ and _m_ and _r-_ are absent from Proto- Basque (p. 7). This is incorrect, as the phonological inventory on p. 174 clearly mentions these features and also notes mismatches between Proto- Basque and Old European, by the way, a fact not noted in Trask 1997, one of the main sources of the reviewer's critique (p. 7). Moreover, the entire article (ch. 6) never says Old European was identical to Proto-Basque. On p. 181 Vennemann makes clear that he equates Old European with a Palaeo- Basque stage comprising more than ancestral Basque.
- The reviewer (p. 9) claims that Vennemann never acknowledges the fact that a lot ("plethora") of his etymologies are also included in Levin 1995. Ch. 7 dates from 1994 (published in 1995) making it impossible to quote from Levin 1995 for reasons of chronology. However, in chapter 18 (published in 1998), p. 614, Vennemann explicitly refers to Levin 1995 ("The most intensive and elaborate study of this kind is the recent book by Saul Levin (1995)") and also gives examples of etymologies in common.
- The reviewer (p. 7, p. 12) claims that proposed Semitic loanwords are from semantic spheres which cannot be reconciled with the role ascribed to the Semitidic people by Vennemann. This is clearly incorrect, as Vennemann describes the superstratum relationship (including cultural, technological and military dominance) at length in several articles (e.g. ch. 1, 7, 10, 14, 17, 18).
- The reviewer (p. 10) rejects Vennemann's (tentative) etymology for E_wake_ for two reasons. Firstly, because in Akkadian initial _w_ does not show up and secondly, because the semantic connection is unclear. Both points are addressed by Vennemann (p. 358-59), particularly the Akkadian forms are supported by forms from Arabic and Ethopian showing initial _w_. Moreover, according to the literature (e.g. Lipinski 1997:114-115, Huehnergard 2000:588), initial _w_ is lost only in Old Babylonian times, but it is safely attested for the earlier stages. To indicate that an Akkadian form is attested both, with and without initial _w_ (depending on dialect and historical stage), the standard dictionary on Akkadian, von Soden 1965ff, puts it in brackets (see e.g. von Soden 1965ff:1461, 1464), a convention that is adopted by Vennemann.
- The rejection of Vennemann's suggested etymology for E _ward_ does not correctly incorporate Vennemann's proposal. First, the meaning of Gmc. *_ward_- is 'to guard, to look for' and not that of E _ward_ (p. 360 "ausschauen, bewachen"). Second, the semantic connection is supplied by Vennemann (p. 360), which is omitted in the review.
- The reviewer (p. 11) does not mention that for the traditional etymology of G _Erde_, E _earth_ (p.254) Vennemann refers to the Proto-Semitic root which has the same third consonant as Arabic. Therefore, the argument that Vennemann uses only the Arabic form is invalid. The exact correspondences between various Semitic languages are pointed out in e.g. the comparative Semitic grammar by E. Lipinski (1997:150).
- The review rejects the proposed etymology for G _Volk_ simply by claiming that "there is no semantic basis for this suggestion" (p. 11), disregarding the detailed explanation provided by Vennemann (p. 665-666).
- It is not clear why the reviewer rejects the proposed etymology for G _Haus_. Contrary to his claims (p. 11), Vennemann does not posit an equation with L _casa_ and G _Haus_ does not have any IE cognates according to the German etymological dictionaries (e.g. Kluge 2002, s.v. _Haus_).
- The reviewer claims that Vennemann does not supply a Semitic cognate for WGmc. *_farh_-. However, in the relevant article (ch. 19), it becomes clear with which Semitic root Vennemann connects the Germanic word. On p. 664 Venemann (19.3) explains the morphological connection to Semitic _plh!_ 'to furrow', and on p. 665 the semantic link to WGmc. *_farh-_ is elaborated on.
- The review (p. 9) criticises Vennemann's etymology for G _Ru_ for "barely" having acoustic resemblances to the Semitic root in question. However, as Vennemann (p. 256) states, a Semitic form *_qt!-r_ is likely to have been borrowed as Paleo-Gmc. *_kh-r-t'-_ which regularly would have yielded Gmc. *_hr-t'_(Grimm's Law and metathesis or slope displacement of the _r_, cf. Vennemann 1984, 1988:58), e.g. OS _pre - In his rejection of Vennemann's etymology for E _apple_ (p. 11), the reviewer claims that there is no similarity between the Semitic and the Germanic etyma. However, in ch. 18 (p. 624), the correspondence is explained: Grimm's law changes a borrowed, pre-Germanic *_b_ regularly into Germanic *_p_. Two more cases, in which the reviewer does not consider Grimm's Law: 1. Vennemann's etymology for G _Heer_. The Proto-Semitic "emphatic velar plosive _q!_" (p. 11 the reviewer's transcription) is highly likely to yield Gmc. *_h_. 2. Vennemann's etymology for G _Eber_: PrSmc. *_p_ (Akkad. _rru_, Arab. _'ifr_ p. 252) regularly corresponds to Gmc *_b_ according to Grimm's and Verner's Laws.
In addition, the review frequently makes sweeping claims which are not substantiated by arguments, but only by references to a selection of the literature which is either not representative, or quoted incorrectly and/or incompletely.
- The reviewer quotes from Trask 1997 to reject Vennemann's reconstruction of Old European as Palaeo-Basque. However, it is not mentioned that Trask (1997:367) confirms the high frequency of initial _a_ for Proto-Basque as well as for Old European and the agglutinative character of both languages. In particular, he does not show "problems associated with all V.s examples one after another" (p. 7 of the review). Trask 1997 only criticises a few features, among them the etymology for the name of the city of Munich, but he does not mount a full-scale criticism (see Trask 1997:367). That Trask 1997 does not dismiss Vennemann's ideas as "non-serious" (review, p. 7) is clear from the very fact that he discusses them in his standard textbook on the history of Basque. In particular, Trask (1997:367) makes it quite clear that Vennemann's position is not at all badly researched: "none of these objections is necessarily fatal to Vennemann's position, but they are far from helpful, and I would suggest that what Vennemann has identified, is at best an agglutinating language that looks very little like Basque."
- P. Kitson may be an important expert (p. 9), but on closer scrutiny his arguments do not vindicate any of the drastic conclusions presented in the review. Kitson (1997:83) claims that "nearly every one of his [Vennemann's R.M.] examples is suspect as one or more of: falsely segmented, not 'Old European', or not even a river name" (quoted also by the reviewer, p. 8). However, Kitson 1997 backs his claims up with only one example each (fn. 14, 15), which is hardly enough to say "nearly every one". In addition, Kitson 1997 overlooks that in the relevant article (ch. 6, p-147) Vennemann specifically includes other toponyms (especially settlement names) in his hypothesis ("more generally, [...] the Old European toponymy"). Moreover, Kitson's claim that _Acrista_ and _Indrista_ are falsely segmented by Vennemann suffers from a an obvious flaw: Kitson (1997:83 fn. 15) posits that in both names the _r_ is part of the root and not a suffix, which cannot be correct as PIE does not allow roots of the structure CVCS-; the sonorant S has to be closest to the nuclear vowel (see any introduction to Proto-Indo- European, e.g. Tichy 2004:35). Consequently, the two names quoted in Kitson 1997 in fact support Vennemann's hypothesis of a non-IE toponymy. Moreover, Kitson (1997:105) claims that the IE language which produced the Old European hydronymy was one which levelled the difference between _o_ and _a_. However, this cannot be true as Krahe's hydronyms do contain both _o_ and _a_ e.g. in suffixes (cf. the quotations from Kahe's Hydronymie in ch. 6), which would be impossible if Kitson 1997 were correct. Additionally, the reviewer uses the opinion advanced in Kitson 1997 on the prehistory of Europe to argue against Vennemann's reconstruction (p. 9). It should be evident that that reference to a single unfounded account is hardly enough to reject Vennemann's proposal so decidedly.
- The review (p. 13) claims that "even the greatest linguists would not attempt historical reconstruction going back to the fifth millennium BC" without supplying examples, yet there are entire branches of historical linguistics that reconstruct proto-languages without attestations, e.g. works by reputed authors such as J. Kurylowicz, W. P. Lehmann, J. Jasanoff, O. Szemer nyi and many others who have researched stages of languages before attestations.
- The reviewer cites Trask (1997:367) who argues that Schmid (1987) has "pointed out that a number of morphs found in these old hydronyms can be straightforwardly identified with Indo-European morphemes". What is omitted, however, is the fact that Schmid (1987:328) explicitly states that his approach only works "if attempts to reconstruct a protolanguage are abandoned", which is a significant deviation from the general opinion on Indo-European. As Kitson 1997 and Trask 1997, two out of three "important experts" named in the review (p. 9), base their judgment about the origin of the toponymastic language only on Schmid's idiosyncratic ideas, their point is weakened considerably.
- The reviewer's claim (p. 14) that "the languages do not borrow general ideas of structure one from another [sic]" rests on a fundamental misunderstanding. Vennemann does not claim that Germanic borrowed the concept of ablaut from Semitic. Instead, he refers to over-generalisation in a situation of second language acquisition (p. 626). Apart from that, the reviewer here shows a lack of familiarity with the theory of language contact, because there it has been firmly established that right social situation in principle every feature can be borrowed (cf. Thomason & Kaufman 1988:48: "In a comparably intense borrowing situation, whole subsystems or even the entire grammar may be borrowed along with large numbers of words" (see also Tesch 1979, Appel & Muysken 1987, Mufwene 2001, Winford 2003, Sankoff 2004).
- In his rejection of the proposed etymology for G _Sippe_ the reviewer says that the Semitic root "nowhere in Smc. [Semitic, R.M.] the form similar to Gmc., i.e. without nominal preformative, and with the meaning 'family' is attested." Unfortunately, the reviewer, who admittedly had not read the relevant article and in addition seems to be unfamiliar with the relevant Semitological literature, missed the reference Vennemann used to establish the Semitic root in form and meaning: see Lipinski (1997:545):"one cannot forget that __ [sh used here to indicate the voiceless palato-alveolar sibilant, h! used here to refer to a voiceless emphatic velar fricative, R.M.]was a clan or larger family in biblical times, and that _shph!_ means 'posterity' in Ugaritic and 'family' in Punic. This is confirmed by the most recent Phoenecian-Punic dictionary by C. Krahmalkov (2000:476).
- The reviewer (p. 12-13) rejects Vennemann's proposals (based on work by R. Coates) involving various toponyms in Great Britain without argument, just with the comment "non-convincing". This is clearly not enough in academic discourse. Moreover, in some instances the review's argumentation is inconsistent with its own presuppositions.
- The reviewer (p. 9) points out that an etymological dictionary of Afro- Asiatic, Orel 1995, has been judged as insufficient by Diakonov and Kogan. However, on p. 13, he uses exactly this dictionary as an authority to refute two etymologies proposed in Vennemann 2003.
- The reviewer (p.3) says that he "accepts the general principle of existing of substrata and superstrata and their role in the development and growth of the languages in condition of language contacts. Our presumption is only that the existing of such contacts should be proven either by external or internal evidence beyond reasonable doubts". Firstly, if a contact situation has been "proven beyond reasonable doubts" one does not have to argue in favour of it. Secondly, on p. 14, the reviewer says, he is "not going to check V.'s extra-linguistic data, because we believe that first the linguistic facts should be proven." This contradicts the quote from p. 3 where the reviewer explicitly states the equal significance of external and internal evidence. Consequently, the extra-linguistic arguments provided in the book under review should have been considered.
Curiously, the reviewer (p. 13) criticises the form of the book and advises re-writing as well as changing the language to either German or English. This not only ignores the reviewer's own judgement that the book is a "complete failure" but also the fact that it is a collection of previously published thematic essays, rather than the author's "magnum opus" (p. 6). The suggestion that the book under review is Th. Vennemann's "Lebenswerk" (p. 2), in particular, shows that the reviewer does not seem to be at home in the world of Linguistics: The 27 articles of _Europa Vasconica - Europa Semitica_ account for only a fraction of Th. Vennemann's published research; this author is probably much better known to most linguists for his work on word order, general and Germanic phonology, and principles of language change.
Robert Mailhammer University of Munich
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