* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
LINGUIST List logo Eastern Michigan University Wayne State University *
* People & Organizations * Jobs * Calls & Conferences * Publications * Language Resources * Text & Computer Tools * Teaching & Learning * Mailing Lists * Search *
* *
LINGUIST List 20.1318

Tue Apr 07 2009

Review: Historical Linguistics: de Vaan (2008)

Editor for this issue: Randall Eggert <randylinguistlist.org>

This LINGUIST List issue is a review of a book published by one of our supporting publishers, commissioned by our book review editorial staff. We welcome discussion of this book review on the list, and particularly invite the author(s) or editor(s) of this book to join in. If you are interested in reviewing a book for LINGUIST, look for the most recent posting with the subject "Reviews: AVAILABLE FOR REVIEW", and follow the instructions at the top of the message. You can also contact the book review staff directly.
        1.    Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages

Message 1: Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages
Date: 07-Apr-2009
From: Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy <andrew.carstairs-mccarthycanterbury.ac.nz>
Subject: Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/19/19-2146.html
AUTHOR: de Vaan, Michiel
TITLE: Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages
SERIES: Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series 7
YEAR: 2008

Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy, Department of Linguistics, University of Canterbury,
New Zealand

This dictionary is part of the Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary
Series, a project begun in 1991 with the aim of replacing the outdated
_Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch_ by Julius Pokorny (1959) (see
http://www.brill.nl/ieed). The vast bulk of the book (pages 17-692) consists of
Latin, Faliscan, Oscan, Umbrian and Venetic words and roots in alphabetical
order, each with an English gloss and (usually) a list of derivatives, a
Proto-Italic form, a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) form, cognates in other
Indo-European languages, and comments on points of special interest or
difficulty. The bibliography occupies pages 693 to 722. On pages 725 to 825 is a
list of Italic, Celtic, Anatolian, Indo-Iranian, Greek, Phrygian, Armenian,
Albanian, Baltic, Slavic, Germanic, Tokharian and Proto-Indo-European words and
roots, indicating the pages on which they are mentioned in the main part of the

The introduction (pages 1-15) discusses the author's method (especially the use
he makes of other scholars' conclusions) and his assumptions regarding PIE and
Proto-Italic phonology. Most importantly, it explains (p. 1) the basis on which
words are included or excluded. Excluded are ''those Latin words which are
certainly or probably loanwords from known, non-Italic languages, such as
Celtic, Etruscan, Germanic, Greek and Semitic.''

This is an impressive, handsomely produced volume. It deserves to be in any
serious linguistic library. Even though it is ostensibly restricted to Latin,
the long list of words in other Indo-European languages (pages 725-85) makes it
useful also for anyone seeking enlightenment on Indo-European etymologies in
general. Particularly if one is interested in a Proto-Indo-European root with a
known Latin derivative, the dictionary is easier to use than Pokorny 1959. For
example, let us say one is interested in cognates of Latin _domus_ 'house'. In
this dictionary, one need only look up _domus_ in the main section. In Pokorny,
by contrast, where the main section consists of alphabetized PIE roots, one has
to work out that the appropriate item to look up is _dem-_ 'bauen', not _dom-_.
Alternatively, if one searches for Latin _domus_ in Pokorny's second volume,
where actual words are alphabetized, one must first check the contents table at
the very end in order to find where Latin and other Italic words are listed.
(They come between Albanian and Celtic, as it happens.)

The main drawback that I find in this new dictionary concerns its exclusions.
The motive for excluding certain or probable loanwords from other Indo-European
languages, presumably, is that these will be or have been dealt with in the
companion post-Pokorny dictionaries relating to whichever branch of
Indo-European they were borrowed from. But, strangely enough, this dictionary
gives no information about these companion volumes. One might be inclined to
guess that no others have yet been published - indeed the Preface (page vii)
talks of the project's 'chequered history' -, yet the website
http://www.brill.nl/ieed reveals that etymological dictionaries of Hittite,
Slavic and (rather oddly) Old Frisian and ''the Iranian verb'' are already
available, with Proto-Celtic and Armenian promised for 2009.

This exclusion policy has odd consequences. For example, the word _larix_
'larch', which the Oxford Latin Dictionary suggests is a Celtic borrowing, is
included on the basis that it is a loanword ''from an unknown language''. On the
other hand, the word _essedum_ 'Gaulish two-wheeled war chariot', a word once
familiar to schoolchildren throughout Europe because of its prominence in
Caesar's _De Bello Gallico_, is omitted, presumably on the basis that its Celtic
provenance is certain.

A final not very serious point. A Latin word that is not discussed by Pokorny is
_elementum_. The Oxford Latin Dictionary gives its etymology as ''dubious'', and
on that basis one might have expected de Vaan to include it, on the same
principle as _larix_. But no. That is a pity. Around 1964 I heard Professor L.R.
Palmer suggest in a lecture an intriguing etymology for it. It corresponds to
the Greek word _stoikheîon_, with the same meaning. Now, _stoikheîon_ contains a
neuter abstract nominalizing suffix _-eîon_, just like _-mentum_. Its root,
_stoikh-_, is derived from an obsolete or archaic word meaning 'go'. What if
_elementum_ is consciously calqued on _stoikheîon_? Then _ele- _ too should be
an obsolete Latin root meaning 'go'. We have no direct evidence for that. Yet a
Latin root of that shape could once have existed as a cognate of the root
attested in Greek _ê:lthon_ 'I went' and _elé:lytha_ 'I have gone'. I do not
know if Palmer ever published this proposal; but it would have been nice to find
in de Vaal a considered judgement on it!

Pokorny, Julius (1959) _Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch_. Bern:
Francke Verlag.

Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy has published mainly on morphology (for example,
_Allomorphy in Inflexion_, _Current Morphology_) and language evolution (_The
Origins of Complex Language_). He is currently at work on a book about the
evolution of morphology.

This Year the LINGUIST List hopes to raise $60,000. This money will go to help 
keep the List running by supporting all of our Student Editors for the coming year.

See below for donation instructions, and don't forget to check out our Fund Drive 
2009 LINGUIST List Restaurant and join us for a delightful treat!


There are many ways to donate to LINGUIST!

You can donate right now using our secure credit card form at  

Alternatively you can also pledge right now and pay later. To do so, go to:

For all information on donating and pledging, including information on how to 
donate by check, money order, or wire transfer, please visit:

The LINGUIST List is under the umbrella of Eastern Michigan University and as such 
can receive donations through the EMU Foundation, which is a registered 501(c) Non 
Profit organization. Our Federal Tax number is 38-6005986. These donations can be 
offset against your federal and sometimes your state tax return (U.S. tax payers 
only). For more information visit the IRS Web-Site, or contact your financial advisor.

Many companies also offer a gift matching program, such that they will match any 
gift you make to a non-profit organization. Normally this entails your contacting 
your human resources department and sending us a form that the EMU Foundation fills 
in and returns to your employer. This is generally a simple administrative procedure 
that doubles the value of your gift to LINGUIST, without costing you an extra penny. 
Please take a moment to check if your company operates such a program.

Thank you very much for your support of LINGUIST!

Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Please report any bad links or misclassified data

LINGUIST Homepage | Read LINGUIST | Contact us

NSF Logo

While the LINGUIST List makes every effort to ensure the linguistic relevance of sites listed
on its pages, it cannot vouch for their contents.