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Review of  Etymological Dictionary of Latin

Reviewer: Andrew D. Carstairs-McCarthy
Book Title: Etymological Dictionary of Latin
Book Author: Michiel de Vaan
Publisher: Brill
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Latin
Issue Number: 20.1318

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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Series, a project begun in 1991 with the aim of replacing the outdated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 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 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.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9004167978
ISBN-13: 9789004167971
Pages: 840
Prices: U.S. $ 341.00