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Query Details

Query Subject:   Etymology of the apple word
Author:   Theo Vennemann
Submitter Email:  click here to access email

Linguistic LingField(s):  Historical Linguistics

Query:   Dear Fellow Linguists:

I am engaged in a project whose goal it is to show that the European
Atlantic seaboard was in prehistoric times colonized by seafaring peoples
speaking Atlantic languages, languages that were closely related to Semitic
(see ''Etymologische Beziehungen im Alten Europa'', in: Der GinkgoBaum:
Germanistisches Jahrbuch f\252r Nordeuropa 13 (1995), 39-115; ''Atlantiker in
Nordwesteuropa: Pikten und Vanen'', in: Stig Eliasson and Ernst H\229kon Jahr
(eds.), Language and its Ecology: Essays in memory of Einar Haugen (=
Trends in Linguistics: Studies and Monographs, 100), Berlin: Mouton de
Gruyter, 1997, 451-476; ''Some West Indo-European words of uncertain
origin'', in: Raymond Hickey and Stanisl~aw Puppel (eds.), Language History
and Language Modelling: A Festschrift for Jacek Fisiak on his 60th birthday
(= Trends in Linguistics: Studies and Monographs, 101), 2 vols., Berlin:
Mouton de Gruyter, 1997, I.879-908.

The theory ''predicts'' that the apple word (Engl. _apple_ and its relatives)
is an Atlantic loan-word. I said that in the GinkgoBaum article but could
not prove that it was true, because the word does not appear in the Semitic
''school languages'', if I may say so. In the same year there appeared
Vladimir E. Orel and Olga V. Stolbova, Hamito-Semitic etymological
dictionary: Materials for a reconstruction (= Handbook of Oriental Studies:
The Near and Middle East, 18), Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995.

Orel and Stolbova reconstruct exactly what I need, Hamito-Semitic *'abol-.
But unfortunately the meaning they give is not 'apple' (life is not that
easy), but 'genitals' and 'body' in various Semitic languages, and 'penis'
in several Chadic languages.

I was bold enough to propose this connection in the appendix of my lecture
''Basken, Semiten, Indogermanen: Urheimatfragen in linguistischer und
anthropologischer Sicht'', forthc. in: Akten der 10. Fachtagung der
Indogermanischen Gesellschaft, Innsbruck, 22.-28. September 1996, ed. by
Wolfgang Meid, Innsbruck: Universit\228t Innsbruck, Institut f\252r
Sprachwissenschaft. I repeated it in my lecture ''The Apples of the
Hesperides'' at the Ninth Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, May 23 and
24, 1997. For the Proceedings of the latter conference, I would like to put
the etymology on a more solid (comparative) foundation - or drop it.

Therefore I request your help. Please let me know if in your own linguistic
experience you have encountered similar metaphors. Do you know of examples
of such metaphoric shifts which have subsequently made the non-metaphorical
use of a word impossible or ousted it altogether? (The latter is what seems
to have happened in the three Semitic school languages.)

Also, please tell me whether the original meaning of a word such as the
apple word is in your experience more often the concrete fruit meaning or
rather something like 'globe', 'round object'.

In Central Chadic, according to Orel and Stolbova, the same etymon appears
as *bwal- 'penis' (in Bata as _bolle_). Maybe therefore the Germanic ball
word (I mean the word for the globular object that children play with) is a
separately borrowed Atlantic ablaut variant of the apple word. I suddenly
find myself overwhelmed with words such as Gk. phallaina, Lat. ballaena,
Engl. hwale, Lat. phallos, ballion (and sundry names of plants, fruits, and
animals too numerous and too embarrassing to write down).

Please let me know if all of this is accidental, or if it finds support in
your languages of expertise.

If the responses I receive are not too numerous or too embarrassing, I will
post a summary. Otherwise I threaten that you may find yourself in a
footnote of the UCLA Proceedings.

Returning to the beginning of my request, all I really need to know is
whether the West Indo-European apple word can be the same as the cited
Hamito-Semitic word for genitals.

I mention for your information that the harvest word originally meant the
fruit harvest (Jacob Grimm) or rather, since the only fruit of significance
in the prehistoric Northwest was the apple, the apple harvest. The harvest
word is likely to be an Atlantic loan-word; it has obvious parallels in all
the Semitic school languages (there was no reason to taboo it).

Apprehensively yours,
Theo Vennemann.
26 January 1998
LL Issue: 9.122
Date posted: 27-Jan-1998


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