LINGUIST List 15.1878
Mon Jun 21 2004
Review: Historical Linguistics: Vennemann (2003)
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Hayim Sheynin, Europa Vasconica - Europa Semitica
Message 1: Europa Vasconica - Europa Semitica
Date: Wed, 9 Jun 2004 10:24:22 -0400
From: Hayim Sheynin <HSheyninGratz.edu>
Subject: Europa Vasconica - Europa Semitica
AUTHOR: Vennemann, Theo, gen. Nierfeld
EDITOR: Patrizia Noel Aziz Hanna
TITLE: Europa Vasconica - Europa Semitica
SERIES: Trends in Linguistics: Studies and Monographs 138
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
ANNOUNCED IN: http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-2849.html
Hayim Y. Sheynin, Gratz College, Melrose Park, PA.
To the memory of great linguist Robert Larry Trask.
SYMBOLS AND ABBREVIATIONS USED
? alif, glottal plosive laryngeal stop
� ayin, voiced fricative pharyngeal continuant sonorant guttural
c_ non-emphatic velar plosive stop
^d dhal, voiced interdental fricative coronal continuant
d! dad, emphatic voiced dental plosive
h! ha/heth, voiceless fricative pharyngeal continuant sonorant
q! kof, emphatic uvular plosive stop
^s Hebrew shin, voiceless high alveopalatal fricative sibilant
s! sad, emphatic sibilant coronal fricative
^t tha/thaw, voiceless interdental fricative coronal continuant
t! ta/teth, emphatic voiceless dental plosive coronal stop
x! haf/ha, voiceless high velar fricative continuant
� shwa (reduced low central vowel)
#a ultra-short a in Hebrew and Aramaic, short in Indo-European
#e ultra-short e in Hebrew and Aramaic, short in Indo-European
#i short i in Indo-European
#u short u in Indo-European
* reconstructed word or phoneme
+ Proto-European or Proto-Semitic reconstructed and attested word
/.../ encloses examples from Basque and Afro-Asiatic languages
[ ] encloses my notes in the body of the review
Ar. Arabic, Arabian
B.-Arc. Biblical Aramaic
HG High German
M-Ar. Modern Arabic
NG North Germanic
O.-Akk. Old Akkadian
O.-Ass. Old Assyrian
OE Old English
OHG Old High German
S.-Ar. Epigraphic South Arabic
WG West Germanic
WIE West Indo-European
W.-Smc. West Semitic
The current reviewer writes this review with mixed feelings. He is
expected to evaluate the Lebenswerk of a scholar who holds an important
place in European Comparative and Historical linguistics, who studied
in good universities of Germany and the United States (and who studied
with exceptional teachers), who has chaired the University of Munich
Department of Germanic and Theoretical Linguistics since 1974, and who
was visiting Professor of Linguistics in a number of universities in
the United States and Austria. His work for the last three decades is
known in many areas of general and Germanic linguistics as well as
historical phonology, historical morphology, word order studies,
typology, syntax and semantics, phonology and morphophonology. Since
his Ph.D. dissertation "German Phonology", University of California,
Los Angeles, he published a score of articles and conference papers,
several books, and now a big book which includes articles united by a
particular idea, but devoted to research of many diverse genetic
For about two decades Professor Theo Vennemann gennant Nierfeld
(henceforth V.) has worked diligently to uncover and explain Germanic
and Indo-European words which didn't have clear etymology. He started
his research from revising existing theories about the origins the
names of European rivers and other toponyms. Already in early eighties
he came to certain conclusions and proceeded to work in the area of
etymology, steadfastly propagating his theories and many times
repeating and restating his conclusions. Results of this endeavor were
numerous articles scattered in various academic journals and
proceedings of scholarly conferences. Now he collected his unchanged
articles into a big and well edited book and published it in a very
prestigious series "Trends in Linguistics".
Unfortunately after finishing the book the reader remains with more
questions than he had before starting the book.
There is no way in a reasonably short review to deal with each separate
article or chapter, nor with many aspects of the book under review.
Therefore I will try to separate several areas covered in the book, the
areas I consider to be indispensable, to describe the problems
associated with each of these areas, and to give a critical evaluation.
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK'S PURPOSE AND CONTENTS
The book contains 26 papers V. published between 1984 and 2000 and one
article previously unpublished (chapter 17), i.e. 27 chapters
altogether. Most of the articles were written in German (18), the rest
in English. In the present book the English abstracts were added
preceding the German articles. Among the indexes, it calls to attention
the lack of the general index or an index of private names. The
articles are reprinted without changes, even when negative criticisms
were known to the author -- it is clear that the negative reactions to
his work were known to the author, since he himself acknowledges this,
see p. x-xi and 577-78, and also refers in notes to some of these
Since the book concentrates on substrata and superstrata in the most
ancient period of the Indo-European or Proto-Indo-European the present
reviewer finds it necessary to declare that he accepts the general
principle of existing of substrata and superstrata and their role in
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
The general ideas which unite the articles in the book are as follows.
1. About one third of the Proto-Germanic vocabulary has no Indo-
European etymology. V. proposes that these unexplained words may be
owed to prehistoric substrata. According to him [I copy his account
almost verbatim, mostly from the Introduction, although inserting
passages from other parts of his work where necessary, and beg the
readers for pardon for such a long exposition of his ideas, which is
necessary, however, for understanding the order of the author's thought
and for his logic], Indo-European agriculturalists, possibly
originating from the area of the Pannonian Basin (in chap. 2, from the
Carpathian Basin), migrated further into Europe in the sixth millennium
BC and did not arrive in Scandinavia before the fourth millennium
BC "After the last ice-age, the Vascons spread from southern France
to almost all of Europe north of Alps, where they were subsequently
submerged by Indo-Europeans immigrating from the south-east of the
continent." (In chapter 26 "Grundfragen der Ortsnamenforschung ...")
Since the climate in Europe (after the last glaciations) had begun to
improve much earlier, Indo-European settlers encountered other, non-
Indo-European, peoples in Europe who had started to settle there from
the eighth millennium BC onward. The first settlers were forced to
name European rivers, lakes, mountains, settlements, etc. for reasons
of orientation, which is a fortunate coincidence for linguistics: The
oldest water names are probably the oldest "linguistic documents" in
Europe north of the Alps. V. utilizes Hans Krahe's collections of
hydronyms and reinterprets Krahe's etymologies. Whereas Krahe assumed
Indo-European provenance of Old European hydronomy, V. proposes that
new analyses of the data point to an agglutinating source with initial
accent, without vowel quantity, and with the predominant vowel a. The
author states that such a structure does not support an Indo-European
origin, while the structural and substantive similarities between the
language of the Old European hydronomy and Basque (!) are compelling.
V. finds similar geographical names throughout Europe (England,
Germany, Norway and Sweden) and attributes them to Basque etyma, the
Basque language being the only surviving descendant of the Vasconic
language family. [Later on V. finds that the ancient language of Raetia
(Alpine area of today Switzerland), see pp. 737-751, was related to
Basque and therefore he claims that there was another ancient Vasconic
language which gave some terms for husbandry and dairy products to some
Italic (specifically Latin) and to some Germanic (specifically German)
Traces of substratal Vasconic influence in the West Indo-European
languages (particularly the shift to initial word-accent in early
Italic, Celtic, and Germanic) are more or less systematic. West Indo-
European remains of vigesimal counting, and words permitting Vasconic
etymologies. Of the latter, reflexes of a Vasconic word for '(young)
woman, lady', preserved in Basque andere, are cited in Celtic, Greek,
the Romance languages, and German. Basque handi 'big' and Latin grandi-
'big' are both derived from a Vasconic word +grandi- 'big', the Latin
word being a prehistoric substratal borrowing.
To find appropriate Basque words Vennemann uses a number of
dictionaries, most frequently Agud-Tovar (1989), Azkue (1984), Arbelaiz
(n.d., ca. 1978) and L�pelmann (1968).
2. Apart from Vasconic place names there are several toponyms on the
Atlantic littoral which are, according to V.'s opinion, neither
Vasconic nor Indo-European. V. calls the language of these toponyms
Atlantic and assumes that it is the language of the seafarers who
influenced the Indo-European languages of the Atlantic littoral of
Northwestern Europe from c. 5000 BC onward. (NB. In chap. 10, p. 363
V. states that Atlantic people reached Southern Sweden no later than
the third millennium AD [chap. 10, p. 363, n. 9 ; chap. 11, p. 384]).
On the basis of etymological reconstruction, he identifies the
toponymic roots as Hamito-Semitic or rather Semitidic, since they
generally show a closer affinity to Semitic than to Hamitic languages.
He says that an early Hamito-Semitic substratum on the British Isles
was discovered in the 19th century by Morris Jones (1900) and has been
corroborated by Pokorny (1927-30), Gensler (1993), by himself
(Vennemann 2000b, 2001c, 2002c and 2002d -- articles that are not
included in the current book), and others. Semitic influences may have
lasted well into the Phoenician period. Likely examples of toponyms
without Indo-European, but with Atlantic, namely Semitic,
etymologies are: The Solent (Coates 1988a), Solund, Uist (an island),
the Isles of Scilly (sf. Smc./s-l-�/ 'rock, cliff'), Tay, Taw
(cf. Ha. /tagus/ 'river') and the Pit-names of Pictland (cf. Smc.
*/pitt-/ 'area, region', Akk. pittu 'administrative district'(cf.
chapters 15 and 16). Smc. loan-words in WIE, esp. in Gmc., are
interpreted as traces of Smc. influence, superstratal in the case of
Gmc., exerted along the Atlantic littoral rather than in the East. The
WIE apple word and the Romance and Gmc. baron word are given special
Referring to Coates (1988b) Vennemann identifies Uist as Ibiza with the
Semitic etymon /ai-b-^s-m/ or /?i-b�sim/, /?�-b�sem/ or /?�-besim/ (p.
V. expresses highly interesting although unexpected and speculative
opinion that the tribes of Picts and Vans were belonging to this
Atlantic (=Semitidic) society (chap. 11). However the presentation of
this statement lacks any linguistic evidence. V. is aware of this lack,
since he cites a passage from Newstead 1979: "Also the Picts
disappeared as a separate people after a crushing defeat in 843 and
nothing remains of their language except a few dubious inscriptions, a
precious fragment of the legend that developed around the royal name of
Drust is preserved in the tenth-century recension of the Irish saga,
The Wooing of Emer."
All the evidence of Vans' influence on Gmc. tribes is based on
exposition of Vanir's cycle of Gmc. myths and the same source is used
to identify their Smc. origin. We do not deny that myths might preserve
some historic information in somehow unclear or distorted form, but we
do not see how V.'s interpretation can be proven it has any relation to
the problem of Smc. Provenance of Picts.
Another two findings here:
1) the Germanic term for rulers, Old English oe^del- (P.-Gmc. +a�al,
Gr. Adel). V. claims that M�ller (1911) noticed the striking
resemblance between Proto-Germanic +/a�al/ and the Arabic root /?-^t-l/
and interpreted the words as the same etymon of a shared Nostratic
proto-language (!!!) [We should note that neither H. M�ller nor S.
Levin, both of whom had a number of predecessors, interpreted Semitic
words they found resembling Indo-European as Nostratic; they just
presupposed that the consonant roots composed of similar consonants and
having similar general meaning must originate from the common source.
Nostratic theory presupposes more elaborated phonetic laws and more
rigid hierarchy of phonetic transformations.] V. himself find such an
explanation problematic, but he uses the word and his Smc. cognates as
Atlantic influence on Gmc.
2) P.-Gmc +sibjo: 'family' (English sib, German Sippe, etc.) may be
compared to the Semitic root /^s-p-h!/ the meaning of the root
according to V., is 'family'. About this interpretation see below. V.
going so far, as to explain the extraordinary systematization and
functionalization of the inherited IE verbal ablaut in Gmc as Smc
V. lists a large number of Smc. and AA words from many languages as
sources for IE words. Some of them were identified by his predecessors,
others he found searching in a number of dictionaries, most often
M�ller (1911), Pokorny (1927-30), [Here we need only to mention that
the number of both the Bq and the Smc etymologies of IE words in the
grand Pokorny's dictionary is negligible (see Walde-Partridge's indexes
to Pokorny (1927-30), 3rd ed., p. 481 (10 Semitic and 2 Basque words).
Even if we take for account that Iberian etymologies in Pokorny,
according to V., could be Basque, it would add three more words to
Basque etymologies. In fact all these Basque and Iberian material
belongs to two Indo-European roots andh-/ anedh- and #atos /atta)] and
Soden (1965). Since 1995 he most heavily relied on Orel (1995). The
last mentioned dictionary was a first attempt of the reconstruction of
the AA lexicon based on all existing linguistic information.
Unfortunately, as it reflected in many reviews, including those written
by the outstanding Afrasian linguists, I. M. Diakonoff and L. E. Kogan,
this attempt was not particularly successful. The dictionary contains a
lot of errors and mistaken reconstructions. [See e.g. I. M. Diakonoff
(1996):25-44; and Kogan (2002):183-202.]
The number of AA etymologies in V. is very significant, most of them
attested in Smc. languages [contrary to position of Orel and Stolbova
in Orel (1995) who predominantly rely on African component]. Prior to
publication of V.'s book there were in existence several linguistic
publications on reconstruction of P.-Smc. roots which could have been
helpful to the author but are not mentioned there. [See e.g. Djakonov
(1981-86) [in Russian], rev. version in Eng. Djakonov (1994-97);
Shevoroshkin (1989), especially contributions by A.B. Dolgopol'sky;
Renfrew (1999); Dolgopol'sky (1999); Militarev (2000).]
One would wonder why the IE words of Smc. provenance were not
discovered by the great linguists in the 19th and 20th centuries. V.'s
answer to this question is that most of these words are coming from AA
languages which were not learnt in the schools. However this
explanation cannot be true. Most of examples quoted in V.'s magnum opus
are from Akk., Hb., and Ar., all three languages widely represented in
the curricula of European and American universities and studied in
different academic settings in Oriental, Linguistic or Theological
We can observe that the long list of Smc. etymologies in V. is united
only by an incidental similarities and in no way better than popular
etymology. In many cases V.'s Smc. etyma do not share meaning with his
Gmc. or IE word or explained by a forced metaphoric extension of
To support his theory V. refers to extra-linguistic evidence.
Thus in support of the idea of prehistoric people's expansion [i.e.,
according to V., speakers of ancient Vasconic languages] from the south
of France to Central Europe he mentions facts of genetics (cf. Cavalli-
Sforza 1994) Maps of rhesus negative are almost perfectly convergent
with maps of the Old European hydronymy [as based on Vasconic theory].
Furthermore, blood group "0" contributes to the overall picture. It has
its densest distribution in the Bq. Country (Mourant 1954). [Cf.
Renfrew (2000), esp. chs. 1-3, 11-14, 21, 40-41.]
The IE blood group "A" is dominant north of the Danube, while south of
the Danube, and even more so close to the Alps, blood group "0" is
dominant... Today, "0" as the dominant blood group of the Basques is
found particularly in those areas of Europe where the people mixed the
least for geographical reasons: e.g. mountain regions were not
attractive for the IE agriculturalists, large rivers were difficult to
Here we should mention that prehistoric archaeology did not supply
enough data to determine who were first settlers or autochthons in
Europe; there are still discussions on Mediterranean and Asia Minor
influences, and even directions of migrations are in dispute. So V.'s
ideas pertaining to archaeology cannot be verified.
Exactly as V. tries to support his Vasconic theory by reference to
extra-linguistic evidence, he does the same for his Atlantic
(=Semitidic) theory. In this respect, he turns to the megalithic
monuments of Western Europe and suggests that they may be vestiges of
an Atlantic culture. Then he turns to Germanic mythology and finds in
the myth of the Vanir the matrilineal society. He notes that such
pattern of societal organization is well known to have existed and
still to exist among Hamito-Semitic peoples.
In many places he states that Atlantic (Semito-Hamitic) people were
seafarers, experts in architecture, astronomy and navigation, and
warriors. However a big group of examples indicate that they were
beekeepers and animal breeders in addition to being town dwellers and
builders of fortified settlements. Later, when V. needs to explain that
the word for apple was borrowed by Germanic and Balto-Slavic languages
from Atlantic, he writes (p. 622):
"How could the apple-word fall so far away from its original language
tree right into our Northwest Indo-European garden of words? ...
According to my theory of the linguistic prehistory of the Atlantic
regions of Europe, the apple did not have to fall far from its tree.
The people that brought apple raising and the apple-word lived in close
proximity to the northwestern-most Indo-Europeans. In the case of the
pre-Germanic Indo-Europeans, they even lived in the same territory and
became part of the Germanic people..."
So the general description of these Atlantic people that emerges from
V.'s work, that they were superior to Indo-Europeans in seafaring,
warfare and economy and contributed to the Indo-European civilization
in general and to Germanic society in particular and even played role
in German ethnogeny.
The two main points outlined above picture great linguistic ideas,
which if proven to be true would provide new understanding of
development of Indo-European languages, new understanding of pre-
historic Europe, would contribute to the theories of migrations and
would be helpful in many other aspects of humanities.
However there are many difficulties with these theories.
The criticism of the problem of Vasconic substratum in V.'s theory was
offered in Trask (1995) who states that V.'s presentation of
Michilena's reconstruction [of P.-Bq.] is seriously inaccurate.
Formation of the Bq. article -a most probably took place in post-Roman
times. None of the roots or suffixes listed by V. for Old European
looks like anything in Bq., save for the root *Is- (according to V.,
identical with Bq. root *'iz- 'water', and Michilena in several places
dismisses this putative root as a phantasm. A sizeable number of the
roots identified by V. have forms which would have been impossible in
P.-Bq., e.g. the roots with initial m-, p-, r-. Trask likewise mentions
that the Indo-European nature of the 'Old European' river names is
defended by Schmid (1987), who notes that many of the morphs that
appear to be present in these river names can readily be identified
with well known IE roots and affixes. In continuation Trask dismisses
V.'s etymology of German toponym M�nchen ('Munich') (ibid., p. 72-73)
Later Trask repeats his reaction to all the theories on connection of
Bq. with other languages [Trask (1997), Chap. 6, pp. 358-429, esp. on
V.'s theory, pp. 365-367.] Here among other things Trask objects V.'s
assumption that an ancestral form of Bq. possessed a series of 'weak'
consonants which, following the IE tradition, he terms laryngeals.
In Trask's view there is no base to connect Bq. with so called 'Old
European' substratum. He shows problems associated with all V.'s
examples one after another. In general Trask dismissed V.'s theories as
non-serious and lacking both the Vasconist and historical linguistic
However it seems that V. sticks with his position because after all the
criticisms he publishes the article where he restates his theory even
in greater detail (chapter 17, written ca. 2000), rejecting critical
notes as if running counter to general principles of language contact.
Even greater scrutiny of V.'s ideas on 'Vasconic' or Old European
substratum of the Indo-European attempted J.A.Lakarra [Lakarra (1996)
(appeared not before 1999, since works published in 1999 cited there)]
who offers a detailed analysis and the devastating criticism of V.'s
theory of Vasconic substratum. We will cite only a short passage from
the English abstract of the mentioned article: "Despite the flattering
prospect of us the Basques as the only remnants of Old Europe, the
reading of his article [Vennemann 1994 and later works-chap. 4-9 in the
book] does not lead us to conclude that it provides the considerable
advance that we could have expected for our field of study. In this
paper ... we show that (i) V.'s linguistic reconstruction does not
correspond, in very important respects, to what we reasonably may know
about Proto-Basque structure, and (ii) consequently, on the basis of
such a reconstruction one can hardly genetically relate Old European
with Basque." This is the most general conclusion. Further Lakarra is
going into detailed analysis of the shortcomings in V.'s work. She
continues, "V. uses to his own benefit the attested phonological and
lexical similarities between Iberian and Basque, but does not mention
other well-known differences such as the existence of aspiration and
lenis-fortis oppositions in sonorant in Basque. V. also takes for
granted the Basque-Iberian hypothesis which goes against both the
specialists' opinion and the evidence that it has no effect on the
deciphering of the Iberian. V. clearly manipulates the distribution of
phonemes in modern Basque so that a and vowel initial syllables seem to
be overabundant (closer to the phonemic distribution he holds them to
have in Old European), and taking this alleged abundance for granted he
claims that e and o are secondary in Basque. V. does not mention the
absence of |p|, |m| and |r-| in Proto-Basque, and claims that |h| is in
free variation in the modern dialects which still have it."
We will not continue citing the charges against V.'s linguistic
accuracy [they are too many], but together with Lakarra express opinion
that V.'s reconstruction of Old European is a complete fallacy.
V. in the process of preparation of the collection of his articles for
the book under review reacted to some criticisms of R.L. Trask in hope
that the former would withdraw some of his charges (e.g. p. 198 n. 82;
p. 199, nn. 85, 87; p. 596). This never happened.
Even before J. A.Lakarra's publication evaluating V.'s linguistic
theories, Peter R. Kitson demolished V.'s analysis of European
hydronomy [Kitson (1996)] writing a paper not specifically dealing with
V.'s theories, but expanding on E. Ekwall's English River-Names. Oxford
University Press, 1928 in the light of H. Krahe and his followers. He
reveals that Krahe's attribution of the river names to the Indo-
European sources is upheld against V.'s arguments. Kitson devotes some
place to describe some features of so called alteurop�isch which are
the parts of a particular linguistic system. "The linguistic material
of these names is Indo-European. Not only are most of the roots readily
etymologized on this basis, but the suffixes also are those that were
productive in Indo-European." It was clear already to Krahe that the
suffixes -st- forming superlatives and -nt- forming participles are
Indo-European productive suffixes. Kitson shows a particular order of
phonetic elements prevalent in the alteurop�isch. "Krahe's list
contains at least 20 names Almana, Elmina, Armenos, and the like, with
the same order as in Greek participles in -menos, yet there are not any
*Elnama, *Arnomos, etc., with the reverse order."
P. 82: "A recent attempt by V. (Vennemann (1994):232) [=Chap. 6 in the
book] to show that suffixal combinations were not ordered ignores
these. The only suffixes he proffers that 'reverse their relative
order' are -st- and -r-. If they did it would resemble variation in
double gradations of adjectives in some Indo-European languages,
reflecting partly changes in linguistic fashion over substantial
periods of time. V.'s argument depends on a tacit collapse of
diachrony. Moreover nearly every one of his examples is suspect as one
or more of: falsely segmented, not 'Old European', or not even a river-
name. And with so many corners cut, V. still is not able to show any
single root with which two suffixes do occur in both orders. Altogether
his argument is fairly trivially invalid, and the second-order
deduction [from a maximum of two suffixes!] making the language of the
hydronymy an agglutinating one is a fortiori.
On pp. 86-87 et passim Kitson mentions correspondences between ancient
IE (Hittite, Tokharian, Old Iranian and Old Indian) words for river,
stream, channel and the present rivers' names in entire Europe from
Atlantic coast to Russia. All this is running against V.'s theories on
Vascon provenance of European hydronomy.
P. 95: "The Indo-Europeanness of alteurop�isch names was obvious to
Krahe and his colleages from the beginning. Occasional attempts to
prove otherwise depend on ignoring a lot of evidence presented above
and falsifying some of it. A recent such exercise, that of V.
[Vennemann, ibid.], parades a technical linguistic (specifically
morphological) virtuosity that may mislead the unwary but lacks proper
control in several directions." On pp. 96-97 Kitson criticizes V.'s
failure to take in account semantic links when positing etymological
links and his way of systematic segmentation of rivers' names
deliberately manipulating them in order to demonstrate non-Indo-
European character of the alteurop�isch. On p. 97 Kitson describes V.'s
failure as historical phonologist (cf. p. 111, n. 74). With all the
criticism that completely dismisses V.'s theory of the Vascon character
of the 'Old European', Kitson finds kind words for V., saying: "Still
Vennemann deserves thanks for supplying what had been a gap in the
literature and showing us what a seriously worked up attempt to analyse
the alteurop�isch linguistic material as non-Indo-European would like."
We would like to reject even those kind words, because we understand
that from intellectual aspect V.'s work was a non-serious manipulative
attempt which was rejected by serious scholars and experts working in
all the pertinent areas of linguistics.
At the end of his paper, Kitson analyses the existing opinions on the
Urheimat of the Indo-Europeans or at least the place from which they
migrated to Europe, and particularly to Britain. He accepts the
original starting point of migration place in North Central Europe
(perhaps Eastern Germany or Poland) and states after McEvedy 1967, that
the earliest Brits - British beaker folk - came from the Rhine-Elbe
region. All this is also a point against V.'s theories. We should
mention also that Kitson's analysis moves the chronological frame of
migration of the Indo-Europeans several millennia later than V.
assumes. So the migration to Scandinavia should be postponed at least
for two millennia, i.e. not earlier than second millennium BC
Depicting V.'s criticism by Kitson, exactly like the case with Trask's
and Lakarra's, we paid attention only to the main points, in no way
exhausting all the charges. We think taking in account the criticism by
three important experts, we are relieved for mounting new charges
against the idea of 'Europa Vasconica'. This leaves us with 'Old
European' being completely Indo-European or at least without a shade of
Now let us to turn to Europa Semitica.
V. in several chapters matches a big number certain PIE, IE, as well as
L. and Gr. words with the etyma coming from different languages of AA
language bundle. Many of these languages were known to the linguists
for centuries, but there was almost no research connecting AA languages
with the Indo-European ones with an exception of M�ller (1911),
Nostratic linguists (mainly since early 60s, while some initial works
were written since H. Pedersen's 1903 paper), S. Levin (since 1971) and
some pseudo-scholarly authors who tried to show that Biblical Hebrew
was mother of all existing languages. [See e.g. books of Jacobowitz, J.
Monogenesis of language: selected essays based on the first four
letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Jerusalem: R. Mass, 1968 (in Hebrew);
and Mozeson, Isaac E. Word: The dictionary that reveals the Hebrew
source of English. New York: Shapolsky Publ., 1989; 2nd. ed.,
Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1995; new ed., New York: SPI Books, 2000.
One can see similar statements in a variety of pietistic and
fundamentalist Jewish and Christian sources, exactly like
fundamentalist Muslims consider this language was Arabic. We can say
that the biblical story of Babel tower gave ideas to some linguists and
some pseudo-linguists, exactly as 18th century division of languages
and ethnic groups as descendents of three sons of biblical Noah
(Semitic, Hamitic, Japhetidic)]. As far as one can understand V.
matches mostly Gr., Eng., and L. words with the AA words, which he
finds in M�ller (1911), Levin (1995) and V. Orel and O. Stolbova
[further Orel (1995)]. It was shown recently by I. M. Diakonov and L.
E. Kogan, that the work Orel (1995) is insufficient and misleading in
many entries. Since V. accepted the results of this publication
uncritically, he inherited mistakes of this dictionary in his AA
etymologies of the IE vocabulary.
Checking V.'s list of Smc. words which is presented as an evidence of
"Atlantic" superstratum shows mere ad hoc sound similarities. As we
already mentioned, plethora of examples in V.'s book are not original.
One can find most of them in Levin (1995), some of them were known even
earlier. V. does not acknowledge this (he acknowledges only those
borrowed from M�ller (1911), Coates (1988), Soden (1965) and Orel
(1995), seldom from Brunner (1969). We endeavored to check each one of
the words presented by V. as evidence of 'Semitidic' superstratum /
adstratum and we cannot accept them on one or another reason. The
complete list of these words when we rewrote them from different parts
of the book took about seven pages, but we will not bother the reader
with the entire list. We illustrate this review only with one dozen
randomly selected examples.
1. to wake (V.'s p. 358) w-q-y Ar., Eth. 'bewahren' (to keep, preserve)
Akk. /(w)aq!�(m)/, O.-Ass./waq!a:'um/ 'warten, harren, bewahren, achten
auf, aufmerken' (to wait, wait for, keep/preserve, attend to, pay
attention); original meaning of the Ar. root/ w-q!-y / is 'to keep, to
preserve, to keep watch, caution'. We should point that it is wrong to
compare the Eng. word with initial /w-/ to the Akk. form where the
initial /w-/ is presupposed on the basis of Ar. /w-/.
Initial PS *w- had zero reflex in Akk., see table of correspondences of
the consonant phonemes in Dolgopolsky (1999), pp. 16-18; the same
applies to example #4. Even there is some sound resemblance, one would
wonder why such word should be borrowed from Smc. (because this
semantic field doesn't reflect tangible realia).
2. Eng. sib, Germ Sippe (PG +sibjo: 'family') (V.'s p. XVII, 936) Smc.
root /^s-p-h!/ (the meaning of the root according to V., is 'family').
In fact, Ar. s-p-h! / Hb. ^s-p-h! means 'to shed, to spill', and
etymology of the 'family' in Smc. probably comes from either
ejaculation of semen, or by popular understanding of conception as
spilling blood of man into the vagina of his female sexual partner [see
Gesenius 1921:856 who translates Ar. safah!a 'ausgie�en' and renders
Ar. example /sa:fah!aha:/ 'effudit cum ea sc. semen']. Nowhere in Smc.
the form similar to Gmc., i.e. without nominal preformative, and with
meaning 'family' is attested. Moreover the Hb. word /mi^spa:h!a:/ was
known to European scholars from B.-Hb. and in the form
/mi^sp�x!a/mi^sp�x!e/ (with h! > x!) from a Gmc. Jewish language Yid.
I should note, however, that V. only mentions this example in the book
without an argumentation. Most probably he published the article in
which he discusses the example in time it was late to include it in the
book [Vennemann, Theo. "Germania Semitica : *sibjo:," In Heizmann,
Wilhelm and Van Nahl, Astrid, eds. Runica - Germanica - Mediaevalia.
Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2003 (Erg�nzungsb�nde zum Reallexicon der
Germanischen Altertumskunde, 37) : pp. 871-891. I didn't see the
3. V. claims after M�ller (1911) the striking resemblance between PG
+/a�al/ and the Ar. root /?-^t-l/ as the Gmc. term for rulers (OE
oe^del- ; PG +/a�al/, Gr. Adel). This root was also known in a
corresponding Hb. form /?as!�l/ 'noble'. Analyzing semantic background
of Ar. /?-^t-l/ we should mention that the original meaning of it was
'to take root, to become rooted'. The meaning of 'noble' and further
'wealthy' is probably developed with a later semantic extension that
happened during social development of pre-Islamic Arab tribes. In Hb.
it remains 'noble'. Nowhere it corresponds to a semantic field 'rulers'.
For the period V. is concerned with this Semitic word couldn't mean
4. to ward (V.'s p. 360) Smc. /w-r-d / y-r-d/ Akk. /(w)ara:du(m)/ 'to
descend', /(w)ardu(m)/ 'slave, servant (also of kings, in palaces, of
gods, in temples)', 'a (special kind of) craftsman, (perhaps)
master-builder', /(w)ardutu(m)/ 'slavery, servitude; service (also of
vassal, or in politics)'; /(w)ardatu(m)/ 'girl, young woman (also said
of goddesses and female demons)'. This historical reconstruction is
wrong on account of w-, see example #1. We need to stress that the
general meaning of the root w-r-d / y-r-d in all Smc. languages is
'to descend' and therefore has nothing to do with 'to ward'.
5. Ru� (V.s p. 256) Common Smc. /q!-t!-r/ or /q!-t-r/ 'Rauch', Akk.
/q!utru/ 'Rauch / smoke', Hb. /q!�t!�ret/ 'R�ucherwerk', Arc.
/q!itra:/; S.-Ar.-Eth. /q!eta:r�:/ 'R�ucherwerk' N.-Ar. /q!ut!a:r(un)/
'smell of cooked meat, of aloeswood'; /qut!r/ and /qut!ur/ 'aloeswood'.
It seems to me that smoke was known to the Indo-European people before
their contacts with "Atlantic" people. It barely resembles the
mentioned Smc. word acoustically. Moreover V. overlooked that the smoke
denoted by the cited root /q!-t!-r/ is not a general smoke, it is a
smoke, an odour of (burning) sacrifice or a smell of alloeswood or
incense. In B.-Hb. the root /q!-t!-r/ as action belonging to ritual is
juxtaposed to the root /�-^s-n/ 'smoke'. When in modern Smc. languages
the meaning of root /q!-t!-r/ q!-t-r/ appears as regular smoke, this
occurs because of the modern semantic extension, as for example in M.-
Hb. /miq!t!'eret/ '(smoke)pipe', but 'to smoke pipe' - /l� -�a^s^s�n
miq!t!'eret/. Thus V.'s approximation if not impossible, but at least
unproven and suspicious.
Therefore it would be much more logical to adopt Pokorny's root er-/
or-/ r- Erweiterung reu-s- [Pokorny (1927-30), p. 332]. Also this Gmc.
root looks akin to Gk. reo: / reu:ma / re�somai 'flow'
6. Earth / Erde (V.'s pp. 254-55, 559, 614) PS +?ard! Akk./ers!etu/
'Land, Erde', Hb. /?'eres!/, Arc. /?ar�a:/, S.-Ar. /?ard!(un)/ 'earth,
land' (NB: all the etymologies cited from "the school Semitic
languages"). The Proto-Semitic form of this word is */?aras!/ , see
Dolgopolsky (1999), p. 25, #44. NB. Dolgopolsky used slightly different
Since we cannot imagine ancient Arabs living in pre-historic Germanic
lands, V.'s reconstruction of etymology for Gmc. earth / Erde is
impossible. The th / d of earth / Erde are wrong phonemes in this
reconstruction. In our opinion, Pokorny (1927-30), p. 332 has a
satisfactory etymology for this word sub v. er- (er-t- / er-w-) and
there is no need to look for a Smc. etymon even it seems very similar.
The word /?'eres!/ is a common word in Hebrew Bible as in modern
Hebrew, the common Ar. /?ard!(un)/ is frequent in all the periods and
in various dialects. Nevertheless this is irrelevant for the etymology
of earth / Erde.
7. HS +/?abol/ 'genitals' in WIG (V.'s pp. 466, 564, 619-24) Orel
1995 No. 8 (cf. Gk. phall�s m. 'penis'); elsewhere in V.'s for 'balls'
and 'apple'. V. cites also root */q!ol/ which in a number of Hamitic
languages means 'testicles' or 'penis' Orel 1995:no. 2067, exactly as
*/q!�d/ 'genitals' ('penis, testicles, anus, vulva' Orel 1995:no.
1617). The sample has no phonetic similarity to proposed etyma.
Elsewhere V. uses the same Hmc. word as an etymon for apple, which has
more phonetic similarities, but nevertheless objectionable on
8. WG and NG +folk- 'Kriegsschar, Volk' (V.s p. 665) 'division of an
army', Gk. pe'lekys, Rs. polk; according to V., derived from Smc. root
/p-l-h!/ 'spalten' Cf. Akk. /pilakku/ 'Spindel'. There is no semantic
basis for this suggestion. Also both Akk. and Hb. consonant /p/ stems
from PS */p/ (see Dolgopolsky 1999, p. 16-18), Ar. reflex /f/ is of
later provenance (innovation in Arabic) and do not have any relation to
the sound f of WG and NG +folk.
9. Heer 'multitude, host, army' (V.'s p. 266); V. cites Brunner
1969:40, Nr. 166 who connects the word with Akk. /q!ar�bu/ (=Hb.
/q!�ra:v/) 'Krieg, Kampf', /naq!rabu/ 'Kampf', /q!ar�^su/ 'Heer, Lager'.
This is an obviously ridiculous approximation. There is no any phonetic
or semantic basis for this suggestion. The original meaning of Smc.
root /q!-r-b/ is 'to be near, to be close'. The secondary meanings are
derived from the original one: 1) 'to be relative, kin; 2) to come
close to God or to the altar - to offer sacrifice, from this we have
Hb. /q!orba:n/, Ar. /q!urba:n/ both mean 'sacrifice, victim'; when two
hostile armies come close, they initiate battle; from this derived the
noun Hb. /q!�ra:v/ 'battle'. If it does mean sometimes in Akk. 'Heer,
Lager', it is only by association with 'battle, war'. From here 'Heer,
multitude, host, army' is still long way, especially because there is
no similar phonemes. The Smc. root /q!-r-b/ has in common with Gr.
/Heer/ only phoneme /r/. We do not see any possibility for the final
consonant of the root /b/ to disappear with no traces or the strong
emphatic velar plosive /q!/ to shift to /h/. If one wants to show the
validity of his claim for the proposed etymology, he should prove these
two phenomena, at least by providing parallel examples.
10. Haus, house (V.'s p. 260) Akk. /x!us!s!u / Ar. /x!us!s!(un)/
'hut, booth of reeds, tavern'. As we can see it is known from both Akk.
and Ar. There was no need to demonstrate Ar. word. Although Pokorny
(1927-30), p. 953 under 2. (s)keu-, (s)keu�: (s)ku: does not have a
satisfactory etymology of this word and on p. 534, s.v. ca:s-, c_�s-
has equally unclear etymon for Lat casa. There is no need to look for a
Smc. etymon, the word attested in almost all Gmc. and IE languages.
Moreover, there is no reasons to unite Haus and casa as derivatives of
the same primary root even one seems very similar, the same can be said
about Gk. /oikos/ 'house'. OG forms exhibit a variety forms such as
Nrw. Hu:se, OHG hu:s, Sw. Hydda, which suggest affinity with Gr. H�tte
and Eng. hut. Cf. Rs. and Ukr. /khata/ which provides an excellent
example for a good illustration of the real connection of 'hut' and
As for L. casa, contrary to Tronsky 2001:110 who considered this a loan
word in L., we can suggest the L. etymon capsa 'receptacle, repository,
chest, box, container' [from Lat verb capio:, cepi, captum, cap#ere
'take, catch'] [root cap- + nominal suffix -s-+ nominal suffix of n.f.
-a: (capsa > cassa > casa, i.e. regressive assimilation of /p/
preceding /s/ ). The metaphoric extension of the meaning from 'box' to
'hut' and further to 'house' is not too hard to imagine.
11. (Unge)ziefer, Opfer (V.'s p. 266-67) Akk. /zibu/, Hb. /zevah!/,
Arc. /devh!a:/, S.-Ar.-Eth. /zebh!/ Arab. /d!ibh!(un)/ all 'Opfer'
(Bergstr�sser 1989:190) As we see the root is known in virtually all
Smc. languages. The sounds' similarity is too slight. Besides the
imagined Atlantic people would not need to loan a general term for
sacrifice of animals to Indo-Europeans. Remember, according to V., the
Vascons were the shepards, Atlantics were seafarers and warriors. The
term /z'evah!/ in Semitic languages refers to slaughter of the
sacrificial animals. Gesenius:1921:192 translates /z'evah!/
'Schlachtopfer' as an opposition to other types of sacrifices, such as
/minh!a:/ and /� o:la:/.
12. +farh- WG 'Pig' (V.'s p. 664-65) V. notes that raising pigs was
brought to the Northern Europe by the megalithic Semitides (Vennemann
1997b: chap. 11, sect. 3). A number of Ger words the author assumes to
be of Semitidic origin, but he doesn't give any Semitidic evidence.
(pp. 662-669). V. never brings the Sem. etymon, but he probably has in
mind Hb. /h!#az�r/ or Ar. /x!inz�r /. Curiously enough, without any
evidence V. attributes also the IE word for wild pig Ever/Eber to Sem
etymon (Ar. /�ifr/ 'Eber, Ferkel' Akk. /app�rru/ 'Wildschwein' (V.'s
pp.252, 560, 614). Since Ar. example is from much later period and it
is most similar acoustically to WG word, V. had to find more ancient
example exhibiting sound /f/ in this word, i.e. he had to chose rather
examples from SA or from African Semitic languages (if this word is
attested in them): the reflex of Proto-Semitic */p/ in them is /f/.
It is known that boar hunting and pig domestication in Northern
Europe is known from the Neolithic period (see e.g. in Encyclop�dia
Britannica, 1971, v. 17, p. 1068, s.v. Pig). Atlantic people who
arrived to Europe, according to V. in the post-Neolithic period,
definitely didn't introduce this breed to Europe. If they didn't bring
these animals to Europe, there was no need to name pigs and boars by
Even greater difficulties are found in V.'s persistence that Pct. was a
descendent of Atlantic (=HS) languages and in the British toponyms that
according to him originated from Pct. and that following Coates 1988a,
1988b, and 1988c (names of the strait The Solent, England; of a
mountainous island Solund, Norway; and the Isles of Scilly) he explains
from Hb. +s-l-� or Pl. +s-l-�-m 'rocks, cliffs'. Also after Coats
1988b:21 he explains the name Uist, Ibiza from Hb. /?�-b�sem/ [island
of balsam or spice?] or /?�-besim/ [if one substitutes s for s! 'island
of eggs'?]. The same way non-convincing is his etymology of the
Hebrides (Ptolemy's Aibo�dai or Pliny's Hebudes from Akk. /pux!adu/
'lamb' or Ug. /p-x!-d/ as 'Lamb Isles, Sheep Islands, or Isles of
There are many more to say about the use of Smc. materials by V., but
this does not change our conclusion that Smc. etyma supplied by V., do
not depict the language of the "Atlantic" substratum of the IE or Gmc.
If V.'s idea that Atlantic people migrated from Africa along Atlantic
coast holds true, he should present us etyma from the level of HS, i.e.
AA, corresponding to the fifth millennium BC, not from the languages
of the second and first millenia at the best. Even Akk. etyma copied
from Soden 1965 are too late (into this category fall so called Pit-
names of Pictland. Only one etymon in V.'s book is derived from Ha.
(/tagus/ 'river') for rivers Tay in Pictland and Taw in England, which
V. copies from Stumfohl 1989:137, in spite there were other suggestions
for their etymologies, while /tagus/ is not registred on AA level.
Among several dozen appellations for river in Orel 1995 /tagus/ is not
mentioned. He explains the L. apis 'bee' after Brunner (1969) from
Ancient Eg. as reduced form /af/ from /?fj/ (pp. 713-14, 723, 727) and
IE root +bi- or *bhi- by a different Ancient Eg. form /bj-t/ 'honey
bee'. On the bases of combination of Semitic +HVm- 'Volk, people' + bi-
he reconstructs compound word Imme / imbi and its relatives in the WG
languages. If this reconstruction is true, the question arises why only
WG languages retain this word. If the Afroasiatics migrated from Africa
along Atlantic coast northwards why these Imme-words didn't leave
traces in any of the languages spoken south and west from the areas of
In general the opinion of R.L. Trask about impossibility and silliness
of linguistic reconstructions going back millennia before the first
written records holds also for Atlantic (or Smc.) part of V.'s theory.
>From a mere technical point of view, we should mention that the form of
presentation of material could be greatly improved, had the author
endeavored a re-writing of the book in the form of a monograph. This
way he would be able to eliminate numerous repetitions, to smooth some
inconsistencies and changes of opinions which came on different stages
of his research, as well as to consolidate the topical subjects and
groups of words in more organized form. It would be also for advantage
to publish the book in one language, either German or English instead
to mix German and English articles in one book. We do not believe,
however, that the book could be improved conceptually, because the
practical weaknesses of linguistic reconstruction do not help to
support the theories propagated in the book.
This book teaches us this lesson: However good a theoretician of
linguistics one is, it is a paramount importance that he would master
the languages he operates in his work. As far as it is known, and as it
was stated by V. himself, he is no Vasconist, no Celticist and no
Semitic or Afroasian linguist, he doesn't have special preparation in
all these areas, neither in onomastics. To base such a big work on the
etymologies taken from works of other scholars and from the large
library of dictionaries is permissible only on condition that the
author understands the linguistic implications connected to each word,
each morpheme and each phoneme, the implications which are not usually
supplied in the dictionaries. The author should follow the process of
language change for each of the examples he provides as a proof of his
theory. Speaking frankly, even the great linguists would not attempt
historical reconstruction going back to the fifth millennium BC,
especially in the condition of absolute lack of linguistic material
going back even to the fourth or third millennia, not to speak that the
linguistic material used in the dictionaries is of much later time. We
should mention that V. failed in this book not only as comparative
linguist, or etymologist, but even in his narrow specialization as a
Germanist. [See Kitson (1996): 83, nn. 14-15]. Remember, in the
beginning of this review I mentioned, that V.'s Ph.D. dissertation was
on German phonology. Kitson (1996):110 shows that V. failed to give a
rational explanation to the prevalence of o-grades over 'full' or
'normal' e-grades. He failed to recognize the Indo-European phonetic
form of suffixes. He failed to treat existence of vowel a in the Indo-
In short we consider the book a complete failure.
We are not going to check V.'s extra-linguistic data; because we
believe that first the linguistic facts should be proven. Now when we
are sure that the linguistic base of V.'s theories is faulty beyond the
reasonable doubt, there is no need to check his extra-linguistic
evidence. However we can predict that exactly as both the P.-Bq and the
PS reconstructions and approximations are faulty, the same will be
found with V.'s extra-linguistic evidence.
In a sense V. predicted his failure, however, formulating his thoughts
in the form of three questions at the end of chap. 10. "Some West Indo-
European words of uncertain origin" (originally published in 1997).
There the author lists 3 important problems with which he doesn't deal,
1. Will we be able to correlate the three series of Indo-European
plosives at their various stages of development ... with the plosive
series of the Vasconic and Atlantic languages ...?
2. Will we be able to establish partial chronologies of prehistoric
changes in the West Indo-European languages by comparing the structure
of putative loan-words to their assumed sources...?
3. Can it be proved ... that the amazingly regular Germanic verbal
ablaut came into being when speakers of Atlantic languages shifted from
their rigorously ablauting languages to the mildly and irregularly
ablauting Palaeo-Germanic system?
Today we can answer all three problematic questions in negative. We
will not be able to correlate the three series of Indo-European
plosives at their various stages of development with the plosive series
of the Vasconic and Atlantic languages. We will not be able to
establish any chronologies of prehistoric changes in the WIE languages
going back to the eighth thousand BC or to the fifth thousand BC by
comparing the structure of putative loan-words to their assumed
sources. And the problem depends both on IE part and on "putative loan-
words". We believe that the "putative loan-words" were too putative
ones, i.e. they do not have any relation to IE or its Western branch.
It cannot be proved that the amazingly regular Gmc. verbal ablaut came
into being when speakers of Atlantic languages shifted from their
rigorously ablauting languages to the mildly and irregularly ablauting
Palaeo-Germanic system. (See pp.625-627). The languages do not borrow
general ideas of structure one from another. Structural similarities
can be of two origins, genetic or typological [i.e. as realization of
one of many possibilities]. In Semitic, where the structure originated
from the common proto-Semitic, the extraordinary systematization of
ablaut refers to structure of contrasting verbal stems: basic,
intensive, causative, passive, reflexive, etc., including such rare
formations as to indicate meaning 'to allow to do something concerning
one,' or to point to color or bodily defects, 'to ask or consider to do
something' [See Moscati (1969):122-131; Wright 1966:198-226]; and the
long series of nouns' models. The systematization of rich ablaut in
Semitic is insured by the prevalence of tri-consonantal roots. In the
IE, especially in Gmc., languages the ablaut forms are used only for
distinction of tenses. Much rarer are changes of vowels in conjugation
of verbs (like in Sp. dorm'ir / duerme). In Gmc., there are very few
examples that can be interpreted as contrastive verbal stems (a kind of
sitzen 'sit, be seated' and setzen 'place, set, put', Engl. sit and
set), which reminds on relation of base stem and causative stem in Smc.
(like Qal and Hif'i:l stems in Hb., or the first and the fourth
formations in Arab). If one designates this resemblance as similarity
at all, this has to be a limited typological similarity.
V. instructs Indo-Europeanists to turn from problems of internal
Indo-European reconstruction to the study of their contact languages.
Any well versed historical linguist would be wondering as to what IE,
Nostratic or Eurasian form V.'s followers should compare the
reconstructed forms of contact languages.
We mentioned above that the book was well edited. A great recognition
for editing the book deserves the editor Patrizia Noel Aziz Hanna who
assembled all the articles, edited them, composed indexes, wrote the
introduction and supplied the abstracts. She and several students of
Prof. Vennemann have proofread the text of book. Nevertheless
occasional mistakes and typos occur, especially in linguistic examples
from less known languages, e.g. discussing the name of the alder on p.
327 V. brings Russ. 'ol#icha (< +alisa:). The real Russian word is
/ol'kh'a/; on p. 708 V. brings Rs. /serp#u/ 'sickle'. The correct word
should be /serp/.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Hayim Y. Sheynin studied General linguistics, Classical philology,
Semitic philology and Jewish interlinguistics in Leningrad (now St.
Petersburg, Russia), Jerusalem and Philadelphia. He holds Ph. D. degree
in the Oriental languages from the University of Pennsylvania. He
taught Semitic languages and Hebrew literature in the University of
Haifa, Dropsie University and Gratz College. He participated in several
projects of Aramaic lexicography, description of Hebrew manuscripts,
publication of poetic and philological texts from the Cairo Genizah,
etc. The recent interests include lexicology of Semitic and Jewish
languages. He contributed reviews of monographs on historiography of
linguistics, on Romance languages and on Arabic to Linguist List and to
Studies in Linguistics and on Hebrew manuscripts to Jewish Quarterly
Review and other periodicals and festschrifts.