LINGUIST List 26.1302

Mon Mar 09 2015

Sum: Summary of Etymology of the Latin word 'navia'

Editor for this issue: Anna White <>

Date: 08-Mar-2015
From: A S Sundar <>
Subject: Summary of Etymology of the Latin word 'navia'
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I refer to my posting LL 26. 1020 and first of all thank my linguistic fraternity, especially Mr/Ms Giurgea, Joe, Ron, Claudia, Geoffrey, Daniela, Muller, Israel for their responses to my Query.

Prof. Joseph Foster has suggested that the Tamil word ‘Navai’ and English ’Navy’ is another case of accidental resemblance. In this connection, I reproduce here-under my observations on ‘accidental resemblances’ posted in LL 14.1630.

A conclusion of ‘chance resemblance’ can be arrived at, only after observing the undernoted precautions.
a) Trace the root in both languages.(X and Y)
If root in X and Y are clear and acceptable,check which root is more probable and more acceptable. This is suggested as some linguists tend to relate the words to a root they know, rather than admitting as ‘not traceable’. If this exercise leads you to conclude that ‘Y’ is acceptable, then next step would be to find out any possible mobility of the word through cultural contacts, political and economic influences etc.
If the result is negative, apply rule (b)
b) Are the words formed out of basic natural sounds made by infants or animals/birds/moving things?
Example: English word ‘mother’ and Tamil word ‘amma’. The words basically are derived from the natural sound ’ma’ made by infants. Onomatopoeic words could create similar sounding words, in different languages though not essentially exactly matching.
c) Genetic link has to be ruled out, Available data may prove inadequate for the purpose.
d) If still the result is negative, as the meanings and phonology are same, it is safe to conclude ‘unexplained connection’
A conclusion of ‘chance resemblances’ is an authoritative denial of possible unexplained connection. Such a conclusion without a basis, I feel is inconsistent with the spirit of academic enquiry.

Mr Ron Moe has written ‘If there is a connection between the I-E root and Tamil, it must be very ancient indeed, since Homer uses the word in about 800 BC. My guess is that the I-E and Tamil roots are unrelated, but it is an interesting hypothesis.’

A little of historical background may help to clear this area. The Greeks and Romans were well known to Tamils during the BC era. Apart from extensive literary references, archaeological finds of Roman gold coins at Kalaiyamputhur in Tamil Nadu State of India attests to this fact. The Greeks/Romans were referred to by a common term ‘Yavanars’in Tamil. Since these travelers commenced their voyages from the Ionian Sea, they were named ‘Ionavars’in Tamil. The etymology goes like this Ionia>Ionavar>Yavanar. In those days foreign traders camped for months in South Indian coasts for trade purposes, developed matrimonial links and mixed with the local populace freely. References of Greeks guarding the fort of Madurai town is also available, in Tamil texts. Thus the interaction was not for short periods and was not limited to trade purposes only. Tamils were a sea-faring people which took them as far as Java, Sumatra, Singapore etc, Chola King Rajendra had a powerful navy with which he conquered Java,Ceylon etc.

Dr. Daniela has suggested ‘If the Latin word for ship is related to Tamil, there should be evidence for contact between the Romans and Tamil speakers. As far as I am aware, Latin navis (singular) and Greek naus (singular) are both related to Sanskrit nauh. Is the Tamil word perhaps a borrowing from Sanskrit?’’

I believe that my foregoing observations on trade contacts between the Romans and Tamil speakers would have clarified this doubt. Moreover Sanskrit was never a spoken language and the prevailing religion prohibited sea-faring under a penalty. However, for the Tamils, sea-faring was a way of life as attested by the Tamil proverb ”Thirai kadal odi thiraviam thedu” which means ”Cross the seas and seek the treasures”
Following are some of the other related Tamil words available.
1 Kappal – ship
2 Thoni- A kind of boat
3 Padagu- Hollowed boat use by fisherman
4 Parisal- round boat
5 Kattumaram- Catamaran
6 Theppam-float

So the Sanskrit word ‘nauh’could have been derived from Tamil ‘navai’ only.

Prof. Joseph F Foster, Claudia and Geoffrey have provided other words in Latin for ’ship’ like Barca, Cumba etc. These words are not derived from the word ‘navia‘ and so not relevant to our study.

Conclusion: The Latin word ‘navia’ is a morpheme and cannot be broken down further as the Tamil ‘navai’ which is derived from morpheme ‘nai’ (to lead). The English word ‘navigate’ derived from Latin ’navia’ clearly takes this meaning ie, ’to lead’. The absence of any other word in Latin connected with ‘navia’ indicating link with ‘ship’, leads us to believe that this Latin word most probably means ‘to lead’ as I assumed.
So in this circumstances the etymology as suggested in my Query 26.1020 appears more probable and acceptable than the available Etymology, which is not clear and quite uncertain as well.

I thank all the contributors for their valuable time and invite all to visit my BlogSpot for my findings on Greek word ‘krume’.


Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics

Subject Language(s): English (eng)
                            Greek, Ancient (grc)

Page Updated: 09-Mar-2015