Greet the New Year with etymologies!
- Hallo conlangers!
A new year has begun, and I shall greet it with two etymologies.
I am going to answer the following questions:
1. Why do we call them "Elves"?
2. What does a sail have to do with salto and halma?
We are dealing with words here which, in English, have certain
cognates only within Germanic and may be borrowed from an unknown
extinct language of northwestern Europe, which I fancy to have
been Old Albic.
1. Why do we call them "Elves"? The English word _elf_ (Old
English _ælf_) has cognates in other Germanic languages, but its
further Indo-European connections are uncertain. One suggestion
often made is Latin _albus_ 'white'; another is Old Indic _rbhuh_
'one of three divine artificers'. Neither are particularly
convincing. The idea behind Old Albic is that the "real" Elves
were the speakers of Old Albic - you all know that story by now,
I think. The Old Albic self-designation is _Alba_. But what
does that mean?
Old Albic _alba_ descends from the Proto-Hesperic root *xalb-,
which also underlies some words in other Hesperic languages
with meanings that can be subsumed under the heading 'ancestor'
(I haven't worked out the details yet, though), so *xalb- may
have been used as a self-designation of the speakers of Proto-
Hesperic already. There is also an i-stem adjective derived
from that root, *xalb-i-. In Old Albic, this has given _ilb_
'clear, clean (of water etc.); shiny (of metals etc.)'. It has
similar meanings in other Hesperic languages. Also, Alpianic
*alp- 'mountain' looks like a regular descendant of PH *xalb-,
perhaps from the notion that high mountains (such as those of
the Alps where Alpianic languages are spoken) are snow-capped
and thus "white". At any rate, the Proto-Hesperic root *xalb-
perfectly matches PIE *h2albh- 'white, bright' (the source of
Latin _albus_ 'white').
So the Proto-Hesperic speakers named themselves the 'White
Ones'. But why? The obvious candidate is body pigmentation,
especially hair colour. It is well known that blond hair only
occurs among people of European descent. Geneticits assume
that this mutation occured somewhere in Europe about 8,000 to
10,000 years ago. Maybe the first blond-haired people of the
world were the speakers of Proto-Europic, the common ancestor
of Hesperic and Indo-European. Having light-coloured hair in
a world where all other people had dark hair is an obvious
reason to call themselves the "White Ones".
2. What does a sail have to do with salto and halma? Not much,
it seems. But _sail_ is one of those Germanic nautical terms
which lack good IE etymologies. These nautical terms seem to
have been borrowed from Old Albic; after all, the Elves were
the best mariners of ancient Northwestern Europe. The putative
source is Old Albic _segil_ 'wing; sail'. Of these meanings,
'wing' is clearly the original one, as the word is a transparent
instrument noun derived from the verb _saga_ 'to fly'. This
verb descends from the Proto-Hesperic root *salx- 'to fly' (the
development of */lx/ to /g/ is regular in Albic, an instance
of Drummond's Law according to which consonants followed by /x/
were velarized with loss of the /x/ in West Hesperic; the
resulting velarized lateral /ɫ/ developed first to /ɣ/, which
then merged with /g/ ).
This root *salx- 'to fly' closely resembles the (post-)PIE
root *sal- 'to jump' from which both Italian _salto_ and Greek
_halma_, both meaning 'a jump' descend. Now, flying is not
the same as jumping, but semantically close enough to make a
... brought to you by the Weeping Elf
"Bêsel asa Éam, a Éam atha cvanthal a cvanth atha Éamal." - SiM 1:1