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Greet the New Year with etymologies!

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  • Jörg Rhiemeier
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2013
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      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
      connection conceivable.

      --
      ... brought to you by the Weeping Elf
      http://www.joerg-rhiemeier.de/Conlang/index.html
      "Bêsel asa Éam, a Éam atha cvanthal a cvanth atha Éamal." - SiM 1:1
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