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15853Re: [tied] Re: Pliny's "Guthalvs"

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  • Piotr Gasiorowski
    Oct 1, 2002
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      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Tuesday, October 01, 2002 9:02 AM
      Subject: [tied] Re: Pliny's "Guthalvs"

      > Steve wrote:
      <I have no problem with the methods worked out by linguists. It just seems sometimes you are measuring with a crooked ruler.  You're eliminating things that you can't possibly know with any real certainty.  You may be right about these things but its just as likely you are wrong.  And that's what these homespun objections are about.>
      Few things in this world can be known with absolute certainty. I'm only eliminating low-plausibility stuff, giving reasons for excluding it. I'm also trying not to exclude those solutions that don't look altogether hopeless, which doesn't mean that I want to defend them. Actually, I think that there may be a still better explanation of "Guthalus", but I'll propose it when we finish the present dispute, to prevent this thread from branching too fast.

      >> Piotr also wrote:
      <<If the Germanic stem had ended in *-alw-, Pliny would have made it -ALVVS <-alvus> or -ALVA <-alva>.>>

      > Steve replied:
      <That's not true. If the Germanic word had originally been something like "Guthalws," Pliny would have seen <Guthalvs> in his sources, and would have written what he saw -- not knowing if the <v> stood for a /w/ or a /u/--- ESPECIALLY SINCE HE PROBABLY HAD NEVER HEARD THE WORD SPOKEN.  We have no record of Pliny ever making the trip north or even ever hearing a German speaker.  (BTW, one would also think that Pliny would have avoided calling a "clear" river <alvus>, given the meaning of excremental terms like <alvus
      liquida> and <alvus varia>.)>
      However, "-alws" is not a permissible Germanic sound combination. It would have had to be -alwaz, *-alwiz, or *-alw-o:n- to be phonetically and morphologically plausible, Latinised as -alvus, -alva or -alvo:, if you insist on having a *w in this word -- quite unnecessarily. Swedish <älv> is a common noun with a known history. It's never had a *w in it. I can't imagine what Victorian objections Pliny might have had to *-alvus. The chief meaning of the word in Latin was 'belly, womb'. Besides, Latin alveus means 'river-bed', aptly enough.

      >> Piotr also wrote:
      <<*Gauta albiz, actually. Undateable? Conjectured? Both elements are attested separately (ON Gautr and elfr; the form I gave is more or less Proto-Scandinavian, but will work also for Pliny's time).>>

      > Steve:
      <Here's what works just as well for Pliny's time.  What you find attested in languages 1200+ years later demonstrates that there were enough sound changes at work dialectically to bring <albis> to the later <elfr> and <a:lv>, and so <-alv> or <-alvs> (river) happening in between and showing up in 1st Cent AD Latin is no surprise.>
      Except that the same word appears unequivocally as Albiz (an exact match for the form reconstructed by the linguists in the same text. You are not free to produce ad hoc "dialectic" rules just to force a word to look like what it "should" look like. The question is not "why NOT *-alv?" but "why *-alv?". There's no justification for it, other than your wish to press a point.

      <<I merely put them together. The former is the genitive plural of the name of the Gauts. I hope you've heard of them -- the Geatas of Beowulf, and the people after whom Götaland and Göteborg were named.>>

      <Göteborg was not named after "the people" -- it was named for the river, in the 18th Century.  As far as what came first, the name of the land or the name of the people, history plainly tells us it could be one or the other.  But for all we know, the "Goutoi", "Gutae" (Ptolemy) could have gotten their name the way Americans did, from a mistaken attribution of some geographer or cartographer.>
      You're right about Göteborg. Still, the river's got a name that it connected with that of the Gauts. It flows through "Western Gautland" and Hygelac's capital was probably located near its mouth. It's called literally and transparently "The River of the Gauts", and I see no good reason to suspect a folk-etymology here. As for the Gauts, who were a rather famous people, there is really no need to make your own garbled variants of a name that is attested very clearly since early times: e.g. <gautoi> in Procopius (6th c.), <ge:atas> in Beowulf and Widsith, <gautar> in Old Icelandic and <gøtar> in Old Swedish. Since you have no problems with the methods of historical linguistics, you should be glad to learn that all therse forms reflect the same prototype: *gauta- with strong masculine endings (not to be confused, but alas often confused, with *gut(-o:n)- 'Goth'). Mind you, I'm not insisting that the name Göta älv is extremely old -- I'm just clarifying its motivation. For all I know, it may have been given to the river in the Middle Ages. But IF the name was (etymologically) the same in Pliny's time, it must have been close to the Proto-North-Germanic projection of Göta älv, i.e. *Gauta albiz.

      >> Piotr -- aka Mickey Mouse -- also wrote:
      <<Swedish Göta älv (_not_ Gota or Gote alv) is pronounced [jø:ta Elv], and if that's the same damn thing as Guthalus, I'm the same friggin' thing as Mickey Mouse.>>

      <Well, Mickey, if you can connect Go:te to Gauts (which you do in your post) I don't understand what your problem with the modern pronounciation [jø:ta]?  According to your own etymology, Go:te [jø:ta] referred to the same people Ptolemy called Goutoi (gr) and Gutae (latin), and perhaps Jordanes called Gouthigoths and later Germanics as <Guths>.  So this argument doesn't make any sense -- you already admit that Go:te once did look and sound like Guth.>
      No, Goofy. The Gauts were "Gauts" and nothing else. The fact that amateurs confuse references in ancient sources (which were not very clear about the identity of Scandia) to the "Gut-" people of Gotland (and the Goths) and the "Gaut-" people of Götaland does not mean that a linguist has a right to confuse them as well. True, there were 19th-century Anglo-Saxonists who identified the Geats in Beowulf with the Gotlanders, the Goths or even the Jutes, but we know better than that now. _I_ have no problem with the modern pronunciation, because I know where it comes from.
      <And of course if you can connect Latin "Albis" to "Elbe" and "a:lv", then you should have no trouble seeing the connection between Latin -alvs and Swedish -a:lv.  The conjecture that the -alvs in a river named Guth/alvs refers to "river" is not any kind of a surprise and nothing you've said prevents that conjecture.
      I have no trouble whatsoever with a derivation that's consistent with the known and independently established historical changes. Otherwise there is trouble indeed. You can't derive ON elfr or Swedish älv from PGmc. *alw- (Lat. alv-), but they derive regularly from *albiz without the slightest difficulty. Not via nonce changes invented by me a moment ago for the sake of the present argument, but via changes known to all students of Germanic.
      <None of your attempts to eliminate the possibility work.  But that's becomes obvious when you start using "damn" and "friggin'" to support a weak argument.>
      Hey, Steve, it was you who started using rhetorical "damn" to support a weak argument (_obviously_ weak, it seems! ;-)): "Especially since Gote Alv and Guthalvs look like the same damn thing".

      >> Piotr also wrote:
      <<*gutxalsaz would have been Latinised as *Guthalsus...>>
      > Steve:
      <Or more likely -- especially given the river in Ptolemy that you cited -- *gut chalsus -- which is not as close I guess as you would like and which doesn't make much sense as a river name explanation.  Your ruler is a little crooked again.
      It's a perfectly straight ruler. There was no phonemic contrast between [x] and [h] in early Germanic. Both were found as realisations of the /x/ phoneme (PGmc. *x). Roman sources were inconsistent about using <ch-> and <h-> spellings for *x (initial <ch-> lived especially long among the Franks, while there were more <h>'s in the east, presumably reflecting a weaker pronunciation). *<halsus> for *xalsaz would have been within the range of tolerance (cf. Harii and Hasdingi for *xarja- and *xazdinga-, but Charivaldus for *xarja-waldaz, later > Herewald, Harald, Harold).
      <(BTW, just north of Go:te river is a town called <Kungälv> which is believed to have been the <Kongahälla> of the sagas.   That transition may have more to do with "Guthalvs" than the <chalsus> explanation.  A town at the river mouth that gave its name to a river, as in Detroit River, Chicago River, Los Angeles River, etc.)
      But Kungälv means "Royal River". King's Hall (ON höll) on the King's River makes sense to me. Underlying both names is the word konungr 'king'. If the Göta river (or its part) were called "Kunghall-älv", it would be clear that it derives from the name of the town, but it ain't.

      >> Piotr also wrote:
      <<Don't underestimate Pliny. The names that _can_ be verified (those of the Elbe, the Vistula, the Weser, the Maas or the Rhein [I should have added the Ems -- Piotr]) were transmitted very faithfully.>>

      <Pliny is generally horrendous and naturalists and geographers have been correcting him for the last 400 years. Getting the rivers west of the Elbe right would be no big trick, nothing impressive at all. After all, Pliny is writing after Caesar and Drusus as well as works of many geographers we no longer have.>
      <As far as Pliny's list goes, he doesn't say much new and he's left a lot of rivers out.  Perhaps he was limiting his list to "clari" (clear?) rivers as he says, but what is that supposed to mean?  Is it a nautical term?  Did he even understand what he was describing with "clari?"  Thia all also might suggest he was reading from a list and not a map and had only the vaguest idea where these rivers were that "flowed into the Ocean." There's is nothing in Pliny that tells us that Vistula or Guthalvs was anything but a distant
      piece of hearsay, perhaps many times removed and poorly transmitted.>
      I'm not defending Pliny's general credibility but just this particular piece of geography. His sources seem to have been quite reliable here. By "clari" he meant "distinguished", i.e. major rivers. As for such rivers, the only surprising omission between the Vistula and the Rhine seems to be the Oder, but if George is right and Guthalus IS the Oder, then the list is complete. No other name is garbled, so why should Guthalus be an exception? (Let me write it with two U's, and if you want to be consistent, spell it GVTHALVS).

      >> Piotr also wrote:
      <<Dear Steve, Pliny Latinised all those rivernames. <-us>, <-is> and <-a> are
      _Latin_ endings, equivalent (roughly) to Germanic *-az (the usual ending of
      Germanic masculines), *-iz and *-o: (strong feminine declension).>>

      <I'm beginning to suspect that this may be wrong too.  Pliny probably never heard the words in the original and probably was reading most of his sources -- so the words were already "latinized" or otherwise bastardized long before he got to them.  What may actually have happened was that medieval clerics -- working to figure out how medieval Germanics fit in the writings of classical authorities like Pliny -- Germanized or otherwise "corrected" Latin names and then attached them to whatever they seemed to fit or whomever they were working for.  It's not impossible that the Vistula is a Latin corruption of a misread local name that became the official name for the river because it appeared in Latin.  In preliterate times there were probably many different local names for the Vistula and perhaps even more than one river that was called the Vistula.  But as I pointed out above, Pliny's "latinizing" did not necessarily have anything to do with "Guthalvs.">

      I don't believe this clerical conspiracy theory. European rivernames are often rather conservative, also in areas completely unknown to ancient geographers. It happens, especially with large rivers, that more than one name has been in use (as with Da:nuvius/Istros), but our rivers are usually small by American standards and there isn't anything remotely comparable to the Mississippi in all Germania. Related Germanic languages were spoken along the entire course of the Elbe, for example, and when the Slavs arrived in those parts, they adopted Germanic *alb- (from whatever residual pre-Slavic population they found there), just giving it a Slavic feminine ending. Then they subjected it to liquid metathesis: > Laba. It all happened when the Slavs were still heathen and pre-literate. There were no clerks about to tell them what they _should_ call the river, or to make them "correct" this Slavic deformation of the Classical name. Yet the name survived and developed according to the regular changes of the language, not according to anyone's prescriptions.
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