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The Truth About Cats (Not Dogs)

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  • Patrick H. Wynne
    Recently on Elfling, an attempt by one Evenstar to translate some French proverbs into neo-Quenya (post #32037) led to a discussion of the Qenya word _meoi_
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 27, 2005
      Recently on Elfling, an attempt by one "Evenstar" to
      translate some French proverbs into neo-Quenya
      (post #32037) led to a discussion of the Qenya word
      _meoi_ 'cat' found in QL. The primary concern, as
      usual, was how this word might be properly "updated"
      for use in neo-Quenya, but Thorsten Renk (post
      #32155) made some interesting observations about
      _meoi_ in its original context:

      "Maybe it would be worthwhile pointing out that
      _meoi_ is actually Qenya, not Quenya, that the
      original plural based on the Early Qenya Grammar
      would rather be something like _*meoili_ instead
      of _*meoir_ (the latter form probably being dative)
      (cf. PE14:43f) [...] it seems rather likely that _meoi_
      is actually coined after the sound made by a cat -
      so I don't think it should be a plural. _Tevildo meoita_
      is said to translate 'prince of cats' - so should we take
      _meoita_ as genitive plural 'of cats'? If so, it doesn't
      seem to agree very well with the EQG, so maybe the
      true pattern is yet a different one. And yet it could
      also be just an adjective 'cattish Tevildo'..."

      This set me to thinking about the etymologies of
      _meoi_, _meoita_, and other words and names for
      cats in the early lexicons. That _meoi_ is onomatopoeic,
      as Thorsten suggests, seems beyond dispute -- but
      despite the fact that QL lists _meoi_ as a headword
      with no root provided, can we trace it further back
      to an original onomatopoeic stem, as we can do for
      other animal names in QL, such as _mâwe (i)_ 'gull'
      and _moa_ 'sheep', both from MAWA- 'cry, bleat'?

      Perhaps. I suspect that the form of the original root
      underlying _meoi_ is more clearly represented in
      _Miaulë_, the name of Tevildo's feline cook in "The
      Tale of Tinúviel" (II:28), i.e., onomatopoeic *_miaw-_
      (virtually identical in pronunciation to English _meow_).
      _Miaulë_ is apparently the Qenya cognate of Gn.
      _miauli_ 'she-cat' in GL (this was emended to
      _maulin_). Most of the cat-words in GL appear to
      derive from *_miaw-_: Gn. _mio_ 'cat' (>> _miog_),
      _miaug, miog_ 'tomcat', and genitive plurals
      _Miothon_, _Miaugion_ 'of cats' in _Tifil Miothon_
      or _Miaugion_ 'Prince of Cats' (GL) and _Tifil (Bridhon)
      Miaugion_ 'Tevildo Prince of Cats' (II:15). Note that
      the original diphthong _au_ is retained in stressed syllables
      (_miauli(n)_, _Miaugion_) but usually reduced to _o_ when
      unstressed (_mio_, _miog_, _Miothon_; the exception,
      _miaug_, is perhaps archaic).

      [NOTE: Gn. _mui_ 'cat' also appears in GL, in two
      rejected names of Tevildo, _Mui Tifil_ and _Mui•Difil_
      s.v. _Tifil_; the word was allowed to stand (perhaps
      through an oversight) in the phrase _cuithos hû le
      mui_ 'a cat and dog life' s.v._cuithos_. _mui_ 'cat'
      could derive from the QL root MAWA- 'cry' bleat'
      cited above, i.e. *_mâwi_ > *_môwi_ > _mui_ -- cp.
      the phonological development of the preterite of
      Gn. _haw-_ 'to lie': *_hâwi_ > _hôwi_ > _hui_ (PE11:48),
      a developmental sequence that also accounts for
      _fui_ as the preterite of Gn. _fau_ 'it smells' (PE11:34).
      Note that *_mâwi_ is also almost certainly the primitive
      form of Q. _mâwe (i)_ 'gull' in QL; the fact that there is
      no cognate word for 'gull' in GL suggests that Tolkien's
      intention was that the Gnomes chose to apply the
      primitive word *_mâwi_ 'crier' to cats rather than gulls.]

      Returning to Q. _meoi_ -- can this be plausibly derived
      from *_miaw-_? According to the Qenya Phonology, _áwi_
      (in which the acute accent indicates stress not quantity; I
      use _w_ here for _u_ with a subscript arch in the original)
      gave _oi_ (_ávi_) in Qenya (PE12:12). So we might expect a
      form *_miáwi_ to yield *_mioi_. The Q. Phonology also allows
      for a tendency of short _i_ to sometimes shift to _e_:
      "(2) where _i_ remained short it has a tendency to be
      assimilated to _-e-_ especially followed by _-r(a)-_, as
      second syllable of dactyl" (PE12:8) (the phrase "as second
      syllable of dactyl" was an addition; see footnote 46). Since
      this states that _i_ > _e_ "especially" (not "only") occurred
      when followed by _-r(a)_, and since the phrase about
      dactyls was an addition, this might allow us some "wiggle-
      room" to propose that *_mioi_ might have become _meoi_,
      with _i_ "assimilating" to _e_, this lowering resulting in a
      smoother transition to the following diphthong _oi_.
      Nonetheless, I cannot yet provide a supporting example,
      and skeptics may be justified in regarding this proposal
      as _phonologia ex machina_!

      Finally, a word about the ending _-i_ in my proposed
      ancestral form *_miawi_. This was not pulled from thin
      air -- it may be seen in another animal name, again
      echoic in origin, namely _oi_ 'bird, hen' < OHO 'cry' in
      QL, presumably < *_ohi_ 'crier'. Thus *_miawi_ 'meower,

      -- Patrick H. Wynne
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