Saturday, 26 February 2011

European substrates: interviews with Marlies Philippa

Marlies Philippa interviews (excerpts)

Note. The Utrecht Etymologisch Woordenboek van het Nederlands (EWN) (4 parts, 2003-9) is probably the most significant contribution to European substrate studies yet to appear. On publication, the editor, Dr Marlies Philippa, gave some press interviews, which are available on-line in Dutch. I have translated parts into English because they are so passionately interesting for the student of substrate words.

Q What is the difference from other etymological dictionaries?
A Philippa: ‘The etymological dictionary of Van Dale treats more words, but apart from only going into each word briefly, it also has no claims to science. The other dictionaries are out of date in two ways. In the first place they are not based on the modern vocabulary of the 21st century, and in the second place they do not make use of the latest scientific insights.’

Thus, linguists have come ever more to believe that many very old Germanic words do not find their origin in Indo-European, the source language from which most European languages originated. The Dutch words dom, doof, leep and slim for example probably do not derive from Old Indo-European, but from a language which was spoken in our regions when Indo-European invaded thousands of years ago. Dom and doof were probably related in the old language, also called substrate language, as were leep and slim. According to some estimates some 15% of our everyday vocabulary (not counting compounds and derivations) now consists of substrate words. The new etymological dictionary is the first one that makes extensive use of this so-called substrate theory.

from interview 2.
Q. How do you explain that there are words sitting in Dutch which are much older?
Marlies Philippa: For that we must look further back in history. Europe has been inhabited for many thousand years. It is significant for language development in Europe that between 3000 and 2000 BC large groups of Indo-Europeans spread out from South Russia over the whole of Europe and a part of Asia. There are firm archaeological proofs of this. Their language, Indo-European (also called Indo-Germanic) then penetrates Europe and parts of Asia. Indo-European forms the shared basis for almost all later European languages, thus also for Dutch. I say almost, because some languages in Europe, such as Basque, Finnish, Hungarian and the now dead Etruscan remained outside the Indo-European sphere of influence. In the course of a few centuries the original languages from before the Indo-European invasion are squeezed out, but not completely. The original, pre-Indo-European languages are what we call substrate languages. And the substrate languages had a great deal of influence on Indo-European. In most modern European languages you find many pre-IE substrate words remaining. These are then more than four or five thousand years old. Words like apple, herring, thief or bakkes have thus been with us for millennia.’

Q. Just like words such as bijl, drank, hengest, and carp. These words do not sound old to my ears. How do you recognise an ancient substrate word?
A. Marlies Philippa: Without etymology you can’t explain why vader was ever pater. Such a word must, first, only be found in a limited distribution area. If the stem of a Dutch word is also found in Persian, then you can be sure that it cannot be a substrate word: Persian and Dutch are communally Indo-European languages, but they don’t have the same substrate. Further we have quite clear ideas on how IE words sounded. If you apply known laws of sound development to a word, you can define a word that has a non-Indo-European sound or form. That is another good indication. Thirdly, you can look at the meaning of a word. When the Indo-Europeans came to live in our region, they bumped into objects which they had never seen and which they didn’t have words for. Then they took over substrate words for them from the native population. Examples of that are words which have to do with plants (apple, bes, erwt, hazel) or animals (big, bee, das, herring).
A Did they only take over words for things they didn’t know or did they take other words too? We also sometimes take over English words because they sound good?
Marlies Philippa: ”Of course the Indo-Europeans mixed with the native population. You see then that they took over mainly short handy substrate words and that the ancient words can even replace Indo-European words. You must think of words that have to do with the body (bakkes, buik, darm, head) or with housekeeping (besom, board, drink, hemd, hood) or with shipbuilding or carpentry (boat, board, bolt). Also other short, frequent words landed in our vocabulary: thief, dumb, god, grip, help...
A: Did appel, haring, dief and all the other old words help to give Dutch its shape or did they just hang around unobtrusively in our language?
Marlies Philippa: “They contributed to its form. Roughly from the year 1000 BC on various Indo-European languages began to develop, under the influence of substrate languages, and among them was Germanic. Our Dutch belongs to the Germanic language family, together with among others Frisian, English, Swedish, German and so forth. You can say that our Dutch consists for 15% of the ancient substrate words, for 15% of old inherited words (deriving from Indo-European) and for 70% of relatively young loan words (from other languages, such as Latin, French, German and English).”

Note by AD. As the EWN has about 14,000 headwords it is credible that the ‘substrate’ heads, reckoned as 15%, number about 2000. The EWN can alternatively be considered as a ‘dictionary of the substrate language or languages’.

'leep' and 'slim' are both cognate with English words 'limp, lame' and show alternations which are not possible in the 'legitimate' Indo-European line of descent. The 'floating nasal' does appear in some IE contexts (English 'lick', Latin 'lingua') but not in this particular one. 'Limp' is presumably cognate with German 'links' ('left (side)') and this shows the p/k alternation which is particularly important for the substrate tier in Germanic.

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