HISTORY THROUGH LINGUISTICS
Toponomy is the technical term for the study of place names. The subject
fascinates many people and led to the formation of a special group of experts
at the United States Interior Department for the classification and cataloging
of American place names. In England considerable effort has gone into such
study over the past several hundred years. Eilert Ekwall wrote the Concise
Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names in response to such interestCODEPN.
Albert Baugh discussed the phenomenon in his History of the English
LanguageHEL. It is a fruitful study in the social history
England is rich in place names which reflect its checkered social history.
From the pre-Roman Kelts, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Norse marauders
of the eighth century, and the French Normans, England has witnessed the
successive implantation of different languages and names by each of those
A Keltic word is cumb; it means a "deep valley." It is found in such names as Duncombe, Holcombe, Winchcombe and so on. The Romans used the word castra = "camp" to denote their encampments. Villages and towns grew up around these camps or forts with names which later were adopted by the Anglo-Saxons. They turned castra into ceaster; we know the word today in Chester, Colchester, Dorchester, Manchester, Winchester, Lancaster, Doncaster, Gloucester, Worcester, and
many others. The Anglo-Saxons also used their word dun for moor, down, height, hill, and mountainASD. Many dun names are known: Ashdown, Bredon, Hambledon, Snowdon, Hendon, Dunham, Dunton, Dundon, and so on. Dundon is a marriage of the Anglo-Saxon dun with the Keltic don; literally it would mean "the hill of Don." Duncombe could be "the moor of the deep valley." But in the blending of dun with don we cannot easily determine if Bredon, Snowdon, Hendon and others may come from the Kelts or the Anglo-Saxons. The use of Don as a prefix on Doncaster suggests that the don name carried significance at very early times, prior to the Romans, since it was used in combination with the Roman caster.
From these examples we see how difficult it is to assign place names.
But when a river with the Don name is found across Europe and into Asia,
we observe an underlying cause which pervades all Indo-European lands.
I shall now illustrate three different Indo-European word groups, how they may derive from Semitic roots, and how they reflect on the social customs of prior ages. How did Don affect our common words for house and home? If the original Semitic Ab and Am turned into Pa and Ma, did our words for brothers and sisters also derive from that source? And how did we learn to differentiate between that original Judge of mankind and more recent ruling Kings?
|HOUSE AND HOME|
In a preceding chapter I briefly mentioned
that certain words were used across the Indo-European regions for domestic
practices which included agriculture and animal husbandry. It is useful
to examine this phenomenon in more detail.
If we find a word common across Europe and
into India it seems sensible to believe that it had a common origin. Such
deduction involves two important criteria for linguistic studies. First,
that the word has the same sound, and second, that it has the same meaning.
However, both criteria may not be obvious. The Indo-European (I-E) word
for father is found in Latin pater, Greek patir, Sanskrit
Dutch vader, Gothic fader, and Old Irish athir. Obviously
"t" can exchange with "d," or the initial "p" may become an "f," as in
the Teutonic languages, or may be lost altogether, as in Irish athir.
These changes across languages are well established linguistic phenomena.
Shift in meaning may also occur. A word may
lose its original literal significance but the new use, to fit linguistic
criteria, must show vestiges of its original use in an historical language.
In this present study we encounter phenomena which lie on the edge of linguistic
science but which provide new and deep insights into our planetary past.
For example consider the I-E root dom.
It is found in Indian Vedic literature as dama- = "house," in Iranian
= "family or house," Old Slavic domu = "home," Greek
= "house," Latin domus = "house," and in English borrowed from Latin:
domicile and domestic. The last two words demonstrate two
senses of the dom- root -- a place of residence and a settled style
Emile Benveniste, in his absorbing book, Indo-European
Language and Society, showed that originally the dom root meant
"home," the gathering place for the family, and not "house," the structure
in which they assembledIESL. In Greece the word gradually shifted
over to mean merely the structure; another Greek word, oikos, was
eventually used for domestic life. Benveniste also showed that from the
root came the Latin dominus, the master or lord of the home. Later
this use evolved into application to a civil Lord.
If this derivation is correct it accents our
problem with the Don and Dona titles. Given the clear evidence of the Hebrew
Don verb we have strong support for our earlier deduction that the Iberian
Don did not come from the Latin Dominus but that it carried independently
from some other, far more ancient, practice. Rather than the Latin Dominus
being the source of the other titles we now find it sitting alone with
an origin that is secondary and derived from a different path. Since the
Semitic Don must be older than the Latin Dominus we are led back to the
question of the origin of the I-E dom form. Also since the n-to-m
shift is a common linguistic phenomenon is it possible that the I-E dom
= "home" derived from that personality named Don? Did an original group
of I-E people name the home in honor of Don because he was the one
who instituted the social practice of a settled home? If so it would mean
that a very common and basic word in the I-E languages derived from an
earlier Semitic source. This raises an equally important question. How
many I-E words can be traced back to an influence which originates in that
This possibility also raises another difficulty.
If dom came from Don, and if Don carried down through time for the
titles of Europe, and then if Latin Dominus derived from dom,
why would the title for Lord in Rome come back to an identical use through
such an involved route? If the establishment of the home was due to Don
then it might be natural for his descendants to refer to the home with
that name, with "n" to "m" inflection difference to distinguish the home
from the man.
As a further example of inflectional differences
consider how the title Don survived in the I-E languages but not
while the title Adon survived in the Semitic, but not
The differences probably are due to different social attitudes held by
different groups of people. In the first case a respect was shown
for the individual who deserved that title; in the second a relationship
was emphasized between that individual and others.
Further insights are offered by other evidence. In ancient Vedic the adjective damunah means "domestic (protector) of the house." The Armenian tanuter means "master of the house." (Note both "d" to "t" and "m" to "n" phonetic shifts.) In Sanskrit two similar phrases are dam-pitah and pater-dan, both meaning "master of the house"IESL. But pater-dan, literally, is "Father
Don." Thus we see how convoluted the various forms may become and that Latin Dominus is merely another example of linguistic phenomena that reflect unconscious deep respect for that ancient Father of mankind.
We find another I-E root in dem- = "to
build." It is illustrated in the Greek root demo- = "to build or
to construct." It is found in the Greek word doma = "a rooftop,"
which we still carry in English dome. It is in Greek oikodomos
= "a builder or architect," the one who was the "home-builder." (Note our
English word major-domo = "head of the domestic household.") The
root dem- probably derives from dom-; dom- meant the
home, the social apparatus, while dem- came to mean the structure.
From this root derived the Greek noun, demas = "physical shape,
appearance, or stature." It was used adverbially as "in the manner of,"
literally "according to the appearance, the form of," or "as it was built."
From the I-E dem- root other words developed
in the Teutonic languages. With a "d-to-t" shift and vowel change dem-
went to tim-. It is found in Gothic ga-timan and German gezieman
= "to be in accord, to agree," literally "to be constructed in the same
manner." A derived noun, dem-ro, gave us English timber =
"wood for construction." The Gothic verb timrjan meant "to work
in wood," (German zimmern), while the abstract noun ga-timrjo
Note that German changes "t" into "z," another
well-known phonetic change following linguistic laws.
Thus we can see how the dom- root, which
meant the home, the social apparatus, could easily be the source of the
root, in the sense of the structure. This inflectional change then led
to a host of other words, all revolving around the material aspects of
the residence rather than the social aspects.
Still other words derived from the dom-
root. Greek damao meant "to subdue" or "to tame." It carried the
sense of subjecting natural things, wild animals or uncultured man, to
the rule of the home, to domestic control and tranquility. The Latin word
was domare. Cognates in the Teutonic languages were Old High German
and Gothic tamjan, known to us in Old English tam, modern
English tame. A derived Greek word was a-damatos, "to be
indomitable," so strong that all would be subject to that will. From adamatos
we get our word adamant.
The same root was used other ways. Greek demos
= "the people, the public" derived from dam-, the I-E word for family,
which in turn came from dom-. The Greek usage can be explained as
Originally a family has brothers and sisters.
These marry to bring in mates from other families but they become part
of the first family. They are regarded as family. As this family increases
in size it becomes a "Grossfamilie," a clan which may live in the same
community or geographical region but which occupies numerous houses. However,
the name dam is still retained after generations to denote this
large group related by blood. Eventually, to differentiate between the
immediate family and the clan the word shifted in pronunciation and meaning.
went to demos in Greek and came to mean the entire gathering of
people who no longer identified with one another as immediate family. They
were now the entire social unit, the "people," or the "public." And from
Greek demo other words spread into other languages. English now
has demagogue = "people + leader." Democracy = "people +
authority." Other words derived from this use of the root.
Thus we see how a single word, coming out of
that Great Granddaddy, through simple phonetic inflections, can blossom
out into manifold uses and hold its mind-forming sway on untold human generations.
We also obtain some insight into how that original Semitic tongue left
such an impact on the Indo-European languages.
Benveniste expressed concern that the several word roots, dom-, dam-, or dem- were listed together under one category in the etymological dictionaries. He felt the individual terms were independently derived and that "there is nothing more than homophony between dem- 'family' and dem- 'construct'." He admitted that a cross influence existed but he felt the contamination from one to the other was due to a tendency to identify social groups with material habitats. From this study we see they are phonetically and semantically close because they derive from the same word, that ancient Great Granddaddy Don.
|BROTHERS AND SISTERS|
In the previous chapter we noted the Semitic
names for father and mother, ab and am, with their childhood
uses, abba and amma, or, as we know them in the western world,
and momma. We also considered the possibility that
the childhood diminutive of Adon, the Semitic word for Lord, leading
to our daddy. Furthermore we had the puzzle of the anna form;
we could not determine if it derived from amma with an "m-to-n"
phonetic shift, or if it derived from the female of An, representing
a Mother God consort.
An inquiry into the I-E forms for family members,
and their possible origins, is helpful if we tabulate them as they appear
historically in various I-E tongues. The hypothetical original I-E is shown
in the column headers with an asterisk.
We see that father and mother in their original
I-E forms had the initial syllables of pa- and ma-, which
we remember so well in English colloquial practice. These are obviously
related phonetically and semantically to the Semitic ab and am,
involving what linguists call metathesis, the interchange of the sounds
in a word. (We saw this in Latin castra with an -ra and the Anglo-Saxon
ceaster with an -er.) In the case of father the "b" also shifts
Other patterns may be noted. In all four categories
we see a suffix of -ter, with the hypothetical original supported
by a majority of endings. Specialists are not agreed on the origin of this
suffix. No recorded evidence is available to show how it may have derived;
some linguists believe the common form suggests origin by relational familiarity
within the family, a colloquial derivation.
Old Irish substitutes -thir for -ter
in aithir-mathir -brathir. Armenian loses the "t" entirely
with an ayr ending in hayr-mayr-etbayr, and also with the
greatest changes on the initial phonemes.
The word sister shows a striking contrast among
the languages. The -ter ending shows in English, Gothic and Old
Slavic (with metathesis); it is transformed to an "r" ending in the other
languages illustrated. Linguists postulate that the word is made up of
two elements, swe and sar, but they have no consistent view
of the origins. The -sor in Sanskrit and -sar in Armenian
and Tokharian suggested to Benveniste that the word could be broken up
into two elements, swe- and -sor, following the common linguistic
trend. He proposed that swe- may be a term for social relationship,
while -sor was an archaic name for "woman."
Before proposing an origin for "sister" I shall
consider "brother." However, the origin of the bra- for "brother"
is also a puzzle for linguists, even more than the origin of "sister."
Since the problems for "brother" and "sister" are both more involved I
shall make a short digression into Indo-European practices as they show
in historical cultures and as they reflect upon our inquiry.
The everyday word for brother in Greek is adelphos,
not phrater. It comes from delphus, a Greek word for the
womb. It meant a blood brother, one who was a brother by birth from the
same mother. The use of adelphos in Greek led to the female equivalent,
for sister. The word phrater devolved to designate those who were
members of a phratria, a brotherhood under a social relationship
in which the members understood themselves to be descended from the same
remote fatherIESL. An ancient Greek tradition celebrated the
feast of Zeus Phratrios, Father Zeus. This was called the Apatouria, which
the ancients interpreted as the homopatria, literally "of the same
father." The word frater was also used in Latin as a designation
for a brother who was a member of a fraternal group, thus our English word
fraternity. In Latin the phrase for blood brother was frater
germanus, or simply germanus. Curiously, the German word stuck
to the citizens of Deutschland, which we know in English as Germany. Germanus
led to Spanish hermano and Portuguese irmado.
This linguistic evidence in historical cultures
shows a transformation away from older family designations to substitute
words in order to recapture the notion of consanguinity. As the clan grew
beyond the Grossfamilie it became socially unwieldly; it began to break
up. In following generations the offspring no longer regarded themselves
as blood brothers of those who lived more distantly but the word brother
was still used. In order to distinguish between the members of the phratria,
the clan, and a true blood brother new words had to be found.
Similar transformations did not take place
among all I-E people. Many groups, including the Teutonics, held to the
word brother for the blood brother. But the evidence from Greece and Rome
offers insight into the structure of that early I-E culture.
The members regarded themselves as blood brothers. As the number of descendants increased and spread out into everwidening circles they lost the sense of close kinship but still
regarded themselves as descended from the same father, homopatria. This social regard is illustrated by other transformations used to designate expanding concentric
circles of kinship: the family, the clan, the tribe, and the country.
The Greek domos and oikos were used differently by the several Greek dialects at different times. (W)oikos devolved to designate the home and not the clan. The Sanskrit and Latin vis and vicus no longer carried the significance of blood relationship, but rather communities of unrelated people or villages which were assemblages of people in houses. As a substitute for the idea of a blood clan Latin used the word tribus. For country it used patria, the I-E designation for father, again a haunting memory of the original father, and remembered in English patriotic. Genos and genus retained the idea of blood relationship in the notions of common ancestry but now altered from a tribal designation to that of an entire race. Janus, genos and genus are known in the Teutonic languages as kin, those who are blood related.
The Latin word vicus was borrowed by
the Keltic natives of Britain from their Roman overlords as wic
and is now found in such place names as Greenwich and Brunswick.
With this brief digression on the manner in
which Indo-European words can shift in meaning as races grow and expand
into ever widening circles we can better appreciate how words were transformed
from an original Semitic source to different uses among people who separated
from those Semitic origins.
We can now examine possible origins for the
Indo-European "brother" and "sister."
"Och" is the Hebrew word for brother. Should
we expect the I-E word for brother to follow a similar origin as father
and mother? Such is not the case. Brother comes from another Semitic word
The common stem noted in the tabulation above
A basic Hebrew verb root is barar "to
clarify, purify, and select"1305. This form parallels that of
which we found went to sara in the female, and sar in the
male. In similar manner barar goes to bara1262
and bar1247. The Assyrian bararu meant "to be
shining"BDB. Bara meant "to shape, or create." The Assyrian
meant "to make or create." The Assyrian cognate banu, with a change
from "r" to "n," meant "to create or begetBDB." From this shift
in phonetics the Hebrew acquired the word ben = "son1121."
But the parallel verb root in Hebrew is banah = "to build"1129.
These parallel sounds and meanings in verbs
is common in Hebrew and has been a puzzle for linguistic experts. There
appears to be an intelligent pattern to word associations which is more
than mere evolutionary drift.
Although it is not attested in early Hebrew,
meant "sonBDB." Bar was applied to male offspring as
those who were "created." It was used in Ezra 5:1 as bar-Iddo, the
"son of Iddo." It was also used in Aramaic as bra = "to create,"HAEL,
where it was applied to "son" or "sons," in various forms as brai,
and so on. See Ezra 6:10, Dan 5:22, and so on. The bar or bra-
form was used in other ancient Semitic languages.
Thus we see that the word bra- could
easily have been carried over into primitive I- E as the word for son,
but that it later came to mean brother.
The word for sister is more difficult; I can
only suggest possibilities. The tabulation does not show a consistent stem.
If the original word for sister carried the common suffix -ter then
English, Old Slavic and Gothic forms suggests that the affix may have been
of the form ses or swis. The sar of Tokharian, Sanskrit,
Latin and Old Irish suggest that perhaps the word derives from the original
Semitic sara = "princess" or "royal lady."
The earlier tabulation shows how the words
and anna came into use among certain groups of Indo-Europeans. Gothic
and Hittite both used these words for father and mother; They did not use
pater and mater. Gothic does attest one use of the word fader
but this is restricted to translation of the Greek in the Gothic Bible
from Mark 14:36 where Abba = fader. This use of atta
and anna across both I-E and Semitic people has been a puzzle for
the linguists but we can now resolve this puzzle.
These foregoing examples show the strong linguistic connections of the Indo-European languages to the Semitic. Yet they show differences in application that caused a considerable shift from the original Semitic. Is it possible that words in the original I-E mother tongue were derived in reaction to the Semitic influence, consciously borrowing from the Semitic to provide word roots in a new language but attempting to forsake the Semitic because of its association with fallen divine personalities? Or was this a gradual evolution away from the Semitic? On the basis of this limited evidence we cannot say.
I shall turn now to a different area of discussion.
I shall demonstrate that our ancient forefathers looked upon life with
devout respect. This can be illustrated in concepts of kingship in ancient
The Latin word for king was Rex. The
Sanskrit word was Raj(an), modern Rah(ah). In Hindi Raj
means to reign or ruleOED. Among the Kelts this word appeared
as a suffix in the names of the leaders of Gallic tribes: Dumno-rix
and Vercingeto-rix. Among the Irish it was variously spelled as
Righ, or Rig, both with and without the guttural endingOED,SIR,IELS.
The Indians, Romans, and Kelts all remembered
the rex form, but other European groups did not. In Teutonic languages
the word for "king" was German Koenig, Old English Cyning,
and Gothic Kuni. This form derives from kin = "family" or
"blood relations." The Teutonic word king has no phonetic relation to Rex,
nor do other I-E groups use words which are phonetically related to Rex.
The question we address here is the origin
of the rex-rix-raj-righ title. Since the Latin word reg-is
is merely another form of Rex it may be useful to examine similar words.
meant "royal," "regal," and "kingly" while regio meant "district,"
"region," or "boundary," that which was ruled by the Rex. Regno
meant "to rule" while rectus meant "straight" or "direct"; rego
meant "to guide" or "direct," "to rule" or "manage." These words are all
obviously related to one another from that common reg- root. We
have such English cognates as "region," "regal," "royal," "regulate," "regular,"
and "rectify," all derived from Latin.
Among the Romans the phrase regeres fines
meant literally "trace out the limits by straight lines." It was a function
carried out by priests prior to the construction of a temple, sacred area,
or town. In days of antiquity all such actions were sacred, a dedication
to a Creator God. (Or, as the mythologists would have it, a dedication
to the gods who first laid out temples and towns.) The setting of straight-line
boundaries was the responsibility of the person who carried important religious
power. Originally he carried the title rex. This is recognized in
the ancient phrase rex sacrorum. The rex was charged with the task
sacraIELS. The Druids, the all-important Keltic priests,
personified this important social role. No social action was taken without
their approval and permission, including the highest actions of state.
Keltic chiefs were subservient to them and acknowledged their authority
in all matters relating to the future welfare of the societyTD.
The concept of "straight conduct" in the reg-
root is seen in the Latin regere = "to make or lead straight." Reg-
not only applied to the survey of straight lines for temples or towns,
it also applied to social conduct. English phrases express this same idea.
Our word "right" denotes the concept of "being straight," or "in line."
The concept of "straightness" is found in the other Latin reg- forms.
= "straight + line," from which we get our English "rectilinear" and "rectify."
Regula, through French, is the origin of our English "rule," and
the regulation of society.
Different forms of "rule" are listed in the
Oxford English Dictionary:
1. A principle, regulation or maxim for moral
And so on.
The Latin word regula was also used
for a straight stick, bar, ruler, pattern, and so on. This evidence all
suggests that the reg- root originally meant that which was straight.
It not only meant something that was physically straight, as in straight
lines and construction rulers, but also something that was straight socially
and morally. We use such expressions as "go straight" for someone who refrains
from criminal conduct, but also "act straight" with our contemporaries,
to be forthright and honest with them. The Rex was the exemplar of upright,
proper and "straight" conduct. He was the moral leader of the community,
the one entrusted with responsibility to ensure that all other members
of the community also conducted themselves in a "straight" manner. He laid
out the "rules" and "regulations" as well as the sacred areas. He was the
one to keep everything "right." He made sure that all was done with respect
to a higher moral allegiance. Thus he became a priest and the leader of
the people. As time passed he began to take on more political responsibilities
with less recognition of the moral and religious ones. Thus the title eventually
came to mean the ruler or sovereign, the king.
Our words "rich" and "right" derive from this
same I-E root but come down to us through the Teutonic languages, not the
Romance. Although the Teutonic languages do not show the reg- or
form for a king or ruler, there are vestiges of this word in Gothic raihts
and German recht, which we retain in our English "right" and "righteous."
Righteous comes from "right + wise." The pervasive use of right can be
found in the Oxford English Dictionary which gives seven pages of
definition and other uses for the word. The religious meanings are portrayed
in such phrases as "the right hand of God" and "to turn to the right and
not to the left." Right, in the sense of straight, contrasts with that
which is bent, crooked, or twisted. A person is a crook if he steals. The
way of the Rebellious One was twisted and tortuous.
Our word rich comes from a Teutonic root found
in Gothic reiks. Originally "rich" meant someone who was powerful
and mighty, noble and great. Because material wealth accumulated to those
individuals the word now means merely that which is of great material possession
or abundant physical wealth. The Roman, Keltic and Indian people retained
the word for a noble ruler in that ancient I-E society. The rex
was a spiritual and moral leader, the one to do "right." The importance
of his social role eventually led to the use of his title for kingly rule,
while in the Teutonic and Slavic regions the evolution to kingship forced
use of other words for king; the superior social role of the priest had
From this brief survey we see that the Dons and Donnas were the leaders of the people by right of birth, descended from that original Don, but that civil rule was subject to religious authority. The Teutons and Slavs may have forgotten, but the Romans and Kelts did not, at least until later times. The picture we infer here of Keltic and Germanic society seems greatly different from that portrayed to us by classic writers such as Julius Caesar and Posidonius. Particularly abhorrent to them was the rite of human sacrifice, a religious practice which the Romans themselves had not long since left behind. The memory of it lingers in our Bible when Abraham took his son Isaac away to the sacrificial altar, Gen 22. See also Judg 11:29-40, a truly sorrowful story, I Kings 16:34, and Exod 22:29. For those of us living in the modern civilized world this practice is grossly barbaric. But for the people of those days it was a highly devout rite, most important of all propitiations to the gods. They entered into the spirit of deep religious cleansing, as devout as the practice of Christians today when they eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus in the Eucharist. It certainly was primitive, inherited from the earlier days of man's superstitious past. It also became greatly degraded in some societies. The Aztec Indians of later times degenerated to gross blood-letting in their national celebrations. I do not justify it; I merely try to show that it was a devout rite that did not in any way detract from upright and moral conduct in the society which practiced it. If anything it made them more serious about their social and religious obligations, in contrast to our modern religious allegiance which we take ever so casually.