30 December 2015

Wheels Are Made for Rollin’

Reduplicated nouns certainly existed in Proto-Indo-European, but they are a poorly investigated species. I will leave aside onomatopoeic reduplication, when the echo consists of at least a CVC sequence, as in Proto-Slavic *golgolъ ‘speech’, Greek bárbaros ‘foreign’ (that is, speaking incomprehensibly), Latin murmur (no gloss necessary), or when the whole stem is repeated, as in Hittite harsiharsi- ‘thunderstorm’. There is a more interesting type in which reduplication is “grammatical” rather than purely iconic, the echo template is CV, and only the consonant is copied from the base. The showcase specimen is the celebrated word for ‘wheel’, *kʷékʷlos. It is not attested in the Anatolian subfamily, so its Proto-Indo-European status is uncertain, but it dates back at least to the common ancestor of Core Indo-European.¹

A Bronze Age sun chariot
[source: the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen]

The ‘wheel’ word is interesting for several reasons. Not all of them need to concern us here. Wheeled transport (in combination with horse domestication) is supposed to have played a crucial role in the early migrations of the Indo-European-speakers, and consequently in the expansion of the Indo-European languages. The appearance of a “technological package” containing terms for ‘wheel’, ‘axle’, ‘cart/wagon’, etc. marks the onset of these historical processes. But I shall concentrate on the linguistic properties of the word, not its cultural importance. The latter is relevant only as an “ecological” factor favouring the frequent use of the word, its successful survival and rich attestation.

*kʷékʷlos is an original masculine – or, if it dates back to Proto-Indo-European after all, an animate, non-neuter noun. One of its forms is conspicuous by its unusually high survival rate – the collective *kʷəkʷláh₂ (see below for details of the reconstruction). It must have been used very frequently, for it tends to occur instead of the expected masculine plural. In Homeric Greek, for example, kúklos has an irregular plural, kúkla (as if the word were neuter rather than masculine). This is quite striking, because the use of the old PIE collective with animate nouns, still productive in Old Hittite, became extremely rare in Core IE. The collective, co-opted already in PIE as the ordinary nominative/accusative plural of the neuter gender, came to be associated exclusively with neuters in most daughter languages. Wheels, however, are more often spoken of  as fixed sets (the two wheels of a chariot, the four wheels of a wagon) than as an arbitrary number of individual objects. The fact that *kʷəkʷláh₂ is preserved so well shows that the word was applied to wheels as vehicle parts when the collective was still a living grammatical category, contrasting with the count plural.³

Let’s take *kʷékʷlos apart into its morphological constituents: *kʷe-kʷl-o-s. The core part is *-kʷl-, in which we can recognise the very common verb root *kʷelh₁- ‘move round, follow one’s course’ (with a variety of secondary meanings, such as ‘become, stay around, inhabit, observe, cultivate, take care of’ and the like). The phonetic reduction of the root, resulting in the loss of the laryngeal segment *h₁, is a normal phenomenon in compounds and reduplications. The reduplicated noun is thematic (has a stem ending in the vocalic suffix *-o-), which suggests adjectival origin. Collectives of o-stems were formed by adding the *-h₂ suffix to the stem-final vowel in the e-grade: *-e-h₂ → *-ah₂. If the singular had initial accent, the collective was accented on the ending (*-áh₂). This accent shift happened early enough to affect the vocalism of some nouns (from a sufficiently old lexical stock). It is therefore probable that the collective was *kʷəkʷláh₂, with a weak prop-vowel rather than a full-grade *e in the first syllable. This would explain the development of the word in Greek: *kʷəkʷ- > *kukʷ- (with the prop-vowel “stealing” lip-rounding from the preceding labiovelar) > kuk- (with a regular delabialisation of * after /u/).

As the accentual difference between the singular and the collective became non-productive, the paradigm was levelled out in various ways to eliminate the mismatch; that is why the accent is consistently initial in Greek (generalised from the singular) and consistently final in Vedic (from the collective). Since *kʷ(e)kʷláh₂ looks like a neuter plural, speakers were tempted to supply an innovated neuter singular to match, *kʷ(e)kʷlóm, instead of the inherited masculine (hence e.g. Vedic cakrám beside much rarer cakrás). The function of the “echo” prefix *kʷé-/*kʷə- isn’t entirely clear, but judging from cross-linguistic tendencies we can speculate that reduplication gave the underlying verb root an iterative colouring (‘go round and round and round’ rather than ‘complete a turn’).

While rare, the derivational pattern visible in the ‘wheel’ word (a thematic noun formed from a reduplicated verb root) is not isolated, and can be found also on the Anatolian side of the oldest split in the Indo-European family-tree. For example, the Hittite word for ‘rake’ was hah(ha)ra-, plausibly reconstructed as *h₂áh₂ro- ← *h₂e-h₂rh₃-o-. Here the root is *h₂arh₃- ‘break the soil, plough’, as in Greek  aróō, Proto-Slavic *orjǫ, Old English erian (all meaning ‘to plough’), or in the widespread Neo-Indo-European instrument noun  *h₂árh₃-trom ‘ard, plough’ (Greek árotron, Old Norse arðr).

The behaviour of the ‘wheel’ word in Germanic so interesting and instructive that it deserves to be covered in a separate post (to appear soon).

[REDUPLICATION: back to the table of contents]

———

¹ My use of the terms “Core Indo-European” and “Neo-Indo-European” is explained here.

² Of course the restoration of *e on the analogy of the singular was possible, and it certainly happened in some branches of Indo-European.

³ Note the semantic development in Tocharian, where *kʷékʷlos > Toch.A kukäl, Toch.B kokále came to mean ‘wagon, chariot’.

33 comments:

  1. Very interesting post. You're on a roll, so to speak!

    What happens to *st-, *sk-, *sp- etc. In reduplication? Reading your paper on them, one might expect the whole cluster to reduplication.

    With *steh2-, am I right in saying we get the s- reduplicated in Greek, the t- in Sanskrit...and is that the whole st- in the Latin perfect?

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    1. They are copied whole in Germanic, unlike other sC clusters, where only the /s/ is copied; Vedic copies the stop; Greek, Avestan and Old Irish, the /s/. Tocharian A copies /s/; Tocharian B, either the stop or the whole cluster; Latin has a crazy pattern: either sVsT- or sTVs- (simplifying the onset of the base!); Hittite evidence is scanty. Götz Keydana and Andrew Byrd argue that the sVsT- template is original. I am inclined towards the traditional view that sTVsT- is original and the other variants are due to independent branch-specific dissimilations.

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    2. That would seem to support your analysis of these clusters as having a special 'presigmatised' status. can I ask why you decided against including the reduplication phenomena as evidence in that paper?

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    3. Quite simply, I didn't think of it at the time. But I have some unpublished thoughts about Siebs' Law and s-mobile. If I get down to writing a paper about that, I'll be able to gather up all these threads.

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    4. BTW Piotr, have you noticed the long delay between comments are written and their apperance on the blog widget? It's almost one hour.

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    5. The other thing that seems like supportive evidence (at least at for modern English) is the stops being unaspirated (or perhaps the voiced/voiceless contrast being neutralised?) in that position.

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    6. Octavià, it's been like that for a long time. Sorry, but I have no control over the way the widget works.

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    7. I understood, but perhaps you could try another widget.

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    8. This one is already "another". The old one was worse.

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  2. See Robert Bauer's paper on Proto-Sino-Tibetan *kolo* 'wheel' and m-l's unpublished paper (ask her for a copy) on similar words in Penutian meaning 'turn' (as is natural in the wheel-less New World).

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  3. Some things in Robert Bauer's article make my teeth itch: the reliance on Pokorny's dictionary plus Buck (1949) and (of all things) Kaiser and Shevoroshkin (1988) as authoritative sources on IE, the inclusion of irrelevant material (numerous IE words which have nothing to do with *kʷekʷlo- -- and no, not even Pokorny connects the 'wheel' word with *(s)ker- or *(s)krek-), odd transcriptions, and terms like "Original Teutonic" (hey, the 19th century is over!).

    I'm less qualified to judge his treatment of Sino-Tibetan, but the reconstruction of the Old Chinese 'chariot' word (車) he makes so much of has in the meantime evolved into Baxter & Sagart's (2014) *[t.qʰ](r)A, rather different from Karlgren's and Schuessler's proposals; OC 'wheel' (輪) is now *[r]u[n]. Square brackets mean that the authors are not sure about the identity of a segment, and parentheses mean that they are not sure the segment is there at all.

    Bauer's Sino-Tibetan "reconstruction" does not seem to me to be based on the analysis of systematic correspondences but rather on eyeballing a collection of lookalikes and "deducing" the protoform from them. It's mass comparison, not the comparative method.

    I'll ask m-l about her paper.

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    1. Bauer's Sino-Tibetan "reconstruction" does not seem to me to be based on the analysis of systematic correspondences

      Well, if it were, Bauer would be really, really famous as far as historical linguists go. Because there are so many Sino-Tibetan languages and because whole branches are woefully underdescribed, Proto-ST has never been reconstructed even by Pokorny standards (and its phylogeny remains partly controversial, partly agreed upon as unknown; its very existence only recently really became a consensus). The closest seems to be the reconstruction by Peiros & Starostin (1996, IIRC), which uses systematic sound correspondences alright, but only compares five languages, because sufficient data on any others simply wasn't available. :-/ One of them is Starostin's own reconstruction of Old Chinese, which is apparently pretty good, but not the same thing as Baxter & Sagart's.

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    2. Bauer's piece is unfortunately very typical of the sorry state of Sino-Tibetan historical linguistics (it is not significantly worse than the average); this paper compares without discrimination loanwords (the words borrowed from 'khor.lo "wheel" into neighbouring languages) and words of onomatopoieic origin (Mandarin 轱辘 gulu), without any attention to sound correspondences or morphological structure, and Piotr correctly noticed the issues with the Old Chinese reconstruction.

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  4. The core part is *-kʷl-, in which we can recognise the very common verb root *kʷelh₁- ‘move round, follow one’s course’ (with a variety of secondary meanings, such as ‘become, stay around, inhabit, observe, cultivate, take care of’ and the like).
    That large semantic fan makes me suspect we're actually dealing with two homonymous verbs, one related to 'wheel' and another one related to 'eye', whose respective protoforms in Starostin's Proto-Caucasian are quasi-homonymous: *ʡwilʡă (~ -ʕ-,-ǝ̆,-ɨ̄) 'wheel' and *ʡwĭlʡi 'eye'. My idea is that these and other lexemes which in IE appear as verbs were originally nouns.

    While rare, the derivational pattern visible in the ‘wheel’ word (a thematic noun formed from a reduplicated verb root) is not isolated, and can be found also on the Anatolian side of the oldest split in the Indo-European family-tree.
    If only the classical genealogical tree was appropriate for describing the IE family (I think is not).

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    1. That large semantic fan makes me suspect we're actually dealing with two homonymous verbs, one related to 'wheel' and another one related to 'eye'
      To be more precise, I'd assign the meanings 'become, cultivate' to the former verbs and 'stay around, inhabit, observe, take care of' to the latter.

      But I shall concentrate on the linguistic properties of the word, not its cultural importance. The latter is relevant only as an “ecological” factor favouring the frequent use of the word, its successful survival and rich attestation.
      For that matter, this is a good candidate for a Wanderwort, as it's often the case for words designating technical innovations. In my opinion, the
      existence of Wanderwörter as part (possibly a substantial one) of the reconstructed IE lexicon has been overlooked by specialists. Of course, in the case of "Nostratic" and other putative macrofamilies the situation is even worse.

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    2. See also: Proto-Caucasian *hwəːl(V)kweː "wheel", apparently likewise reconstructed by Nikolayev & Starostin (1994; I'm citing Dybo & G. Starostin 2008: 164).

      Note: S. Starostin explicitly marked both long and short vowels in his reconstructions; absence of macron or breve means that he wasn't sure. That's why his reconstructions are so overfraught with diacritics. Also, given the presence of an epiglottal stop (*ʡ) in the Proto-Caucasian system, I bet was epiglottal ([ʢ]), too – S. Starostin seems not to have understood that an epiglottal place of articulation exists, and only spoke of "pharyngealized laryngeals".

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    4. BTW, Nikolayev's name has been erased from the PDF version of the preface of the NCED (North Caucasian Etymological Dictionary) found at The Tower of Babel site. Perhaps is this a little "vendetta" from Starostin Jr.?

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    5. If *hwəːl(V)kweː is indeed the same Wanderwort than *kʷekʷlo- then the order of element would be reversed in both words, but at the same time it would indicate the reduplication in IE is only apparent.

      What I'm sure of is *ʡwilʡă (~ -ʕ-,-ǝ̆,-ɨː) 'wheel' isn't a Wanderwort.

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    6. I really don't think so; read the "editor's foreword".

      then the order of element would be reversed in both words, but at the same time it would indicate the reduplication in IE is only apparent.

      Either that (so the IE form would be influenced by folk etymology), or the Caucasian form has undergone metathesis and dissimilation.

      Alternatively, of course, the Caucasian form could be an erroneous reconstruction based on several independent borrowings. Who knows.

      What I'm sure of is *ʡwilʡă (~ -ʕ-,-ǝ̆,-ɨː) 'wheel' isn't a Wanderwort.

      Why so confident? It isn't hard to imagine a chain of borrowing and simplification like *kʷekʷlo- > **kʷikʷla- > **kwikla > **kwilka > *ʡwilʡa... perhaps again influenced by folk etymology from *ʡwilʡi(ː) "eye".

      Nothing is ever simple!

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    7. Because I think the IE verb *kʷelh₁- and the *-kʷl- element of *kʷekʷlo- would have developped from *ʡwilʡă (~ -ʕ-,-ǝ̆,-ɨː) 'wheel'.

      We don't need to invent the wheel twice!

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    8. Oh, that makes sense.

      BTW, you're apparently in good company in proposing that many IE verb roots were once noun roots. Unfortunately, details have not been forthcoming.

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    9. and only spoke of "pharyngealized laryngeals"

      Oops, I misremembered. Nikolayev & Starostin (1994: 14):

      "ʔ — glottalized laryngeal (glottal) stop
      [...]
      ʕ — voiced emphatic laryngeal fricative
      [...]
      ʡ — glottalized emphatic laryngeal stop"

      No mention of either pharynx or epiglottis. A rare case where the symbols are less confusing than the explanations!

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    10. Yes, according to IPA standards an "emphatic laryngeal" is equivalent to a "pharyngeal" and a "glottalized emphatic laryngeal" equals to "epiglottalic".

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    11. Oh, that makes sense.

      BTW, you're apparently in good company in proposing that many IE verb roots were once noun roots. Unfortunately, details have not been forthcoming.

      Thumb up! It's a pity Blogger haven't got a "I like" sign like Facebook.

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    12. Yes, according to IPA standards an "emphatic laryngeal" is equivalent to a "pharyngeal" and a "glottalized emphatic laryngeal" equals to "epiglottalic

      What? IPA standards? Where does the IPA recommend such confusing terminology? "Glottalised laryngeal" is a tautology (the glottis is located in the larynx), and I've only ever encountered "emphatic laryngeal" as an informal synonym, or rather misnomer, for "epiglottal" or "pharyngeal".

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    13. Oh, no! I meant the boggy terminology used by Starostin-Nikolayev should be translated into IPA standards. I'm sorry if you got confused.

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    14. Ah, OK, I see what you really meant.

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  5. Btw Victor Mair has a post on Chinese reduplication up at the Log.

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=23204

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  6. Similar semantic relations are found in Basque: e-bil 'to walk, to move', bil-du 'to gather; to wrap', biribil (presumably from *bil-i-bil) 'round, circular' and gurpil 'wheel', the first member being gurdi 'wagon, cart' (gurt in composition) or a root *gur, that yielded egur 'wood'.

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    2. While the lexeme *bil found in biribil (a reduplicated form) and gurpil (whose first element is gurdi 'cart') could certainly be related to 'wheel', the verb ibili 'to walk' would be linked instead to *pelh₂- 'to set in motion', a verb found in some IE languages (Latin, Celtic, Greek).

      However, I'm not sure whether bildu is related to 'wheel' or it's another homonymous lexeme.

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