Sunday, October 7, 2012

On Goropism and Etymology

On Goropism and Etymology

A French scholar of the 19th and early 20th centuries apparently presented a theory that the proto-language of all human languages was pretty similar to Turkish - essentially, human speech had spread from central Asia, and of all the languages spoken today, Turkish was the one that had changed the least.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk seems to have supported this theory - big surprise there, right? 

To justify this claim, the pseudo-scholars working on this theory scoured the vocabularies of as many languageas possible, in order to find words that sounded somewhat similar to Turkish words or phrases that had roughly similar meanings. This practice has been called "goropism" by some sources, one of the early practitioners of a similar practice, Goropius.

Let us derive English from Finnish instead, to show just how spurious this method is:

fish < vesi-kki (waterling), apocope gives vesikk, final long consonant is shortened -> vesik, elision gives vesk, vowel change gives visk, devoicing gives fisk, assimilation gives fish
hand < hanska (glove), voicing > hanzga fortition > handzga > apocope > hand
head < hiukset (hair, plural), intervocalic voicing > hiugzet >  assimilation > hiudzet > apocope > hiud > some vowel changes > head
knee < kääntyvä ("bending") > metathesis 'knäätyvä' > (elision) knää > vowel change knee
belly < pallo ("ball") > voicing, ballo, vowel changes > belly
ball < pallo ("ball") > voicing, ballo, apocope, ball
ring < rengas > apocope, reng, vowel change > ring
finger < vinkkari (windshield wiper, from the verb vinkata + suffix ri, meaning "gesticulate"), (voicing) vinggari, apocope (vinggar), vowel change (vingger), elision (vinger), devoicing (finger)) 
hang < onki (fishing rod) > prothesis, honki > voicing, hongi, vowel change > hangi, apocope > hang
lady < liedetär (stove-, -tär (feminine suffix), apocope liede- vowel changes lady

Further words I have not cared to provide sound changes for, leaving that as an exercise for the diligent reader who wants to waste time with such spurious things:
rail < raita (stripe), raide (rail), quite obvious
mail < määrä (destination)
pail < ämpäri (bucket)
bucket < paketti (package)
container < koontaja (someone who assembles things)
vacuum < vaje (lack)
empty < ei-täynnä (not full) or maybe lienee tyhjä (seems empty)> lientyhi > entyi > empty 
tower < tynnyri (figuratively, due to shape)
thin < tirra (small fish), tinkiä? (haggle, so as to reduce the price, hence diminutive size)
sour < setsuuri (sweet sour) > suuri > suur > sour
vinegar < hapan (sour) > pahan > panah > panag > vanag > vinag > vineg + ar
pancake < pannukakku
lake < lahti (bay), fortition > lakti > ...
rake < harava (by means of mistaking which type of alteration the v in this word participates in: mistaken genitive harakan > rakan > raka > rake
soap < saippua
house < kota (tent-like building) > hota > hosa > ...
iron < rauta, raudan > iraudan > irauan > iron
home < häme (home region of one of the traditional Finnish tribes) > vowel change > home
lord < loitsija (enchanter)
tool < työläin (formed from työ + lä + in = instrumental- place for work) > tool
beer <  ohra>wohra>wehra>beer
water < veti (the Finnic origin for "vesi", fi. for water)
beer < kalja>kwalja>kwarja > barja > beer
marmelade < marja+ma+la+ea (berry-COLLECTIVE-place-adjectivizer, "that which is like a garden",  in that it conserves the fruits of the garden)

I could go on like this for ever. Any doubts that these are bullshit? If so, I will explain the problems with them in detail. I will refer to this post when I come across dumb etymologies in the books I am reviewing. The method used here has the same flaws (albeit somewhat exaggerated so it will be obvious why they are problematic) as hers.

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