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Subject: Re: OI words with no known etymology
From: David Stifter <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Scholars and students of Old Irish <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 11 May 2000 21:26:04 +0200

text/plain (55 lines)

On 11 May 00, at 11:23, Dennis King wrote:

> Did you have a particular methodology (if that's the right word) in
> mind?

My methodology would have been (if I had proceded beyond the
collection of material), resp. will be (when I will resume the work) to
analyse the material morphologically, that is see if the words can
still be analysed in IE terms (for example belonging to ablaut
grades, or being derived with "standard" IE suffixes) or if they defy
any such approach, consisting of roots and suffixes which are
absolutely "non-IE".
My PhD dealt with specific Celtic vocabulary - that also includes
words which have a good IE etymology although they are not
attested anywhere outside Celtic. In this respect my PhD differs a
bit from what you are interested in.

My approach was not primarily semantic. I did not intend to try to
classify the words according to semantic fields (though if a clear
pattern would have arisen I would have noted that, of course). My
approach was mainly morphological/phonological.

Nor did I intend to try to identify possible languages from which the
loans could have originated. I am not convinced that what
Vennemann does is good methodology, to compare languages like
Modern Basque or Modern Berber which at best are very distant
relatives of the languages which would have been the donating
languages in the case of Celtic - if they are related at all. I think it
would be necessary to have an extremely good grasp of the
historical linguistics of Vasconic and Hamito-Semtic languages
(and what ever else) to be able to do such a thing in an orderly way
- I know none of these languages and therefore everything I could
say about it would be pure speculation or would be based on the
work of people I don't even trust because of methodological

As may have become clear from my words, my approach is rather
positivistic and I adhere to Wittgenstein's dictum: Worüber man
nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen - quod dici
non potest reticendum est (I can't think of a away now of translating
it elegantly into English, sthg like: what one can not talk about, one
has to remain silent about).

> Have
> you also come across similar work by Orin Gensler, who is now at
> Leipzig?

Yes, I know about Gensler's work. Though his list of syntactical
coincidences between Hamito-Semitic languages and Celtic is
impressive and of course makes one think about it, I still am of the
opinion that a lot of the peculiarities of Celtic can be explained as
natural developments from an IE point of view, without taking
recourse to substratum influence. Still, it's impressive...


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