PREHISTORY OF VEHICLE TERMS
In this blog, I will try – as far as possible – to switch between lexicon and grammar. Most topics are related to ongoing research either by me or by people in our research group. I will also try to have PhDs and other researchers writing guest posts, sharing their research. Contact me if you want to contribute!
Since I began by posting a picture on the Eurasian diversity for the words for WHEEL, my first post is lexical: I will talk about terms for vehicles. Within Indo-European studies, the issue of the words for vehicle-related terms is an important issue. Generally, it is believed that the invention of the wheel as a means of transport during early Chalcolithic was, together with the domestication of the horse for traction, the innovation that spread the Indo-European family over all Eurasia. However, there are several enigmas surrounding the origin of vehicles and wheeled transports. First, archaeology does not help us very much. The early wheels, hubs, and naves were made of wood, a non-durable material. Further, the spread of the wheel was so swift that we cannot know where it appeared first. Before the wheeled transport, there were other uses of the wheel: millstones for grinding, the pottery wheel, and spindles for spinning, so the word for wheel in the Indo-European proto-language had several potential functions. More important is the entire complexity of wheel and transport-related lexemes in Indo-European and its neighbors.
For Indo-European, a set of forms for wheel and transport can be reconstructed to the proto-language. Beginning with WHEEL, we have at least 3 common terms (PIE *h₂wērg-wn̥t-ōn 'wheel, circle’, PIE *h₂urg-i- 'wheel, circle', PIE *kʷekʷlo-, *kʷel-o- 'wheel, circle' < PIE *kʷel(H)- ‘to turn‘; PIE *Hróth₂o- 'wheel, circle' < PIE *(H)reth₂- 'to run'). Besides, we have terms for HUB or NAVE, which also mean ‘navel’ (PIE * h₃enbh-, * h₃nebh- ‘navel, nave, hub’, PIE *h₃nobh-li- 'navel, nave'), a reconstructed lexeme for WAGON (PIE *weǵhno- 'wagon' < PIE *uoǵh- 'to carry, drive'), The process of creating a word for ‘wheel’ from a verb meaning ‘to roll’ is found also outside of Indo-European, such as in Caucasian languages (Proto-Kartvelian *gor- 'wheel; to roll', Proto-Nakh *gur- 'wheel', Proto-Dagestanian *gur- 'to whirl, to roll; wheel‘ (Georgian gor-gor-a 'wheel', Chechen gur-ma 'wheel for plough’); Proto-Kartvelian *bor- 'rotation', Proto-Nakh *bor-a 'mill's wheel', Proto-Dagestanian *bor-a 'wheel‘ (Georgian borbali 'wheel', Laz bor-bol-ia 'wheel', Laz bur-in-i ’rotation; spinning’, Beshta örræ 'wheel', Avar ber 'wheel')).
It is evident that the Indo-Europeans knew the wheel and also used wheeled transports. Whether these transports took them over large areas is questionable: the wagons were heavy, the wheels of solid wood and roads were absent. Wagons were more likely used for loading and traction, such as for pulling hay from the field to the barn. Caucasians also had a word for WAGON (PKv *sa-kʰum- 'carriage', PNWC *kwə 'carriage, cart', PD *hankʰwə- 'carriage, vehicle‘ (Megr o-kʰim-o 'carriage', Adyghe kʷə, kʰwə 'wagon', Ubykh kʰwə 'cart', Dargwa urkʰura 'carriage', Lezg akʰur 'carriage'). Apparently, these wagons were not fit to transgress the high Caucasus Mountains and spread the languages over the open plains.
Proto-Indo-European also had several words for YOKE (e.g., PIE *yug-o- 'yoke’). YOKE is a highly stable word in Indo-European, which practically did not change its form and was not substituted in languages. If the root was substituted, new forms were derived from roots meaning ‘to bind’ (Proto-Slavic *arь̀mъ, *arьmò 'yoke, ox-yoke' < PIE *h₂er- 'join’, Proto-Celtic *wedo- ‘yoke, harness’ < PIE *wedh- 'bind'). Interestingly enough, the Caucasians use the same root for the YOKE (PKv *uɣ-el- 'yoke', PNWC *ɣəw 'yoke', PD *ur- 'yoke’ (Georgian uɣeli 'yoke', Megrelian uɣeli 'yoke', Ubukh ɣawə 'yoke', Tabarasan uɣ-in 'cart (drawn by a single ox), Udi ọq' 'yoke')). The yoke, independent whether it was put on a bull, horse, donkey or human, had a very simple and straight-forward function, which did not change over the millennia: to put a device over the neck for facilitating traction and carrying.
The vehicles words in languages are highly interesting. Words for the parts of vehicles, such as the wheel or the hub, are seldom borrowed and remain stable in most languages. The words for WAGON and AXIS change more frequently: they are more often borrowed, and they often switch or expand their meaning. Both WAGON and AXIS frequently change or colexify their meanings, in particular to meanings referring to the sky and the firmament, e.g., ‘Polar star’, ‘axis’ or ‘firmament’. This says us something about the cultural importance of the wheel and the transport: words are frequently projected to the firmament, something that has a natural cause.
References (Anthony 2007; Carling To appear (2019); Greenfield 2010; Mallory and Adams 2006; Piggott 1983)
Coming up next: the language of deixis
Anthony, David W. (2007), The horse, the wheel, and language : how Bronze-Age riders from the Eurasian steppes shaped the modern world (Princeton, N.J. ;: Princeton University Press).
Carling, Gerd (To appear (2019)), Mouton Atlas of Languages and Cultures. Vol. 1: Europe, Caucasus, Western and Southern Asia (Berlin - New York: Mouton de Gruyter).
Greenfield, Haskel J. (2010), 'The Secondary Products Revolution: the past, the present and the future', World Archaeology, 42 (1), 29-54.
Mallory, James P. and Adams, Douglas Q. (2006), The Oxford introduction to Proto-Indo-European and The Proto-Indo-European world (Oxford linguistics; Oxford ;: Oxford University Press).
Piggott, Stuart (1983), The earliest wheeled transport : from the Atlantic coast to the Caspian Sea ([London]: Thames and Hudson).