Shaman

George Thompson GthomGt at CS.COM
Thu Apr 4 21:03:46 EST 2002


Well, there is no question in my mind that the word zramaNa [not attested in
early Vedic] is a crucial culture term of classical India.  I said as much a
month ago when my opinion was solicited on the Yahoo-list.  Let me quote
myself:

>Though the verbal root zram- appears to have good IE roots [cf. Greek
kremamai, kremnos; Old >Germ. hirmen, and discussion in Mayrhofer, EWA
II.664], zramaNa itself is unattested in Old >Vedic [although RV has
azramaNa, but in the sense 'untiring', not 'monk'].  First attestation of the
>meaning 'monk' is ZB.
>
>In Avestan there are no attestations of the root *sram-, nor of the word
*sramana.
>
>zramaNa as 'monk' became a much-travelled culture-word, accompanying the
Buddhist >migrations.  The Greeks knew the word  [Samanaioi, Sarmanoi, etc].
It shows up in Buddhist >Sogdian texts, in Khotanese, as well as in Mod.
Persian.  It is found in Tocharian, Chinese, and >Altaic [Tungusic].  It
eventually turns up quite early in the languages of Europe.
>
>It appears that Skt. zramaNa is an old IE word that developed in India a
novel semantics to convey >a novel cultural institution, that of the monk.


Marina Orelskaya might want to look at Vasmer's *Russisches Etymologisches
Woerterbuch* [3.370], which confirms the view of Indo-Europeanists that the
word "shaman" in Russian is indeed a borrowing from Tungusic.

The question is whether this Tungisic word itself is a borrowing of this
well-known Indic culture-word zramaNa [Middle Indic samaNa, Toch. B s.ama:ne]
or whether it is rather native to this Altaic language, as early reactions
like Laufer's argued.

It would be useful to know whether contemporary Altaicists continue to agree
with this Indo-Europeanist model of the word's presence in Altaic languages.
Are there any serious efforts to contest it?

It is good to learn of this article of Menges.in the Poppe Festschrift. But
what about those others alluded to who do not agree?  Who are they?  Would
Geoffrey Samuel or anyone else be able to characterize the consensus among
Altaicists right now?

Best wishes,

George Thompson



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