thompson at thompson at
Mon Jul 1 13:18:49 UTC 1996

I agree with Lars Martin Fosse that what is involved here is a "grey zone"
within which historical etymology and folk etymology overlap, but I would
hesitate to say that what distinguishes them is the observation of
definable sound laws.  In fact, the poet VizvAmitra has observed not only
sound laws, but also the laws of morphology and nominal composition in
Sanskrit.  It may be said that, as a native speaker, he observes these laws
more or less unconsciously, but I tend to think that poets, like
grammarians, are rather conscious about the laws of their chosen medium.

The difference would seem to lie instead in the availability to the
historical etymologist of internal reconstruction and the comparative
method [perhaps summarized as a historical perspective].  But even here
there is a "grey zone."  Burrow's comparison of Latin 'matrix' is an
inspired guess, as is also the alternative suggestion [I don't recall by
whom] of Latin 'materies.'  The juxtaposition of these Latin forms with
Skt. mAtari'zvan is very suggestive.  But my hunch is that Burrow came upon
this comparison "based upon association and (imagined) similarity" --i.e.,
an inspired guess.  Only afterward, according to my hunch, did the
comparative method come into play [and in this case, it has appeared to
discredit the guess].  The point is that "free association" is operative in
both historical and folk etymology.

Finally, if I understand S. Kalyanaraman correctly, there is another factor
that puts us in the "grey zone."  Whereas Burrow's associations are, in
this case at least, in the direction of Latin [Greek, European languages,
etc.], his own are in the direction of modern Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, and
Munda. Dr. Kalyanaraman's suggestion that associations in this direction
can be fruitful seems to me to be well-taken. [Burrow of course was active
in Dravidian studies, to his credit...].

To summarize, I would claim, again, that the roots of historical etymology
itself are firmly planted in the soil of folk etymology and puns.

George Thompson

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