Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Wed Jun 24 18:41:23 UTC 1998

As has been reported a few times by a some members, we have:

i'STakA  (fem.)  VS+       Young Avestan  is`'tiia-  (ntr.)
iSTikA   (fem.)  SUtras    perhaps also   zemOi`'tuua- clay brick
                           Old Persian    is`'ti-    (fem.)

        (Note `' is used here for  the hacek  sign, the upside down ^)

Note also Khowar us`'tu' 'sun-dried brick';  and the divergence :
Pali iTThakA- :: Pkt. iTTA-, iTTAla- / Mbhar. iSTA-.

The new Mayrhofer (etym. Woerterbuch..., 1986-1996)  reports older
attempts to find an IE etymology.  Mayerhofer says that one could think of
remnants of a ppp. IIr. *is`'ta 'heated' from root YAS which otherwise has
disappeared, due to homonyms (iSTa 'wished/offered' <<as D. Thillaud also
assumes>> and therefore has been replaced by: yasta-.

He rejects Dravidian or Austro-Asiatic etymologies.
(Przyludski IHQ 7, 1931, 735 sqq.; Joseph IHQ 8, 1932, 376).

One can compare Tocharian izcem 'clay'; but this is now regarded as
Iranian loan word (L. Isebaert, Diss., Leuven 1980, 117)

Thus:  an Indo-Iranian root  *is`'  from which VARIOUS words for clay
brick (burnt brick, or just sun-dried) have been formed. This is
important. We do not have ONE and the same word that has been taken over
from ONE source.

In the various Old IIr. languages one could still form their words
independently, or there were several words for brick that have been
transmitted  in the various languages. Note that Vedic has 2.

In this situation it is likely that the IIr-s either took over a foreign
word (say, in the Bactria Margiana Archaeological Complex) when they were
first confronted with bricks, and adjusted it to their language (note even
later, the  Vedic change from is`'- > iS-). Or they formed new words based
on the root IIr. *YAS, same period, when the necessity to have a word

This speaks against a takeover from the Indus Civ. Why would the Iranians
even in SW-Persia have to borrow from the Indus (**is`'ta/i--) if they
could do so from the pre-Iranian population or the Elamians? - Also, the
Iranians would have had to borrow something like *is`'tikA... but they
have:  is`'tiia-m, is`'ti-s`' (-is`'tuua-m).

The comparatively late attestation (post-RV, post-Zarathustra) does not
surprise: There is no use for bricks in the RV (the Agnicayana is not old;
even in the Yajurveda only of the 3rd level of these post-RV Mantras!).
Zoroaster does not speak about such mundane things as bricks; even the
(old Avestan) Yasna Haptanhaiti speaks only about the generalities of
ritual not about the details of the offering ground. Not much chance to
meet the word in both languages.

Nor was there much use for bricks in a cattle herding society (Zoroaster,
RV) where people live in Yurts(?)/ on wagons and in quickly assembled
bamboo huts. Yet, both Iranians and Indo-Aryans could see bricks, starting
with the BMAC culture, and may have formed their word(s) at that time.

Attestation is another matter. It is well known that certain words are
used and transmitted, but do not appear in our (early) texts. Best known
example: Skt. pardati 'farts'.  Only post-Vedic and New Indo-Aryan (from
Kashmiri to Simhala)


M. Witzel                                       witzel at

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