criteria for extra-South Asian origins of concepts and words (was Re: Jamshid)

George Thompson thompson at JLC.NET
Tue Jun 15 00:14:27 UTC 1999

Hello Palaniappan,

These are interesting questions which I also think are worthy of
discussion. First of all, let me make it clear that I am not making any
claims whatsoever about proto-IE origins. So I will defer your first
question to others. My focus in this context is exclusively on Indo-Iranian.

I am very much interested in refining our awareness of the problems
involved in reconstructing a common Indo-Iranian language and culture. To
take one example, we have a concept mantra/ma,thra [the sequence -a,-
represents -a- with subscript hook] well attested in both branches. What
are the possibilities?

One possibility is that the concept is an inheritance from common
Indo-Iranian period, before the branching. Another is the completely
independent genesis of the concept in both branches [whether due to some
foreign influence in either or neither case]. Yet another possibility is
that the concept arose first in one branch and then was borrowed by the
other. Of these three possibilities -- shared origins, independent origins,
or borrowing -- it seems to me that the default assumption among
Indo-Iranists has always been the first: that if we see a concept or a word
attested in both branches of Indo-Iranian, then we should assume that it is
an inherited concept or word. In general, I agree with this principle. But
in my recent researches I have come to think that there was significant
contact between the two branches *after* divergence, so that the
possibility of borrowing -- in either direction -- has come to seem much
more viable.

I think that the concept mantra/ma,thra is likely to be inherited rather
than a borrowing or independent development because it is *very* well
attested in both branches [as a matter of fact, statistically probably more
frequent in Avestan than in Vedic, so if one wishes to assume borrowing,
then why not from Avestan to Vedic, rather than the other way?].

I myself am not terribly confident in general rules. I prefer to look at
each case individually and to make my best guess based on a thorough
examination of the texts [that is a basic philological principle which I
trust in]. I have looked for clues suggesting that the Vedic or the Avestan
terms might have been borrowed from the other branch, but I haven't found
any such clues. And so, I have come to the conclusion that, *in this case*,
the concept and the word is an inheritance.

Other cases will have to be decided on the merits of each case.

Hope that this is useful to you,

[comments and criticisms would, of course, be appreciated],

George Thompson

At 06:32 PM 6/14/1999 EDT, you wrote:
>In a message dated 6/14/99 1:03:19 PM Central Daylight Time, thompson at JLC.NET
>> In any case, one point may be worth the list's attention: the concept of
>>  mAyA seems by no means to be a unique development of the South Asian
>>  culture area. The Vedic Aryans appear to have brought this idea with them
>>  as an inheritance from the common Indo-Iranian period. That at least
>>  appears to be suggested by the evidence, as I see it. Likewise for the
>>  culture concept mantra, for example, which is as deeply rooted in Avestan
>>  as it is in Vedic.
>I have a theoretical question. In discussions of Dravidian etymology of
>words, a criterion often used to argue for proto-Dravidian origin is whether
>cognates occur in non-contiguous branches of Dravidian , eg., cognates
>occurring in north and south Dravidian. What are the corresponding criteria
>used in the case of IE to conclude proto-IE origins? A related question is
>can the occurrence of a concept or a linguistic item in both Iranian and
>Indian be used to argue against it first originating in South Asia and
>spreading to Iranian, given the proximity of the two? Thanks in advance.
>S. Palaniappan

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