Re: Do Basque words for farm animals resemble Indo-European ones?

John E Koontz (
8 Nov 1996 16:12:41 GMT

In article <>, (Richard M. Alderson III) writes:
|> In article <55r933$> Jonathan Adams <jonathan> writes:
|> >By the way, what patterns for crop names are observed in other parts of the
|> >world, for example the indian languages of the eastern USA - do they tend to
|> >show patterns of crop names in common between otherwise very different
|> >languages, reflecting the relatively late spread of farming?

There's a study for the eastern US by Patrick Munson, an
archaeologist, which is rather weak linguistically.
Siouanists (myself and Robert Rankin) have looked some at
the problem from a Siouan perspective. There are still a
lot of unanswered questions.

Essentially, the cucurbit, corn, and bean terms across
Siouan show different patterns. Cucurbits are the oldest
of the modern cultigens. There are at least three cucurbit
terms within Siouan. One term used in Dakotan and
Winnebago/Chiwere resembles a term used in Algonquian.

Corn is the next oldest of the modern cultigens. There are
no terms common across branches of Siouan, or even branches
of Mississippi Valley Siouan. The terms in Southeastern
Siouan have some resemblants outside of Siouan, in
Iroquoian and Caddoan, I think. One term has resemblants
across Dhegiha (in Mississippi Valley Siouan), Choctaw
(Muskogean), and Northern Caddoan. In Mississippi Valley
and Mandan, which is probably pretty closely related to MV,
the corn plant terms are all derivatives of the major
cucurbit term in each branch, e.g., in Mandan, 'grass
cucurbit', i.e., 'grass cultigen' as opposed to
'cultigen'. In Dakotan the corn plant term is 'slender
cucurbit/cultigen'. There is also a 'corn ear' term used
across Mississippi Valley with a resemblant in Choctaw (a
verb meaning 'to tassel (of corn)'). I recall that the
Catawba corn term looks a lot like the Proto-Mayan-whatsit
term (*kus or something like that).

The most recent of the modern cultigens is the bean plant,
and Siouan terms from the Mississippi Valley group are
plainly borrowings and look rather like some Uto-Aztecan

Actually, one of the oldest cultivated crops is tobacco,
and the Siouan terms for it all plainly borrowings, but the
source is not obvious.

So, yes, there are definite signs that the terms are
comparatively new, through lack of within-family cognacy
and some out-family resemblances, but there are no obvious
cross-continental or even regional patterns. Obvious loans
are either without known sources, or between a few near
neighbors. Patterns depend on the crop term, as crops were
introduced successively over several millenia. Many terms
are innovations, either simple roots of known or unknown
origin, or obvious compounds. There's nothing yet so nice
as a trail of loans leading back to Mesoamerica or northern
South America across the Caribean, thought here are some
sporadic interesting coincidences.

|> >If not, can that be used to show how very rapidly can languages diverge from
|> >one another in the 'primitive' state (unwritten and spoken by small, tribal
|> >populations)losing even the similarities between relatively recently
|> >introduced crop names.

This couldn't be shown from the data, since horticulture
spread plant by plant over a long period, not as a complex
over a short period. A number of native plants were
apparently cultivated before successive foreign cultigens
from the south largely replaced them.

|> I can, however, speak to the assumption here: Mary R. Haas (in her monograph
|> _The Prehistory of Languages_), Leonard Bloomfield, Catherine Callahan, and a
|> number of other historical linguists working Native American languages have
|> demonstrated that the rate of change in unwritten languages is no different
|> from that of written languages, neither highly accelerated nor highly retarded.
|> Haas' work is probably the most accessible to the non-linguist.

In fact, the rate of divergence within Siouan, especially
Mississippi Valley Siouan, where some dating can be
achieved based on technological loanwords (bow from
Algonquian) or technological innovations (the corn terms),
seems to be about what you find in Germanic, Romance, etc.

John E. Koontz (

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