Re: Ad Yurii Gloriam (and Adios Yuri)

Peter van Rossum (
Tue, 21 Jan 1997 16:19:17 GMT

In article <5bt8ni$> (Yuri Kuchinsky) writes:
>Peter van Rossum ( wrote:
>: I'm not sure on what basis Rensch is claiming that Yen
>: (1974) conclusively demonstrates that the Polynesian
>: name kumara for the sweet potato is of South American
>: origin. Both Sauer (1993) and Heiser (1990, p. 142
>: footnote) claim that this identification is in dispute.

>: They claim that others believe that the wide occurance
>: of kumara in Polynesia but its restricted occurance in
>: South America might actually indicate that the term
>: originated in Polynesia and was spread to South America
>: by the post-contact Spaniards. Unfortunately neither
>: Sauer nor Heiser seem to give a reference for who
>: disputes this (very irritating).

>I don't quite get your point here.
>If the purpose of your article was to point out that Rensch may have
>misinterpreted Yen in some way, you may perhaps have a point, although
>seeing that that presentation was made at a symposium where Yen was
>present may cast some doubt on this.
>If the purpose of your article is to suggest that the Spanish brought the
>word for sweet potato to America where the sweet potato is native, I
>doubt it very much.

Actually you did understand the point that I was making. Yes the claim
has been made that the Polynesian word Kumara may be of Polynesian, not
South American, origin. It has then been suggested that this may have
been introduced into South America by the Spaniards.

I agree that at first it seems odd to think that a Polynesian word for
sweet potato would be accepted in the original homeland of the plant.
However, it also seems strange that a South American word for sweet potato
would be much more widespread in Polynesia than in South America. From
the little research I did it appears that the South American words similar
to kumara have a very restricted range of use in South America, most native
groups do not use this word for sweet potato. In contrast the Polynesia
word Kumara (or words of clear derivation) has a pretty wide range of use
in Polynesia.

Additionally there is apparently no early record of the words use in South
America. That doesn't prove it wasn't used, only that apparently no one
recorded it.

My readings from Yen 1974, Heiser 1990, and Sauer 1993 all claim that
this is still under dispute. Contra this position is Rensch but he
does not explain why he is sure that its a South American word. On this
topic Rensch only cites Yen 1974, but as I've shown Yen was very far
from certain of the words place of origin. Therefore, Rensch's claim is
unsupported by what he cites in his paper, if there is better research
he should have cited such. Since he did not cite any further research
I can only conclude that he is not aware of any, so we're still stuck
with Yen's 1974 analysis (and Yen ain't no linguist).

So unless I see research to the contrary I consider this still to be
an open debate in linguistics.

Peter van Rossum