Сontroversial Aspects of Historical Lexicology and Etymological Reconstruction (The complexity and multiaspectuality)

Girfanova Albina, (St.-Petersburg, Russia),
Sukhachev Nikolai (St.-Petersburg, Russia)

Сontroversial Aspects of Historical Lexicology and Etymological Reconstruction (The complexity and multiaspectuality)

(57th Annual Meeting of the PIAC Vladivostok, 2014)

The authors have drawn upon an analysis of the following linguistic material:

(1) Turkic borrowings in the area of the Balkans going back to a relatively recent period (from the 4th century to the first half of the 19th century) based on data in Turkic Loanwords in the Languages of Southeastern Europe – a consolidated dictionary; by A. Girfanova, Ju. Lopashov, S. Petrović, N. Sukhachev (Manuscripts; Grant RGNF 120400335) ; (2) Etymological reconstructions dating back to a hypothetical Altaic community, cf. the Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages; by S. Starostin, A. Dybo, O. Mudrak etc. (Leiden; Boston, 2003); (3) The certified lexicon of the Tungusic languages at the end of the nineteenth and up into the twentieth century; cf. the Comparative Dictionary of the Tungus-Manchu Languages, ed. by Vera I. Tsintsius (Leningrad, 1977); (4) Forms reconstructed as both indigenously Turkic and Indo-European, notably Iranian or Slavic, according to data in the Etymological Dictionary of the Turkic Languages, begun by E. V. Sevortyan (Moscow, 1974–1980); the Etymological Dictionary of the Iranian Languages, by V S. Rastorgueva and J. I. Edelman (Moscow, 2000 and following); and also the Etymological Dictionary of the Slavic Languages, launched by O. N. Trubachev (1974 to present).

First of all, the possibilities of historical lexicology are considered. This involves analyzing word forms that are most often connected with a certain time and whose origin can be traced in a sufficiently reliable manner. Even if they are traced, however, there are not infrequent controversial conclusions and obscure etymologies, not to mention so-called multiple etymologies (the term is Trubachev’s), when a word in a given language may have been borrowed, with equal likelihood, from several neighboring languages.

The authenticity of conditional “starred forms” (ones that have undergone comparative historical reconstruction) is also evaluated. These forms are at the so-called depths of etymology and they draw upon the relatively strict phonetic correspondences in a number of kindred languages. It should be noted that understanding the original meaning of a reconstructed etymon presents a particular problem, as does the question of its real existence in the proposed protolanguage.

In the first case, this entails evaluating the possibility of a so-called prospective diachrony, by which Ferdinand de Saussure, in accordance with the preexisting linguistic tradition, meant a kind of progression in the real conditions of a language (for example, the French language in the fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth centuries, and so on). The real development of any linguistic system under consideration can be traced from such a historical perspective.

The Swiss linguist called the second case retrospective diachrony, and he explicitly equated it with the comparative method, which makes it possible to reconstruct only certain select elements of a system. When considering the dichotomy between synchrony and diachrony in Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics (1916), most linguists tend to overlook the no less important distinction between the two historical schools of the phenomena under study.

This problem, which Saussure noted more than a hundred years ago, is still relevant today, not only for linguists but also for ethnographers, and perhaps even for archaeologists. Establishing temporal and geographical correlations between isoglosses, isopragms and isodoxes (i.e., between phenomena of a linguistic, material and spiritual nature, according to Nikita I. Tolstoy), which can be traced in different cultural traditions, demands the utmost attention to different points of view concerning the phenomenon in question.