LINGUIST List 7.1222

Mon Sep 2 1996

Disc: Sumerian and PIE

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  • miguel, Sumerian and PIE

    Message 1: Sumerian and PIE

    Date: Sun, 01 Sep 1996 18:47:06 PDT
    From: miguel <>
    Subject: Sumerian and PIE
    I posted the following to the USENET sci.lang newsgroup. I thought it might be of interest to any Sumerologists and Indo-Europeanists subscribed to LINGUIST.

    << begin quoted message [slightly edited] >> (Miguel Carrasquer Vidal) wrote:

    > (John A. Halloran) wrote:

    >> There is simply no point >>of contact between what may be basic roots in Eurasiatic languages and the >>Sumerian vocabulary.

    >That might be a bit exaggerated. Browsing through your wordlist, and >freely associating with Pokorny, I found the following possible >cognates between Sumerian and PIE (I suspect Kartvelian and >Afro-Asiatic are likely to turn up even more).

    I take that back. I now suspect that no other language can be closer to Sumerian than Indo-European.

    [original list snipped]

    This started out as a joke, but it's not funny anymore. It scares the hell out of me: every other Sumerian word I check fits the pattern. Am I just deluding myself or is there really something to it?

    Here's what I've got so far:

    Preliminary rules for converting from Indo-European C(c)VC(c) roots to Sumerian words:

    Initial consonants are mostly preserved, except that the voiced aspirates merge with the voiced unaspirates. The laryngeal situation seems to be more or less like in Hittite: some H1 (and H3?) are preserved, H2 seemingly not. M, n, l, r and s are preserved (except that s sometimes goes to s^ if there's a laryngeal in the word?). Consonantal u (w) is Sumerian g~ [sometimes also labiovelars?], i (y) seems to disappear. Initial clusters: sk-, sH- > s^, st-, tH-? > z-. Others seem to be simplified by dropping the second element. The final consonantal segment is dropped if it consists of a voiced stop or <s>, and becomes voiced if it is unvoiced. The labiovelars and -w(H)- tend to show up as g~ (=w) or m. Liquids and nasals are mostly preserved [some confusion between final -n and -m], as are the s^ and z clusters.

    Some examples:

    *ab- "water" a "water" *apo- (Lat. opacus "shady") ab "window" ? *andh- "flower, plant" an "grain ear" *ais- "desire" as^ "desire" *auH- "say" (Toch. "command") ag~(a) "command" *auH- "love" ag~(a) "love" *Hkeu- "hear" aka, ag, a "listen" *ag- "act, do" aka, ag, a "make, do" *ukw(e)sen "ox" ama, am "aurochs" ? *ar(e)g- "bright" ara, ar, ra "bright" *ar- (Skrt. arati "servant") arad "slave, servant" *apsaH "ash (tree)" asa-l "Euphrates poplar tree" *agr- "field" agar "field" ?

    *bhaH "say" bi, be "say" *bhel- "blow" bul, bu "to blow, *bhel- "grow" to sprout, *bhel- "bright, white" to ignite" *bher- "carry, bear" barag, bara, bar "stand, support" *bher- "open, bore" buru, bur "bore through" *bher- "cook, brew" bur "meal, repast" *bher- "twine" barag, bara, bar "nest" etc. *bal- "to turn" bala, bal "spindle, revolve, change" *bheleu- "sick" balag~ "funeral song" ? *bhoHgh- "bog, clay" bahar "potter" ? *peug- (Gmc. pu:st- "fist") buzur "hand, palm" ?

    *deru- "tree" du [=dru] "build, fasten, work" *dlku- "sweet" dug, du "sweet" *dlnghu- "tongue" dug, du "speak, speech" ? *dheigh- "clay, earth" dig "moist, soft, workable" *del- "long, far" dal "far, fly, race" *dholo- "mound" dul, du "mound, <tell>" *demH- "house, build, tame" dam "spouse", dim "build" *deH-mn- "tie, rope" dim "tie, rope" *dhelg(h)- "needle" dalla, dala "needle" *deuH- "long time, far" dag~al "wide" *deiw- "god" dig~ir "god"

    *eHg-, Hg- "speak, say" e "speak,say" *edh- "fence, dwelling" e "house" *akwaH, e:kw- "water, drink" eg, ig, e "canal, to water" *en- "year" en "time" *(dl)ingwaH "tongue" eme "tongue" ? *ekwaH "mare" eme "she-ass" ? *wes- "summer" (Hwes- ?) emes^ "summer" ?Germanic winter entena "winter" ?? *ed- "to eat" ezinu "grain, cereal" ? (< ed-tinu ??)

    *gut-r- "throat" gu "neck" *geus- "eat, taste" gu, ku "eat, swallow" *gwou-dh- "cow" gu, gud, gudr "ox, bull" *wal-, *wel- "big" gal, g~al "big" *gonu- "knee" gam "kneel" *ghombh- "tooth" gam "sickle" ? *gen- "to give birth" gan "to bring forth" *geu-, *gu-r- "circle" gur "circle" *geus- "pour, smelt" gus^-kin "gold"

    *we "we" g~a "I" *we-ker "evening" gig, gi, ge, g~i, g~e, mi, me "night" *gwem- "to come, go" g~in, g~en "come, go" *gwes- "twig" g~is^, g~es^ "tree" *wer- "wound, stab" g~iri, g~ir "knife, stab" *wer-(t)- "turn, trip" g~iri, g~ir "road, trip" *wer- "guard, save" g~ar, g~a "storehouse, store, ..." *wedh- "to take away" (g~)ir(i) "booty, capture, drive away" [dh- sometimes seems to go to <d>, <r>, <dr> the mysterious /dr/ phoneme of Sumerian, cf. *gwou-dh- gud[r]] *weid-, *wid- "see, know" g~es^-tug "ear, hear, understand" [dt > s^t]

    *dhghu- "fish" ku(a), ha [?] "fish" ? *Hau- "bird" hu "bird"

    <to do> [h i k l m n p r]

    *sek- "to cut, etc." sa "compare, equal in value" ? *seu- "give birth" su "to grow, multiply" *sed- "to sit" si "to stand, be straight, be still" *seu-p "to sip, suckle" sub "to suck, suckle" *sep- "to honour" sub "to bless, to pray" *sewe- "self, alone, person" sag~ "head, human" ? *gon-[edh-] "chin" sun, sum "chin" ??? [g' > s is unexpected...]

    *(s)ke-r-, ~-u-, ~-i- etc. 1. wrinkle, dry up s^a "dry up", s^ir "testicles" ? 2. turn, bend, link s^ed "link", s^ita "bind, bond" 3. cut, destroy s^a "cut" , s^e "portion", s^ar "drive away" ... => *(s)kut- skin, hide kus^ "skin, hide" => German Schar "troop" s^ar "to be many, world, slaughter" 4. cover, shadow s^u "dark, cover", s^e(d) "cool" 5. shine, bright s^un "star", s^en "shiny" 6. shit s^e "excrement" etc.

    *(s)kre:m "scratch, sword" s^um "butcher, slaughter" *k(e)rem "garlic, onion" s^um "garlic, onion" *seuH- "rain, wet" s^eg~ "rain" *sneghw- "snow" s^eg~ "snow, ice" *ske-u(H)- [1] "drought, heat" s^eg~ "hot; cook, boil" ?

    *tep- "hot" tab "sting, fever, burn" *trep- "shake" tab "shake" ? *tag-, *tak-t- "touch" tag "touch" *temH- "dark" ten "cold" ? *ter, *teru "tender, young" tur "small, child" *teuk- "seed, progeny" tuku, tuk, tug, tu "own, get, marry"

    *genu- "chin, cheek" te, de "chin, cheek" *gweiHw- "live" ti, til "live" *kel-, *ghel- "shout" til, tal "shout" [Velar before e/i palatalizes to t/d???]

    <to do> [u z]

    [Just some examples of initial z: za "you" = ?? za = "stone" ? zu "tooth" = *steu- "hit, beat"? zi = "stench" zib = "stamp" zig, zi = "stand" zuh = "steal" zal = "stall, [wait]" "bronze [white stone]" => "stannum"? ]

    Sumerian grammar is of course completely un-Indo-European, but that would be consistent with a language that has lost all final syllables to phonetic wear and tear, and has subsequently rebuilt an [ergative] agglutinative case and verbal system. Sumerian pronouns are also radically different from IE, which is hard to explain, unless they follow some strange sound-laws of their own [kwi >]...

    Help, am I crazy??

    << end quoted message >>

    In the last few hours [h, some i], I have found:

    <correction?> *weit- "branch, twig" g~i-dru "scepter" [= "tree branch"!]

    <... H> *e:ik- "to won, rich" he "abundance" es- "to be" he "be! (imper.)" ? a:p- (3) "sick, weak" hab "to stink, rot" *Huebh- "weave" hub, hup "weaver" *erH, *res-, *rem- "rest" hun "to rest", *hug~ "id." *Hol-, (*ol-e-, *el- (5)) hul "evil, hated, hostile" "destroy", Hitt. hullai- "bekaempfen" *arqu- "gebogenes" har "ring; young, small" ? Hitt. har(k)- "to have" har, ar3, ur5 "loan, debt, *arwaH "intestine" liver, soul, *al- (5) "grind, mill" hand mill, chew" *ereb, ro:b "bore, needle" hur "scratch, sketch, inscribe" *ozdos "twig" has^, haz "break off twigs" *a:ter- "fire" hada2, had2 "shine brightly, dry" Hitt. hark- "destroy" hara, ara3 "pulverize, crush" *albho- "white" halba, halbi "frost, freezing" ? <I ...> *okw-, *ekw- "eye" igi "eye, to see" Lat. idus, Osc. eiduis, Ir. e'sce "moon, idus" id4, it4 "moon" *Hnom-, *Hnem- "name" inim "word"

    Further notes on Sumerian in general: the Sumerian numerals and kinship terms bear no relation to the PIE ones [but cf. in part Hittite]. The lexicon as outlined above shows no particular affinity with Hittite [rather with Tocharian and Germanic?]. I can't even begin to imagine what the consequences would be for the Urheimat debate...

    Comments, criticisms, corrections and contributions are welcome and badly needed.

    == Miguel Carrasquer Vidal Amsterdam, NL