Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Perchance to dream, to fart?

It is the dream of historical linguists to prove a connection between language families not previously provably related. And I wonder,  this evening, if I have  stumbled on a previously unconsidered correspondence between the Semitic language family and Indo-European. This would be a revolutionary contribution to linguistic science, if proven. And the key to the whole thing, was the word for farting.

So, this morning I was explaining deponent verbs to a couple of highly motivated Latin students, when the conversation naturally turned to farting. Oh, it's actually quite a direct, and interesting, linguistic route.

Latin deponent verbs are active in meaning, but passive in form. They are the last vestige in Latin of what Classical Greek preserved of a full blown verb mood, called Middle. The Middle Mood is used when you want to describe an action as being done in one's own interest. 

The perfect example is the Greek verb perdomai (πέρδομαι), to fart. It's frozen in the Middle Mood because, after all, in who else's interest would you ever do that? (Historical linguistic giant Andrew Sihler used this example in a course I was privileged to take from him at the University of Wisconsin.)

And I recall Dr. Sihler further noting that this verb is one of the most widely attested throughout the spectrum of Indo-European languages. Following normal phonological shifts, the English word fart is cognate to the Greek. Latin preserves it as pedere. In Sanskrit, the verb to fart is pardate. Russian preserves it as perdet' (пердеть).

This leaves us with the exciting news that, with great confidence, we can reconstruct the fact that, perhaps ten thousand years ago, a proto-Indo-European speaker chatting around a campfire let one fly and someone vocalized the root *pard in response. (I've sided with the vowel 'a' as original because the Germanic and Indic families are geographically separated, hence similarity between them points to originality.)

Anyway, when a linguist sets his or her mind to the matter of farting, quite naturally one finds themselves exploring other language families. I recalled the interesting fact that Arabic attests verbal roots for farting with noise, DarT ( ضرط ) and silently fasaa ( فسا  ).  DarT suddenly grabbed my attention because it seemed to share structural similarities to the Indo-European root for the same concept.

And this got me thinking. If the same word survived so well in Indo-European, might not the same word have maintained equal vigor even deeper in time? What if the similarities between Arabic DarT and PIE *pard are evidence of a connection between the two families?

Alright. Out of pure fun, let's see if any other words preserve an initial Arabic Daad and initial Latin or Greek 'p' (or English 'f').

So, I got home today and ran upstairs to retrieve my beautiful hard-bound copy of Wehr's Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. 

Here's the volume in question. It's listed new on Amazon at about a hundred bucks.

I'm going to admit in this post that I basically stole this volume from the NSA. I was issued this book when I went to work there in 2002. When I was ready to
leave in 2006, I asked a co-worker what I was supposed to do with this beautiful book that had seen me through thick and thin--catching terrorists--spying on, well, not Angela Merkel, but, well, maybe [name removed by censor]. He told me that, in light of all my service to my country, which included time in Iraq in 2004, I should take that volume home and continue to serve my country with it through academic pursuits.

Heartfelt words from a man whose friendship I still cherish. But he didn't have the authority to tell me to take that book out of the building. So I stole it.

I will say, I rather doubt I could have successfully written Intermediate Arabic for Dummies without that dictionary. And I've spoken quite favorably about my former employer in multiple places. I don't expect them to come looking for that book.

Anyway, I began to look at Daad initial Arabic roots, with a mind toward comparing them to Greek and Latin initial 'p' (or English 'f').

Early in the dictionary, I find the following:

Arabic - Da'ula ( ضؤل  ), to be small, meager

It would be intriguing to compare this to Latin paulus, meaning 'little, small'.

I mean, these words are identical in every way with the exception of the same Daad-'P' correspondence that the words for fart displayed. 

Dr. Sihler had taught me that a proven correspondence requires no less than three really good examples. As far as I'm concerned, I have two toward proving a relationship between Semitic and Indo-European.

And I thought, OMG! What if I'm really on to something here?

I explored further. I find the Arabic word Darima, to catch fire. 

Here again, an intriguing potential correspondence with Indo-European. We've got the Greek word pyr (as in pyre, pryrotechnics), as well as English fire

Now, do the above correspondences prove these two language families are distantly related? Of course not. But I find them intriguing. 

There are other correspondences that have been noted in the past. The Indo-European family has words that begin with n- for negation (no, non, ne, etc), while the Semitic word for 'no' begins with l- (laa, Arabic, lo, Hebrew). Combine that with the words for night--Arabic layla and Latin nox, and you have another interesting potential correspondence. 

In the final analysis, it is hoped that genetic testing will yet describe the various ways humans are related one to another. And that may also help us hone our search for distant linguistic connections. In the meantime, I humbly offer these observations in the hope that perhaps even the word for fart could further the cause of human knowledge.