Linguistics and ethnogenesis of the Slavs : the ancient Slavs as evidenced by etymology and onomastics

  • The present paper is devoted to the old and always vexing problem of the linguistical ethnogenesis of the Slavs. The theme of the fate of the Indo-Europeans ancestors of the Slavic people is by its very nature broad and complex, too broad actually for a short essay. That is the reason why we have resigned ourselves to a detailed regular treatment, while presenting only some of the more interesting results and observations based mostly on new etymological studies of words and proper names. The major purpose is to combine linguistic and ethnic history and to proceed to its (fragmentary) reconstruction. Accordingly, our purpose is as simple as it can be for such a wide scope topic: to reconstruct the form, meaning and origin of the Old Slavic lexicon and to extract, if possible, more information about the history of the Slavic people from these linguistic data. The work of reconstructing the Common Slavic lexicon is being carried out in Moscow and Cracow, as far as the major new etymological dictionaries are concerned. A considerably larger number of scholars are concerned with these problems in Russia than in other countries. A reliable reconstruction of words and meanings is the key to any reconstruction of the culture. Why did the Slavs replace the IE name of the 'harrow' by a new word? How did the Ancient Slavs get a term for the process of 'paying'? What are we to think about the case of 'the Slavs and the sea'? How did a word for 'ship' appear among the Slavs? We now know how to answer these and many other questions (we shall revert later to the case of the sea), but the motivation of many other words remains as obscure as before. Others have fallen into oblivion and survive at best on the onomastic level - hence, our keen interest for onomastics and such new works as the Dictionary of Ukrainian waternames [2] that expand our knowledge of the Old Slavic common lexicon and provide new insights into onomastics proper, e.g. the Slavic toponymic 'superdialect,' the existence of genuine Slavic waternames (i.e. those without appellative stage, e.g. *morica and its continuations in different areas of Slavic hydronymy). It is not possible to determine the earliest area the Slavs occupied or, at least, their original homeland without studying etymology and onomastics. How can this question be solved? There are straightforward ways to do it (e.g. by marking off an area with many or only purely Slavic placenames and waternames), but there must also be subtler, more accurate ways. What happened to the lexicon and the onomastics of an ancient people at the time of migration? Did it name only what it saw and knew itself? Our studies show that "a people's vocabulary transcends its actual experience" [3, p. XLVII] ; thus, it preserves not only its own fossilized experience, but a foreign "hearsay" experience as well. The Slavic written tradition begins at a relatively late date - from the IXth century. But any Slavic word or name, although unwritten, can be a record, a memento reflected at some time in another language. Thus, the personal name of a king of the Antae - rex Boz. (in Jordanes [Vlth century] usually interpreted as Bozi 'God's), reflects an early Slavic vozi or vozi, Russian dial. voz (a calque of rex = voh), learned vozd?'chief, leader', already palatalized in the IVth century (the time of the described events and of the person named) - practically an up-to-date form!

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Author:Oleg N. Trubačev
Parent Title (English):The journal of Indo-European studies
Publisher:Institute for the Study of Man
Place of publication:Washington, D.C.
Document Type:Article
Date of Publication (online):2010/05/06
Year of first Publication:1985
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2010/05/06
Page Number:54
First Page:203
Last Page:256
Signatur: Zs 11362 HM 5: G 367
Dewey Decimal Classification:4 Sprache / 40 Sprache / 400 Sprache
Licence (German):License LogoArchivex. zur Lesesaalplatznutzung § 52b UrhG