Where did the word ‘hand’ originate from?

There are large numbers of words in European languages for which the ultimate origin is uncertain.  One such word is the English word ‘hand’.

In the sense of the body part which in English is known as the ‘hand’, both Wiktionary  and Online Etymology Dictionary both agree that it is derived from a hypothetical Proto-Germanic *handuz, but that ultimately it is “of uncertain origin”.

 

  • *handuz – (Proto-Germanic)

  • hand – (Old English, Middle English, English)

  • hant – (Old Dutch)

  • hand – (Dutch)

  • hand – (Old Frisian)

  • hân – (West Frisian)

  • hant – (Old High German)

  • hand – (German)

  • handus (Gothic)

  • hand – (Old Saxon)

  • hǫnd – (Old Norse)

  • haand – (Old Danish)

  • hånd – (Danish)

  • hand – (Swedish)

  • hånd – (Norwegian Bokmål)

  • hand – (Norwegian Nynorsk)

  • hond – (Faroese)

  • hönd – (Icelandic)

Given that we cannot find any obvious similar words in other Indo-European languages outside of the Germanic family, and Germanic is probably less than 3,000 years old, can any similar words be found in non-Indo-European languages which might be a potential original source for the word? (Assuming that it didn’t spontaneously appear out of nowhere in early Proto-Germanic).

Some scholars have suggested that fossilised within Indo-European languages such as Germanic there survives a non-Indo-European substrate (and they offer some evidence to support their assertion).

One such scholar is Theo Vennemann.  He claims that there is a Semitic substrate within Celtic and Germanic, for a number of different reasons (although his claims have been heavily criticised).

Is there a similar word to ‘hand’ in any of the surviving or extinct Semitic languages?  I couldn’t find one.  What about in any other languages outside of Indo-European and Semitic? Again, I couldn’t find one.

However, let’s return to Semitic.  Semitic is just one language group within a very broad family, the Afro-Asiatic group.  The age of Proto-Afro-Asiatic is considerably greater than Proto-Germanic or even Proto-Indo European, and isestimated on the basis of glottochronology by Diakonoff (a leading scholar on Afro-Asiatic) at 11,500 YBP (years-before-present).  Diakonoff believes that one of the earliest branches of Afro-Asiatic was Chadic.

When I looked at other Afro-Asiatic languages outside of Semitic, I found a word for ‘hand’ in Hausa (a major language from the Chadic group spoken in several countries but particularly in Northern Nigeria and Niger) which was remarkably similar:-

hánnúu‘ [which means both ‘hand’ and ‘arm’].

[The Chadic languages besides Hausa (which has 24 million speakers) are woefully under-studied, and I struggled to find information on these].

  

So is this word ‘hánnúu’ in Hausa, meaning ‘hand’, simply a derivation of an English loanword?  I went to The World Loanword Database (WOLD)  to have a look.  Ari Awagana and H. Ekkehard Wolff, together with Doris Löhr, have meticulously analysed 1452 words from the Hausa language, and have identified potential loanwords totalling 24% of the entire dataset, derived from diverse languages such as Arabic, various Berber dialects, French, English, Kanuri, Tubu, Songhay, Nilo-Saharan, Mande languages, Yoruba, Fulani, and others.  They do not consider ‘hánnúu’ to be a loanword into Hausa.

In my view, ‘hand’ in Germanic languages and ‘hánnúu’ [meaning ‘hand’] in Hausa/Chadic look too similar to not be related.  Serious scholars don’t consider ‘hánnúu’ to be a loanword in Hausa [which is likely to be true, given that it means both ‘hand’ AND ‘arm’ in Hausa, but only ‘hand’ in Germanic].

Proto-Chadic is estimated to be 3 – 4 times older than Proto-Germanic.  I suspect that the resemblance is NOT a coincidence, and that the Germanic word ‘hand’ might well have originated in Chadic.  If that is so, how did it jump from Northern Nigeria/Niger to Germany without leaving a trace in other Afro-Asiatic or Indo-European languages?

I don’t have a solid answer to this, and more research is required.

However, there are a few points worth considering.  The Neolithic Subpluvial, also known as the Holocene Wet Phase, was a period lasting from approximately 7500 years ago to approximately 3000 years ago during which the Sahara Desert was green and inhabited by humans, including early farmers.

When the Sahara dried out, these people would have been forced to either migrate south towards the Sahel, north towards the Mediterranean coast, east towards the River Nile, or west towards the Atlantic coast [or head for the remaining wet areas such as oases, the Niger River, or Lake Chad].  These migrations would have had a genetic, archaeological, and linguistic impact.

Secondly, there is evidence to suggest that there were subsequent prehistoric migrations from north Africa into southern Europe, which would also have had a cultural and genetic impact, however minor [and this in turn would have later had an influence further inland in Europe].

Thirdly, it is known that prior to Romans, Arabs, Phoenicians etc. the main languages spoken in Western North Africa would have been Berber languages.  Yet Berber languages do not appear to have had much impact in terms of influence on languages spoken in Southern Europe.  I believe that this is because, according to Austrian linguist Hans Mukarovsky, Berber languages only spread to the West of North Africa from approximately 4,000 years ago onwards, and other language groups such as Chadic, Mande, Songhay, etc. might have been spoken much further northwards prior to this [and this might also explain why I am seeing an influence from these languages on Basque and Celtic].

And finally, there are genetic links between Chad and Europe, in particular with Sardinia and Corsica but also with Basques, Southern French, and Southern Iberians [eg. Y-DNA haplogroup R1b R-V88 and haplogroup A, plus HLA haplotype A*30:01-B*18:01-C*05:01-DRB1*03:01-DQB1*02:01).  This might be a route via which Chadic languages could have entered Southern Europe in prehistory.  It is especially interesting in view of the fact that I am finding that there are many Hausa-like words in the Basque language, and Basques and Sardinians have the highest European frequencies of the Chadic HLA haplotype mentioned above.  In addition Sardinians are believed to have spoken a Basque-like, pre-Indo European language prior to the comparatively recent introduction of Latin.  Lastly, there is a 115 kilometre-long river in Sardinia called Coghinas, and Kogin is the Hausa word for ‘river’ [although this could of course be purely coincidental].

I plan to do some more research and will follow up this post again hopefully some time in the not too distant future.

Did Many Ancient European River Names Get Their Name From the Dinka Word For “River”? [Part 3]

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/71/Dinka_flag.png/98px-Dinka_flag.png

Dinka is a Western Nilotic language from the Nilo Saharan language family, comprising five similar dialects and spoken by about 2-3 million Dinka people in southern Sudan.

From the Dinka-English dictionary [source: http://www.RogerBlench.info ]:-

river

  • wär / wɛɛ̈r ̈ SWr n. any body of water: river, lake or pond, water well. loc: wïïr.

  • wɛɛ̈r̈ NEd SWr SEb Sg: wär. n. rivers, lakes.

Also:-

  • Hausa (West Chadic): ‘wuriya‘ [‘rushing stream’];

  • Miya (West Chadic): ‘wər‘ [‘lake’];

 

Now look at the European river names included in the map below, which is taken from Hans Krahe’s Unsere ältesten Flussnamen [“Our oldest river names”] (1964), and see the resemblance of these European river names to the Dinka words for ‘river’ :-

In addition to the thirty-six European rivers shown in the map above, there are a few rivers in England and Wales with similar names which were omitted from Krahe’s map.  These include: River Wear; River Were; River Ver; River Wyre; River Vyrnwy; etc.  The Old English word ‘wer’, meaning a fish trap or weir [from which the word ‘weir’ comes]; and also the Welsh word ‘wern’ meaning a swamp or quagmire might also be related. And Latin ‘ver’ meaning ‘spring’ maybe.

This is another example of ancient European river names sounding very similar to an African word for river which is definitely worthy of further research.

Ancient European River Names – Do their Names Derive From African Languages? (Part 2)

https://i0.wp.com/thumb7.shutterstock.com/display_pic_with_logo/1666885/210316285/stock-photo-the-river-saar-in-germany-passes-along-a-forest-and-farming-fields-210316285.jpg

Above: River Saar, Germany

 

In my previous post I looked at the similarities between the names of various European rivers (whose names are believed to be thousands of years old), and their close resemblance to words for ‘river’ in a number of African languages.

In today’s post I continue this theme.

Here are several other similar-sounding river names from across Europe with ancient origins:-

  • Soar (England)

  • Soar, formerly known as Saravus (Belgium)

  • Serre, formerly known as Sera (France)

  • Cère, formerly known as Sera (France)

  • Séran, formerly known as Sera (France)

  • Saurunz, formerly known as Serantia (Alsace, France)

  • Schremm, formerly known as Serma (Germany)

  • Sorgwm [Welsh for “Sor Valley“], (Wales)

  • Zorn, formerly known as Sorna (Alsace, France)

  • Saire, formerly known as Sara (Normandy, France)

  • Saar(e) (Brandenburg, Germany)

  • Sar, formerly known as Saros (Spain)

  • Serio, formerly known as Sarius (Lombardy, Italy)

  • Sarià (Lithuania)

  • Saar, formerly known as Saravus (Germany)

  • Sernf, formerly known as Sarnivos? (Switzerland)

Linguists have postulated a Proto-Indo European root *ser-, “to flow”, as a common origin for these names.

As usual, the linguists didn’t care to have a look further south in Africa for languages with potentially related words.

  • sɛ́rɛ́word for “river” in Northern Maa [north Kenya – eastern Nilotic languages];

  • Suriword for “river” in Dazaga [north Chad – Saharan languages];

  • Suri – word for “river” in Tedaga [north Chad – Saharan languages];

Both of the above resemble the word ‘isuri’ [“to pour, spill, flow”] from the Basque language of south-western Europe.

  • Soura River (NW Africa – links Atlas Mountains to the lakes in the Ahnet-Movydir basin);

  • Asuwaword for “stream” in Twi [Ghana – Kwa languages, Tano subgroup of Niger-Congo languages];

    UPDATED 4/12/16

However, the closest resemblance of all [especially in light of the word ‘isuri’ meaning ‘to flow’ etc. in the Basque language of south-western Europe] can be seen in the Ijoid languages of Nigeria, and words meaning “to flow” in various languages of that group, several of which are IDENTICAL to the Basque word:-

“FLOW” (V.I.)
Defaka
NK           sérí
BD
Ịbanị       sírí
Kalaba    sérí
ri
BL
KI             sérí
NE           seri
AK           iheri
BU           isérí
OP
OY           iseri
ET
EO           isórí
BA
KL
AP           isórí
ID            sori
OG           sori
GM
EG
WO
FU            sori
AR            sori
OB            seri
OT
OE            sʊɔ, serí 
ME           sʊɔ, serí 
KU            sérí
KB            serií
WT           serí
ON
IK             súɔ, sérí súɔ
EK            serí
KO            sérí sʊɔ́ 
GB            sérí sʊɔ́ 
OR            sʊɔ́ ɓéni
AT             
BI