Where Does The Fish Name ‘Carp’ Come From?

Above: common carp (Cyprinus carpio)

The original common carp was found in the inland delta of the Danube River about 2000 years ago, and was torpedo-shaped and golden-yellow in colour. It had two pairs of barbels and a mesh-like scale pattern. Although this fish was initially kept as an exploited captive, it was later maintained in large, specially built ponds by the Romans in south-central Europe (verified by the discovery of common carp remains in excavated settlements in the Danube delta area). As aquaculture became a profitable branch of agriculture, efforts were made to farm the animals, and the culture systems soon included spawning and growing ponds.

[Source: Wikipedia]

It is highly likely that these distinctive freshwater fish were already being referred to by a similar-sounding name to ‘carp’ in the region of the Danube River’s inland delta back in ancient times.

Wiktionary states that the English word ‘carp’ originated from Old French ‘carpe’, which in turn is from Late Latin/Vulgar Latin ‘carpa’, which itself probably ultimately derives from Gothic ‘*karpa’.  Gothic is an extinct East Germanic language spoken by the Goths.  Other attested forms include Middle Dutch ‘carpe’ and Old High German ‘karpfo’ or ‘karpho’.

But the ultimate origin is “unknown” or “unsettled”.

Recently I have been observing what I consider to be a considerable number of Chadic cognates within Indoeuropean languages (especially Italo-Celtic and Germanic, but others also, and non-Indoeuropean languages such as Basque).

A number of scholars have posited an Afroasiatic substrate within these languages; however previous research has focused more on Semitic or to a lesser degree Berber as possible sources for this, and Chadic has been generally overlooked.

Whether there is a Chadic substrate in western Indoeuropean languages [Italo-Celtic &/or Germanic &/or Slavic] remains to be seen [see also my earlier post: Where did the word ‘hand’ originate from?]

However something which really caught my attention recently is a common generic word for “fish” in West- and Central-Chadic languages (or Proto-Central Chadic):-

  • “*Kirop-”


  • “Kɨrɨp”

[Source:- “Central Chadic Reconstructions” – Richard Gravina (2014);  “Vocabulary of Water in Chadic” – Olga Stolbova (1997)]

In my opinion there is a strong resemblance between the Proto-Central Chadic word for fish and Gothic *karpa, but the likelihood is that nobody will investigate further or take the possibility even remotely seriously.

Above: Fishing in Lake Chad



Loanwords from African languages in the Basque language?

  • English———-Basque—————African Languages

  • Ditch————‘Zanga’————–‘Tsanya’ [Hausa]
  • Stone————‘Harri’—————‘Hayre’ [Fula]
  • Skin————-‘Larru’—————‘Larral’ [Fula]
  • Skin————-‘Larru’—————‘Ara’ [Yoruba]
  • True————-‘Egiazko’————-‘Gaskiya’ [Hausa]
  • Forgive———–‘Barka’————–‘Gbaghara’ [Igbo]
  • Snake————-‘Suge’—————‘Zoka’ [Zaramo]
  • Snake————-‘Suge’—————‘NZoka’ [Sukuma]
  • Snake————-‘Suge’————-‘InZoka’[Luhya,Kinyarwanda,Kirundi]
  • Bird—————‘Txori’—————‘Tsoli’ [Punu]
  • Bird—————‘Txori’—————‘Sholli’ [‘birds’ – Fula]
  • Twenty———–‘(H)ogei’————-‘Ugie’ [Edo]
  • Twenty———–‘(H)ogei’————-‘No:gay’ [Fula]
  • Twenty———–‘(H)ogei’————-‘Noogaj’ [Fula]
  • Meat————-‘(H)aragi’————‘Eran Jije’ [Yoruba]
  • Meat————-‘(H)aragi’————‘Arizh’ [Nubian]
  • Rope————-‘Soka’—————‘Sugey’ [Songhai]
  • Shout————‘(O)ihu’————–‘Ihu’ [Hausa]
  • Child————-‘Ume’————–‘Omo’ [Yoruba & Edo]
  • Knife————-‘Labana’————‘Labi’ [Fula]
  • Knife————-‘Labana’————‘Lobe’ [‘dagger’ – Yoruba]
  • Trap————–‘Lakirio’————‘Qrra’ [Tamazight Berber]
  • There————-‘Han’————–‘Lohun’ [Yoruba]
  • Ash—————‘Errau(ts)’———-‘Eeru’ [Yoruba]
  • We—————-‘Gu’————–‘Gu’,‘Ku’, [Kpelle]
  • We—————-‘Gu’————–‘Ku’ [Guro, Yaure]
  • Blood————–‘(O)dol’————‘Dyoli’ [Malinke, Dyula]
  • Blood————–‘(O)dol’————‘Dyolo’ [Bolo]
  • Seed—————‘(H)azi’————‘Sii’ [Mandinka]
  • Seed—————‘(H)azi’————‘Si’ [Khassonke, Malinke, Bambara]
  • Knee—————‘Bel(h)aun’———‘Kum-balin’ [Khassonke]
  • Knee—————‘Bel(h)aun’———‘Kum-balino’ [Mandinka]
  • Arrow————–‘Gezi’————–‘Bine-kise’ [Bambara]
  • Arrow—————‘Gezi’————–‘kèsé’/’kese’/’kēsé’[Baraïn, E.Chadic]
  • I——————-‘Ni’—————‘Nii’ [Hausa]
  • Red—————–‘Gorri’————‘Cirey’ [Songhai]
  • Mud—————-‘Loka(tz)’———-‘Laka’ [Hausa]
  • Foot—————-‘(H)oin’———–‘Koyn-gal’ [Fula]
  • Wind—————‘(H)aize’———-‘Azwu’ [Tamazight Berber]
  • Wind—————‘(H)aize’———-‘Ess-i’ [Nubian]
  • Black—————‘Bel(tz)’———–‘Bal-ejum’ [Fula]
  • Meal—————-‘Baskari’———-‘Gari’ [Hausa]
  • Two—————–‘Bi’————–‘Biyu’ [Hausa]
  • Jump—————-‘Salto’———–‘Tsalle’ [Hausa]
  • Menstruation, period—‘Hileko’———-‘Haila’ [Hausa]
  • Short—————-‘(La)bur’———‘Obere’ [Igbo]
  • Cloud—————-‘Hodei’———-‘Gude’ [Yoruba]
  • Cloud—————-‘Hodei’———-‘Kuiti’ & ‘Kidi’ [Tedaga]
  • Lobster————–‘(O)tarraina’——-‘Ndeerindeerino’ [Mandinka]
  • Shrimp————–‘(O)tarrainska’—–‘Ndeerindeerino’ [Mandinka]
  • Hoof—————-‘Apatxhari’——–‘Patako’ [Yoruba]
  • Woman————–‘Emakumea’——‘Kamu’ [Kanuri]
  • Old——————‘Zahar’———-‘Tsoho’ [Hausa]
  • Town—————-‘Hiri’,‘Herri’——‘Gari’ [Hausa]
  • Wife—————–‘Emazte’———‘Mata’ [Hausa]
  • Fish—————–‘Arrain’———‘Hari’ [Songhai]
  • Rain—————–‘Euri’————‘Are’, ‘Ari’ [Nubian]
  • Bark—————–‘Azal’———–‘Azi’ [Nubian]
  • Foot——————‘(H)oin’———‘O:y’ [Nubian]
  • Round—————-‘Biribil’———‘Obirikiti’ [Yoruba]
  • And——————‘Eta’————‘Ati’ [Yoruba]
  • Dog——————‘Txakur’———‘Kare’ [Hausa]
  • Leg——————‘Hanka’———-‘Tanka’ [Wolof]
  • Chief—————–‘Buru-zagi’——-‘Sarki’ [Hausa]
  • Yawn—————–‘Aharrausi’——-‘Uhere’ [Igbo]
  • [Water] Spring———‘Iturburu’——–‘Asuburu’ [Twi]
  • Bay——————-‘Badia’——–‘Baadaa’ [‘seaside’/’beach’ in Mandinka]
  • Elbow—————–‘Ukondo’——-‘Conco’ [Wolof]
  • Go——————–‘Jo[h]an’——-‘Jah-a’/‘Jan-a’ [Fula]
  • Earth, Ground———-‘Lur’———–‘Lo’ [Bobo]
  • Earth, Ground———-‘Lur’———–‘Lwoe’ [Kpelle]
  • Path, Way————-‘Bide’———-‘Beda’ [‘large road’ in Khassonke & Bambara]
  • Night—————–‘Gau’———–‘Gue’ [Bozo]
  • Name—————–‘Izen’———-‘Isem’ [Tuareg Berber]
  • To Lie Down————‘Etzan’———‘Ettes’ [‘sleep’ in Tuareg]
  • Wood(en)————-‘Zur-ezko’——‘(I)sarir’ [Tuareg]




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.

Counting in Twenties: Western Europe Got Its Vigesimal Counting System Directly From West Africa

Most European languages have a decimal counting system (counting in tens); however a small number of European languages have a vigesimal counting system (counting in twenties).

The main language groups in Europe which retain the vigesimal counting system are Basque and the Brythonic Celtic languages (Welsh, Cornish, Breton); while some remnants of the system are also found in French and Danish.

The vigesimal system is much more typical of non-European languages.

Semitic languages of western Asia, eg. Arabic have a decimal counting system.  This system has entered northern Africa with the spread of Islam; however the older vigesimal system remains in some Berber languages of north Africa.

The vigesimal counting system is a common feature of many Niger Congo languages of western tropical Africa.

It has been previously suggested that there are a number of morphological similarities shared between certain Niger-Congo languages (Atlantic and Mande groups]; Berber languages in north Africa; the Basque language in south-western Europe; and Celtic languages in the British Isles.

Given the absence of the vigesimal counting system in eastern Europe but its presence in western Europe; and its absence in western Asia but presence in parts of northern and western Africa, maybe these regions share a common origin of the vigesimal system (ie. people crossed the Mediterranean Sea or sailed around the Atlantic coasts of Africa and Europe in prehistoric times).

Leaving aside genetic and archaeological evidence for prehistoric contacts between Africa and Europe (which is outside the scope of this blog), what linguistic evidence do we have for a common origin of the vigesimal counting system in Africa and Europe?

I believe that I have found evidence for this, and this evidence is unlikely to be a coincidence.

Please see below:-

The Word “Twenty” in Different Languages:-

  • Bambara [Mali, W Africa]: “mùɡan

  • Jula [Burkina Faso & Côte d’Ivoire, W Africa]: “mugan

  • Kakabe [Guinea, W Africa]: “múɡan

  • Kuranko [Sierra Leone & Guinea, W Africa]: “mogan

  • Yalunka [Guinea, W Africa]: “mɔ̀kɔ̀ŋɛ́

  • Jowulu (Jo) [Mali, W Africa]: “kɔ̃ne


  • **Yoruba [Nigeria, W Africa]: “ogún“**

  •  **Welsh [Wales, UK]: “ugain“**

  • North Riding Sheep-Scoring Numbers [Yorkshire, NE England]: “guna-gun

  •  Cornish [Cornwall, SW England]: ugens

  • Breton [Brittany, NW France]: “ugent



  • Gaulish [extinct – France etc.]: “uoconti

  • Tiv [Nigeria, W Africa]: “ikundu


  • **Latin [Latium, West Central Italy]: “viginti“**

  • **Kanuri [Niger/Nigeria, W Africa]:”fíyìndì“**



  • Maasina Fulfulde [Mali & Ghana, W Africa]: “no:gay

  • Western Niger Fulfulde [Niger, W Africa]: “noogaj

  • Pular [Guinea, Senegal, & Mali, W Africa]: “noogaj

  •  **Edo [Nigeria, W Africa]: “ùɡié“**

  •  **Basque [Basque Country, N Spain & SW France]:hogei“**

  • **Iberian [extinct – Mediterranean coast of Spain & SW France]: “*orkei“**


In my opinion the shared origin of the vigesimal counting system between western Africa and western Europe can’t be denied, and is reflected in very similar words for “twenty” shared between languages in these regions which couldn’t easily be explained by chance alone.  My theory is that vigesimal counting systems and the very similar words for “twenty” might have spread from northern/western Africa into  southern/western Europe with pastoralism [sheep/goat/cattle-rearing] during the Holocene epoch around 6,000 – 8,000 years ago.  Further research is required.


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


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 ]:-


  • 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.


  • 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)


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.)
NK           sérí
Ịbanị       sírí
Kalaba    sérí
KI             sérí
NE           seri
AK           iheri
BU           isérí
OY           iseri
EO           isórí
AP           isórí
ID            sori
OG           sori
FU            sori
AR            sori
OB            seri
OE            sʊɔ, serí 
ME           sʊɔ, serí 
KU            sérí
KB            serií
WT           serí
IK             súɔ, sérí súɔ
EK            serí
KO            sérí sʊɔ́ 
GB            sérí sʊɔ́ 
OR            sʊɔ́ ɓéni


Ancient European River Names – Their Origin Might Be From An African Language

Above:  The Isère river running through Grenoble in southeastern France.

There are several rivers across Europe with names which clearly have a similar origin.  The origin of these rivers’ names has been postulated to be either pre-Indo European (and later absorbed by Indo European language speakers); or alternatively from a reconstructed Indo European root.  

These are derived from the old river name ‘Isar’ and include the following:-

  • Isar river [Germany];

  • Isère river [France];

  • Yser river [France/Belgium];

  • Isara river (original name for the Oise) [France];

  • Yzeron river [France];

  • Ézaro river [Spain];

  • Ézara river [Spain];

  • Iseran river [France];

  • Esaro river [Italy];

  • Eisack river [Italy];

  • Isières river [Belgium];

  • Izarillo river [Spain];

  • Éisra and Istrà [Lithuania];

  • Jizera [Czech Republic];

[there are some others also]

These river names resemble the Basque word ‘isuri‘ [“to pour, spill, flow”] which seems to not have been noticed.

However, I also don’t think anyone bothered to look at African languages to see if there might be a relationship with the above European river names.  If they had done so, then they might have noticed the following:-

  • Just like in Basque, the word for ‘to flow’ in several of the Ijoid languages of Nigeria is “iseri“;

  • The word for ‘stream’ in Idũ [Koro cluster, Plateau languages of Nigeria] is: “ìzɛ̃rĩ̀“;

  • The Songhai word for ‘river’ is: “Isa;

  • The Tarifiyt Berber word for ‘river’ is: “Iɣzā;

  • The Toro Tegu (Dogon languages) word for ‘stream’ is: “ísà;

  • The Edo word for ‘river’ is: “Eze;

[There are undoubtedly others which I haven’t found yet].

I will be looking at the possible African origins of other examples of ancient European hydonymy and toponymy in future posts.