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, 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)
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.
sɛ́rɛ́ – word for “river” in Northern Maa [north Kenya – eastern Nilotic languages];
Suri – word 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);
Asuwa – word for “stream” in Twi [Ghana – Kwa languages, Tano subgroup of Niger-Congo languages];
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:-
OE sʊɔ, serí
ME sʊɔ, serí
IK súɔ, sérí súɔ
KO sérí sʊɔ́
GB sérí sʊɔ́
OR sʊɔ́ ɓéni
coracle (plural coracles)
(nautical) A small, circular or oblong boat made of wickerwork and made watertight with hides or pitch, propelled and steered with a single paddle and light enough to be carried on a man’s back.
The coracle is a small, lightweight boat of the sort traditionally used in Wales but also
in parts of Western and South West England, Ireland (particularly the River Boyne), and Scotland (particularly the River Spey);[..] The word “coracle” comes from the Welsh cwrwgl, cognate with Irish and Scottish Gaelic currach, and is recorded in English as early as the sixteenth century. Other historical English spellings include corougle, corracle, curricle and coricle.
The name ‘coracle‘ in modern-day English probably derives from Welsh ‘corwgl‘, which in turn is derived from ‘corwg‘. ‘Corwg‘ [cognate with Gaelic ‘curachan‘], is likely also the source of Middle English ‘currock‘.
The Welsh and Irish words themselves ultimately originated from Proto-Celtic *kur uko– .
This reconstructed word takes us back in time to an unknown European location, perhaps as early as 800BCE. But can we find any similar words or roots in existence which might provide a clue as to the word’s earlier origins [assuming that the word didn’t appear completely out of the blue in Wales/Ireland]?
An explanation given for the origin of ‘coracle‘ is that the name comes from the Latin word ‘corium‘, meaning “skin, hide, leather”; also related to ‘cortex’ [“bark”]; and ‘scortum’ [“skin, hide”], from a postulated Proto-Indo European root *(s)ker- [“to cut”]. Cognates include Sanskrit ‘krtih’ [“hide”]; Old Church Slavonic ‘scora’ [“skin”]; Russian ‘skora’ [“hide”]; ‘kora’ [“bark”]; Old English ‘sceran’ [“to cut, shear”].
However, a bit of investigation revealed that there were strikingly similar (or related) words for ‘canoe’ or ‘boat’ in some African languages:-
Twi – “Korow” & “ɔkorow” [“canoe”]
Yoruba – “ọkọ” [“canoe”; “boat”]
Yoruba – “ọkọ̀ kékeré” [“boat”]
Edo – “Oko” [“canoe”]
Bambara – “kurun” [“canoe, small boat”]
Yeyi – “Mokoro” [“dugout canoe”]
Mandinka – “kuluŋo“
Central Kanuri – “kòlékòlé“
Songhai – “Kole–Kole“
Hausa – “Kwale Kwale“
Wolof – “Gaal“
No doubt there are numerous other examples.
Having found these, I was struck by the resemblance between those examples of African words for boat or canoe which possess ‘kor–‘ or ‘kur–‘ roots, and the Proto-Celtic word for boat, *kuruko– .
But then something else caught my attention:-
Slovenian – “čoln” [“boat”]
Czech – “člun” [“boat”]
Slovak – “čln” [“boat”]
Russian – “čoln” [“boat, canoe, dugout (usually hollowed out of a single log)”]
Polish – “czółno” [“dugout, a boat made from a hollowed tree trunk”]
The Slavic examples above are also reminiscent of the African words for boat/canoe/dugout which possess the kol– / kul– root, *especially* “kuluŋo” from Mandinka.
And then a brief look at a variety of African words for ‘bark’, ‘skin’, ‘cut’, ‘leather’, ‘tree’, and ‘weaver’ revealed similar words also:-
The verb ‘gor’ in Wolof means “to cut down” [for example, a tree];
The words for “skin/hide” are ‘kuuru’ in Songhai and ‘Kulu’ in Mandinka
In my view this is a genuine connection between some very old European and African boat terminology, and should be investigated further. It is worth bearing in mind that thousands of years ago, the Sahara desert was a lush green environment which supported human populations, and Lake Chad was many times larger than it is today. The world’s oldest dugout canoes found to date have been in Africa (Chad Basin, northern Nigeria) and Europe (the Netherlands), at 8000 years old and 10000 years old, respectively. Is it possible that humans entered Europe from Africa in prehistory and brought their words for boat with them?