Sunday, January 31, 2016

Jie Language, Part 4!

Just to reiterate: this is not my own work, it's a summary of Alexander Vovin's 2002 "Did the Xiongnu Speak a Yeniseian Language?"

It seems plausible that Proto-Yeniseian would have had something like *tirjaqang for "they went (out)".  It’s entirely possible that in the Jie language, if it were Yeniseian, -jaq- could have shifted to –jeq- or –ek-.  Perhaps some tweaking is acceptable here, since after all Jie and Proto-Yeniseian would have been separated by about 300 years and 1000 miles.  After all, (most) English speakers don’t still talk like it’s the 18th century.  So, assuming –jaq—shifted to –ek—

preverb t + conjugation i + past tense r + verb stem ek + third person plural ang
“They went out”

It seems to fit!

Now, let’s look the second verb.  Remember, going by ket –kas—“to catch or take”, it would have been *–kat—in Pumpokol, a South Yeniseian language.  It could easily have been something like *–kot—or even vowel-free *–kt—in Proto-Yeniseian or Jie.

The Proto-Yeniseian for “they will catch him” would have been *ktoktang:
preverb k + object marker t + conjugation o + verb stem kt + third person plural ang
"They catch/will catch" 

There is some ambiguity on present vs. future here because the verb seems to be in a generic nonpast tense.  This "nonpast" as opposed to present/future exists in Ket, although I don't know if it was a feature of Proto-Yeniseian.

All we need now is an o between the first k and t and we have an exact match with the Jie verb!  Where the o would come from I’m not sure, but again, Jie was not Proto-Yeniseian.  Some shifts in pronunciation would be expected—but of course, why the first *kt—shift to *kot-, but –kot—“to catch” drop the vowel sound?  That doesn’t make sense at all, and all I can say is that it’s the job of smarter Yeniseicists than I to figure that one out.

So, let’s look at the whole sentence:
Suke tirekang, Bokkok kotoktang.
Armies went out, they’ll catch Bokkok.

How do we know that “armies” is plural?  Remember, the verb tirekang, which includes pluralizer -ang, which would not be there if suke "army" was considered a singular unit.  Therefore, the best translation here would have to be "armies."  Furthermore, earlier on in the same text, we have a description of huge troop movements and sending out one division to attack another, and so forth.  Given the size of these forces, it’s entirely reasonable that we could be talking about "armies", rather than a single army, further evidencing that the verb is consistent with Yeniseian morphology.

Certainly not a 100% confirmation that the Jie were speaking a Yeniseian language, but it shows that we cannot dismiss the idea as wishful thinking of Yeniseicists.  The sentence appears optimistically consistent with being a Yeniseian language.  I don’t know about you, but it boggles the mind to think that the language spoken by the elite of a Chinese dynasty could feasibly be in the same family as a tribe of hunter-gatherers in Siberia—or that the feared warriors of the Jie could be the linguistic cousins of the feared warriors of the Tlingit!  Or that the Xiongnu, steppe nomads of the Eastern Hemisphere, could be the linguistic cousins of the Navajo, steppe nomads of the western hemisphere!  That’s the beautiful thing about historical linguistics.  Even if we have stories of horrible wars and genocides, these languages could well be a testament to our closeness as a human family.

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