sun/Sun/son/Son of righteousness

My wife and I spent two nights away at a beach holiday town. This morning (Easter Day) we attended a dawn service in a park overlooking the beach. During the service, the sun rose, but the effect was diluted slightly by some small clouds on the eastern horizon. I couldn’t take any photos because I was meant to be concentrating on the service.

Probably inevitably, I got thinking about the coincidence of sun and son in English, especially in close conjunction with rising or risen. (See also sun/Sun/son/Son of righteousness.) These two words are similar in the major Germanic languages, but English seems to be the only one in which the two words are homophones: compare German Sonne and Sohn, Dutch zon and zoon, Danish sol and søn, Norwegian sol and sønn and Swedish Sol and son (Google Translate). Further, the two words have been similar for as long as written sources are available and have been reconstructed in proto-Indo-European as *séh₂wl̥ ~ *sh₂wéns and *suHnús. Are they related even further back? Intriguingly, relates son to a verb meaning “to give birth”, probably in a passive form of “having been given birth”. Unfortunately, it does not include an ultimate meaning for sun, but the relationship with “to give birth” is obvious. The answer may be in some specialised source of PIE etymology. I’ll have to leave it there, though.  

Compare Latin sol and filius, which is related to a verb meaning to suck, and the two words in any other language you know, in my case Korean 태양 (tae-yang) and 아들 (a-deul). 

Note also the Christian Church in England’s use of the Germanic pagan word Ēostre. (See my post from last year and the year before.)


O lonely me!

Two of the choirs I sing in are holding regular online sessions to keep us going musically and socially. The conductor of one choir finishes each session with a rousing rending of something well-known (which we have to sing by ourselves to her piano accompaniment, because it is impossible to sync multiple people within an online session). Last night’s rend was the Italian song O sole mio. To the extent that I’d ever thought about it, I had assumed that it meant O alone/lonely me, because sole is obviously the same word as only/alone/lonely and mio is obviously the same word as me. As the conductor was scrolling around the music on her screen that she had shared within the online session, I saw that the English title is My sun

Latin sōl, sun became Italian sole; solus (only) (which I knew through the liturgical text Quoniam tu solus sanctus) became solo; me stayed as me; and meus became mio. So O alone/lonely me would be O solo me. Except that Latin and Italian don’t use object/accusative pronouns in this way; it would have to be O solo io, the equivalent of English O alone/lonely I.

O sole mio is actually in Neapolitan, which is either a dialect of Italian or a closely related Italo-Romance language, depending on who you ask, but there’s far more about Italian on the internet, so I had to rely on that. 

I wondered whether sōl/sole and solus/solo are related, because the sun is possibly the prototypical example of something alone, but no. But they both have been traced back to proto-Indo-European, so they’re both very old words.

There are four related issues. The first is that using adjectives before pronouns is restricted to examples such as poor you or lucky me (compare *tall you and *short me). The second is that me is more natural here than I (while you is both the subject/nominative and object/accusative form). The third is that lonely can be used attributively or predicatively: I am lonely, O lonely me, while alone can only be used predicatively: I am alone, *O alone me. The fourth is that only, alone and lonely are all based on one and that only is very different: *I am only, *O only me

Nepali again

A textbook mentioned the difference between a cook (a person) and a cooker (a machine). I mentioned that I wouldn’t naturally say cooker – I’d say stove or oven (and I’m not sure what the difference between those actually is). A Nepalese student said that the Nepali word for cooker is kukara. The first possibility is that this is complete coincidence, the second is that Nepali borrowed the word from English, and the third is that the two words share a Proto-Indo-European root. I later found from Google Translate that the Nepali word for stove is sṭōbha and the word for oven is ōbhana, which makes me suspect that all three words have been borrowed from English. traces cook to PIE *pekw- “to cook, ripen” and oven to *aukw- “cooking pot”, but stove only as far as Old English, with a cognate in Old High German. 

If a language borrowed a word from another language, it means either that the word and/or the person/thing/place it refers to didn’t exist in the culture of that language, or that the borrowed word has supplanted the original one. None of the Nepalese students were able to tell about traditional cooking – maybe all cooking was done over an open fire, maybe they had an oven of some kind. If they had an oven of some kind, then they would have had a name for it. Ovens of different kinds were developed in many different cultures around the world. The first requirement is heat, the second is a way of containing it.

Until my students have more knowledge of traditional Nepali cooking, or of the history of the Nepali language, I will never know. Even I’m at the limit of my knowledge. Wikipedia’s article on Nepalese cuisine doesn’t mention any implements. 

(In fact, records that a cooker can be person employed in certain industrial processes, but at least 99% of the time a person is a cook.)

Indo-European clothes

In 2015, many of my students were from Pakistan. Some of them wore traditional Pakistani clothes, especially on Fridays, when they went from class to prayers at a mosque. I asked them what those clothes were called, and they said “Shalwar kameez”. The shalwar is the trousers and the kameez the top. It’s a long way from Pakistani men to the chemise and camisole, but the garments and the words are related. 

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Words from paradise

One of the choirs I sing in is rehearsing a work consisting of five movements each setting one word from the Bible. The words – holy, hallelujah, selah, hosanna and amen – are from Germanic, Hebrew, Greek and/or Latin, and are now different degrees of ‘English’.

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hearten and encourage

An article I edited during the week quoted a person connected to a certain organisation saying that a recent event was “heartening and encouraging”.

Hearten and encourage are, basically, ‘the same word’. Courage is derived from French cour/coeur, which in turn is derived from Latin cor, heart which is related to Italian cuore, Spanish corazón, and Portuguese coração. Heart is related to Dutch hart, German Herz, Danish and Norwegian hjerte and Swedish hjärta. Both words have the morpheme en, on the end of hearten and the beginning of encourage.

In fact, the further back in history you go, the more literally ‘the same word’ heart etc and cor etc are. The Proto-Indo-European word was *k̂erd. In some languages, the /k/ remained as /k/ (Greek καρδιά kardia, Latin cor and its Romance derivatives). In others, it became /h/ (English heart and its Germanic cognates) and in some it became /s/ (Polish serce, Russian сердце serdtse). These changes are not random, and can be seen in a number of other words such as Latin cornu and centum (originally and still classically pronounced with a /k/) and English horn and hundred. Experiment a bit, and you will hear and feel how similar /k/ and /h/ are – a matter of a few millimetres at the back of the throat. /k/ and /s/ might seem further away, but consider electric and electricity. These changes have happened many, many times, which is how scholars have been able to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European from the evidence of modern and documented historic languages.