Re: [tied] Croats

From: Piotr Gasiorowski
Message: 7429
Date: 2001-05-30

It's one of those problems that recur on Cybalist at several months' intervals. The "Sarasvati theory" of Croatian origins has been discussed before, which is why I was not too specific about objections to it.
Let me first ask the following question: Why should *xrvat- be derived from *haraxvati: (the Iranian counterpart of Sarasvati)? There is a vague phonetic resemblance between these words, but there is no extralinguistic evidence tu support the match. I know of no historical, archaeological, ethnographic, genetic or any other data to justify the suggestion that the ancestors of the Croats came from anywhere near the historical Sarasvati river (melodramatic tales made up in recent times obviously don't count). Even if the Croats borrowed their name from an Iranian source, it would have been from one of the Iranian tribes of the Pontic steppe, not from "Iranian Iranians", let alone the "Sarasvati Aryans".
The formal agreement, by the way, is far from satisfactory:
(1) Slavic syllabic *-r- (or *-Ur-) would have to correspond to Iranian *-ara-, a doubtful possibility, for which there is no known precedent. The actually attested substitute seems to be PSl *-or- (> dialectal -ro-, -oro- or -ra-, the last one in South Slavic).
(2) The medial *-xv- would have to be matched with Slavic -v- in an equally ad hoc way. No precedent again: Slavic either retains *xv in loans from Iranian or reduces the cluster to *x, not *v.
(3) The etymologically long Slavic *-a- (i.e. *-a:-) would have to be derived, quite impossibly, from an Iranian short vowel (*-a-) or secondary diphthong (*-ai-). Derivation from something like *-vant- is also out of the question, since preconsonantal *-an- would have yielded a nasal vowel in Common Slavic.
Conclusion: the similarity of *xrvat- to *haraxvat- is only superficial.
A solid etymology should stand on two legs -- a convincing formal match and a plausible extralinguistic context justifying the semantic side of equation. Here one of the legs is shaky and the other absent, so the etymology cannot be considered valid.
I know of several other attempts to etymologise *xrvat-, none of them particularly convincing. Trubachev's *xrvat- < *har-va(n)t- < *sar-wa(n)t- 'having many women' is formally flawed and semantically arbitrary (just why "having many women"?). Vasmer's (?) tentative derivation of the name from Iranian *(fs^u-)haurvatar- 'guardian (of livestock), shepherd' looks nice in the steppe context but requires quite a lot of ad hoc manipulation on the formal side. His alternative proposal, *hu-urvatha- 'good friend', is another example of "scholarly folk etymology".
It would be quite easy to invent further proposals. How about *x(U)rvat-U being back-formed from the plural *xUrvat-i < *harva:-ta:-, with a Slavicised version (*-t-i) of the Sarmatian collective suffix *-ta: (cf. Ossetic plural -t(æ)) added to the base *harva- (< *salwa- < *solwo-) 'all, entire, complete'? Cf. Skt. sarva-, Gk. holos; and the Sarmatian reflex of Iranian pretonic -a- sometimes corresponds to Slavic -U- (the "hard yer"). Maybe the name was the Irano-Slavic counterpart of Germanic Alamanni, referring to a mixed confederacy of "all tribes". Or maybe it wasn't -- it's just a loose suggestion.
----- Original Message -----
From: Mark DeFillo
Sent: Wednesday, May 30, 2001 4:36 PM
Subject: Re: [tied] Croats


I would like to read more about specific objections to the proposal that some have made that "Hrvat" might be related to the river name "Harahvaiti"/"Haraquaiti".

If it were true, it would analogous to the various ethnonyms attributed to "Danu-". Harahvaiti is an Iranic river name said to be cognate to the Indic river name Sarasvati, though they are two different rivers. The Sarasvati was long thought to be mythical, until aerial photography revealed the very clear traces of a huge (dried up) river exactly where Sarasvati is placed in the Vedic texts, and the majority of so-called "Indus Valley" sites are actually along her banks, not those of the Sindhu/Indus river.

Anyway, not all peoples/ethnoi with variants of Danu- names are from the same branches of the IndoEuropean family, so analagously, IF Hrvat is derived from Harahvaiti, it need not imply that the Croats are Iranic.

I would like to see this theory of Hrvat < Harahvaiti considered carefully, and not simply rejected out of hand.

How many different theories are there about the origin of the Hrvat ethnonym? Can someone summarize them here? Many thanks!

Mark DeFillo/Seghopritus