Re: Pliny's "Guthalvs"

From: x99lynx@...
Message: 15837
Date: 2002-10-01

Piotr wrote (September 30, 2002 8:47) :
<<You can't escape reconstructing the older form, and if you want to do that,
you'd better use the methods worked out by linguists, weird as they may seem
to you, rather than homespun ones.>>

I have no problem with the methods worked out by linguists. It just seems
sometimes you are measuring with a crooked ruler. You're eliminating things
that you can't possibly know with any real certainty. You may be right about
these things but its just as likely you are wrong. And that's what these
homespun objections are about.

Piotr also wrote:
<<If the Germanic stem had ended in *-alw-, Pliny would have made it -ALVVS
<-alvus> or -ALVA <-alva>.>>

That's not true. If the Germanic word had originally been something like
"Guthalws," Pliny would have seen <Guthalvs> in his sources, and would have
written what he saw -- not knowing if the <v> stood for a /w/ or a /u/---
record of Pliny ever making the trip north or even ever hearing a German
speaker. (BTW, one would also think that Pliny would have avoided calling a
"clear" river <alvus>, given the meaning of excremental terms like <alvus
liquida> and <alvus varia>.)

Piotr also wrote:
<<*Gauta albiz, actually. Undateable? Conjectured? Both elements are attested
separately (ON Gautr and elfr; the form I gave is more or less
Proto-Scandinavian, but will work also for Pliny's time).>>

Here's what works just as well for Pliny's time. What you find attested in
languages 1200+ years later demonstrates that there were enough sound changes
at work dialectically to bring <albis> to the later <elfr> and <a:lv>, and so
<-alv> or <-alvs> (river) happening in between and showing up in 1st Cent AD
Latin is no surprise.

<<I merely put them together. The former is the genitive plural of the name
of the Gauts. I hope you've heard of them -- the Geatas of Beowulf, and the
people after whom Götaland and Göteborg were named.>>

Göteborg was not named after "the people" -- it was named for the river, in
the 18th Century. As far as what came first, the name of the land or the
name of the people, history plainly tells us it could be one or the other.
But for all we know, the "Goutoi", "Gutae" (Ptolemy) could have gotten their
name the way Americans did, from a mistaken
attribution of some geographer or cartographer.

Piotr -- aka Mickey Mouse -- also wrote:
<<Swedish Göta älv (_not_ Gota or Gote alv) is pronounced [jø:ta Elv], and if
that's the same damn thing as Guthalus, I'm the same friggin' thing as Mickey

Well, Mickey, if you can connect Go:te to Gauts (which you do in your post) I
don't understand what your problem with the modern pronounciation [jø:ta]?
According to your own etymology, Go:te [jø:ta] referred to the same people
Ptolemy called Goutoi (gr) and Gutae (latin), and perhaps Jordanes called
Gouthigoths and later Germanics as <Guths>. So this argument doesn't make
any sense -- you already admit that Go:te once did look and sound like Guth.
And of course if you can connect Latin "Albis" to "Elbe" and "a:lv", then
you should have no trouble seeing the connection between Latin -alvs and
Swedish -a:lv. The conjecture that the -alvs in a river named Guth/alvs
refers to "river" is not any kind of a surprise and nothing you've said
prevents that conjecture. None of your attempts to eliminate the possibility
work. But that's becomes obvious when you start using "damn" and "friggin'"
to support a weak argument.

Piotr also wrote:
<<*gutxalsaz would have been Latinised as *Guthalsus...>>
Or more likely -- especially given the river in Ptolemy that you cited --
*gut chalsus -- which is not as close I guess as you would like and which
doesn't make much sense as a river name explanation. Your ruler is a little
crooked again. (BTW, just north of Go:te river is a town called <Kungälv>
which is believed to have been the <Kongahälla> of the sagas. That
transition may have more to do with "Guthalvs" than the <chalsus>
explanation. A town at the river mouth that gave its name to a river, as in
Detroit River, Chicago River, Los Angeles River, etc.)

Piotr also wrote:
<<Don't underestimate Pliny. The names that _can_ be verified (those of the
Elbe, the Vistula, the Weser, the Maas or the Rhein) were transmitted very

Pliny is generally horrendous and naturalists and geographers have been
correcting him for the last 400 years. Getting the rivers west of the Elbe
right would be no big trick, nothing impressive at all. After all, Pliny is
writing after Caesar and Drusus as well as works of many geographers we no
longer have.

As far as Pliny's list goes, he doesn't say much new and he's left a lot of
rivers out. Perhaps he was limiting his list to "clari" (clear?) rivers as
he says, but what is that supposed to mean? Is it a nautical term? Did he
even understand what he was describing with "clari?" Thia all also might
suggest he was reading from a list and not a map and had only the vaguest
idea where these rivers were that "flowed into the Ocean." There's is nothing
in Pliny that tells us that Vistula or Guthalvs was anything but a distant
piece of hearsay, perhaps many times removed and poorly transmitted.

Piotr also wrote:
<<Dear Steve, Pliny Latinised all those rivernames. <-us>, <-is> and <-a> are
_Latin_ endings, equivalent (roughly) to Germanic *-az (the usual ending of
Germanic masculines), *-iz and *-o: (strong feminine declension).>>

I'm beginning to suspect that this may be wrong too. Pliny probably never
heard the words in the original and probably was reading most of his sources
- so the words were already "latinized" or otherwise bastardized long before
he got to them. What may actually have happened was that medieval clerics --
working to figure out how medieval Germanics fit in the writings of classical
authorities like Pliny -- Germanized or otherwise "corrected" Latin names and
then attached them to whatever they seemed to fit or whomever they were
working for. It's not impossible that the Vistula is a Latin corruption of a
misread local name that became the official name for the river because it
appeared in Latin. In preliterate times there were probably many different
local names for the Vistula and perhaps even more than one river that was
called the Vistula. But as I pointed out above, Pliny's "latinizing" did not
necessarily have anything to do with "Guthalvs."

Steve Long