Re: [tied] Who named the rivers of Europe?

From: Piotr Gasiorowski
Message: 15888
Date: 2002-10-02

----- Original Message -----
From: x99lynx@...
Sent: Wednesday, October 02, 2002 6:21 PM
Subject: Re: [tied] Who named the rivers of Europe?

> Actually I think you are assuming that it snowed last week. When is your first evidence of liquid metathesis among Western Slavs? It can't be before literacy.
Please, Steve. _Indirect_ evidence also counts in science; otherwise there would be no science at all. There were no unmetathesised *eRC sequences in initial positions at the time West Slavic was first written down, which is precisely why we know that liquid metathesis happened before literacy.
> When is Laba first recorded among Western Slavs?  It can't be before literacy.  A very good field linguist once said to me that the most difficult question in historical linguistics is not how a sound change came about, but how it spread.  Two very different questions.  Unless you believe that liquid metathesis fell from heaven one night, you have a dating problem before literacy.
Hardly a problem (though your friend was right, of course). Literacy is a useful terminus ad quem in this case, since we know that the spread of liquid metathesis in sequences like /alb-/ was finished in every single Slavic language before they began to be written down (with the exception of a few isolated words in the peripheral dialects of Macedonia, which testify to the last stage of lexical diffusion there). What's more, once it was carried out completely, liquid metathesis lost its productivity. New words with aRC- sequences were not affected any more, cf. OCS alfa, arxiepiskopU, organy, not *lafa, *raxiepiskopU or *ragany. BTW, pre-Slavic names of rivers, towns, islands etc. in the Balkans were also regularly affected by metathesis when the Slavs first came across them: Sirmium > Serm --> Sre^m > Srijem, Arba --> Rab, Albona --> Labin, Scardona --> Skradin, Melita > *Melta --> Mle^t > Mlijet, etc. The process, however, stopped before Old Church Slavic times.

> However, if the name Elbe underwent metathesis in a single Western Slavic linguistic community and then spread in that new form to other Slavic speakers, then what what was really spreading was the concept of that river with a standardized name -- a pre-existing "Classical" name that underwent metathesis.
A pre-existing Germanic name. It's your assumption that it was "Classical" in any sense (except that the Romans had heard about it).
> Rivers with many names are an anthropological commonplace in areas much smaller than Europe.  The leap is to formalize a single name along the whole river and, just as importantly, to those beyond contact with the river.
My point is that early Slavs without a state or a central administation and without clerks (let alone cartographers) were perfectly capable of standardising the name (and many other geographical names) -- the leap you ascribe to the efforts of clerks and administrators. I don't doubt for a moment that a name of a river -- perhaps one of many given to it at different times by different peoples -- can become standardised and replace any preexisting alternative names. One could easily cite several instances of such a process even from one's own backyard. My contention is only that the process was possible in preliterate "barbarian" societies, and that no Classical geographers were necessary for it to happen.