Thursday, January 5, 2012

-que and καί

Ok, I was reading a book about Latin's history the other day [well, not really, this is lightly-revised, reblogged material]. I know—just what you do for fun too. This entry may give some insight into how Latin and Ancient Greek relate to each other. And why I find this stuff so interesting.

In any history of Latin in its earliest days, the ancient languages of Italy come up. So far as linguists can tell, there are two main groups. The first group is the Etruscan language. It is a language that no one fully knows. It is limited to a handful of inscriptions, many of which are funerary. Etruscan played an important role in the development of Latin—particularly the Latin alphabet—though it lent many words to Latin as well.

The other group of languages is the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin is one of these. The others include Oscan, Faliscan and Venetic, although Venetic may not be Italic. It's always hard to be certain about things this far in the past, but to my inexpert eyes Venetic seems similar enough to Latin. We know about Venetic—hold your breath for it—through inscriptions.

The thing that struck me was from an inscription from Este. Because I have a font that can show you the Venetic alphabet, I'll take a stab at transliterating it back into Venetic. I promise zero actual accuracy on my transcription, though I've made efforts at it. The inscription starts on the right and goes to the left.

Now on to the serious part. It is transliterated, from left to right, as:
mego donasto sainatei reitiai egeotora aimoi ke louderobos
Which corresponds to the Latin:
me donavit sanatrici reitiae egetora aemo liberisque
And in English:
Egetora gave me to Reitia the healer for Aemus and his children.
There's all sorts of fascinating stuff here, but the one that struck me was the use of ke. Why? Because Latin has a very similar word it can use to mean "and." The word is "-que." I put a hypen in front of it to show you that in Latin it attaches itself to the end of a word instead of being its own independent word. As you can see, "ke" is its own word. Obviously these words are related. Here's my guess at how.

At one point, there was a word *ke either in Latin or Italic—the star is there to show you that it is not an actual word, but a hypothetical form that ought to have existed. You should not be surprised to find out that a language can go from a "qu" sound to a "k" sound. In English we have King and QUeen. More importantly in Latin we have "quomodo"—with the qu sound—which becomes the Spanish word "como"—with the k sound. So it is very possible to switch between those sounds. So *ke become ke in Venetic and -que in Latin.

I've also noticed a bit more going on too. Maybe I'll blog again about this.

I mention all of this because there is another Indo-European language that uses a very similar sounding word to mean "and." It is Greek, and the word is και, which you might write as "kai" with our alphabet. This word is the same in ancient and modern Greek—so far as my barbarian eyes can see. Again, it is easy enough to get from an "e" (like the "ay" in way) to an "ai" sound (like the word eye). Latin itself made that change, otherwise we would have "praedictions" and "praedispositions." But we don't, because Latin went from an "ai" sound to an "e" sound for the vowel combination of "ae."

So *ke made its way from whatever ancient language—probably Proto Indo-European—into Greek and Latin. This sort of analysis of words can help students made connections when learning a new language, but it is not always easy to spot. Suffice to say, I thought it was interesting enough to write this post.

Now, why did "-que" move to the end of words? Why did it stop being an independent word? Oh, the mysteries of Latin.

[Update: Lest you think I'm not sufficiently capable to talk about this in Latin...]