Academic journal article Trames

The Origins of Stems of Standard Estonian-A Statistical Overview

Academic journal article Trames

The Origins of Stems of Standard Estonian-A Statistical Overview

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The research on the etymology of Estonian lexicon has already lasted for several centuries. Since the last conclusive overview, more than quarter of a century has passed (Ratsep 1983, 1986) and during this time the etymology of many stems has been adjusted and numerous new etymologies have been proposed. The first etymological reference books of Estonian were published in the early 1980s. Julius Magiste's monumental "Estnisches etymologisches Worterbuch" remained unfinished because of the death of the author, but Finno-Ugrian Society in Helsinki published the manuscript of it in 1983 in twelve volumes (EEW). One year before that Alo Raun had published a small reference book, that in a very concise style gives in one line the origin of the word and a few cognates (Raun 1982). The most recent attempt to give an overview of the etymology of Estonian lexicon was made in the Estonian Etymological Dictionary (EES), which is the first etymological dictionary of Estonian published in Estonia. Based on EES, I will give a new overview of the Estonian lexicon and statistical analysis of cognates in related languages. The methods and principles are similar to the ones used in Huno Ratsep's articles (Ratsep 1983, 1986) but there are some differences in the distribution of historical layers of the lexicon. It should also be noted that Ratsep based his research on his own card catalogue, not available to the public, the present research is based on published source in the shape of EES.

First of all it has to be defined what a stem in the case of Estonian is. Based on synchronic linguistics all these lexemes should be considered stems, from which no case endings, number markers, tense markers, derivational suffixes etc. can be separated. But in the case of historical linguistics we also have to find all historical suffixes that have been merged to the stems and are no more considered as derivational suffixes. Plus we have to find all phonological rules, contractions of stems and other possible changes. One lexical morpheme (stem) from the viewpoint of contemporary language may historically derive from several stems, like e.g. praegu 'now' which is composed of two stems or may contain historically a derivational suffix.

EES has made a questionable choice of defining as stems only the lexems that are not derived from other stems either in Estonian or in any proto-language from which Estonian derives. Accordingly the derivations from the Finnic or FinnoPermic period are not considered separate stems. For example nagu 'face' and nagema 'to see' are considered as one stem, although nagu is as Finno-Saamic derivation from the stem in Estonian nagema and which derives from Finno-Ugric stem *nake- (UEW:302). The word nagu has cognates in addition to all Finnic also in most Saami languages, e.g. North Saami niekko 'dream' (SSA 2:251). Another example is the case of words valva-(ma) 'to keep watch' and vaata-(ma) 'to watch', because the latter has been derived from the first by means of derivational suffix ta. Later the simplification of consonant cluster and contraction of syllables *lv > *l > O has yielded the word vaatama. In dubious cases the stems are dealt as separate ones, e.g. in case of valvama it has been proposed that this stem is an old derivation from a stem represented by Estonian vala-(ma) 'to pour'. The stem kat- in the word kat-(ma) 'to cover' is in contemporary Estonian undividable lexical morpheme. However, etymologically it derives from the sequence of two morphemes: *kante- and causative suffix *-tta-, besides *kanteis the same morpheme, found in contemporary Estonian kaas 'cover, lid'.

According to the existence of cognates in related languages it is possible to divide stems of contemporary language into historical layers. In case of dubious etymologies it has been counted how many stems there are where cognates in some closer language are doubtless or to which other layer of loans the stem in question may belong. …

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