Amerind from a South American perspective: part III

It is time to examine some of the vocabulary that, I believe, provides good evidence for the deep relationship of all South American language families. I have amassed this dataset over the last months and, although I am convinced of its plausibility, I will not passionately defend the validity of these etymologies. Although the items that follow pass the important criteria of being basic vocabulary (less prone to borrowing) compared between proto-languages (not picked and chosen between hundreds of individual languages), the sound correspondences are not completely regular – even though I have paid attention to regularity as much as possible. One must notice that violation of perfectly regular correspondences is not always a reason to discard cognates in some well-established language families. I will not attempt reconstructions, but entries in the AED which are more or less equivalent to the etymologies below will be noticed.


And. = Andean; Ama. = Amazonian; PQ = Proto-Quechua; PAy = Proto-Aymara; Kun. = Kunza; Map. = Mapudungun; PTp = Proto-Tupi; PMJ = Proto-Macro-Jê; PK = Proto-Karib; PP = Proto-Pano; PAr = Proto-Arawak; PTk = Proto-Tukano; PG = Proto-Guaykuru; All. = Allentiac.

Body parts

1. EYE : And. PQ *ɲawi, PAy *najra; Ama. PMJ *nʌm, PK *ənu-ru, All. new. || AED 242 *(i)to(ʔ), 243 *tene ~ *tele. || Comments: PK also has *əne ‘to see’, which can derive from the same root. The reconstruction of PMJ would usually have *nd-. Such initial clusters, which also appear in proto-Tupi reconstructions (e.g. *np-), are an artefact of the phonology of modern Amazonian languages. These languages have no phonetic distinction between voiced consonants and nasals, the second being the realisation before nasalised vowels. For instance, the word for ‘eye’ in many Northern Jê languages is tɔ < *dɔ < *ndɔ < *nɔ. Thus, there is no need to postulate an initial nasal + occlusive cluster to explain why nasal consonants in one language correspond to occlusives in another. I will adopt the procedure of reconstructing nasals, and never initial clusters, for PMJ and PTp, given the Andean cognates where nasals regularly appear. The Aymara form has a suffix -ra that is common to other body parts (ampara ‘hand’, laχra ‘tongue’, maqhura ‘testicles’). The similar suffix in PK is probably unrelated, as it appears in all types of nouns. PK also exhibits an extra initial vowel, a phenomenon that occurs in several other cognates.

2. HAND; TO TAKE : And. PQ *maki; Ama. PTp *po ( ~ *m-), PMJ *mo, PK *amo-rɨ, PP *mɨ-kɨr ~ *mɨ-βɨ, PAr *ama ‘to bring’, All. mameje- ~ mamjek- ‘to take; to bring’. || AED 370 *ma-n ~ *ma-k ~ *ma-r. || Comments: This was probably a CV root to which different suffixes were added, as the AED reconstruction correctly captures. This is evident in the case of PP, where two different roots for ‘hand’ can be reconstructed, one with the suffix *-kɨr (also appearing in Quechua?), the other with *-βɨ. As for the PTp and PMJ words, the same observation regarding initial nasals can be repeated from the previous etymology. PK again displays an extra initial vowel. The main problem with this root is that it is of a CV type starting with an unmarked consonant, so that the chances of chance resemblance are quite high.

3. HAND, ARM; TO TAKE : And. PQ *apa ‘to carry, bring’, PAy *ampara; Ama. PMJ *paC, PAr *po ‘to give’, All. lpuɨ. || Comments: Possibly this root can be conflated with the previous one, but I have chosen not to do so, given that this set consistently exhibits unvoiced occlusives, whereas the one above contained nasals in the same position. I am uncertain about the inclusion of Allentiac here instead of in the preceding etymology. The initial cluster lp- is uncommon but not unparalleled in that language, e.g. lka: ‘one’. The weakness of this root is the same as for the preceding one: CV words with unmarked consonants are the usual suspects for chance resemblance.


4. EGG : And. Kun. qoro, Map. kuram; Ama. PMJ *ŋrɛC. || Comments: A very characteristic trait of Macro-Jê is the presence of initial *Cr- clusters whose origin is not clear. Although this is the reconstruction for PMJ, many derived languages (Maxakali, Rikbaktsa) realise this cluster as CVt- or CVr-. In some modern Jê languages like Xerente, we can observe transitions of the pattern *par > *para > pra ‘foot’. This is a clue that PMJ *Cr- might actually be derived form an earlier *CVr-. The Andean cognates in this set (see also 8. STONE) confirm that possibility, further suggesting (based on Kunza) that the contraction in PMJ might have occurred when the vowels in both syllables were identical.

5. LEAF, TREE, BUSH : And. PQ *satʂa ‘forest, tree, bush’; Ama. PMJ *ʃ-ɔj ‘leaf’. || Comments: In spite of being attested in only two families, and even though the semantic connection is not perfect, this etymology illustrates an important aspect of the comparison between Andean and Amazonian roots, in particular those of the ‘Neo-Amazonian’ core. As I mentioned previously, some PMJ and PTp nouns are distinguished by the presence of a ‘detachable’ initial *ʃ- and *tʲ-, respectively. This initial consonant is lenited or disappears when preceded by a possessive pronoun or when in a genitive construction with another noun. This set, and a few others below, show that this initial consonant regularly corresponds to *s- (and sometimes *ʃ-) in PQ. The situation in PAy is a bit more complicated, possibly involving a correspondence with *h- (also found in PP). Medial *-tʂ- in PQ regularly corresponds to *-j in PMJ (see also 11. WATER below).

6. LOUSE, NIT : And. PAy *k’utʂi, Kun. qeʧir ~ qiʧe; Ama. PMJ *ŋot, PG *aq’ete. || AED 294 *k’wit’ || Comments: The entry in the AED includes only Quechua, but the form cited is in fact a loan from Aymara. Otherwise, it brings interesting parallels in North America. The Kunza word is very close to Aymara, except for the initial q-, so that borrowing is unlikely. The Andean *k’- / q- has an interesting parallel in PG *-q’-, but otherwise I am not certain of the inclusion of the latter. PMJ *ŋ- corresponds to Kun. q- also in 1. EGG, so we can postulate that an initial nasal velar/uvular was lost in the Andean branch, but preserved in the Amazonian one. The final in PMJ represents a problem, since we would expect *-j.

7. ROOT : And. PQ *sapi; Ama. PTp *tʲ-apo. || AED 600 *tap || Comments: Another case of little attestation, but with good phonological correspondence. PP *tapon cannot be related to this set, as initial *h- (and possibly medial *-β-) would be expected for reasons given below. It is probably an ancient Tupi loan. Otherwise, PQ *s- is in good correspondence with the ‘detachable’ PTp *tʲ- / PMJ *ʃ- (as in 5. LEAF).

8. STONE : And. PAy *qala, Map. kura; Ama. PMJ *kraC, PTk *k’ɯ̃ta. || AED 371 *kwele ?, 719 *k’atla, 722 *got. || Comments: The AED etymology 719 is not too different from this one, except that the Tukano cognates are relegated to a separate entry (722). That might be right in the end, as I am not too confident with the correspondence between PTk *-t- and the remaining forms. One difference from the AED is the inclusion, in the latter, of Kawesqar kiella ~ čella, a word that I could not find in the wordlists available to me (at least not with the meaning of ‘stone’). Kawesqar does, however, have kjesáu and qalqajésqe meaning ‘stone’, and these might be related to the proposed etymology after all. In any case, I am not using that particular family in my comparisons. Another unfortunate difficulty is why would Map. have -r- where Aymara has -l-, since both phonemes are available to the first (unlike the Amazonian languages, which normally only have r). I thought of a solution when I noticed that PAy *-l- corresponds to PQ *-r- in loanwords, but soon realised that in these cases the direction of borrowing was from Aymara to Quechua (apparently PQ didn’t even have *l). Apart from that, this etymology confirms the rule of 4. EGG about the formation of PMJ *Cr-.

9. WATER; TO DRINK : And. PQ *jaku; Ama. PK *woku-ru ‘to drink’, PP *waka, PTk *okko. || AED 852 *aq’wa / *uq’wa. || Comments: As in the case of AED 370 *ma-n ~ *ma-k ~ *ma-r ‘hand, give, measure’, this root is supposedly found in Eurasia and could go back to ‘Proto-World’. Just think of Italian mano and acqua! Although such interesting ‘cognates’ are probably nothing more than coincidences, the potential cognates in this entry, all occurring in South America, should be taken seriously. Greenberg and Ruhlen include in this root some Macro-Jê words for ‘water’ and ‘to drink’, though I think they belong to a different etymology altogether (see below). The PQ *j- is difficult to explain, but a similar alternation in the Andean languages could explain PQ *ɲawi vs PAy *najra.

10. WATER, RAIN, RIVER : And. PQ *maju ‘river’, PAy *uma- ‘water; to drink’, Map. mawən ‘rain’; Ama. PTp *(ã)mãn ‘rain’. || AED 853 *man. || Comments: Not much to comment here, except that the AED gives some extremely interesting extra-South American parallels, and many South American forms that I haven’t considered here (e.g. Yanomami ma: ‘rain’).

11. WATER, RIVER, LAKE : And. PQ *qutʂa ‘lake’, Map. ko; Ama. PTp *k’ɨ, PMJ *koj ‘river’, All. kaha. || AED 857 *kwati. || Comments: Ideally there should be more examples of PQ *q- corresponding to PTp *k’-, but the correspondence of PAy *q- with PTk *k’- in 8. STONE means that this is not implausible. In any case, the replacement of q by k or a variant is expected both in the core Amazonian languages and in Huarpe, which lack the first consonant (in fact, even Mapudungun does). The correspondence of PQ *-ʧ- with PMJ *-j also occurs in 5. LEAF.


12. TO COME, TO ARRIVE : And. Kun. t’e-; Ama. PMJ *tε̃C, PK *(w-)ətepɨ, PG *t’ek. || AED 325 *tem || Comments: As I noticed in some of the first etymologies, similar roots of the type CV are not usually good evidence of genetic relationship, given the chances of chance resemblance. In this case, the final consonant of PMJ was most likely *-m, as suggested by Proto-Jê *tẽm and Rikbaktsa tama. This is in good agreement with the PK form (which also includes the usual extra vowel at the beginning), but not with PG or Kunza. The latter misses a final consonant altogether. Apart from that, the use of ejectives in both Kunza and PG is an interesting parallel.

13. TO GO, TO COME, TO WALK : And. PQ *-mu- ‘translocative verbal suffix’, PAy *maja-, Map. amu- ~ miaw-; Ama. PMJ *mɔ̃ŋ, PK *(w-)əməkɨ, All. majek-. || AED 324 *min ~ *man. || Comments: this should really be considered a CVC root. The final consonant was most likely **-ŋ, lost or lenited in Quechua, Aymara, Mapudungun and Allentiac. In PK, it is a common phenomenon that final nasals in PMJ correspond to unvoiced plosives, and that roots end in vowels, hence *-kɨ (see previous root for the same changes). The PQ root is not a verb per se, but a very productive suffix to change the direction of movement, e.g. apay ‘to bring’, apamuy ‘to take’. It is present in *ʃamu- ‘to come’. For the correspondence, with PAy *-j-, see also 1. EYE.

Other words

14. NAME : And. PQ *ʃuti ( ~ *s-); Ama. PTp *tʲ-et, PMJ *ʃ-(ij)it, PK *ətetɨ, PP *harɨ, All. hene. || Comments: This is my favourite etymology. It is a cultural term, it has a wide distribution, and it illustrates a series of regular sound correspondences. The ‘detachable’ initial consonants of PTp and PMJ are by now well known. They correspond to PQ *s-, which is one possible reconstruction in this case, the other being *ʃ-. This is one of those tricky words with nearly identical reconstructions in PQ and PAy for which we do not know the direction of borrowing. It would be crucial to know, because Aymara only has *ʃuti. Anyway, in all such cases, I only show the PQ reconstruction. In PK, *(V)t- is the usual correspondence (PK likes to add vowels to the beginning and end of the words). In PP, *h- is the regular equivalent in this set, but I do not have enough examples of a medial *-t- appearing as *-r-, so I will give it the benefit of doubt.

15. NO, NEGATION : And. PQ *ama; Ama. PTp *ãm, PP *(ja)ma. || Comments: Surprisingly absent from the AED.

16. PATH, ROAD; TO WALK : And. PQ *puri- ‘to walk’; Ama. PT *(a)pe, PP *βaʔi, PTk *ma, PA *apu. || AED 595 *p’en. || Comments: Another unfortunate CV root. The *-ri- in the PQ verb is probably a crystallised inchoative suffix. This root has an interesting Maya parallel, as noticed in the AED.

17. TWO : And. PAy *paja, Kun. p’oja, Map. epu; Ama. PA *api. || AED 821 *(ne-)pale, 825 *pit. || Comments: There are 12 reconstructions for ‘two’ in the AED, which suggests that the speakers of the proto-Amerind language were obsessed with arithmetics. Possibly PP *raβɨt fits here, but we would have to explain the initial *r-.



Appendix: establishing sound correspondences

 In establishing regular sound correspondences between South American proto-languages, the Neo-Amazonian core (Tupi, Macro-Jê, Karib) is extremely useful, due to certain initial consonants that have been shown to reveal perfect cognates. PTp words starting with *tʲ- regulary correspond to PMj *ʃ- and PK *(V)t-. In the first two, these are the famous detachable consonants: they disappear or change to *j- (*ɲ- before nasals) in genitive constructions. A good comparison of basic vocabulary between the three proto-languages, where this rule of correspondence is confirmed, can be found here. If one can find that in other (proto-)languages there are regular correspondences to this set, we would be one step further to establish more cognates and prove the deep genetic relationships of most South American languages. It so happens that there are regular correspondences in PQ and PP. Consider the following examples:

PQ = Proto-Quechua; PTp = Proto-Tupi; PMJ = Proto-Macro-Jê; PK = Proto-Karib; PP = Proto-Pano.

It is clear that in Proto-Quechua the Neo-Amazonian trio *tʲ- : *ʃ- : *(V)t- corresponds to *s-. There certainly are more examples, with less strict semantic correspondence, than the ones I have selected. In Proto-Pano, there are even more cognates and a perfect correspondence with *h- in this proto-language. This allows us to identify previously undetected loans, such as the word for ‘root’ *tapon in PP. I had once thought that this was a nice looking cognate for PT *tʲ-apo and PQ *sapi, but now I think it is probably borrowed from the first, given that everywhere else PT *tʲ- corresponds to PP *h-. As for Aymara, there are certain difficulties, as the number of cognates that I could establish are not so large as to prove (or disprove) regularity. I currently sustain the hypothesis that the most likely correspondence is PAy *h-, showing a similar development as in PP. The main reason for this are the following potential cognates:


Now, PMJ has an interesting feature: many body parts include a prefix for ‘flesh’ *ʃ-ĩt. This appears, for instance, in *ʃ-ĩ-krãj ‘knee’ and *ʃ-ĩ-pV ‘ear’.  This may be the case in the example for ‘nose’, shown above. The word for ‘flesh’ proper has a perfect cognate in PTp *tʲ-ẽt. Although ‘flesh’ itself has no likely cognates in PQ, the word for ‘nose’ might preserve a prefix similar to that in PMJ. I had once considered that the potential PQ correspondence to the Neo-Amazonian detachable consonants was *r-, as in the word *rinri ‘ear’, precisely because of the ‘flesh’ prefix, and because I saw that particular word as cognate to PAy *hinʧu. However, all the evidence shown above points to PQ *s- as a better candidate. Therefore, I currently see PQ *sinqa ‘nose’ as somehow related to the Amazonian ‘meat’ and ‘nose’ words, and I assume the first part of the word to be cognate to the first half of PAy *hinʧu ‘ear’. An even better potential cognate to the Amazonian words is PAy *hanʧi ‘meat, flesh, skin’, although, admittedly, both are not mutually exclusive.

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