PNCV *koro / *qoro root,

Alexandre FRANCOIS alex_francois at
Tue Apr 27 02:07:33 UTC 1999

Dear all,

First of all, I would like to thank everybody for answering my
question so quickly, and with so many references & data ; a special
thank to Bob Blust, Waruno Mahdi, Chaumont Devin for their
enthousiastic & well-documented contributions. Of course, I
appreciated a lot Ross's point of view as well, since he was directly
concerned by my mail, and pointed out exactly the semantic features I
was after, regarding the geographical area I am more familiar with,
i.e. Vanuatu.

I could hardly give my opinion about the etymologies which have been
proposed, from lack of knowledge on POC and PAN historical
linguistics. Nevertheless, I may venture to tell frankly Chaumont
that, even though I know very little about Indonesian languages or AN
etymology, I could hardly be convinced at all by the relevance of
those dozens of words he lists in Buru. I may belong to the horrific
race of rationalistic scientists that he obviously can't put up with,
but I don't think we are likely to find anything worthwhile in
languages, if we start providing fuzzy roots with fuzzy meanings.
Thus it is pointless to me, to underline hundreds of words in a given
language (Buru) just because they roughly look akin : how can one put
into the same basket, FOR A SINGLE LANGUAGE, such different words as
/terun/, /eskohon/, /karan/, /karasena/, /galan/, /humkolon/, /kuluh/

, regardless of any (historical) phonetic rules ? [Yes, languages do
have rules, which were not invented by idle psychotic linguists as a
pastime, but instead are being continuously operated by speakers,
simply to get understood].

And if there's no certainty with the "signifiants" (the forms), how
one could reasonably equate so diverse "signifies" (meanings) as
"snake" / "loose" / "warped" / "bracelet"/ "deer horn"/ "summon" /
 ? Is it a joke ? I'm afraid I'll have to be convinced by
better ways, Chaumont ; a general rule with science (sorry for my
serious tone) is that any assertion should be verifiable; and nobody
could verify the relation between, say, /godok/ "blunted" and
/karapapa/ "python". And what does all this have to do with the
"fence" meaning ?

Well, I won't deny that there may be great range of forms for a
single root, ACROSS LANGUAGES (but not so much within one sole
language), and conversely, that a SINGLE FORM (within one language)
may have dozens of meanings, although apparently very different ; and
that's precisely the point with the Motlav word /goy/ I am interested
in, for it displays a lot of senses that are difficult to correlate
to one another.

I totally agree with Bob's definition of "semantic fragmentation"
through languages (and wouldn't mind seeing his references) ; and
actually I am using the same kind of analyze for the synchronical
(syntactic / semantic) description of /goy/ I am currently writing
for my PhD [Grammatical description of Motlav]. There is indeed,
including within a single language, a "semantic fragmentation"
between all the usages of a same word : the sense "to fence" retains
only some features (like syntactic compatibilities with a locator,
etc.), while the meaning "to prevent s.o. from doing s.t." will
retain other features of the same basic pattern (thus use of a clause
complement). Yet they all belong to the same root meaning "to cover /
to prevent

I feel more at ease with Ross (& Andrew), since he's dealing with
languages which are linguistically close to the one I know : what he
calls "semantically generalized & abstracted verbal uses" is
precisely what I am currently exploring in synchronic Motlav,
regardless (from ignorance on my side) of etymology. But I am indeed
interested in knowing HOW the mentioned meanings (VERB to cover, to
) did actually appear in the history, and WHAT semantic path
did they take to evolve the way they did ?

Regarding Motlav /goy/, there is a lot to say. Let me mention 2 or 3
points for today :
1. /goy/ is never a noun nor an adjective, but rather a verb ; 95 %
of its usages is as a 2nd verb in serialisation, with the different
meanings already mentioned ("surround, cover, protect, shut, block,
oppose, prevent, forbid", as Pawley correctly pointed out). It might
exceptionally behave like a preposition ("over", "against", "upon")

2. When being used as a single verb, /goy/ has 2 main meanings : the
first one is "to cut" (for cutting open shells, or especially cutting
leaf-laplap, i.e. kind of banana leaves) – I didn't notice there was
any special technique of cutting these particular leaves, like
"cutting around" or anything of that sort ; but notice that cutting
other leaves corresponds to other verbs (up to 15 different verbs for
"cut") ; so I dropped this meaning away, hypothesizing it to be
simply homonymous to the other /goy/ [Codrington 1896 took the same
decision for his Mota 2 /goro/ stems]

3. the second meaning for isolated /goy/ (intransitive) is for a wave
to break down / for the sea to make a (tidal or not) wave, which
falls on the beach ; and for a human crowd or animal group to move
together, like from a village to another one [for a wedding
], i.e.
maybe a metaphor for a "(tidal) wave of people", seeing a crowd like
an "ocean".

4. So I related the latter sense to the verbal usage "to cover", "to
expand upon", and then to the dozens of derivated meanings I've
already mentioned [see Ross's email about Vanuatu lggs], which seems
to work perfectly in motlav (as far as a synchrony-based semantic
analyse is considered) ;

5. If this hypothesis be correct, the notion of fence would not be
basic to this word, but would only appear like one of the many kinds
of "covering" that are possible to express in Motlav ; the basic
sense would be the "wave" stuff, which is hard to relate directly to
the "fence" notion.

6. Another problem would be : how exactly a verb can grow out of a
noun ? I don't say it's impossible (see English "fence"), but there
are rules for that too ; and I don't imagine easily how /the sea
fences/ or /the sea enclosures/ can reasonably mean /a wave breaks/
[well, actually, I could imagine it, but it would quickly become that
impressionistic kind of poetry which can be fatal to linguistics].
But I may imagine the reverse process, i.e. /the sea covers/ >> /I'll
cover my garden against thieves/ >> /the cover of the village/
(=fence around).

Of course I am not trying to elude Bob's or Ross's etymologies
proposed for *koro ; and actually the "fence" thing (cf. Fijian,
Admiralties) does seem convincing. But how one could account for the
"wave" meaning (+ "cut leaves"), if *koro really has to receive a
very concrete sense such as "fortified city", etc. ?

In a word, are we really dealing with one single root, or should
there be at least 3 to account for the Motlav data ("cut" / "wave" /
"cover"), and maybe 100 to account for the Buru ones ? (don't worry,
Chaumont, it's just a 4 o'clock a.m. joke).

Thanks for reading my clumsy English,


Alexandre FRANÇOIS
22, Chemin de la Justice
92290 Châtenay-Malabry

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