Goths, Naming and Ablaut

X99Lynx at X99Lynx at
Fri Mar 2 04:12:39 UTC 2001

In a message dated 2/24/2001 4:35:59 AM, hwhatting at writes:
<< I think we simply should not separate the name of the _Geats_, Götland,
etc., which occur in the area the Goths claimed as their ancestral homelands,
from the other attested forms.>>

To address this in a little more detail:
It should be remembered that the evidence that the Goths looked to
Scandinavia as their homeland appears after Ulfila and is connected with
Roman historians writing for neo-Gothic rulers who were well aware of classic
histories and conscious of a need to find their place in them.  Theodoric
honors the Roman Cassiodorus, upon whose lost work Jordanes' was based, for
establishing the genealogy of his family and write letters to and chides the
'Aesti' (Baltic Prus?) for not knowing Tacitus.  There is even a Scandinavia
king in exile at Theodoric's court who might have encouraged the idea of a
common heritage for his own reasons - this has occurred to commentators.  And
if we were to buy Jordanes whole cloth, we would also buy the fact that the
Goths were the Getae of classic traditions and the Huns were the result of
inter-species cross-breeding.

The original evidence of a Scandinavian in archaeology came with Kossina who
identified six elements that he called Goth-Gepidic and traced to
Scandinavia.  Since that time, it appears pretty clearly that five of the six
are clearly continental in origin.  (Peter Heather in "The Goths" describes
this in detail, though he does not mention that a number of the practices are
associated with LaTene and are strongly Danubian. Heather relies on the
Wielbark - Chernyakhov connection which appears to show a cultural spread
from Poland into the Ukraine.  The relationship between these events are
however complex and not necessarily supportive of the origin theory.  Polish
archaeologist have found a portion of Wielbark burials that appears to be
Scandinavian in the one element that remains from Kossina - stone rings.  But
there might be a catch here too, because stone rings have also been
identified with the Bastarnae, possibly Germanic speaking tribes who appear
just north of the Danube by 200BC.  Even if Wielbark - Chernyakhov represent
a Gothic migration rather than a spread of belief and technology, the
archaeological evidence of a Scandinavian origin is not really there.)

<<the _Geats_, Götland, etc., which occur in the area the Goths claimed as
their ancestral homelands, from the other attested forms.  Here we have
*Gauta- (don't remember if this form is attested), while in other sources we
have _Guto:n-_.>>

And the question is whether the connection is folk etymology or more
specifically noble etymology.   (With regard for example to the city,
Gothenburg, it was named in the 17th Century, Go:teborg, in Swedish, for the
"Go:ta alv", the river.  Not the Goths.)  With regard to the <Gothi> who
appear on the Danube at the beginning of the 3d century AD, one question is
whether there is any evidence that might suggest that the connection was made
as a political afterthought.

<<To add to the confusion, the Polish place names _Gdan'sk_, _Gdynia_ (on the
shore of the Baltic sea) are normally etymologised as containing an element
*gud- referring to the Goths. (The /d/ might be due to an assimilation of /t/
to the initial /g/ after the dropping of the back yer < /u/ - but the Slavic
languages normally prefer regressive asimilation.)>>

It appears this has been recently discussed on the cybalist, the archives are
on the web.  There one finds an incredible list of <gud-> place names, along
with some fair indications that the form may be indigenous to either Slavic
or Lithuanian (with meanings like marsh, meadow, thicket - all meaning that
the basic <cheo:> form in Greek for example can easily be extrapolated to
take depending on context.  (e.g., a marsh is flooded, a meadow can be

The problem with Gdansk and Gdynia were also addressed in those archives.  As
you also point out, <regressive assimilation of obstruents is the norm. We
would expect *g(=U)t- to yield *kt-.>  The problem presented by these place
names has not been fully appreciated as yet I think.  Here are potentially a
large number of place names of apparently non-Germanic origin that are
located in the best "homeland" that archaeology can find for the prehistoric
<Gothi>.  Complicated even more by the existence of a people in the first
historical works in the east called the Chuds, who do not even appear to be
IE speakers.

<<Normally, in Gmc. concretising n-stem Substantives to o-stem adjectives are
formed without change of ablaut degree. So we may have an irregular formation
here, or maybe both the adjective *gauta- and the ethnonym *Guto:n- go back
to an ablauting root noun. All of this is speculative, and doesn't tell us
anything on the meaning of the name _Goth_. >>

But the other possibility is that the relationship between these forms is not
from a common ablauting root noun, but a reflection instead of borrowing
between IE languages where the variation is due to the sound shifts reflected
in those different languages.  And although we may not pinpoint the meaning
of the name, we may be able to entertain new possibilities that give us a
very different pictures of historically what may have happened.  And perhaps
a deeper understanding of the words themselves in context.

Steve Long

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