The Goth Question

X99Lynx at X99Lynx at
Fri Mar 23 07:41:02 UTC 2001

<< So if the name of the Goths was given, it could have been given in a
non-Germanic language.  And it may have reached the Greeks being spoken in a
non-Germanic tongue.>>

In a message dated 3/16/2001 11:14:45 PM, hwhatting at writes:
<<This is a possibility. As long as we have no good Etymology, we should
explore all avenues. But if, on all these avenues, we do not find some
convincing proposals, only a lot of associations, it might be better to stick
to a Germanic etymology - here at least we have a root, variants of the name
which stick to an ablaut pattern, and we just have to get the semantics
straight... After all, until we find more evidence, I favour to explain all
these names as denoting the same (or related) people, and as coming from a
Germanic source (Gmc.*giut/gaut/gut-, PIE *gheu-d- "pour").>>

First, let me again thank Hans-Werner Hatting especially and all the others
here who have been patient with this little exploration of the Goth question
and to those who have responded to it.  Hopefully, this exercise has had some
value to members of the list.  It has certainly been of great value to me.

There's a basic relevance to Indo-European here that comes in part from the
relationship suggested above: (Gmc.*giut/gaut/gut-, PIE *gheu-d- "pour").
Other IE languages presumably share equally in the (PIE *gheu-d- "pour")

Hans-Werner Hatting's suggestion above that it's best to stick to a German
etymology and stay within the ablaut pattern seems to be in fact the sole
basis of most of the recent linguistic discussions regarding the origins of
both the Goths and their name.

My best understanding is furthermore that this very question have been a
central issue in the current debate on the relationship of the Germanic
branches of the period.  Essentially, one of the main linguistic claims for a
Scandinavian origin has been based on a commonality between Gutnish (the
language spoken on Gotland) and Gothic.  To the extent that linguists now
favor a Northwest/East division of Germanic, the argument in favor of a
Scandinavian/Gothic connection would appear to be weakened, since it had
relied on a West/Northeast (Gotho-Nordic) split, the validity of Holtzmann's
law and the like.

Despite this, certain scholars still see a clean linguistic path between
Scandinavia and the historical Goths.  One approach I've already mentioned
has been taken by Thorsten Andersson.  My understanding is that his position
has been that <*gaut-> is the same as the Gotlander <go:t->, and that the
forms <gutar> and <goth> both go back to a short u.  In this, they are simply
ablaut variants of the stem <*geut->.  Another way I've seen this described
is that <go:tar> (in Goteland) comes from <*gautoz> which would have also
yielded <*gutaniz> which yielded both <Goths> and <Gutar>.  The <gutan-> form
being particularly important due to "the Pietroassa Ring" where the word
<gutani> can be cut from within the undifferentiated runic inscription.  (I
have not mentioned the ring in my previous posts because it is dated from the
4th or just as likely the 5th century AD and although it was found in
Romania, neither its context nor its provenance are known.)

There are a number of things that are a little bit troubling here, at least
from the point of view of someone familiar with, say, legal standards of
evidence and proof.

It starts, as I mentioned, with sticking to a Germanic etymology.  I have no
problem with that being a possibility or even a probability.  But it is a
little startling that no other possible path has been entertained in the
serious literature.  Especially when all this talk of ablaut is used to
explain the variances in the different forms of the Goth name.  It doesn't
take much to suspect that all the significant variables may be attributable
not only to Germanic, especially when the historical name hardly ever even
appears in Germanic until centuries later.  Before 600AD, 99% of the time the
name shows up, it seems to be in a non-German language.

A basic question becomes why the ablaut, once established, doesn't stay in
one place.  Why did the name, mainly appearing in the nominative or genitive,
need to undergo the kind of ablaut changes being suggested.  If these changes
were the kind found in names or nouns, like OE *goz/*gez (goose/geese), their
Germanic nature would be a little easier to understand.

Another problem with sticking with Germanic is that the total variances seem
far greater than either ablaut or "western German" languages can account for.
 Attested are <Gothti>, <Goththi>, <Gouththa>, <Gouthththa>, <Gythones>,
<Gutones> in less than a hundred year period in Greek alone, where western
German and the subtleties of ablaut do not appear to be at issue.

Then there's the whole question of the initial "G".  There is a rather large
group of names that share the time and place with the Goths that might even
be considered as referring to the Goths if the loose orthography of the time
were also considered.  I have a folder full of examples of "c" and "g" and
"k" interchangeability that applies to a wide range of persons, peoples and
things, but never it seems to the Gothic name. (Except in the case of Strabo,
who oddly uses a "b".) Is this a presumption that a Germanic name would never
suffer from such laxity in transcription?

There's quite a bit more, but I'll hold up here.

The problem with sticking to a purely Germanic etymology is that it seems to
leave a good deal of evidence out that might better explain what actually
happened.  Not that it is sure to but it seems it might and therefore
deserves to be entertained.  If I were a judge, I think I'd have to let it
in, conditioned upon its materiality and relevance.

The idea that sticking to Germanic may not be the best solution to the Goth
question may be some kind of heresy.  In which case it still can be capped,
since as far as I know it's only been really brought up on this list.

Steve Long

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