Gothic "au"

Hans-Werner Hatting hwhatting at
Mon Mar 26 07:23:53 UTC 2001

On Thu, 22 Mar 2001 12:47:45 EST Steve Long wrote:

>This appears to miss the point.  There are loads of words in Wright's
>where Gothic words contain an <o>.  The point is that practically every
>time indicated where Gothic borrowed a word with a Greek <o> it is
>transliterated as <au> (or rarely <u>).  This does not appear to be random
>or occasional.

>If I remember correctly, the rare exceptions are where the vowel begins the
>word or is from the Hebrew.  The significance might be at minimum that
>what could mistakenly be attributed to a Germanic ablaut would appear to be
>actually the orthographic changes that happened in borrowing.

Good idea! All this discussion had started to make me think along similar
lines already:

AFAIK, Gothic clearly keeps apart <o> and <au>. The first one corresponds to
Proto-Gmc. /o:/ (< PIE /o:/ and /a:/), the second one to Proto-Gmc. /au/ (<
PIE /ou/, /au/)- in which case it is denoted <au> in the modern editions -
*and* to Proto-Gmc. /u/ (< PIE /u/, syllabic /r/) before (as far as I
remember)/r/ and /hw/, in which case it is denoted /au'/ in the modern
editions. The distinction between the two <au> was not made in the original
manuscripts, and though there has been a heated debate on whether they are
different sounds or not, I prefer to see <au> as representing *one* sound.
The fact that one of the sources it is derived from is Proto-Gmc. /u/ makes
it probable that <au> represented a diphthong /ou/ or a closed /o:/, while
<o> represented an open /o:/. Greek /o/ seems to have been too closed to be
rendered by Gothic <o>, so <au> or <u> were chosen. On the other hand, the
sound represented by <au> seems to have been more closed than Greek <o>
(into which at that time /o/ and /o:/ already had merged), so in Greek it
was perceived as /u/ and rendered in the earliest sources by <y> (as I said
before, Ptolemy's source must come from a period when <y> still could render
/u/), later by /ou/).

The Latin sources, OTOH, perceived the sound denoted by <au> as the closed
/o/ they had from the merger of Classical Latin /u/ and /o:/, and rendered
it by <o>.

So we do not have ablaut variants, we just have different renderings of
Gothic <au> by Greek and Roman sources. In this case, the "-ones" suffix
might be either an attachement by Greek and Roman sources, or it might be an
individualising n-stem formation in Gmc. (*Gauto:n-), which
would not pose any problems, as we don't have an ablaut change.

Steve Long wrote on 23 Mar:
>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.)

If my idea holds, all these contortions are not necessary any more. Whether
the Pietroassa ring has a bearing on this question at all, remains to be
seen. The question of the dialectal sub-division of Gmc. ist still debated,
and you have to look at the periodisation. IMHO, the proposed similarities
between Western Gmc. and Nordic are due to later contacts, in whicht the
Eastern Gmc. dialects simply could not participate because they were extinct
or - Crimean Gothic - isolated in a farway place.

>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.

This is an argument ex silentio, and not a very convincing one, as the only
Gmc. sources before 600 AD I know of are some short runic inscriptions,
mostly of none-Gothic provenance, and the Gothic texts, from which,
according to their nature, we would not expect a mention of the Goths
(AFAIK, they do not figure prominently in the New Testament :)).

>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

The last type of change is late, becoming of phonological relevance only
after the period discussed here. The ablaut changes were always meant to be
seen as some sort of archaism. They make sense only if the name of the Goths
was originally derived from a consonant stem, combining different suffixes
with different ablaut grades. But, as I showed above, maybe we can drop the
different ablaut grades altogether.

>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

See my above discussion of these variants. The variants in the rendering of
Gothic /t/ show just the Greeks (or the intermediaries they heard the name
from) mangling Gothic phonology. <Gothti>, <Goththi>, don't look Grek to me
- I would expect <Gotht(h)oi>. But even if they are Greek, <o> can be
explained as a Greek writers taking the word from a Latin source.

>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?

Well, one cannot exclude that. The question is, do we know something about
these other groups which leads us to exlude these possibilities? Going back
to examples you quoted, we know, e.g., that the Chatti have been sitting on
the right bank of the Rhine for quite a time, and that the name of the area
of Hesse derives from their name, so we have a confirmation that the name
had to be pronounced /(c)hat-/ in Tacitus time, and that they basically
stayed there afterwards. Now, we can of course say that they are identical
with the Goths, that their name just got mangled by intermediaries, and look
for reasons why the Goths "invented" a Scandinavian origin and forgot about
their Hessian cousins. But does this get us any further?

>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.

Well, I certainly don't want to cap any idea or discussion. I just do not
see the "good deal of evidence ... that might better explain what actually
happened". I see some arguments putting under doubt the theory of a
Scandinavian origin - which, nevertheless, does *not* explain away the
existence of the Gutae / Geats, whose name would still need an explanation
-, some speculations about possible alternative etymologies from Greek (or
other IE languages), and a mix-in of other ethnonyms which might or might
not be related. I just do not see that the lines of investigation proposed
by you are more promising.

>Well, there is some evidence that the Goths called themselves other things.
>You mention "Teurings".  When Ammiamus first tells of the coming of the
>Huns, he records that escaping "Greuthungi" met with a king of the
>"Tervingi" just west of the Dniester river.  As Heather points out although
>these designations will be later reported by Jordanes to equate to
>"Ostrogoth" and "Visigoth", the divisions don't hold up at all
>historically.  BTW, "Greuthungi" is not a happy word as it seems to
>correspond to little in written Gothic, with the off-hand possible
>exception of "needy."  "Tervingi" may correspond to <<thorn>amrh-wakan>, to
>keep watch, used by Ulfila in connection with shepherds.  I believe early
>on Grimm took the <-ing->/<-ung> contrast to be indicative of two different
>dialects. And again, in reliable,
>attestable Gothic, the Goths call themselves anything but Goths.  It may
>mean something that all the variants that could correspond to Goth are
>taken up with other meanings.

As was said before, the Goths were certainly not ethnically monolithic. In a
tribal society, or a feudal society just emerging from tribalism, tribes and
sub-tribes are an important part of the identity. So it's no wonder that in
a context where inner-Gothic developments are described, reference is made
to the level of tribe, or sub-tribe. The question is: do we have any sources
where Goths are referring to themselves as "Goths"? Or as "Visigoths /
Ostrogoths"? If not, does this mean that "Goths" was an other-name, or do we
simply not have sources where we should expect such a self reference? And we
should expect such a reference only when the source talks about the nation
as a whole, in oppsition to another nation like Romans or Huns.
As for the etymologisabilty of the names of Gothic sub-tribes from *Gothic*,
we should not forget that 1. we only have a limited corpus of Gothic and 2.
that the names can be quite old and be based on words extinct in the
documented Gothic.

Phew, I hope I do not trigger a button against lengthy postings.

Best regards,
Hans-Werner Hatting

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