Belly, Paunch, Stomach, Tummy. The troubles with Swadesh word lists.

Burtă, Pântece, Stomac?

 

burta
Atlasul lingvistic român, cuvânt “burtă” by Sextil Pușcariu and others 1925

The map above is from the Romanian Linguistic Atlas showing the variants of the word “belly” and their distribution. It discusses six different names for the “bowels

  • BURTĂ of unknown etymology; possibly akin to Albanian bark, Proto-Indo-European *bʰer- ‘to carry’. (English cognate belly??)
  • PÂNTECE from Latin pantex, (English cognate paunch)
  • FOALE from Latin follis, from Proto-Indo-European *bʰolǵʰnis, derivative of *bʰelǵʰ- (“to swell”). (English cognate belly)
  • STOMAC from Latin stomachus < greek στόμαχος (stómachos) (English cognate stomach)
  • BÂRDAN possibly from Germanic blēdrǭ (English cognate bladder??)
  • DOBĂ possibly from toba? (English cognate drum?)
  • trbúhu from Slavic trbuh, from Proto-Slavic *trьbuxъ. (English cognate ??)

and then it shows the distribution in Romanian, Megleno-Romanian, Aromanian and Istro-Romanian.  The map then wonderfully plots the variations for the different “tummy” words and their varying pronunciation, for example by paunch, that comes from the Latin Pantex, there are seven variations; PÂNTECE, PÂNTETE, PÂNDICÂ, PÂNCE, PÂNTEC, PÂNTIC and PÂNTICÂ, spread about Moldova and Transylvania as well as for Megleno-Romanian and Aromanian in Macedonia. Foale seems to be the most stable term for abdomen,  occurring mainly in Banat but also in Istria.

aug2h8s
A recreation of the 1925 map by Arnold Platon in 2015

Above is a recreation of the Romanian Linguistic Atlas map by Arnold Platon shared in the Subreddit r/etymologymaps.

The troubles with Swadesh word lists.

For those readers that might chuckle at the many Romanian terms for stomach, there are numerous terms in many languages. In English there is Stomach, Belly, Tummy, Bladder, Maw, Bouk, Paunch, Abdomen, Vesica, Gut, Bowels. In German there is Magen, Bauch, Wanze, Wanst, Wamme, Wampe, Panze, Plauze, Ranzen, Blather, Unterleib, and probably more that I do not know of.  These are not the language exceptions, many languages have a heterogeneous distribution of words used to describe the belly. This makes the term a good tool to help define dialects of a single language. However it creates a headache if you attempt to compare many languages with each other.  And that is exactly what Morris Swadesh suggested to do.

Morris Swadesh was an influential linguist of the mid 20th century and one of the his big contributions, to comparative linguistics, was to propose several word lists which would allow researchers to quantify the interrelatedness of those languages. Belly/Stomach/Bladder is one of those words that made it onto Swadesh’s lists. Even though because of its instability and the heterogeneous vocabulary used for the meaning it is rather impractical for the comparison of languages. Morris Swadesh grew to understand the problems with his word list, and he thus whittled the original № 225 words from 1950 down to 207 and № 200 words (meanings) in 1952, and then again to a 100 word list in 1955, that was only published in 1971 and 1972. The № 207-word list made by far the biggest impact and was widely circulated for two decades before the № 100-word list version was published, which competed with 207’s popularity.

Swadesh № 207 Word List

1 I 70 feather 139 to count
2 you (singular) 71 hair 140 to say
3 he 72 head 141 to sing
4 we 73 ear 142 to play
5 you (plural) 74 eye 143 to float
6 they 75 nose 144 to flow
7 this 76 mouth 145 to freeze
8 that 77 tooth 146 to swell
9 here 78 tongue 147 sun
10 there 79 fingernail 148 moon
11 who 80 foot 149 star
12 what 81 leg 150 water
13 where 82 knee 151 rain
14 when 83 hand 152 river
15 how 84 wing 153 lake
16 not 85 belly 154 sea
17 all 86 guts 155 salt
18 many 87 neck 156 stone
19 some 88 back 157 sand
20 few 89 breast 158 dust
21 other 90 heart 159 earth
22 one 91 liver 160 cloud
23 two 92 to drink 161 fog
24 three 93 to eat 162 sky
25 four 94 to bite 163 wind
26 five 95 to suck 164 snow
27 big 96 to spit 165 ice
28 long 97 to vomit 166 smoke
29 wide 98 to blow 167 fire
30 thick 99 to breathe 168 ash
31 heavy 100 to laugh 169 to burn
32 small 101 to see 170 road
33 short 102 to hear 171 mountain
34 narrow 103 to know 172 red
35 thin 104 to think 173 green
36 woman 105 to smell 174 yellow
37 man (male) 106 to fear 175 white
38 man (human) 107 to sleep 176 black
39 child 108 to live 177 night
40 wife 109 to die 178 day
41 husband 110 to kill 179 year
42 mother 111 to fight 180 warm
43 father 112 to hunt 181 cold
44 animal 113 to hit 182 full
45 fish 114 to cut 183 new
46 bird 115 to split 184 old
47 dog 116 to stab 185 good
48 louse 117 to scratch 186 bad
49 snake 118 to dig 187 rotten
50 worm 119 to swim 188 dirty
51 tree 120 to fly 189 straight
52 forest 121 to walk 190 round
53 stick 122 to come 191 sharp (as a knife)
54 fruit 123 to lie (as in a bed) 192 dull (as a knife)
55 seed 124 to sit 193 smooth
56 leaf 125 to stand 194 wet
57 root 126 to turn (intransitive) 195 dry
58 bark (of a tree) 127 to fall 196 correct
59 flower 128 to give 197 near
60 grass 129 to hold 198 far
61 rope 130 to squeeze 199 right
62 skin 131 to rub 200 left
63 meat 132 to wash 201 at
64 blood 133 to wipe 202 in
65 bone 134 to pull 203 with
66 fat (noun) 135 to push 204 and
67 egg 136 to throw 205 if
68 horn 137 to tie 206 because
69 tail 138 to sew 207 name

This № 207 word list was used by many anthropologists as a standard questioner when documenting a language. A young anthropologist on a research expedition would sit down and ask a village elder the words for 207 different meanings were, 1. I (pronoun)? 2. you? 3. he? 4. we? ect… many times they would run into problems, what if the language being documented did not have a word for 61 rope? or 145 to freeze? What if a language has many words for 97 to vomit/puke/spew/belch/barf/sick? What should the anthropologist note for 52? Forest? Wood? Brush? To 47 dog? hound? mutt? In an effort to work on the problems when documenting synonyms Sara C. Gudschinsky in 1956 adapted the Swadesh № 200. But there are so many synonyms. The words for many of the meanings are unstable, are prone to borrowing, to slang, to replacement, and thus are impracticable to quantify the interrelatedness of those languages.

Morris Swadesh also came to this realisation and in 1955 he wrote about his 100 word list:

“The only solution appears to be a drastic weeding out of the list, in the realization that quality is at least as important as quantity….Even the new list has defects, but they are relatively mild and few in number.”

Swadesh was by far not the first linguist to compile word lists for comparisons. Gottfried Leibniz  had compiled a № 128 word list by 1716 and in 1782 William Marsden compiled a № 50 word list mainly to compare East Asian languages. The search for a useful word list continued through out the 18th to 20th century. Many of the terms compiled by Leibniz and successor linguists of the 18th and 19th century are included again in Swadesh’s lists. For example ⅔ of Marsden’s № 50 list is included on Swadesh’s № 207 or 79% of Hans C. Gabelentz‘s 1861 № 24 word list. Early Swadesh seems to have been overly concerned with quantity and at the expense of quality. It is a shame he did not get round to publishing his shorter № 100 version earlier or that he did not publicize or know of Brinton’s № 21 List, Ray’s № 26 List or Gabelentz’s № 24 List.

Brinton № 21 List
(1891)

Ray № 26 List
(1895)

Gabelentz  № 24 List
(1861)

1 man 11 man 6 human
2 woman 20 woman
13 mother
6 father
8 eye 7 eye
9 ear 5 ear
10 mouth 17 tongue 11 mouth
12 tongue
7 head 8 head
9 hair
11 nose 14 nose 10 nose
13 teeth 12 tooth
14 hand 7 hand, arm 13 hand
15 foot 14 foot
2 blood
3 bone
3 sun 16 sun 1 sun
4 moon 12 moon 2 moon
15 star
3 earth
21 house 8 house
5 fire 5 fire
6 water 19 water 4 water
16 one 21 one 15 one
17 two 22 two 16 two
18 three 23 three 17 three
19 four 24 four 18 four
20 five 25 five 19 five
26 six 20 six
21 seven
22 eight
23 nine
24 ten
1 bird
4 butterfly
10 louse
18 tree
9 leaf

Having well a documented set of about 20 stable words, with maybe the correct pronunciation, transliteration and background information is more valuable for language comparison than 200 hastily jotted down words.  Ahron Dolgopolsky was one person to understand this and put a remarkably stable № 15 word list together in 1964, Vitaly Shevoroshkin’s adapted it in 1991 and added eight words to compile a № 23 list. Vincent Beaufils analysed thousands of word list combinations to determine which fits best to automatically determine Indo-European language relationships and compiled a № 18 word list in 2015.

Dolgopolsky № 15
(1964)

Shevoroshkin № 23
(1991)

Beaufils  № 18
(2015)

1 I 1 I 15 I
2 two 2 two 12 two*
3 thou 3 thou 16 thou
4 who/what 4 who/what 17 who
5 tongue 5 tongue 5 tongue
6 name 6 name 18 name
7 eye 7 eye 1 eye
8 heart 8 heart
9 tooth 9 tooth 6 tooth
10 no 10 no or not
11 (finger)nail 11 (finger)nail
12 louse 12 louse
13 tear (of eye) 13 tear (of eye)
14 water 14 water 8 water
15 dead 15 dead 7 death*
16 hand 4 hand
17 night
18 blood
19 horn
20 full
21 sun 9 sun
22 ear 2 ear
23 salt
10 wind
11 night
13 three*
14 four*
3 nose

*On Beaufils  № 18, missing on the Leipzig–Jakarta № 100

The lists to use

To address many of the issues with the longer Swadesh lists, a group of linguists from across the world compiled the Leipzig-Jakarta № 100 word list (first list named after cities instead of individuals).

Leipzig–Jakarta № 100 ranked by semantic stability

1. fire 34a. who? 67a. to hide
2. nose 34b. 3SG pronoun 67b. skin/hide
3. to go 36. to hit/beat 67c. to suck
4. water 37. leg/foot 70. to carry
5. mouth 38a. horn 71a. ant
6. tongue 38b. this 71b. heavy
7a. blood 38c. fish 71c. to take
7b. bone 41. yesterday 74. old
9a. 2SG pronoun 42a. to drink 75. to eat
9b. root 42b. black 76a. thigh
11. to come 42c. navel 76b. thick
12. breast 45. to stand 78. long
13. rain 46a. to bite 79. to blow
14. 1SG pronoun 46b. back 80. wood
15a. name 48. wind 81a. to run
15b. louse 49. smoke 81b. to fall
17. wing 50. what? 83. eye
18. flesh/meat 51. child (kin term) 84a. ash
19. arm/hand 52. egg 84b. tail
20a. fly 53a. to give 84c. dog
20b. night 53b. new 87. to cry/weep
22. ear 53c. to burn (intr.) 88. to tie
23a. neck 56a. not 89a. to see
23b. far 56b. good 89b. sweet
25. to do/make 58. to know 91a. rope
26. house 59. knee 91b. shade/shadow
27. stone/rock 59. sand 91c. bird
28a. bitter 61a. to laugh 91d. salt
28b. to say 61b. to hear 91e. small
28c. tooth 63. soil 96. wide
31. hair 64a. leaf 97a. star
32a. big 64b. red 97b. in
32b. one 66. liver 99. hard
100. to crush/grind

Above the list is order to semantic stability and this list gives a broad set of words to study secondary influences of several languages. I hope it will gain popularity by anthropologists in the future. For detailed comparison of dialects or two languages this list is a good start. A good start but can diverge, if the goal is to determine dialects of or influences on a language, Belly, Paunch, Stomach, Tummy is a decent term to study. If the goal is to compare languages to with each other, then starting with a short stable word list e.g. № 18 word list.


Further Reading:

  • Concepticon is a project of the Max Planck for the Science of Human History edited by List, Johann Mattis & Cysouw, Michael & Greenhill, Simon & Forkel, Robert.  It has many of the comparative word lists compiled through out history, many of which have not been discussed in this article and are nevertheless very interesting.
  • Etymology enthusiasts of the r/etymologymaps community have put many a visual word comparison together for many of the meanings discussed above.
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