After Forbes & Crowder 1979
<<< Examples of (a) Upper Paleolithic signs, and characters in three of the early written languages which resemble the Paleolithic marks: (b) Indus Valley signs, (c) Greek (western branch), (d) Runic

ETYMAX:
Instructions for Finding Ancient Speech Sounds
If you enjoy reading dictionaries to find the origins of words, you may be thrilled by this new kind of hobby

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By collecting hundreds or thousands of dictionary definitions of words that start with the same root "syllable" from many different languages, a person can piece together a 3-D mental picture of the original experience that that root syllable's sound came from. Like a huge jigsaw puzzle, the picture grows out of obscurity and myriad bits with similar colors and patterns. You start grouping the words into areas---here and there they start to come together into parts of pictures. With little explosions in your heart, the areas combine to form more complete pictures. Finally, you can't sleep, can't even breathe, as you see down a corridor of time far, far more distantly than into the past of any pyramid, any tomb or lost palace. You will be the first to see this pageant out of the past. But, most certainly, you will not for long be the only one.

Catherine the Great of Russia wanted to have a dictionary made that would contain all the words of the world. What inspired this great plan? Did her position give her the vantage point to see that there were deep ideas shared by every society and clan, and that often the root sounds of these ideas were globe-spanning? Has anyone else ever seen these connecting strands and acted upon their insight? Did it have to wait until the computer became commonplace for this task to become possible?

Kings and Candles: the first "syllable" revealed

Up to this time, only one such syllable has been thoroughly studied, collected, and organized in the computer to reveal its ancient source. This is the syllable or sound of K, plus vowel, plus N. It can be spelled in any way, as long as it represents this speech sound. It took three years to finish the job. Seven thousand complete dictionary definitions were put into the computer, from 42 languages around the world.

When the final sorting was finished, it was clear that all 7,000 words came from the same source, and that that source was the firemaking rituals from the time when fire was first being made by man. All the words fell into just a handful of meaning groups. And each meaning group was a thing or aspect of what would surely have been an important part of these ancient firemaking rituals.

The K-Vowel-N groups are

1. Generation of life (CORN, GENerate)
2. Fire and brightness (KINDLE)
3. Rod-shaped things (CANE)
4. Groove-shaped things (CANYON, CHANNEL, CANAL)
5. Leaders' titles (KING, KONUNG, CANDACE, KHAN)
6. Chanting (CHANT, COUNT)
7. Heightened emotions
8. Rhythmic activities (KNIT, KNOCK)
9. Congregating (GANG)

(See Complete ARRAY of Meaning Groups)

It is not at first clear just where and how the K-vowel-N words fit into this list, until one sees the print-out of all the words, arranged in their groups and sub-groups, and thinks a bit about what one is finding. For example, Rods and Grooves are a very logical part of the firemaking scene, because fire was first made by rubbing a rod-shaped stick back and forth through a grooved piece of wood. But at first, it would not be obvious that Rods and Grooves should be part of the whole picture of firemaking. (Fire was first made this way more than half a million years ago.) After days, weeks and months of reading and collecting the evidence, one becomes very familiar with the pieces of the puzzle one is fitting together. What looks like a jumble when one first starts clarifies itself as time goes on.

The most surprising finding was that practically every single K-vowel-N word in the world (as far as the search went) was found to fit this array of meanings. This was totally unexpected. This shows that meaning has stayed attached to sound for a very long time. Up to now, scholars have thought that ALL speech sounds become altered in a few thousand years, "just because they do." Probably it is true that many, or even most, words change their sounds. But enough of them have stayed in the older form to create this picture and make it possible to explore the past in this way. We can be sure that other speech sounds can also be collected and organized similarly, to take us back in time to the very beginning of speech.

Getting started:

So, how do we start? A good library, with many foreign-language translating dictionaries is needed, but not necessarily at first, and not necessarily close-by. We start by reading dictionaries for words beginning with a chosen speech sound. I looked for a sound with two consonants with a vowel between. Since vowels change drastically from region to region, it's really the consonants that have more durability through time. It might be interesting to take a sound from a family name that has not apparent meaning. Or a concept your're intrigued with.

To find foreign-language dictionaries, look up the country name in the card catalogue (what's a card catalogue?) then look under "language, dictionaries." If you only have a computerized library, you'll probably get to know the reference librarian very well. You can xerox the pages from the dictionaries that have the words starting with your sound, and take them with you. Make sure you note down thoroughly the title, editors, publisher, date of publication, library and call number of each dictionary! This is vital information to the complete study.

Just relax and read:

At first, you won't see much sense in what you read. There won't seem to be many repeating meanings from language to language, or the many of the ones you do find will be so obvious they might not be very interesting. But here and there, surprising similarities will sparkle on the pages. Keep on reading. Read for a few days, in non-tiring intervals, without writing anything down. Just get familiar with the types of definitions you find for your sound.

Make a first list:

After awhile, try writing a simple list of the most noticeable Meanings. A MEANING is a concept that has many similar examples in several languages. If you find a similar concept or idea in three or more different languages, you can make it a Meaning. Use you own words to categorize the Meanings. For example, under the P-Vowel-N sound, there are a lot of round, flat things. One could call them "Pancakes," "Disks," or "Round, flat things." You decide. It's best to use pencil. You will change things alot, as you become more and more sophisticated in your material.

Make a thin folder to carry with you:

You will want to expand your list at some point. I used a simple colored folder with brads so you can add more pages, and added alphabet tabs to the pages. Here you put your Meanings into alphabetical order. You might enter two or three or more Meanings per page, as you fill them in with the clearest examples you're finding. Any other system of organization that works for you is great. You want to find a system that will let you thumb quickly to any Meaning. Later, you'll group them by Meaning instead of alphabetically. This simple, thin notebook is easy to carry with you, letting you work in spare moments wherever you are.

Now your Meanings begin to take on more clarity. You don't create a Meaning unless you find several words from different languages that share that aspect or quality. You should eventually find that almost all your Meanings can be found in not just a few, but in many languages. Very few Meanings have very few examples. Most have something like a dozen, minimum. Many have 50 to 70 examples, after many languages are studied.

Write down the complete dictionary definition as you find it, the part that contains the meaning you're collecting. Copy it faithfully, with all punctuation. Every bit will help other researchers. At first you may think you'll remember what language each word is from, but it's important to note down the language with each definition you enter. I kept a page in front of the notebook with abbreviations I made for each language.

Ring Binder Stage:

The next phase was put into a very thick but small 3-ring binder, one that uses 5 and a half by 8 and a half inch paper. (There are about 3 small binder sizes, almost alike.) Again, alphabet tabs. Now each Meaning has its own whole page. This stage might keep you happily occupied for years. Don't rush to a lot of conclusions. Just take the definitions as you find them, copy them into the Meanings they fit into, and plan to re- assign many of them later.

I'm very sure the whole pattern of meanings will reveal itself to anyone who reads, collects and sorts hundreds of words that begin with the same sound-base. The number of Meanings is finite. I found about 130 Meanings for K-vowel-N, and it was clear that there weren't going to be many or any more than that. This relates to the fact that discrete concepts are at the root of the sound-meaning pattern. There were many sub-groups of the Meanings, also. But all the Meanings coalesced in the end to roughly 9 macro-groups. Work until you are confident you have uncovered all the Meanings of your sound.

The Database: the final sorting

Finally, the computer stage. You carefully copy your Meanings into an Excel database (Actually, I prefer MS Works, which will transfer easily into Excel, but Excel won't transfer back into MS Works. MS Works is simpler to use.) After you learn the simple process of sorting columns, you will see how powerful a tool this is for organizing your work. You can name your columns in probably 3 levels of meaning, maybe Meaning, Sub-Group, and Macro-Group. You will have a column for the word itself, and one for its complete definition, plus one for the language abbreviation for that word, also. We will have more detailed computer instructions in the near future. You may want to skip the notebook stage entirely, if you have a laptop, and work directly from source to computer. The tools you use to collect and organize the words are as free as your creativity.

The dictionary definitions are the data of this collection. Data are bits of information that scientists collect and organize; they do not have to be numbers. Collecting, sortring and organizing data is one of the most fundamental activities of the curious scientist. This work, I believe strongly, qualifies completely as a scientific study. But, perhaps it is more than that. It involves our poetic and linguistic personalities as well. You collect the complete definitions, and weigh the significances in your mind's eye. You assign the commonalities that the bind the Meanings into whole entities. Perhaps, after all, this is poetry in its fullest.

Have fun!

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DEFINITIONS
Array: The pattern of meanings, displayed in organized form, derived by studying completely the occurrence of words beginning with one root sound

Meaning (group): In this form of study, a single concept, shared by many language groups, deriving from a common experience, and comprising a minumum of 3 separate dictionary entries from as many languages of words beginning with the same root sound, in this case, the sound of K+vowel+N (but in reality many more dictionary entries invariably comprise a Meaning)

Cluster: In this study, a Cluster is a "noble" and non-etymologically linked group of Meanings that derives from an individual attribute of the original experience that gave rise to the whole Array

Speech: Homo sapiens' verbal communication, using the invariably-ordered short sequences of mouth sounds that we call "words" in full grammatical context, capable of instantly relaying immediately decipherable commands to skillfully employ technological devices

Language: Verbal and other forms of communication that may have been used by the whole line of hominid ancestors, possibly extending to other species as well; functions as expression that modifies behavior, but not necessarily immediately, and not necessarily using technological objects or skills

Phoneme: a small unit of speech; one distinct speech sound

Morpheme: the smallest unit of speech that carries meaning

Ramapithecus: Ancestors of Australopithecus; transitional hominid developing during the drying of the earth's great jungles, dating from roughly 14 million years ago

Australopithecus: Tool-making ancestors of man, dating from about 3 million years ago

Homo habilis: Transitional between Australopithecus and Homo erectus; from Olduvai Bed 1

Homo erectus: Larger than Australopithecus, directly ancestral to Modern Man; dating from about 1 million years ago; developed firemaking half a million years ago, at which time he also acquired heightened tongue capability ours (evidenced by the size of the hole that the nerve to the tongue makes in the skull)

Homo sapiens: Modern man, emerging inexplicably all of a sudden the world over starting roughly 100,000 years ago; identical to us, with same language capability, vocal column, chin, and brain size and organization

Neanderthalers: diverged from and co-existed with Modern Man; became more and more "Neanderthal-like" as time went on; had extremely dense bones, heavy eyebrow ridge, large perfectly circular eye sockets, enlarged visual part of the brain, and no "chin"; doubtful that he had identical language capability to ours; very uniform type lived near polar ice caps; varied types lived farther south; died out roughly 30,000 years ago

Evolution: the slow change in living forms over time, due to changing environmental conditions

Environmental niche: a given set of circumstances in the environment that a life-form uses to make a living in; e.g., sandy desert, under bushes, at night, with oil-bearing seeds plentiful; given the same identical environmental niche, species tend to evolve similarly

Convergent evolution: when two or more species evolve into similar-functioning and appearing forms, due to occupying the same environmental niche

Divergent evolution: when a species begins to evolve into several different forms as it spreads out into new environmental niches

Parallel evolution: when similar species continue to exist side by side without much change, neither one exterminating the other

Mother Tongue: the one language shared by Homo sapiens, ancestral to all modern languages; thought to have formed roughly 100,000 years ago (i.e., concurrently with the emergence of Homo sapiens)

Sound-Meaning Correspondence: the idea that the referent of a word stays attached to the unique sounds of that word over considerable time; currently believed not to last longer than 20,000 years, based on statistical studies


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