From: Piotr Gasiorowski []
Sent: 26 February 2002 21:55
To: Karloukovski, Vassil
Subject: Re: question(s) about proto-Bulgarian

Dear Vassil (if you don't mind my calling you so),

I do not know what criteria Peter Dobrev used to compile his list, but the comparisons look very strange to me. It seems as if he'd browsed through whatever dictionaries were available to him, underlining words that sounded like Bulgarian ones. Such a search is bound to produce accidental matches even if you compare Eskimo with Xhosa or Danish with Chinese, but the trouble is that such matches don't mean anything worth discussing. In some cases only the form is similar (but note that because of historical sound changes genuinely related words may look rather different!), while the meaning is not: "mouth : something bent", "dishevelled : ringlet, curl", or "little finger : small dog" hardly count as semantic matches.

Some of the words may be Turkic loans (not necessarily Proto-Bulgar; often simply Turkish, e.g. <buza>, which is ultimately Arabic, borrowed via Turkish). Many of the items in the list are Slavic, e.g. <az> (which is the same as Russian or Polish <ja> and old Church Slavic <(j)azU>, going back to PSl. *e:zU < PIE *eg^om), as well as the remaining pronouns or pronominal combinations (<ako, kato> etc.). *pak- is found throughout Slavic, and the exotic lookalikes are irrelevant. <dosta> is Slavic as well (from the verb *do-stati 'be enough'), so is <samo> (related, e.g. to English <some> and <same>, Greek <homos> etc.), etc., etc.

For illustration, I can only select at random a number of words which are _certainly_ Slavic, often with deeper Indo-European roots (I'll use <&> for schwa): <krak, c^ervo, krasta, doba, z^ivot, zaran, stud, vrjava, planina, govedo, kniga [ultimate source disputed, but certainly not Akkadian], ves^tica, pec^at, v&z^e, v&t&k, ples^tja, tikam, smok, ...> (the list could be made much longer). The external "connections" given for them are completely spurious. It's only in isolated cases that the comparison is (or may be) correct. For example the root <xran-> 'feed' (Proto-Slavic *xorn-) is most likely a loan (from Iranian *xWarna- 'nourishment', so the Iranian forms cited are relevant). Note however, that it was borrowed in Proto-Slavic times, long before the Slavs reached the Balkans. Without carefully investigating the known history of each item on the list it's impossible to tell whether its "similarity" to other words in other languages means anything or is just coincidental.

If you are genuinely interested in the roots of Bulgarian, early loans from Turkic, Iranian, etc., the best course would be to read a good historical grammar of Bulgarian first. There is also a large literature on Proto-Bulgar (I can fish out some references if you're interested), and it should be consulted if you don't want to reinvent the wheel. I suppose there are some etymological dictionaries of Bulgarian as well, and it's always worth checking a word up in one of them before one ventures comparison with Pashto or Tabasaran.


From: Piotr Gasiorowski []
Sent: 28 February 2002 12:40
To: Karloukovski, Vassil
Subject: Re: question(s) about proto-Bulgarian

Dear Vassil,

I'm a little short of free time these days; I'll try to
supply some elaboration later on, as well as compiling a
basic list of reading on Chuvash/Bulghar. For now, just a
brief general comment. Apart from being satisfied with
uncontrolled eyeballing comparison, Dobrev commits a few
other important methodological errors. First, he doesn't
seem to have checked what is already known about the words
in question. Many of them have perfectly ordinary
etymologies and would not have made it into his list, had he
bothered to do some elementary verification. Secondly, his
choice of comparanda is strangely selective -- just a few
miscellaneous Iranian and North Caucasian, not always those
that would be worth attention in the first place (the choice
was probably enforced by his limited access to
dictionaries). Why Pashto or "Pamiri" (the latter is in fact
a group of languages), for example? They far from the
ancient contact zone between Iranian and Proto-Chuvash.
I'd say that Ossetic and perhaps Jaghnobi would be more relevant
(they also give us some idea of what the dialects of the
Sarmatians looked like). Some knowledge of Proto-Iranian and
its influence on the languages of the steppe regions would
be useful as well -- Iranian loans in Finno-Ugric (Mari,
Hungarian, etc.) often date back to the "proto" period. He
doesn't even seem to have consulted any serious sources on
the Chuvash and Slavic languages (absolutely indispensable
for such a project), not to mention Ottoman Turkish (it's
all too easy to confuse recent Turkish influence with old
Bulghar one). In general, dictionaries or word-lists are of
no real use if you haven't studied the historical grammar of
the language in question. Modern forms gleaned from
dictionaries may be very different from those used centuries
ago (which is true of Bulgarian as well!).

Best regards,