People, Sounds and the Environment. The Aegean-Daghestani Connection



As the title suggests, on this occasion two factors are considered: A phonological survey, either way, Synchronic and Diachronic between Pre-Greek and Nakh-Daghestani languages. Then, a few words analyzed and scrutinized in various aspects; by phonology and from an historical Semantic perspective. Throughout the article, other details are also observed. Nevertheless, the main goal is to find an explanation for obscure Greek words, once again it leads on the mountain of the Caucasus.

General Information

Keywords: phonological retrospective, phonological review of pre-Greek, apheresis, historical aspect, Nakh-Dagestan languages, lexical elements.

Journal rubric: General and Comparative Historical Linguistics

Article type: scientific article


Received: 01.05.2021


For citation: Tardivo G. People, Sounds and the Environment. The Aegean-Daghestani Connection [Elektronnyi resurs]. Âzyk i tekst = Language and Text, 2021. Vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 4–20. DOI: 10.17759/langt.2021080201.

Full text


The phonological retrospective
A comparative phonological perspective

New theories are - in general - seen with skepticism, which is perfectly conceivable. In order to demonstrate its validity, the core project must lean on a solid basis. In the Linguistic field, the correct method is known as «regular sound change». Of course, there are many words worldwide that resemble each other, however, the regular sound changes allow us to identify the real relationship between languages; outside of this specific method, it must be seen as Folk­etymologies or chance similarities.

The proposal of an ancient relationship between Greek and the Caucasian languages is not very news. In the past, some attempts to reconnect Georgian and unetymologized Greek words failed (Klimov 1984)[1] . The main problem with the North Caucasian languages, is the lack of attested written sources, which is of great concern for scholars; and it is seen as a weak point. Despite the conceivable criticism, the oral form tends not to rapidly change over the time. According to M. G. Bartoli[2] , more isolated and environmentally less accessible is the area, more conservative is the language (or are the languages); and the Caucasus mountain offers not only a great variety of languages, but also a unique linguistic richness.

The preservation of the Basque is due to the location in the Pyrenees mountains, the same as it occurs with (e.g.:) the Rumantsch in the Alps. It seems obvious that the environment plays an important role in the continuum of daily language usage. Only external contacts might affect - more or less - people’s way to speak, and in the case of the Northern Caucasus, Islam means partial replacement of the original lexicon - and some morphological feature - with the Perso-Arab- Turkism borrowings/loanwords. Earlier than that, some words were already borrowed from other languages within the area (e.g.: Georgian, Armenian, Ossetian, etc...).

The picture as a whole is not always clear. Therefore, it is not a good reason for avoiding a linguistic investigation.

Among the aspects to take in consideration, the parallel evolution of the sound position. Most languages of the same group tend to develop in the same direction; it depends on the accent/intonation and any other phonological environment.

In the first part of this research paper, there are some phonological parallels between Pre-Greek and some Centro-Oriental Northern Caucasian languages. It is symptomatic that those languages developed in the same phonological manner; their changes are almost the same as the Pre-Greek.

The first part of the article is dedicated to phonological changes spotted by Beekes for the Pre­Greek. It might sound very unlikely that Daghestani languages and dialects also went to a similar event.

A preliminary phonological overview of the Pre-Greek

As we know, Beekes (2003, 2007, 2010, 2014) wrote extensively about Greek language and its phonological aspects. There are three main distinctive traits to take in consideration: Greek words of IE origin; borrowings from other languages, and some of unexplained origin. The last one is also split up between words with regular changes and words with random aspects.

Despite the effort to sieve the lexemes, Beekes met fierce criticism by scholars. His rational view of the Greek language is centered on «regular sound change, exceptionless»; for this reason, a second group of words are classified as Pre-Greek, and the last part are «of unknown origin».

In his description of the Pre-Greek lexemes, there are phonological changes very side by side to the North Caucasian languages, especially of the Central-Eastern family.

The first step is to go through his observations about the Pre-Greek phonological character, and from there, to see where it leads to.

Throughout the pages, both aspects are considered: Synchronic and Diachronic.

1.    The opposition

Within Greek-IE, the opposition voiced ~ voiceless ~ aspirated are of primary importance, meanwhile the Pre-Greek set of consonants ignoring such opposition; e.g.: коотц ~ YOOTai a a ‘barley’, ѲapY'qXla ~ TapYplia ‘the feast of T. before the harvest’, Kallapiag ~ x;'-AAapii]g ~ Yslapipg ‘a kind of cod-fish’, каіхп ~ хаікр ~ хаіхп ‘purple flower’, nsAXa ~ фгіігѵд ‘stone’. It is already clear that the variation к ~ y ~ х, t ~ Ѳ, п ~ ф expressed in this small word list are alien to the IE standard, at the same time, they are found within Daghestani languages; like in the Lezghian group:

Table 1

Lezghian group

Some lexical items

After the possible phonologic parallel, some words are well preserved throughout the time; and the partial «sound change» is not an obstacle for a comparison between the two wings of Anatolia. Their consistency is also helpful, it allow them to determine what kind of contacts existed since then.

The words taken in considerations are:

1.     A group of children.

2.      The fly [INSECT]

3.      The sea urchin.

4.      The house.

Despite the lexemes seems very casual, for some reasons, they have an interconnection from a glottochronological point of view, as explained in the discussion at the end.

Herds or people?

As Marielle Tsaroieva wrote in her book “Racines mesopotamiennes et anatoliennes des Ingouches et des Tchetchenes” (2008) [Mesopotamian and Anatolian roots of the Chechens and Ingush], the title pointed up at the fact that the isolation of the Caucasian people were - throughout the time - not so real; and the language of each village (or aul) reveal some form of contacts with the external world. Like any other mountain place on Earth, the process takes ages to do so, however, it was relentless. This is the reason why a common root between North Caucasian languages and Greek (actually Pre-Greek) is possible.

Let’s take in consideration a very disputed case: во а “илі] паіЗгоѵ. Ааксл'ги ‘a group of о а children’ (Laconian), quoted by Hesykhius.

Definition and other details begun with R.S.P. Beekes

Variant: Wrong accent according to DELG (Chantraine). воиОа^ и/алрпд ‘a herd’ (Etymologicon Magnum [208, 6]; perhaps from воиоОа, to osnsiv ? But the original oo would not have disappeared; Wahramann Glotta 17 (1929): 242 supposes an hyper archaism).

According to von Blumenthal 1930: 9, the world is Illyrian for фир; this is semantically improbable. See Bechtel 1921, 2: 368f. and Kretschmer Glotta 17 (1929): 242.

This description is in full agreement with Chantraine’s words “[...] hypothese en l’air qui ne va pas pour le sens. Un rapport avec воид est plausible, mais par quelle ddrivation?”.[3]

Despite these basic notes, Remv Viredaz (Museum Helveticum,             1992: 49, 4f.) wrote an

interesting article on the subject: Arcadien воиоод, Laconien воиа. Later on, A. A. Ddniz endorse Viredaz’s explanation in his article: “Linguistic notes on the Spartan a/с/р: вопа and воиа/Og / воа/Од”.

The definition of /alp ‘herd (of horses)’, but in Crete and at Sparta ‘bands in which boys were a trained’[4]. More explanations are found in Ddniz’s article: “Young boys enrolled in the Roman and imperial Spartan /с/р were given military, sportive, and musical training. Although the question is a a matter of dispute, there is evidence that Spartan фпвоі were admitted to the /с/р within their a a own ва (Пітаѵатаі, Маооатаі, Лірѵаа д, Kovo(h)oups д and Хгапол таі) and divided into five ro 1 1 1 groups according to age [...] This annual appointment was of some importance, for it was held only by boys belonging to the most prominent families and воиа/Og was retained as an honorific title throughout adult life.”.

For this reason, Beekes’s translation of /alp is ‘herd, troops’. So, the explanation of а во a • /алр U a natbrov ‘a group of children’ seems very clear.

To summarize Viredaz and Ddniz’s articles, their involvement of ancient Greek words for ‘cattle’ et sim. are not sufficient to retain this lexeme within the IndoEuropean linguistic family.

Both Chantraine and Beekes are right to suspect an external source, more likely to be a survival from the very early period (Bronze age), in other words, a substrata element.

As stated on several occasions, the North Caucasian area seems good enough for a serious comparison, a great source of information. Is worth it to quote Marielle Tsaroieva and her explanation about “troops [et sim.]”.

“Or, le mot b’atsa signifiait primitivement «chef de cents guerriers» (< b’a ou «cent» < b’u ou «troupe»), comme le capitaine des anciens Sdmites”[5], more specifically:

w’ou (Ingouche) et b’ou (Tchdtchene) «guerre», d’ou les nomes des tours de guerre; b’u ou «armde» (v.), puis «attroupement, foule, ramassis»; w ’ow-lo et b’ow-lo ou «garde, gardien» b ’ow- xo ou «guerrier»; w ’a-tsa et b’a-tsa ou «commandant, capitaine; chef des cents (b‘a dtant «cent» < b’u «attroupement»), elus par les guerriers lors des campagnes militaires”.

[Eng.: “The word b’atfa originally it means «commander of 100 warriors» (< b’a ou «one hundred» < b’u or «troops»), like the captain of the Semites”, more specifically:

w’ou (Ingush) and b’ou (Chechen) «war», hence, words for war; b’u or «army» (v.), further «troops, crowd, bunch»; w ’ow-lo and b’ow-lo or «guardian» b ’ow-xo or «warrior»; w ’a-tfa and b’a­tfa or «commander, captain; chef of 100 (b ‘a means «100» < b’u «troops»), etc..”.].

Such preliminary explanation from the Central area, it goes straight away to the eastern side of the North Caucasian mountains chain, like Avar bo (-jal, -l // -dul, -jal) ‘народ, общество, ополчение, войско, рать / people, society, militia, army’. The oblique form is quite popular, because it also is the denomination of the language itself “The literary language is based on the Khunzakh dialect which was also the basis of the old “bol mats’ ..” (“army language”), the common Avar lingua franca.”.

This word appear also in the Archi language (Lezghian group) as botl ‘народ, люди / people, nation’, probably a borrowing from the Avar language.

Based on this database, it seems that only Avar and Chechen-Ingush offers a valid proposal to the Pre-Greek во a. From a Semantic perspective, both Aegean and Central-Daghestani languages bear и the meaning of ‘troops’, hence, the transposition of «herd ^ group» will be more doubtful, as Chantraine pointed up in his comment.

The fly

From a geographical point of view, this word (“fly”) go with рахѵп ~ а araneus ‘spider’, both are found exclusively in the Greek and Latin languages. In any form, all Daghestani languages (except a few) show a relationship with the Pre-Greek lexeme, and the phonological explanation is expressed in the commentary section below.

Table 2

Daghestani languages show a relationship with the Pre-Greek lexeme





According to Soysal, the Hattic word muha (muh ?) or muhal ‘hearth [?]’. It might be included in the list; however, the doubtful translation is an obstacle to the connection.

The first step to consider is the ‘hearth’ in a very hot climate place. It will be a suicidal idea to have a fireplace inside the house, especially in the summertime. However, as Willets wrote “A house in the Middle Neolithic level 3 at Knossos had a room about 5m square, a door in one corner and a low platform in the corner furthest from the door, similar to the low sleeping platforms occasionally found in the Bronze Age palaces and houses. The walls seem to have been covered with clay plaster. The floor of beaten earth had a hearth sunk in the middle” [9].

The description of ‘a hearth sunk in the middle’ is spotted also in the Anatolian area, as illustrated by Sagona&Zimansky with “After the first collapse of the wall residents built a circular freestanding house that was constructed entirely of mud bricks. An almost complete refit of an obsidian pebble reconstituted from the flakes collected on the floor demonstrates that stone working activities were clearly carried out in the house. In the centre of the house and built into the floor was a circular hearth that would have caught the eye as one entered the doorway on the western side”[10]; a building technique already in use in the ancient Caucasus, as the excavations reveal that “The central wooden post was a common feature already in the early trans-Caucasian 1 period, and is well exemplified at Kvatskhelebi, where there was also a hearth beside the post. The need for the central post largely depends on the diameter of the houses, those at Shengavit, not all of this first period, being of six to eight meters. At Kultepe II there was a wide divergence, from little more than a hut (3.50 m.) to as much as 13 m. in diameter: here too were the central post, hearths and ovens [...].

The importance of the hearth has been much emphasized, especially at Kvatskhelebi, where, it has been suggested, the fire razed the village to the ground probably happened at the time when the inhabitants were enacting an important ritual centred round each family hearth.

A factor supporting this suggestion is the decoration lavished on the portable hearths and stands which are so distinctive a feature of the whole Early Trans-Caucasian tradition. An altogether wider question is whether these portable hearths can in any way be compared with the ‘horns of consacration’ of Minoan Crete and their counterparts in the shrines excavated in the Early Bronze II levels (XVI-XIV) at Beycesultan, in south-western Anatolia”[11].

From the archaeological descriptions of a wider area, such as Aegean, Anatolian and Caucasian regions, the building technique shows the same configuration, a hearth situated in the middle, just behind the main post. Although, the main question waiting for a suitable response, and it is more likely that the «hearth» original denomination becoming a symbol of the centre, the “core” of the house in the Pre-Greek version; hence the Tsezi muxari preserve the original meaning, whilst in the Pre-Greek lost its main function, albeit it was in use as designation of the «innermost place, interior, corner». This semantic shift is pretty common among languages.

Needless to add that in antiquity, the house had a more simple and compact internal structure, so the inclusion of «bed» is easily explained by the custom of having a rough place to sleep close to the heath; also described as a «nest».

Furthermore, one part of the house was reserved for cultual reasons, and the “fire” always played an important role; especially for “spirit of the house (домовой)”, as it was common beliefs that he lives in the hidden part of the building.


The article is basically divided in two parts, the beginning is dedicated to a theoretical framework solely based on some phonological parallels between Aegean and Daghestani languages.

It might be seen as a casual aspect that the same pattern is manifest on both sides; a pure coincidence and no more than that. Actually, the tendency to follow the same development is typical of languages sprouting from a common source. Let see within IE family, two geographically distant groups are showing the same pattern: Gaelic (Celtic group) and Armenian (Armenian group); both them p- > 0- , like in athair and hw/ r [hayr] ‘father’.

The different phonological grid was already a signal of a non-IE language; and the parallel sample exposed here, far from being complete, is an attempt to start with. The tendency is a good signal of common roots, in spite of all the manifest problems, such as unwritten records by Caucasian languages; and whether it is possible to have one, like Greek alphabet for Pre-Greek words, the arbitrary use of the letters in order to render the correct sound is not so precise. This aspect of sound variations is not due to misspelling (except in a few cases), the case has more to do with the random transcription of unfamiliar sounds produced by the speakers; such as co-articulated sounds. The key factor is the preceding vowel, a very hard task to assess with an unknown phonological set. A good example is the Persian language written in Arabic alphabet.

As mentioned at the begin, the selected words have common traits. Their linearity is expressed by phonological analysis and historical semantic development. All the words listed here are phonologically reliable.

в-, as Chechen, Avar, Khwarshi and Bezhta b-

Ѳ ~ t in all Daghestani languages are t’-/-t’.

X has a counterpart with x / q’ / k’.

In all respects, the phonological analysis - of the opposition - at the beginning is manifested in the sample. However, the Ѳапта case seem to contraddict the assumption of a linearity of sounds correspondences; at the same time, it is not ignored the fact that a voiceless dentalveolar plosive affect the preceding bilabial sound (-n-), and obviously, the nasal sound in the Daghestani languages is harmonized to the dentalveolar consonant. Furthermore, the labialized environment is not abandoned in full, as the Lezghian in primis (’ -), and most of the other languages have a labial vowel (-o- / -u-).

The historical aspect

The second aspect to consider is Semantic development. The cases of во a and Ѳапта, their и meaning are unaffected by the geochronological factor. Meanwhile, вр^ооод and puxog shows an adaptation to the environment, from a phytonym to a marine animal with the same characteristics (врѵоооф; then, the «hearth» (puxog) placed at centre of the house used in topological sense only.

Even in ancient times, despite the harsh environment and their level of technical knowledge, the communication between areas was not impossible. The sample listed here is a pale signal of how people moved from one place to another and - at the same time - their lexicon did not change it, actually, it went to an adaptation in the colonized place.

The archaeological description and the literary sources are also supportive of the Aegean- Caucasian common origin. Since the beginning of the language classifications, it was not always possible to rely on a simple linguistic database, the lack of evidence or a contradiction between word applications were unveiled by the support of other disciplines.


The synchronic and diachronic perspective are less controversial that it might seem, they both abide to the same «regular sound change»; and some evidence is seen in the sample of a few words illustrated throughout the article.

The proposal is another Byzantine piece of the mosaic in the linguistic field. The consideration of several factors, such as archaeology, botanics, literary sources are supportive and explicative of the language dynamics, where the original words were adapted to the new environment.

[1] Klimov, see Bibliography

[2] Bartoli, M., see Bibliography

[3] [an hypothesis with no sense. A relationship with во д is plausible, but the derivative form is problematic]

[4] LSJ

[5] M. Tsaroieva, p. 275 and p. 277; see Bibliography

[6] Brown, op. cit., p. 57

[7] Brown, op. cit., p. 77

[8] This association is not accepted by Mallory-Adams (p. 384)

[9] Willets, pp. 44-45; see Bibliography

[10] Sagona&Zimansky, p. 164; see Bibliography

[11] The peoples of the hills, p. 56; see Bibliography


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Information About the Authors

Giampaolo Tardivo, Professor of linguistics, Padua State University, Italy, ORCID:, e-mail:



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