All Slavic languages: Etymology of slon/слон

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Tjahzi, Mar 8, 2011.

  1. Tjahzi

    Tjahzi Senior Member

    Umeå, Sweden
    Swedish (Göteborg)
    Hello

    According to Wiktionary, the etymology of slon/слон and its various other Slavic cognates goes through Proto-Slavic *slonъ with the possible origin being a "medieval story of elephant [sic] sleeping leaned against a tree" or "According to some other sources, it's related to Turkish aslan (“lion”)".

    Does anyone have any sources that confirms (or disconfirms) that?

    (By the way, for non-Slavic speakers, the word in question means elephant.)
     
  2. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    According to my etymological dictionary of the Russian language, the common Slavic слон is of Turkic origin (Turkish is only one of the Turkic languages).

    In various Turkic languages there are mainly two variants of this word: aslan and arslan (e.g. the Hungarian oroszlán, meaning "lion", comes from the second variant).

    Another question is, how did the lion became elephant for the Slavic people?
     
  3. bibax Senior Member

    Czechlands
    Czech (Prague)
    Machek's etymological dictionary:

    slon: etymology is unclear, Protoslavic *slonъ perhaps a postverbale from the verb sloniti = acclinari (elephant reportedly cannot lie so he rests leant against the tree); the "Turkish" etymology (aslan = lion) is dubious; most probably slon < *slop-n < *solopont, related to Greek elephas (elephantis);

    --------------
    Another word for elephant was roch (in Czech the word hroch now means hippopotamos, artificially introduced in 19th cent.) from Persian rukh = rook (the chess piece was originally a war elephant).
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2011
  4. Tjahzi

    Tjahzi Senior Member

    Umeå, Sweden
    Swedish (Göteborg)
    Thank you for your replies (dealing with the two explanations given by Wiktionary).

    Wiktionary says that Turkish aslan originates from Old Turkic/Proto-Turkic arslan and as such the arslan -> aslan change seems to have occurred in other Turkic languages as well. Also, this obviously doesn't disconfirm the claim that it's related to Turkish aslan.

    The question is indeed how the lion turned into an elephant.

    ---

    Do I understand you correctly, bibax, if I interpret it as that the dictionary presents both the "leaning/OCS sloniti"-theory and the "slon < *slop-n < *solopont"-theory? Also, does it say anything more concrete about the relationship between *solopont and elephās?

    Hm, in what language is roch another word for elephant? Also, do you know the original Persian meaning of rukh? That is, the chess piece whose name came to represent the animal. (For the record, I assume both roch and rukh represent the voiceless velar fricative, right?)


    Thank you both for the answers!
     
  5. bibax Senior Member

    Czechlands
    Czech (Prague)
    Machek's dictionary presents three theories: 1) the most common: postverbale from sloniti (to lean against), 2) dubious "Turkish": a(r)slan (lion), 3) the most probable: from *solopont.

    No, it only mentions in paretheses the similarity of the sequence s-l-p-nt-. Source for this theory: Oštir Slavia.

    In Old Czech both slon and roch (ch pronounced like in German Bach) meant elephant. Needless to add that in the medieval Bohemian Kingdom the elephant was an unknown animal, known only to some from literature and as a chess figure. In the 19th century the Czech biologist Presl used the word slon for elephant and the word hroch (with prothetic h-) for hippopotamos.

    No.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2011
  6. ancalimon Senior Member

    Istanbul
    Turkish
    I don't know if it is related but:

    aslan: "lion" in Turkic
    yaslan: "to lean against", "mourn", "rest", "rely on" in Turkic
    yaslandı: "it leaned against" in Turkish
    fil: "elephant" in Turkish. It's also what we call instead of "bishop" in Chess.

    the Hungarian "oroszlán" which means lion sounds the same as the Turkish word "horozlan" which means: strut, swagger, threat in Turkish. horoz (Turkish): rooster, cock horozlan (Turkish): to act like a rooster
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2011
  7. Maroseika Moderator

    Moscow
    Russian
    The version about elephants sleeping leaned against a tree is nothing more than folk etymology, though quite ancient. This version cannot be true just because it presumes that the word has appeared on Slavic language basis, but Slavs had no chances to notice any habits of the elephants.
    The version Slavic slon < Turcic arslan is not completely proved, but is at least reckoned to be phonetically and historically possible.

    And it's not a surprise that Slavs could confuse lions and elephants, for both were quite exotic for them and never seen by them.
    Another example of such confusion (though not in Slavic) is a camel, which Russian name верблюд < *velьbǫdъ originates from Gothic ulbandus < ἐλέφας (elephant). By the way, the latter is a complex of 2 words meaning the same thing: Hamitic elu + Egyptian abu (i.e. literally "elephant of type elephant).
     
  8. DenisBiH

    DenisBiH Senior Member

    I don't really think that this holds. Slavs could have both seen elephants and had elephants described to them.

    Even if we ignore every possibility of Proto-Slavic speakers ever serving in the Roman Empire prior to Slavic migrations or having contact with the Romans (which we can't as far as I know), with Slavic migrations to the South happening in 5-7th centuries and some sort of Slavic linguistic unity (Common Slavic) existing until 10th-12th centuries, and with OCS and its influence etc, there is plenty of time for some Slavs to get acquainted with this concept/animal and spread it to the rest.

    According to the quote from the Croatian Wikipedia article "Arabs and Croats" below, South Slavs are in 677 AD maintaining political relations with the Caliphate and coordinating their military operations against the Byzantine Empire with the Arabs, including the siege of Constantinople. They could have learned the concept from the Arabs and then spread it northwards. Unfortunately, there is only a list of sources supposedly used for writing that article, no proper citations. :(

    Rough translation:
    Also, in the same 7th century, according to the quote below (Michal Warczakowski, "Slavs of Muslim Spain"), a number of Slavs settled in Asia Minor are actually crossing over to the Caliphate.
    It is conceivable that some of these "Caliphate Slavs" could have maintained some sort of contact with Slavs remaining in the Byzantine Empire and from there in the Balkans and further north (quote below from the same article as above), which means a channel for the spreading of this word/concept.
    One would of course need to find more serious/scholarly sources with proper citations, but this should be enough to suggest that some Slavs actually seeing elephants, or at least having elephants described to them, and there still being time for the word/concept to spread to other Slavs, is not far-fetched.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2011
  9. Maroseika Moderator

    Moscow
    Russian
    To give an animal a name reflexing his habits it is necessary either to observe him in nature or just to use some alien story. Since Slavs have never dealed with the elephants directly, only the second variant remains. But who could tel them this story about sleeping elephants and why exactly this feature wondered them so strong that resulted in the special name for the animal? I suspect his trunk and size was much more wonderfull.
    Just to make sure how alient elephants were not onlyfor Slavs, but even for other Europeans here is a picture dated 14 century: http://pics.livejournal.com/katgift12/pic/000w08c2/
    This bull furnished with a trunk is described there as follows:
    "Their legs have no knees, that's why once having felt down, they can never stand up. For the same reason they are sleeping leaned against a tree".

    We see now this legend about sleep of elephants is not pure Slavic, but came to them along with the idea of elephants. I cannot imagine that the only fact about an unknown and unseen animal that it use to sleep leaned against a tree could cause its Slavic name, the more so that Slavs could know about it only from the language already having the name for the elephant.
    Just imagine: someone translating the text with elephant or retelling a news about it, and instead of transliteration of the foreign he is constructing the very new word based on one of his, not the most wonderfull, features.
    .
     
  10. DenisBiH

    DenisBiH Senior Member

    Once more, that does not necessarily hold.

    Arabs, possibly also Byzantines.

    The rest of your reasoning is based on one type of borrowing/neologism being more logical than another. I've seen some weird word-meaning developments in my life, but I'm not an expert in the field.

    But just a few sentences later you yourself are quoting a European source finding exactly that sleeping-while-leaning worth mentioning. :) Btw, do they really sleep leaning against a tree?

    According to this, some three decades prior to those joint Arab-Slavic operations in 677, Arabs themselves were experiencing elephants in battle in 630s-640s, supposedly for the first time.

     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2011
  11. origumi Senior Member

    N/A
    According to the stories Harun al-Rashid sent an elephant to Charlemagne at year 798. If accurate, and if there was Slavic presence in the western empire, Slavs had a chance to see in their own eyes that elephant and lion are somehow different.
     
  12. DenisBiH

    DenisBiH Senior Member


    Ok, but why rely on the Franks if Slavs were actually much closer than Franks, geographically and politically, to where elephants were to be seen and heard of?

    Btw, at least South Slavic languages do have Arabisms some assume to originate from the Avar age, i.e. the time we're talking about, so this would not be the only case of such Slavic-Arab interaction. Such are e.g. medieval terms kaznac and mogoriš. Not that I'm claiming that slon necessarily came this way to the Slavs, just that it is possible.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2011
  13. Maroseika Moderator

    Moscow
    Russian
     
  14. Maroseika Moderator

    Moscow
    Russian
    One elephant is far not enough in those pre-Google times...
     
  15. DenisBiH

    DenisBiH Senior Member

    How about this?

    Why exactly? Do we do this with every neologism? Are we going to go looking for another language that uses "honey-eater" as the term for "bear" to prove that the Slavic word really has that etymology? I agree that it would be nice to find such a thing, but I don't see it as a conditio sine qua non.


    Because Slavs are more romantic and imaginative? :D
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2011
  16. Maroseika Moderator

    Moscow
    Russian
    If you mean kaznac - supreme financial officer, it came from Arabic hazina (treasure house) thru Turcic (χаznаčу - treasurer). (Rusian казначей).

    Though Mogoriš is also from Arabic maḫāriǰ (expenses) but also thru Turcic.

    I think it's not so easy to find direct loans from Arabic to Slavic for that distant epoch.
     
  17. DenisBiH

    DenisBiH Senior Member


    Which Turkic exactly? Avar perhaps? :)

    Turkic does not necessarily equate to "from Central Asia" in this case. Avars were happy to participate along with Slavs in warfare against Byzantium, in fact I guess they would have lead some of those operations.

    Oh, and btw, we don't even need Arabs for elephants. Here are Persians themselves, who we know did use elephants in their army (Arabs found that out the hard way)

     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2011
  18. Maroseika Moderator

    Moscow
    Russian
    As we see, nothing extraordinary.

    I think we should do this each time we encounter some strange, unusual way of word formation. Etymology doesn't like singleness.

    Not so narrow. This is quite one of the examples of euphemisms, the more so Slavs new quite well that bears do eat honey.
    It is typical by the way, that this euphemism was based on the well known and evident fact, so that "honey-eater" automatically meant "bear" for everybody. Was "leaning" legend also so well-known among Slavs?

    Yes, this is the only explanation, though not too PC...
     
  19. DenisBiH

    DenisBiH Senior Member

    You're forcing it now and you know it yourself. :)


    We should of course analyze everything, yes.

    I don't know, what I do know however is that not all Slavs in the 7th century were enjoying themselves chasing honey-eaters over the meadows of Eastern Europe. There was a siege of Constantinople, or two, going on here in the sunny south, and who knows perhaps involving an elephant or a hundred. :)
     
  20. Maroseika Moderator

    Moscow
    Russian
    Well, according to my sources, Turkish or Crimean-Tatar ( at least for Russian).


    The only problem is that Slavic word doesn't look like Persian.
    Cf. Ossetian пыл (pyl) < Persian pil. Same Persian word engendered the names for elephant in many Caucasian (non-IE) languages, in Armenian, Georgean, also in Tajik and even many Turkic (Turkish, Kumyk, Nogai, Tatar, Kazakh, Bashkir, Usbek, Kyrgyz...) - but not in any Slavic!
     
  21. DenisBiH

    DenisBiH Senior Member

    According to my sources, it's either via Avar or a direct Arabic loanword into Slavic, so our sources obviously disagree.


    That would have been a problem if I had claimed that Slavs borrowed the Persian word for elephant itself. Rather, I was claiming that it was perfectly possible for Slavs to see an elephant if they were engaged in joint military operations with the Persians, which it seems they were in 626, and if Persians used elephants in their army in those days, which it seems they did. :).
     
  22. Maroseika Moderator

    Moscow
    Russian
    Maybe, maybe. But due to your kind link we both know now that elephants can sleep in different ways, and sleeping leaning against a wall is not wonderfull even for a horse.
    If some Slavs could see elephants live in Constantinople or elsehwere, they could not be too much astonished to the animal sleeping like that - epsecially, if this animal is obtaining at least two other, really astonishing features that those Slavs have never seen before - trunk and size.
    And after that they call it basing on leaning?...
     
  23. DenisBiH

    DenisBiH Senior Member


    Now you're just projecting your 21st century cultural etc. values into the 7th century. I'm not sure how wise that is. We have seen that this leaning was something that had been impressive to Europeans later on.

    Why didn't Slavs call bear "the big one" based on its size? Or "the menacing one"?
     
  24. origumi Senior Member

    N/A
    Hebrew borrowed ganzak = treasure house from Persian during the Achaemenid period. Sounds very similar to kaznac - are you sure it's from Arabic through Turkic? I'd guess Persian.
     
  25. Maroseika Moderator

    Moscow
    Russian
    And how your sources explain actor's suffix presenting in Turkish and Slavic and absenting in Arab?

    I can only repeat my previous argument: if they saw Persian elephants live, they would never call them basing on the legendary or not extraordinary feature.
    "Leaning" version can work only if basing on calling an animal they have never seen, i.e. basing on the legends rather than visible facts.
     
  26. Maroseika Moderator

    Moscow
    Russian
    Regarding Russian word I'm sure, or better say all my sources are sure. As for the Persian word, my dictionary is agree with you, saying that Persian *ganza = *gazna and this supposedly Midian word (of unknown origina) is a source of Semitic, Greek and Indian words meaning 'treasure', and even Hungarian gazda (maybe from Ossetian gazdug). From Hungarian are Serbian and Czeck gazda (owner).
    It also says that in many Iranian languages Arabized form hazina substituted primordial cognates.

    However let's not mix up treasure and treasurer. Slavic word for treasure is казна (without suffix -k) which correspond to the Turkish hasine.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2011
  27. DenisBiH

    DenisBiH Senior Member

    ,
    The medieval BCS form is explained as being a form derived by using the suffix -ъс (Petar Skok *1). That particular suffix, now -ac, is still productive here, e.g. mitraljezac (machine gunner) < mitraljez, from French mitrailleuse. In BCS both yers give -a- in the strong position.

    *1 This is what it says in my copy of Skok's etymological dictionary. I presume he is referring to -ьcь, and that -ъс is either a later stage in BCS or Skok's error, or printing/OCR-ing error. Be that as it may, he calls kaznac an "acting/active derivative" (radna izvedenica).


    An attempt at mind reading 14 centuries into the past.


    Which visible facts? The fact that elephants do seem to sleep like that?
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2011
  28. Maroseika Moderator

    Moscow
    Russian
    The fact they they use to sleep in various ways - sometimes leaning, sometimes standing, sometimes lying, exactly like many other wild and domestic animals.
     
  29. DenisBiH

    DenisBiH Senior Member

    Yes, and bears eat grass, leaves, flowers, mushrooms, ants, insects, small animals...
     
  30. Maroseika Moderator

    Moscow
    Russian
    Right. Not too many animals eat honey, just because they need special skills to get it. Maybe only bears, actually.
    Besides, not too many animals need to be called euphimistically, so honey-eater was not ambigous. After all, "bear' is also euphemism, but quite transparent, because the only brown animal to be tabooed was him.
     
  31. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    And even more, people also eat honey.
     
  32. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    Greek
    Actually what is accepted by far today is that «ἐλέφας» is one of the oldest loan words attested in Greek, and more specifically it passed via Hittite (an Anatolian IE language) into Mycenean Greek: Laḫpaš (Hit.)>*erepa (Myc.)>ἐλέφας.
     
  33. er targyn Senior Member

    How is this possible phonetically?
     
  34. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    Greek
    The Mycenaean Linear B syllabary did not had dinstinct signs for the -la-, -le-, -li-, -lo-, -lu- phonemes, the -ra-, -re, -ri-, -ro-, -ru- were used instead.
     
  35. er targyn Senior Member

    What's the etymology of Laḫpaš (Hit.)?
     
  36. Maroseika Moderator

    Moscow
    Russian
    Yes, some of them do, I heard... And so what?
     
  37. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    The fact that the bears eat something that people do eat as well and other amimals tipically do not, may afforce the reason, why to call them honey-eater. With other words, people could "typically" meet the bears when looking for wild honey ... (it's an idea of mine, not an attested theory...:))
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2011
  38. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    I agree. Plus, supposing, that the verb *sloniti was used in the sense of "to lean", then the noun *slonъ shoul have meant "leaning, lean.." or generally something that is "leaned". I think, it is not enough for a name of an animal, because of the generic and abstract meaning of the noun *slonъ itself, derived from an existing verb (in those times). See for example the words sklon and odklon (bias, declension, lean ....) in the modern Slovak, derived form the verb kloniť.

    In case of bear, *medojedъ (or *medъjedъ) we have a perfect construction: honey-eater. According to this logic, for the elephant, we would expect something like *slonъsypъ :) (leaned-sleeper), and not only *slonъ.
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2011
  39. OBrasilo

    OBrasilo Senior Member

    Koper, Slovenia, Central Europe
    Brazil, Brazilian Portuguese
    Well, maybe that was the original word, and it was then abbreviated into slonŭ, maybe initially as a diminutive, similar to how medved gets abbreviated to medo in Slovenian as a diminutive (though of course another diminutive, medvedek, also exists). And since the elephant, unlike the bear, was fairly unfamiliar, the original, full-length word wasn't passed around that much, and ended up being lost while the diminutive survived. This could happen especially if noone found teaching children about elephants important (remember, back then, most teaching was done from parent to child), while still telling them fairy tales involving elephants. Fairy tales often use diminutives for animals, especially for animals portrayed as the good ones.
     
  40. Christo Tamarin

    Christo Tamarin Senior Member

    Bulgarian
    Most probably, the Slavic word слон/slon is a very old loanword from a Turkic language, Avar (or Bulgarian, if different).

    That word meant an unknown terrific animal. The slavophone population at that time has never seen neither elephants nor lions. However, slavophones did see ivory. Slavophones knew somehow that ivory is the teeth of some big animal. That animal was then called слон/slon in Slavic, and the ivory itself was called слонова кость (slonova kostь).
     
  41. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    Greek
    Both Babiniotis and Beeks give it a "Middle-Eastern loan word"; more specifically Beekes suggests that the beginning of the word recurs in Afroasiatic (Hamitic) el̩u, elephant > (through Egyptian mediation) Modern Persian فیل / Arabic فيل (fīl), but the details remain unclear. The second part resembles the Egyptian āb(u), Coptic εβυ, elephant, ivory.
     

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