Origins ofthe Word Croat
an alternative hypothesis:
Most texts dealing with the origins of theword Croat, or more specifically the slavic variants of Hrvat or Horvat, seem toaccept the thesis that the term can be traced directly to Persian inscriptionsfrom about 500 BC. This view holds that the name derives from an ancient Iranianpeople living in a region referred to as Harahvatis, which, in modern terms, wassituated in what is now present-day Afghanistan.On the face of it, the seemingsimilarity of the words Harahvatis and Hrvat lends credence to this theory.However, it should be noted that such superficial similarities in form are notnecessarily indicative of a direct linguistic link; especially when the positedcognates (ie supposedly related words) are from different language families, asis the case with the Harahvatis / Hrvat hypothesis.
In point of fact, the field of linguisticsis rife with instances of false etymologies. Even in closely related languagessuch as English and German, phonetic similarities can be misleading. Take forexample the word form gift, which exists both in modern English and German. Tothe casual observer these words might seem related. However, the English wordgift actually is derived from the postulated Indo-European root 'ghebh,' and iscognate, not with the German word gift (poison), but with the German word geben(to give).
Not being familiar with the extent andnature of the specific data which gave rise to the Harahvatis thesis, obviously,I am not able to attempt a categorical analysis of this theory's viability.However, if, as it appears to be, the primary basis for the Harahvatis theory isphonetic similarity, then I believe serious questions might well be raised.Common sense alone
dictates that any phonetic reconstruction of a dead language be taken with agrain of salt. In fact, linguists have long argued over the merits of evenattempting phonetic reconstruction; critics pointing out that the"comparative method" used in historical linguistics should only beascribed to reconstructing phonemic forms without respect to detailed phoneticattributes.
Simply put, a phoneme represents a soundin a given language which is linguistically significant. For example, thecontrast between p and b in such English words as pin and bin. Phoneticanalysis, on the other hand, is a detailed description of the physical qualitiesof a sound (ie is it voiced, aspirant, nasal, sibilant, etc). In extinctlanguages we can, at
best, only make educated guesses at what the underlying sounds related to theorthography might have been. Therefore, just how similar the forms Harahvatisand Hrvat really are to one and other is not necessarily as close
as our modern-day interpretation might lead us to believe. In any case, there isperhaps another possible explanation for the derivation of the term Hrvat, whichavoids some of these uncertainties, and is perhaps more analytically"elegant" in being less removed from recent facts, both in terms oftime and space. The basis of this alternative explanation is to be found in awell established sound change occurring in the Czech and Slovak languages,wherein g becomes h. For example, the word for hunger in modern Croatian (andmost other slavic languages) is 'glad,'whereas the corresponding Czech andSlovak form is 'hlad.' Examples showing that this shift from g to h is aregularly occurring sound change are many and included the following:
gavran (raven) > havran
glas (voice) > hlas
golub (pigeon) > holub
grad (city) > hrad
griva (mane) > hriva
grom (thunder) > hrom
jagoda (strawberry) > jahoda
knjiga (book) > kniha
Along the same lines, the word formountain, gora, has the corresponding form hora. Given the fact that theancestors of modern-day Croats appear to have migrated into the Dinaric rangefrom the central European tablelands
(ie modern Slovakia, and Poland) it seems quite plausible that these people maywell have been referred to as something like 'those who went into the mountains'or "hora," and thus, by extension, the word "Horvat" (whichis
the current slavic form of the word in all but the south slavic languages; withthe "o" apparently having elided into a vocalic r in south slavic) .
It has not been my intention in this briefpaper to write an exhaustive argument for the "hora" derivationalexplanation of the word Horvat, but merely to raise the issue as a possiblealternative. Given the inherent difficulties in dealing with extinct languages,as well as the possible complication of ascribing a slavic "corevocabulary" word's origins to a
non-slavic language, it seems the "hora" explanation provides asimpler and more direct derivation. In linguistics, as indeed in mostdisciplines, often times the least complicated solution also proves to be themost accurate.
Article by: EdKesich
original site: http://www.nycroats.com/political_origins.htm
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