Page 163 - FUD20

Basic HTML Version

that the snow terminology of South Saami is very different from that of North
Saami, this is, of course, a solid argument for his conclusion that ”South Saa-
mi has been a language of its own for a long time [et selvstendig språk i lang
tid]”. However convincing that result is, the problem is what the phrase ”a
long time” means. How many years constitute a long time: 250 years? 500
years? 1000 years? Or even more? Even detailed knowledge of the material
does not result in any exact dating.
There are examples where the material provides evidence that is undeni-
able in some way. One such case is, I believe, the expression
gosen milkie
that can be found in a Saami wordlist from the 1770s. The wordlist
contains words taken down by a pupil of Carl von Linné, Per Holmberger.
Holmberger studied for Linné for ten years and kept up his botanical interest
throughout his life. He translates the plant name into its Latin name, Ballota
nigra, a name given by Linné some 20 years earlier when establishing this
species. The Latin name has not been changed since, it is still called Ballota
nigra. In English, this plant is called black horehound. This means that
Holmberger must have taken down the Saami word
gosen milkie grasi
somewhere where this plant can be found. There can be no misunderstand-
ing, since the same name is used today and since Holmberger knew his bot-
any. Consequently, the northern border of the distribution area of Ballota ni-
gra is identical with the northern border of the area where Holmberger could
make his interview with Saami speakers. The northern borderline of the plant
runs some 200 kilometers north of Stockholm, at the city of Gävle. So in the
1770s, Saami must have been spoken in that part of the country, far away
from the present distribution area of Saami. The conclusion is inevitable, be-
cause, as Holmberger himself put it, you don’t have words for things you
don’t know (cf. Larsson 2005).
In the case of black horehound it is the semantic side of the word that settles
the question. In the following I will discuss a case where formal aspects play
a similar role. Before doing so, we must have a look at the Finno-Ugric his-
torical phonology.
3. Finno-Ugric historical phonology
According to Voltaire, etymology is an art where consonants play a very
small role and the vowels none at all. That is not the case with the historical
phonology of Finno-Ugric languages. We have a very clear picture of the de-
velopment of the sound-system from Proto- Finno-Ugric into the languages
of today. That certainly does not mean that there are no unsolved problems