The word for horse in Hurrian ešši / iššiya is strikingly close to Armenian word eš (genitive išoy ) meaning donkey. This resemblance becomes even more striking if we take into account the fact that Armenian word for donkey was initially meaning horse and derives from the PIE root *éḱwos. The shifts are regular and well attested for the Armenian. E.g. *ḱwón > šun meaning dog.
Saturday, June 17, 2023
The word for horse in Hurrian
Many scholars noticed that the Hurrian word seems to be a loanword from a satem IE language. But few of them discussed the possibility of a loanword from the Armenian. In his paper about the word ešši 'horse' in Hurrian Vyacheslav Ivanov mentions that the closest form is the Armenian. He also criticizes Starostin's proposal that the word for horse in PIE is a loanword from North Caucasian. The phonetic shifts required from NC to PIE are far more unrealistic than the inverse. It's quite easy to demonstrate that most of the words for horse in North Caucasian languages are borrowings from Iranian languages. Starostin was also claiming that Armenians borrowed from the Hurrian and not the inverse.
Armen Petrosyan discuss this subject in his book about the Armenian Epic. He is inclined to believe that it's Hurrian who borrowed this word from the IE languages. More specifically the Armenian. He also discuss the possible etymology of Išuwa ( Ծոփք ) meaning land of horses. A land were a cult of equines persisted until medieval era.
Today we have DNA studies of ancient horse remains. And we can have better idea what theory is more likely. In the current stage of our knowledge we know that horses were present in many parts of Eurasia. Including Anatolia and Armenian Highlands. But the currently existing domesticated horses descend from the one that was domesticated in Pontic-Caspian Steppe.
Guimaraes 2020 compares mtdna from ancient horse remains in Anatolia and South Caucasus before and after 2000BC. Their conclusion is that after 2000BC the mtdna diversity in Anatolia increases while the local mtdna lineages like P, O and X sharply drops or disappear. They conclude that numerous new horse lineages were introduced to West Asia via Caucasus at the end of third millennium BC. This fits well with the known human migrations from Catacomb culture to South Caucasus in the same period. This data strongly supports the idea that the word for horse in Hurrian is a loanword from Armenian. It must be noted that Catacomb migrants were not the only group that introduced new horse lineages. Around 1700BC a group known as Mitanni Aryans appear in West Asia and them also might have introduced both new genes and words. The word aššuwa ( aśva in Sanskrit ) attested in cuneiform texts is one of them.
PS The mtdna Q in pre-2000BC South Caucasus was found in Kakhetia East Georgia dated around the 2500BC (not radiocarbon). It's remarkable because unlike P, O and X it's number increases after 2000BC. This can have two explanations. One version is that this sample Q was related to Early Transcaucasian Kurgan groups also known as Martqopi-Beden. It's age, it's Y dna (Y-HT-1) and the horse burial practice supports this version. But it is also possible that it was native to South Caucasus and became a successful because of hybridisation from a local lineage and those introduced from Steppe. Unfortunately numerous Paleolithic equine horse remains from Armenia didn't have the necessary quality to learn their mtdna. Let's hope we will learn more about haplogroup Q in the future.