PIE *h1ék̂w-os
Gloss: ‘horse’ (item 32 in Bjørn 2017)

HLuw. azu(wa), Lyc. esbe-; Toch. A yuk, Toch. B yakwe; OLat. equos; Gaul. epo-; ON jór, Goth. aíhwa-; Lith. ašvíenis ‘stallion’; Myc. i-qo, Gr. ἳππος; Arm. ēš; Ved. áśva-, Av. aspa

Only the Slavic and Albanian branches miss this lexeme, and the horse can safely be ascribed to the earliest strata of PIE on internal evidence alone, despite Dolgopolsky’s attempt to discredit the inherent nature of the Anatolian forms (1993: 240). The root gives valuable insights to the intricacies of the velar series with the co-occurrence of the palatal *– with the labial element *-w-: While satəm languages retain the independence of the labial element, basically [+pal] + [+lab], the centum languages fuse the phonemes into one, [+vel, +lab], and subsequently follow the rules governing the inherited labiovelars. The Greek forms remain, although clearly related, problematic, probably reflecting some kind of dialectal borrowing (Beekes 2008: 597f.), although Sihler suggests that at least the geminate may be a regular outcome of the inherited palatal-labial cluster (1995: 159f.). Internal derivation has been proposed from a root ‘swift’ attractive due to a common Graeco-Aryan collocation, ‘swift horses’, Gr. ὠκέες ἳπποι, Ved. áśvāḥ āśávaḥ, but the connection is formally difficult (Mallory & Adams 1997: 273), if not impossible (Beekes 2008: 597f.).

External comparanda:
Kartvelian: e.g. Georgian ačua (children’s language)
North Caucasian: *ɦɨ[n]čwĭ
NW Caucasian: *cʷ̣̌́ ǝ > e.g. Abkhaz, Ubykh ačy (pl.)
NE Caucasian: Avar, Lak ču, Akhvakh ičwa, Andi iča, etc.
HU: Hur. eššǝ

The domestication of the horse represents a central pillar in Anthony‘s archaeological location of the PIE speakers on the Pontic Steppes (2007: 193-224), and intense and selective exploitation of the horse was widespread from around 4.500 BCE in the region from southern Ukraine through to Kazakhstan (Mallory & Adams 1997: 273ff.). It is thus noteworthy that Uralic did not borrow the PIE word. A common Proto-North Caucasian reconstruction has been posited, *ɦɨ[n]čwĭ, without convincing internal derivation, although the authors do not explicitly make the connection with PIE (NCED s.v. ‘horse’). Such a reconstruction, however, gives depth of time comparable to PIE, and invalidates Colarusso’s intricate and very idiosyncratic analysis of NW Caucasian and PIE with the aim of uniting the phyla in Proto-Pontic (2003: 41ff.). The Hurrian form is proposed as a loan from the satəm Mitanni-Aryan superstrate that brandished a particularly specialized equestrian vocabulary, especially owing to the assibilated geminate (Gamkrelidze & Ivanov 1995: 809). A similar origin has been suggested for Semitic, cf. Akkadian sisū and Ugarit ssw (despite confounding factors, cf. Militarev & Kogan 2005: 261ff.), Sumerian sí-sí (Sahala 2009: 10), some NE Caucasian languages (Dolgopolsky 1987: 19) as well as Abkhaz (Mallory & Adams 1997: 274), but these latter can just as well be explained from the bulk of Caucasian attestations treated below. According to Nikolayev & Starostin the sporadic Kartvelian forms can be ascribed to intra-Caucasian loan relations (NCED s.v. ‘horse’), and are thus considered secondary and beyond the scope of the present paper. The evidence presented by Dolgopolsky to substantiate the entry into Caucasian languages as an early Proto-Indo-Iranian loan rests solely with the palatal treatment of the internal velar in the Daghestanian dialects (1987: 19), but the argument is mute because palatals are reconstructed for PIE and there is no evidence to suggest that a proposed Proto-North Caucasian recipient language would not have treated them as such (§ Indeed, if horses were a trademark of ancient PIE culture (predating the split of Anatolian) with concomitant mercantile prowess, and the PIE speakers interacted intensely with the North Caucasian linguistic area at an early date, it is very likely that the ‘horse’ represented a sufficiently valuable item to be transferred from PIE and subsequently thrive in the Caucasus (cf. Matasović 2012: 291). Tantalizing both in the initial laryngeal PNC *ɦ– to mirror PIE *h1– and the internal sequence of palatalized velar plus labial glide, the only aberrant element in the North Caucasian stock is the nasal found in the Lezgian branch of NE Caucasian (reconstructed *ʡɨnšʷ [~ħ-], see NCED s.v. ‘horse’), but the circumstances are internally unclear. Alternative solutions, albeit less attractive, are chronological adjustments either (1) further back into prehistory and approaching Nostratic, or (2) later as a dialectal PIE loan, as suggested by Dolgopolsky (1987: 19).

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MA in Indo-European Studies (2017) from the University of Copenhagen. Graduated with the thesis "Foreign elements in the Proto-Indo-European Vocabulary" that forms the basis of my blog. Particular fields of interest are the formation and dissolution of PIE with reference to Uralic and Caucasian languages.

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