On the Balto- Slavic term for “hand ”
Adriano Cerri
Pizos universitetas
Published 2018-12-20

How to Cite

Cerri A. (2018) “On the Balto- Slavic term for ‘hand ’”, Vilnius University Open Series, (1), pp. 26-38. doi: 10.15388/Proceedings.2018.2.


[full article and abstract in Lithuanian; abstract in English]

This paper focuses on the common Balto-Slavic term for “hand.” This somatonym is quite peculiar; despite the importance of its referent, it is not possible to reconstruct a common IE. root for “hand.” Here, the main extant etymological hypotheses on the Balto-Slavic forms are discussed.

Special attention is paid to a less-known hypothesis, accounting for these forms as a direct reflex of IE. *penkwe. Horowitz (1992) believes that the original meaning of this lexeme was “hand,” and that it had only later shifted to “5.” This reconstruction would provide a direct etymological/semantical connection between the somatonym and the numeral, which parallels similar cases in many of the world’s languages. I will point out the reasons why such an etymology would be tempting and, at the same time, a number of crucial difficulties that should lead to its rejection. The traditional connection with the activity of collecting (Lith. riñkti) still remains the more plausible hypothesis; however, other explanations are also theoretically valid. Some final remarks are proposed that suggest regarding these forms as a Baltic innovation. Innovative aspects are found (i) in the semantic scope of these words (from the shoulder to the fingertips) and (ii) in the absence of a gender opposition between the hand and the foot (gender opposition being an archaic feature). The action of collecting may be regarded as a case of global etymology, i.e., a root shared by several macro-families. Conversely, the root *(w)renk- is attested only in Baltic languages (Lithuanian). So, it is reasonable to believe that the somatonym originated in the Baltic and was later borrowed by the Slavic during the period of maximum proximity between these people.

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