Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Animal Names-1: How did donkey get its names







We are starting a long journey with our ancestors. It is like going back in a time machine to as far back as 200,000 year in human history to find out why and how our ancestors created the first words and how these words underwent repeated mutations in their passage to us. It is also like going on a biological expedition in the past to experience the magic moments when our ancestors encountered a new plant or an animal and needed a word to communicate that experience to other members of their population.  Let’s imagine the feelings of our ancestor at their first view and experience of a donkey braying denchu-denchu melodiously! How would they have described the experience to the others?  Perhaps by repeating the sound denchu-denchu just as a child mimics bho-bho or meon-meon of dog and cat respectively. And how the new word would have been transmitted down the generations?



Transmission of word – channel 1
Original communication
DENCHU DENCHU
 डेंचू डेंचू
D
E
N
CH
U

D
E
N
CH
U
1st mutation ( CH>K, >)
DENKU DENKU
डेंकू डेंकू
D
E
N
K
U
D
E
N
K
U
2nd mutation (E>O; >)
DONKU DONKU 
डोंकू डोंकू
D
O
N
K
U
D
O
N
K
U
3rd mutation (U>EY; >)
DONKEY DONKEY
डोंकी डोंकी
D
O
N
K
EY
D
O
N
K
EY

Transmission of word – channel 2 (diversion from channel 1 after the first mutation)
Original communication
DENCHU DENCHU
 डेंचू डेंचू
D
E
N
CH
U

D
E
N
CH
U
1st mutation (CH>K; >)
DENKU DENKU
डेंकू डेंकू
D
E
N
K
U
D
E
N
K
U
2nd mutation (D>DH; >)
DHENKU DHENKU
धेंकू धेंकू 
DH
E
N
K
U
DH
E
N
K
U
3rd mutation (K>G; >)
DHENGU DHENGU
धेंगु धेंगु   
DH
E
N
G
U
DH
E
N
G
U
4th   mutation (U>A; >)
DHENGA DHENGA
धेंगा धेंगा
DH
E
N
G
A
DH
E
N
G
A
5th mutation (E>A; >)
DHANGA DHANGA
धंगा धंगा
DH
A
N
G
A

DH
A
N
G
A
6th mutation (deletion of N; न का लोप)
DHAGA DHAGA
धगा धागा
DH
A

G
A

DH
A

G
A
7th mutation (inversion of sequence; अक्षरों का क्रम उलट)
GADHA
गधा
Hindi, Urdu, word



G
A

DH
A



8th mutation (G>KH; >)
KHADHA
खधा



KH
A

DH
A



9th  mutation (DH>T; >त)
   KHATA
खता



KH
A

T
A



10th mutation (A>O; >)
 KHOTA
खोता
Punjabi word



KH
O

T
A




Transmission of word – channel 3 (diversion from channel 2 after the 7th mutaion)

7th mutation (inversion of sequence; अक्षरों का क्रम उलटा)
GADHA,गधा
Hindi, Urdu, word



G
A
DH
A


8th mutation (addition of BHAR meaning burden; भार शब्द का जुड़ना)
GADHA + BHAR


G
A
DH
A
BH
A
R
9th  mutation (rearrangement of sequence; (क्रम का बदलना)
GARDABH, गर्दभ
Sanskrit  word


G
A
R
DH
A
BH
A














Ass, the synonym for donkey seems to be a degeneration of Ashva (अश्व), the Sanskrit word for horse. Looks like a case of mistaken identity by some ancestors who were not very familiar with the horses.

Ashva > Asya > Assya > Ass

Khar (खर) is another name for donkey in Sanskrit and Hindi. Its derivation seems to be from Kshar ashva (क्षार अश्व) which means horse of the sea salt: Kshar ashva > khar asya > khar ahya > khar. The only place in the world where the ass is found in the wild is the Great Rann of Kutch, which is salt Marsh located in Gujrat, India and Sindh, Pakistan. 

It is interesting to note that it took three mutations to get the English word donkey from the natural sound dhenchu but seven, nine and ten mutations respectively to get Hindi GADHA, Sanskrit GARDHABH and Punjabi KHOTA! The original home of donkey is in Africa.  The donkey must have travelled a lot more to reach India than it did to reach Europe. Note that almost all the mutation shown in the probable etymology of donkey and its synonyms take place in the same phonetic group of letters of the Devanagari alphabet table.     

You may also like to see what the linguists have to say on how donkey got its names:

Donkey
 Word Origin & History

donkey
1785, slang, perhaps from dun "dull grey-brown," the form perhaps infl. by monkey. Or possibly from a familiar form of Duncan (cf. dobbin). The older Eng. word was ass.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/donkey
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ass
Word Origin & History

ass
beast of burden, O.E. assa (Old Northumbrian assal, assald), prob. from O.Celt. *as(s)in "donkey," which (with Ger. esel, Goth. asilus, Lith. asilas, O.C.S. osl) is ultimately from L. asinus, probably of Middle Eastern origin (cf. Sumerian ansu). Since ancient Gk. times, in fables and parables, the animal.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

 http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ass

14 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. amazing, cannot believe that this could have happened. Evolution in language...

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  4. Aniket, you are right. "gadha" of Hindi cannot predate the Sanskrit "gardabh". Hindi is a comparatively recent language on the overall timescale of languages. However, I believe that the word 'Gadha' itself may predate the 'gardabh' of Sanskrit. It may have either became extinct after being assimilated in 'gardabh' or might have continued in spoken/ unrecorded Sanskrit from where it emerged in Hindi. There is possibility that 'gardabh' mutated to gadabh > gadah. However, I would like to leave it to historians among the linguists. My attempt is to try to make algorithm for possible ways of evolution of words. I have no inkling about what has actually happened. Thanks for the very interesting link on Zoological mythology. I enjoyed reading the chapter on donkey. Shall read more of it later. Thanks once again.

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    Replies
    1. Yes yes now it makes sense...shabdo-ki-hera-feri...means letters exchanging positions like mutations.

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  5. The German word for donkey is "ESEL", the greek "GAIDURI" and the arab "HIMAR". How would those match the indosanskrit syllable background?

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  6. ...it makes sense for the greek one, I discovered, the other ones?

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  7. Dr Lorenz,my guesses about homologies of donkey synonyms:
    1. Ashvanya (Sanskrit, = horse herd) > asyanya> asinay> asinus (Latin)> asilus ( Goth.)> asilas (Lith.)> eselas > esel (Ger.)>osl (O.C.S.)
    2. Greek 'GAIDURI" appears to be a variation of Sanskrit GARDHABH > gardha > gadhara> gaiduri (Gk.)
    Incidentally, donkey is known as gadhera in Hindi slang in villages in India.
    3. No idea about Arabic HIMAR. However, one of the synonyms of ass in Sanskrit is RASABH. It is possible that RASABH and HIMAR are related: RASABH> SABHAR > SAMAR > HAMAR >HIMAR.

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  8. RASABH = Brayer. Sanskrit Rasabh and English bray may be related: rasabh> bhrasa> bharaha> bharaya> baray> bray.
    English Bray and Arabic HIMAR may be related: BRAY> MRAY >MRAH >HMAR>HIMAR

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  9. Nice and very interesting research topic,But I was just wondering about the relation you have mentioned between human and donkey 200,000 years...Coz...The modern human migrated almost 150,000 years ago from Africa..As per out of africa model of evolution...But...I like the your language concept

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  10. Thanks Chauhanrk. The earliest use of donkey in the world is recorded in the Valmiki's Ramayan, whose story is about 7,000 years old. The earliest archaeological record of domestication of donkeys is about 5,000 years ago. I have chosen the time scale of 200,000 years because modern human (Homo sapiens) evolved around that time in Africa. Donkeys were already present there at that time. Therefore, I assume that humans must have felt the need to give a name to this animal. Like humans, donkeys don't have have horns or speed to survive in the wild. Human could survive by making tools and weapons. Donkeys could survive in the wild only where no other animal could go as in the Rann of Kutch. Humans started migrating out of Africa about 150,000 years ago and reached India about 75,000 years ago. It makes sense to believe that donkeys might have migrated along-with humans and benefited from each other.

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