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Proto-Yeniseian Reconstructions, with Extra-Yeniseian Comparisons

Sergei A. Starostin and Merritt Ruhlen

The small Yeniseian family of central Siberia—now reduced to a single extant language, Ket—has traditionally been considered an isolate.* Though less famous than the well-known European isolate, Basque, its genetic affinity has been considered no less mysterious. Even information on this family has not been easy to come by for those wishing to compare it with the world’s other language families. Starostin (1982), however, has fundamentally changed this state of affairs. In this pivotal paper he not only reconstructed Proto-Yeniseian—and the sound laws that connect its several languages — but also sought to show its genetic connections with the Sino-Tibetan and (North) Caucasian families, and even the genetic connections of this larger family with the Nostratic family. The external connections of the Yeniseian family were further elaborated in Starostin (1984), which posited a SinoCaucasian family (uniting Yeniseian, Sino-Tibetan, and (North) Caucasian), and Starostin (1989a) addressed the question of the relationship between Nostratic and Sino-Caucasian. Additional work by Bengtson (1991a, b), Chirikba *We would like to thank John Bengtson for numerous suggestions on an earlier version of this chapter. Many of his suggestions have been incorporated, with citation, in this chapter (1985), and Nikolaev (1991) has led to the replacement of the name SinoCaucasian by Dene-Caucasian (see Chapter 1). It should be noted that the higher-level comparisons between Proto-Yeniseian, Proto-Sino-Tibetan, and Proto-(North) Caucasian are based on the first author’s reconstructions of all three families (Starostin 1989b, Nikolaev and Starostin 1992) — with due acknowledgment of previous work.

This chapter, an abridged version of Starostin (1982), gives the ProtoYeniseian reconstructions and their reflexes in the various Yeniseian languages (again, of these, only Ket is extant). Also given are the extra-Yeniseian comparisons suggested by Starostin. My role, as second author, has been limited to translating Starostin’s work from the original Russian, with the hope of making it accessible to a larger audience, and to adding a few extra-Yeniseian comparisons with Basque, Burushaski, Nahali, and Na-Dene. Since the appearance of Starostin’s original article in 1982, additional proposed cognates have been suggested by John Bengtson, V´aclav Blaˇzek, Sergei Nikolaev, and Starostin himself. Some of these are indicated at the ends of the etymologies thus supplemented.

Each entry is arranged alphabetically according to the semantic gloss, which is followed by the Proto-Yeniseian reconstruction and its reflexes in the six Yeniseian languages: Ket, †Yug, †Kott, †Arin, †Pumpokol, and †Assan.

This information is followed by extra-Yeniseian comparisons with Old Chinese, Proto-Andi, Proto-Abkhaz-Adyg, Proto-Abkhaz-Tapant, Proto-Dagestanian, Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Kartvelian, Proto-Lezghian, Proto-Nax, ProtoTsez, Proto-(North) Caucasian, Proto-Tibeto-Burman, and Proto-SinoTibetan, all taken from Starostin’s article.

The comparisons with Basque, Burushaski, Nahali, and Na-Dene are mine.

The Na-Dene forms come from Greenberg (1981; see Chapter 5 herein); Burushaski forms, from Lorimer (1938); and Nahali forms, from Kuiper (1962). For the most part the phonemic transcription follows that of Starostin’s article. Thus, for example, crepresentsts, and I indicates pharyngealization of the preceding consonant. I have, however, used normal IPA symbols for the lateral fricatives and affricates, instead of the idiosyncratic Russian symbols; the effect is that what appear as ˇx, ˇγ, ˇk, and ˇgin the original article are here transcribed as ¬, μ, tl, and dl. In addition, ´l and ´ nare represented by ¥ and ˜n, respectively, and dz is used in place of J. Furthermore, ärepresents a lowermid unrounded central vowel in the Yeniseian languages and in Burushaski, but a vowel of indeterminate timbre in the reconstructions. The meanings of all forms are the same as those of the Proto-Yeniseian reconstruction, unless specified otherwise.

Starostin’s reconstructions follow:

























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