Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Lambdin etymology

ARAMAIC WATCH: Anatoly Lieberman a post at the OUP Blog has an interesting tidbit about Thomas Lambdin which I didn't know:
Latin antiquus

Thomas Lambdin, Professor in Harvard Department of Near Eastern Studies, once suggested that the Latin adjective antiquus “old, ancient” was a borrowing of Aramaic attiq “old.” ...

Professor Lambdin is an expert in Semitic linguistics and, naturally, receives impulses from the material he knows best. I happen to be well-acquainted with his books and even reviewed the etymologies offered in his untraditional manual of Gothic. It is true that that the etymology of antiquus entails several difficulties, but, in my opinion, suggesting that that adjective came from Aramaic is hard to justify. As usual, the closeness of forms is not a sufficient argument. We would like to know why such a basic concept had to be taken over from a foreign language, under what circumstances the borrowing took place, and whether it filled a lacuna in Latin or superseded a native synonym. In the absence of additional arguments I would stay away from such a bold hypothesis.
It is pretty bold, but Professor Lambdin generally has good reasons for his suggestions. It would have been awfully helpful to have an indication of where exactly Lambdin said this. Was it an off-the-cuff comment after a class or was it in a publication? If the latter, what is the reference, so we can and go evaluate his arguments ourselves if so inclined? In the absence of that information, I will keep an open mind.