Towards a reconstruction of Indo-European culture: semantic functions of IE *men-

Research output: Other contribution


Indo-European language reconstruction has allowed us to advance some hypotheseswith regard to possible reconstructing cultural contents of what has been defined “Indo-European ideology” (Campanile 1992). The method of textual comparison, which compares no longer and not merely single lexical items or single syntactic constructions, but the whole literary systems too, is able to bring out linguistic and extra-linguistic reference contexts. Theinterest in reconstructing the Indo-European “basic lexicon” is renewed in the light of recent typological criteria of root classification (according to their active or stative meaning): the focus today is on drawing up the so-called “global etymologies” (Ruhlen 1994), following theexample of previous reconstruction works concerning roots which are shared by most of the linguistic phyla of the world (Bomhard 1984).The aim of this paper, based on results of a PhD thesis, is to recover semantic valuesinvolved in IE root *men-, by means of a precise comparison between some significant terms derived from it in linguistic domains of Old Greek (maínomai, mántis, manteúomai, ménos, mnáomai, mimnésko in Homeric poems) and Old Indic (voices leading to man-, including noun mánas, in Rigveda book X), which are part of peculiar use contexts, concerned with the sphere of cognitive processes. In this specific case, since there seems to be a clear semantic split in the uses which come from this root on one hand in ancient Greek, on the other in Old Vedic, I will proceed at first by examining the real foundation of such assumed divergency, then by verifying the presence of remarkable, unexpected similarities found between the two domains confronted.On the basis of such similarities, it will be then possible to justify the unusual semantic polysemy traditionally ascribed to *men-, which Pokorny (1959) summarized with the opposing meanings “denken” and “geistig erregt sein”: textual analysis might possibly find the missing link which fill the apparent distance noticeable between the two meanings, distance which did not fail to arouse the interest and the contrasting opinions of eminent scholars (a century ofdebates from Meillet 1897 to Bader 1997). This analysis demolishes the positions ofconsidering gr. maínomai “ich denke”, compared to “ich rase”, like a monoglot development originating in a Sprachtabu phenomenon, so that use of meaning “denken” would derive from the necessity to denominate with an exact antonym a term which cannot be pronounced forreligious reasons, since madness is considered a sacred obsession of divine origin those (cf. Bertolín Cebrián 1996). Furthermore, regarding mántis activities, Dodds' (1951) statement, followed by other scholars, according to which the association between prophetism and madness belongs to the wealth of Indo-European ideas, appears far from confirmed.The analysis of linguistic contexts, and particularly of specific occurrences concerning some terms like gr. mántis, manteúomai and scr. man-, mánas, which appear in a close mutual semantic relationship with voices derived from IE *weid-, gr. eîdon / oîda, scr. véda, will berather able to show the existence of a semantic continuum with regard to cognitive process modalities outlined by using linguistic forms here discussed. I shall attempt to discover a concrete way of approaching a world which consisted of an experience born of fluid interpenetration of action and thought, with the total abolition of every dualistic conception about the relation between mind and body (Chomsky 1988). This way of approaching life(which today
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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