Tuesday, 12 May 2015

A foghorn conclusion

Tales from the word-face

My trawl through words containing -el- has brought to my attention the words: haveli (an Indian English word that refers to a big/imposing  house/mansion) and "hovel". I wonder whether they are related in any way...

Etymonline, and other dictionaries (eg Collins) say  hovel's origin is unknown, and that it was first found in English written sources in  the 15th century.

..."shed for animals" (mid-15c.), of unknown origin. Meaning "shed for human habitation; rude or miserable cabin" is from 1620s...
          More here

Portugal, says Wikipedia, was the first European power with a presence in India, starting in the early 16th century.

I focused on "a European power" because that's in my comfort zone, and it seemed to me at first that the word favela  might be involved, though there's obviously a century[at least]'s dislocation in the timeline. But here‘s one view about this word:
The word favela is commonly associated with the word slum, shantytown, squatter community or ghetto. Each of these words carries a negative connotation, slum implies squalor, shantytown suggests precarious housing, squatter community hints at illegality and ghetto presupposes violence. None of these definitions do justice to the richness of favela culture or acknowledge the historical place of the favela in Brazilian history.
...The term favela is first found in 19th century Portuguese dictionaries, referring to the favela tree commonly found in Bahia.
After the ‘Guerra de Canudos’ (Canudos War) in Bahia (1895-1896) government soldiers, who had lived amongst the favela trees, marched to Rio de Janeiro to await their payment. They settled on what is one of Rio’s hills and renamed the hill ‘Morro da Favela’ after the shrubby tree that thrived at the location of their victory against the rebels of Canudos. 
favela trees

favela / hovel...? The alternation between initials f and h is not uncommon in Romance Philology, especially in the languages spoken in the Iberian Peninsula: for example, Latin filiu(m) gives Portuguese filho but Castilian hijo; and then the h can lose its sound, and be dropped altogether.

But the dates are all wrong. Besides, why bring Portugal into it just because I'm more at home with European sources? Hovel could have left India in the 14th century on the back of Timur's conquests leaving behind haveli. After that, its route into English is anyone's guess. Maybe Arabic [or something Oriental] was involved: whenever a dictionary says 'origin unknown' it's a fairly safe bet that a non-Roman writing system was involved. In fact, 'origin unknown' is a bit like the geographer's terra incognita and 'Here be dragons'; it's a euphemism for 'outwith the scope of traditional scholarship'; and it's not a final sentence.

But why should one word have diverged into two opposite meanings? Well, that's quite common – as is the reverse (flammable vs inflammable, pace the Health and Safety Executive); I just used one such word (quite as in "quite reasonable interesting" and "quite extraordinary".  And after two words diverge, with different meanings, they are subjected to different phonological pressures (elsewhere I have discussed the strange case of grammar and glamour). Elsewhere (again!) I have written:
...in Portuguese there is formoso -a and in Spanish hermoso -a. (And that f/h thing, incidentally, is at the root of Ferdinand and Isabella's royal emblem - the fennel plant: Aragonese had a word starting with f and Castilian had an for the initial letter of the word for 'fennel'. But that's a whole nother kettle of red herring.) 
So the case for a link between haveli and "hovel" is [at best]  not proven. But a man can dream. [What he can't do though, is put off any longer the resumption of that trawl {in preparation of that book of word-lists}!].

Update 2015.05.14.09:20 – Correction of example, in the colour of shame.

Update 2018.08.12.15:55 –Added clarification in last line, which made more sense unexplained three years ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment