The origins of the Turkic word for "stirrup"

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Ulf Jäger has just published this impressive article:

"A Unique Alxon-Hunnic Horse-and-Rider Statuette (Late Fifth Century CE) from Ancient Bactria / Modern Afghanistan in the Pritzker Family Collection, Chicago", Sino-Platonic Papers, 290 (August, 2019), 72 pages (free pdf).

In this study the author offers a first attempt to describe, discuss, and interpret the bronze statuette of a noble horse-and-rider of the so-called Alkhon/Alxon wave of the "Iranian Huns," dated to the end of the fifth century CE, from Northern Afghanistan.

Marcel Erdal comments:

Discussing the fact that the rider being described in this truly wonderful paper has no stirrups, Dr. Jäger writes (p. 43): ".. .stirrups do not appear in fifth-century archaeological complexes in Central Asia, but do appear not earlier than by the later sixth century C E , when the Western Turks appeared on the stage of history of Central Asia. Accepting all this, it is no wonder that our rider does not show the use of stirrups. Stirrups were still unknown to the Alkhons of Bactria and Gandhara at the end of the fifth century C E , during the time our unique Alkhon horse-and-rider statuette was designed."

Prof. Róna-Tas was the first to point out that Turkic languages share one term for the stirrup, including the ones spoken by Turkic groups which left Turkic unity and reached Eastern Europe at around the same time as this statuette; see Róna-Tas & Berta, West Old Turkic, Harrassowitz, 2011, pp. 1112-3 for the most recent remarks, providing bibliographical references to the relevant publications.

In view of its documentation, the term must have been Proto-Turkic; i.e., it must have been used by the hypothetical Turkic community which can be assumed to have existed somewhere, perhaps approximately 2 millennia ago. I would take the word to have had a Turkic etymology, relating it to ı:z "footprint', but there are other possibilities as well (involving üzä 'on').

For a possible (though to my mind dubious) connection with the Proto-Mongolic term, see Nugteren, Mongolic Phonology and the Qinghai-Gansu Languages, Utrecht 2011, p. 319.

Ladders and all sorts of other means for reaching the back of a horse were, of course, wide-spread and had a long history, but I take it to be a viable hypothesis that the early Turks were the first to use stirrups regularly in military activities, enabling them, among other things, to shoot arrows at their pursuers. The stirrup might, I think, have been the explanation for the phenomenal conquest of so much of Eurasia by the Turks in such a short time.

For the earliest evidence of stirrups in India, Parthia, China, and Korea, see here.

It's interesting that the Chinese character used to write the word for "stirrup" during post-classical times in early texts signified a type of ritual / cooking vessel or a lamp:  See dèng 鐙 / 镫 in zdic.  Note that it has a metal semantophore / radical / classifier and a phonophore that means "ascend; mount; pedal; tread; step on", etc.

Middle Sinitic reconstruction /təŋH/

Old Sinitic reconstruction /*tɯːŋ/, /*tɯːŋs/ (Zhengzhang); /*k-tˁəŋ/ (Baxter-Sagart)

Source



9 Comments

  1. Pamela Crossley said,

    August 23, 2019 @ 11:11 am

    "The stirrup might, I think, have been the explanation for the phenomenal conquest of so much of Eurasia by the Turks in such a short time." don't think so. but that could be said for the saddle.

    "Prof. Róna-Tas was the first to point out that Turkic languages share one term for the stirrup, including the ones spoken by Turkic groups which left Turkic unity and reached Eastern Europe at around the same time as this statuette" –what was it?

  2. Chris Straughn said,

    August 23, 2019 @ 12:29 pm

    The Proto-Turkic term was something like üzeŋgi. Chuvash, which is the oddball of the Turkic languages, having separated very early, has yărana. (Chuvash has /r/ where other Turkic languages have /z/. It's a major point of contention within Turcology and something opposing sides point to to defend or dismiss the Altaic hypothesis.)

  3. Phillip Helbig said,

    August 23, 2019 @ 12:45 pm

    Probably the combination of saddle and stirrups was most effective. Of course, the saddle very probably came before the stirrup.

    This is nothing new, of course (the effect of the invention, not the etymology). The stirrup, along with the plough, the collar for plough-pulling animals, the wheel, and so on have long been on the list of the most influential inventions.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    August 23, 2019 @ 4:52 pm

    From Guillaume Jacques:

    Concerning Turkic "stirrup" and related methodological problems, see the recent paper by Alexis Manaster Ramer, who discusses Róna-Tas's proposal, among other things:

    "How not to Slay a Dragon in Altaic, I: The "Killer" Loanword, and Technologism,1, Arguments"

    https://www.academia.edu/40146681/Turk_Rhotacism

  5. David Marjanović said,

    August 23, 2019 @ 4:59 pm

    Chuvash has /r/ where other Turkic languages have /z/. It's a major point of contention within Turcology

    The point of contention is whether this phoneme was pronounced as [z] or as some kind of [r]-like sound (but everyone agrees it was not [r] itself, because there was a */r/ that has remained /r/ in all attested Turkic languages). This contention is compounded by the fact that some of the words with this phoneme show up with /r/ in Mongolic (most often), Tungusic, Korean or Japonic, which favors some scenarios of borrowing or common ancestry over others.

  6. David Marjanović said,

    August 23, 2019 @ 5:28 pm

    the recent paper by Alexis Manaster Ramer

    Ah yes, etymological nativization is an ugly fact that has slain many a beautiful hypothesis.

  7. Chris Button said,

    August 24, 2019 @ 6:49 am

    Chuvash has /r/ where other Turkic languages have /z/. It's a major point of contention within Turcology

    Surely a liquid origin is more likely in terms of generally expected sound changes (especially given the related debate concerning a lateral and a voiceless sibilant)? Isn't there also loanword support that can help settle the debate?

    See dèng 鐙 / 镫 in zdic. Note that it has a metal semantophore / radical / classifier and a phonophore that means "ascend; mount; pedal; tread; step on", etc.

    In light of the etymology of the word "stirrup" in English, that seems semantically very reasonable.

  8. Jonathan Smith said,

    August 24, 2019 @ 3:18 pm

    @Chris Button Re: loanword support, Antonov & Jacques (2011) on Turkic kümüš 'silver' should be right up your alley; Ramer refers to it.
    Re: etymological nativization, while such could of course have happened in this or other cases, the straightforward interpretation of the loanword evidence suggested by these authors ought be the default assumption. Also agree with Chris Button re: naturalness…

  9. Andreas Johansson said,

    August 26, 2019 @ 12:49 pm

    "I take it to be a viable hypothesis that the early Turks were the first to use stirrups regularly in military activities, enabling them, among other things, to shoot arrows at their pursuers."

    While I'm sure early Turks practiced the so call "Parthian shot" – i.e., shooting backwards at someone you're riding away from – the trick goes back to at least the Parthians, centuries before the invention of the stirrup.

    (I'm not denying that the stirrup is militarily useful, but I'm getting annoyed at it being said to have enabled things that were patently done long before it, if perhaps less efficiently.)

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