So spoke Zoroaster: camels and ancient Sinitic reconstructions

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How did he speak?  What did he speak?  When did he speak?

There seems to be a lot of dissension, even among Iranists, concerning the basic facts of his life and times.  For the founder of a major religion, little hard evidence is available concerning the man and his message.  Of course, basic biographical data for the life of Jesus Christ are also scarce, including whether or not he was born on December 25, 0, and whether he died on Good Friday or on Holy Saturday before arising from the dead on Easter Sunday in AD 30 or 36?

From the time I first encountered Friedrich Nietzsche's book (1883-1885) in high school, I was puzzled by the archaic style of the title, Thus Spake Zarathustra, and the twin names of the founder of Zorastrianism, who was the namesake of the hero of the novel. 

Zoroaster (/ˈzɒræstər/, UK also /ˌzɒrˈæstər/; Greek: Ζωροάστρης, Zōroastrēs), also known as Zarathustra (/ˌzærəˈθstrə/, UK also /ˌzɑːrə-/; Avestan: ‎, Zaraθuštra), Zarathushtra Spitama or Ashu Zarathushtra (Modern Persian: زرتشت‎, Zartosht)


The full title of the novel in its original German is Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen (Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None).  It wasn't long before my etymological obsession led me to the explanation of the prophet's name as having something to do with camels (which would make sense for someone who hailed from the homeland of the Bactrian species).

Zoroaster's name in his native language, Avestan, was probably Zaraϑuštra. His English name, "Zoroaster", derives from a later (5th century BC) Greek transcription, Zōroastrēs (Ζωροάστρης), as used in Xanthus's Lydiaca (Fragment 32) and in Plato's First Alcibiades (122a1). This form appears subsequently in the Latin Zōroastrēs and, in later Greek orthographies, as Ζωροάστρις Zōroastris. The Greek form of the name appears to be based on a phonetic transliteration or semantic substitution of Avestan zaraϑ- with the Greek ζωρός zōros (literally "undiluted") and the Avestan -uštra with ἄστρον astron ("star").

In Avestan, Zaraϑuštra is generally accepted to derive from an Old Iranian *Zaratuštra-; The element half of the name (-uštra-) is thought to be the Indo-Iranian root for "camel", with the entire name meaning "he who can manage camels". Reconstructions from later Iranian languages—particularly from the Middle Persian (300 BCE) Zardusht,[further explanation needed] which is the form that the name took in the 9th- to 12th-century Zoroastrian texts—suggest that *Zaratuštra- might be a zero-grade form of *Zarantuštra-. Subject then to whether Zaraϑuštra derives from *Zarantuštra- or from *Zaratuštra-, several interpretations have been proposed.[b]

If Zarantuštra is the original form, it may mean "with old/aging camels", related to Avestic zarant- (cf. Pashto zōṛ and Ossetian zœrond, "old"; Middle Persian zāl, "old"):

    • "with angry/furious camels": from Avestan *zarant-, "angry, furious".
    • "who is driving camels" or "who is fostering/cherishing camels": related to Avestan zarš-, "to drag".
    • Mayrhofer (1977) proposed an etymology of "who is desiring camels" or "longing for camels" and related to Vedic Sanskrit har-, "to like", and perhaps (though ambiguous) also to Avestan zara-.
    • "with yellow camels": parallel to Younger Avestan zairi-.

The interpretation of the -ϑ- (/θ/) in Avestan zaraϑuštra was for a time itself subjected to heated debate because the -ϑ- is an irregular development: As a rule, *zarat- (a first element that ends in a dental consonant) should have Avestan zarat- or zarat̰- as a development from it. Why this is not so for zaraϑuštra has not yet been determined. Notwithstanding the phonetic irregularity, that Avestan zaraϑuštra with its -ϑ- was linguistically an actual form is shown by later attestations reflecting the same basis. All present-day, Iranian-language variants of his name derive from the Middle Iranian variants of Zarϑošt, which, in turn, all reflect Avestan's fricative -ϑ-.

In Middle Persian, the name is Zardu(x)št, in Parthian Zarhušt, in Manichaean Middle Persian Zrdrwšt, in Early New Persian Zardušt, and in modern (New Persian), the name is زرتشت Zartosht.


My ustrian fixation on the "camel" part of Zarathustra / Zoroaster only intensified when I beheld the Sinitic word for the camel, which looked and sounded as odd as the animal itself:  luòtuó 駱駝, also written as tuótuó 橐駝.  (The first half of the latter form means "sack" or "bellows [for blowing on a fire]".)  The slight divergence of sound, but marked divergence in orthography, with the horse semantophore, made me suspect that this doublet was another disyllabic borrowing from a foreign language.

luòtuó 駱駝

(Zhengzhang): /*ɡ·raːɡ  l'aːl/


tuótuó 橐駝

(Zhengzhang): /*tʰaːɡ  l'aːl/



Sanskrit úṣṭra उष्ट्र


From Proto-Indo-Iranian *úštras, perhaps from Proto-Indo-European *ūsr- (buffalo). Cognate with Avestan (uštra), Old English ūr.



उष्ट्र (úṣṭram

  1. buffalo [VHM: also "aurochs"]
  2. camel
  3. a wagon or a cart drawn by either


Masculine a-stem declension of उष्ट्र (úṣṭra)




I will not hazard a guess as to where the first part of -uštra- comes from, but overall the word seems to be sufficiently anchored in Indo-Iranian that we needn't go searching for it in some other language family.

As for Sinitic luòtuó 駱駝 < Middle Sinitic: /lɑk̚  dɑ/ < Old Sinitic /*ɡ·raːɡ  l'aːl/, I do have a hunch that its origin lies hidden somewhere in the maze of Indo-Iranian reflexes cited above.


Selected readings


  1. Keith said,

    January 13, 2021 @ 8:57 am

    From the time I first encountered Friedrich Nietzsche's book (1883-1885) in high school, I was puzzled by the archaic style of the title, Thus Spake Zarathustra, and the twin names of the founder of Zorastrianism, who was the namesake of the hero of the novel.

    I well remember "Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus spake Zarathustra)" appearing as the title of one of the recordings on a cassette tape (music from science fiction films and TV programmes) I received as a childhood Christmas present from my parents, along with a cassette recorder, and also noted the "archaic style of the title".

    I never questioned the reason for that archaic style, but assumed that it dated from the time of the earliest translations of Nietzsche's work into English in the early 20th century.

    I imagine that you, Victor, would have encountered in high school the 1909 translation by Common who made a conscious decision to use a style similar to that of the KJV of the bible, in imitation of Nietzsche's supposed pseudo-biblical style.

  2. Richard Foltz said,

    January 13, 2021 @ 11:47 am

    Witzel and Lubotsky both seem to consider that *ushtra is a loanword from the BMAC language, about which, of course, we know almost nothing.

  3. cameron said,

    January 13, 2021 @ 1:11 pm

    Per the etymology quoted above, the Greek form "Zoroaster" would appear to be an ancient eggcorn.

  4. ~flow said,

    January 13, 2021 @ 4:04 pm

    I actually think that 'Thus spake Zarathustra' is not an ideal, faithful rendering of 'Also sprach Zarathustra', as the latter is way less archaic than the former. It is certainly a bit old-fashioned to use 'also' in the sense of 'thus; in this way' (not 'therefore; consequently'), and it does have some biblical-formulaish tinge to it, but 'spake' is downright archaic. Where it probably does hit the nail tho is where it manages to evoke that old-timey solemnity that presumably many associate with the style of the biblical texts as they are most current now. There is also a piece of classical music (by Richard Strauss) by that title as many will know (see for a modern take on the immensely popular and recognizable theme).

    Funny to hear Zoroaster's name may be linked to camel herding just a day after I heard an outspoken atheist mock the Bible as 'The Goat-Herder's Guide to the Galaxy'.

  5. Doug said,

    January 13, 2021 @ 4:07 pm

    "…basic biographical data for the life of Jesus Christ are also scarce, including whether or not he was born on December 25, 0 . . ."

    I assume you're being facetious, and you know that historians do not count a year 0. 1 BC is immediately followed by AD 1.

  6. martin schwartz said,

    January 13, 2021 @ 8:49 pm

    There is misunderstanding above as to the zero-grade. It applies
    only, and obligatorily, to the first member of the compound,
    whereby the *-ant- would turn up as *-at-. 'Camel manager'
    was Bailey's guess; as with many of his etym.s, not much for it.
    Starting from *zarat-uštra- 'having old camels' (I've no time to go into the rationale of such a name), we'd get *zara†.uštra-, where my † = t with diacritical (transcribed as tilde) below. Various evidence suggests that this dental was slightly fricative, which in Z's dialect may have been pronounced as theta. As for 'camel', Indo-Iranian *uštra- looks lile a -trá- agent noun. The first part could be
    zero-grade of Indo-Iranian *√vaz' (palatal z), pertaining to being full of nurture; see my article in Fs. Yarshater.
    Martin Schwartz

  7. Chris Button said,

    January 13, 2021 @ 10:41 pm

    At first blush, 駱駝 *ráklál doesn't seem to have much in common with Indo-Iranian *uštra-.


    ra for
    Compare "wascally wabbit" (or [ʋ] for /r/) along with the semivowel-like status of /r/ and the common phonetic blurring of approximants and fricatives.

    kl for tr
    The association of /kl/ with /tr/ is not a huge stretch, although /kr/ would have been nicer. Compare sporadic cases like 肘 *trə̀wʔ from *krə̀wʔ within Old Chinese (the 寸 in 肘 was originally the phonetic 九 *kə̀wʔ)

    al for a
    For the use of an *-al rhyme word 駝 *lál (Early Middle Chinese *da) for *a, compare the association of Mongolian *aqa with 哥 from the same *-al rhyme group.

  8. Hiroshi Kumamoto said,

    January 13, 2021 @ 11:52 pm

    Calling Also Sprach Zarathustra a novel rather surprises me. Such a classification would put Plato’s dialogues, the Bhagavadgītā, of Rumi’s Masvavi in the same category of “novel”. In any case, did Nietzsche know about Zarathuštra of Zoroastrianism more than what he, as a Hellenist, picked up from Greek references? I’ve read somewhere (the reference isn’t at hand right now; I’m looking for it) that someone went through the check-out records of the University Library of Basel during his tenure (1869-78), and came up with the fact that he checked out the second volume of Friedrich von Spiegel’s Erânische Altertumskunde (Leipzig, 1871–78, 3 vols.), covering “Religion, Geschichte bis zum Tode Alexanders der Grossen”. This is a kind of Encyclopaedia Iranica at the time, just before a new generation of Iranian studies was launched with Geldner’s Neuausgabe of the Avesta (1885~) and the collective work of the Grundriss der iranischen Philologie (1895~). However, it looks as if Nietzsche didn’t learn (or like) anything about Iranian religion from the book. His Zarathustra has a snake (“meine Schlange”) with him in his cave, which is a typically demonic animal in Zoroastrianism (e.g. aži dahāka). It’s as preposterous as describing Prophet Muhammad keeping a pet pig.

    The etymology of the name Zaraθuštra, remains unsolved. After Mayrhofer’s Zum Namengut des Avesta (Wien 1977), which Victor refers to from Wikipedia, there is a critique by B. Schlerath, “Noch einmal Zarathustra” (Die Sprache 23, 1977, 127-135), and Mayrhofer’s rejoinder, “Zarathustra und kein Ende?” (Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 25, 1977, 85-90). Paul Thieme wrote “Der Name des Zarathustra” (ZVS (=KZ) 95, 1981, 122-125; also Kleine Schriften Vol. II, 1995, 1154-57). The unsolved problems are naturally the meaning of the zara(t)- part, and why its last consonant is not –t- but -θ-. Invoking a dialectal difference (as by Professor Schwartz here) has been done by Helmut Humbach in his English version of the Gathas (Heidelberg 1991), p. 8 of the Introduction. I would think that it is more or less like saying we don’t know. For the zara- part, Thieme’s short note above at least offers a rationale for “(having) an old camel” in that naming a child with a “pejorative” name helps to avert evil spirits; e.g Skt. (epic) Kṛśāspa (Iranian Kərəsāspa-) “of meager horses”.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    January 14, 2021 @ 9:11 am

    @Hiroshi Kumamoto

    "Calling Also Sprach Zarathustra a novel rather surprises me."

    It is a novel, more specifically a philosophical novel, just as there are historical novels, picaresque novels, sentimental novels, Gothic novels, psychological novels, novels of manners, epistolary novels, pastoral novels, apprenticeship novels (bildungsromans), Romans à clef, nouveau romans, antinovels, cult (or coterie) novels, detective / mystery / thriller novels, western, commercial ("best seller") novels, fantasy / prophecy novels, proletarian novels, science fiction novels, etc.

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    January 14, 2021 @ 9:32 am

    Nonetheless, I have a certain sympathy with Hiroshi Kumamoto's perspective. For as long as I have known the word, I have maintained that I (a truly avid reader) do not read novels — I read books, I read stories, I read realms of non-fiction, but I do not read novels. And the reason is simply that I associate the term "novel" with "worthy" works — works that one is expected to have read if one has any pretentions to being literate in the wider sense. So I will continue to read "stories" (Lord of the Rings, Cryptonomicon, Eric or little by little, The story of a red deer), leaving it to my betters to read their worthy novels.

  11. Terry Hunt said,

    January 14, 2021 @ 11:45 am

    @ Doug
    Historians may not count a year 0, but astronomers do: it makes various calculations easier. Since supposed astronomical events — various possible planetary positions [1] and eclipses [2] — may offer clues to dating Jesus' life, it's not inappropriate to make the reference that Professor Mair, doubtless deliberately, did.

    [1] Movements of Jupiter within the Zodiac, particularly relative to Leo (the Lion, as in the Lion of Judah), and its leading star Regulus, may have had astrological significance to the Magi (who were, of course, Zoroastrian priests), as may have its conjunctions with Saturn or occultations by the Moon).
    [2] Although the "darkness over the whole land . . ." (Mark 15:33, Luke 24:44) at the crucifiction cannot (at Passover, around Full Moon) have been a Solar eclipse, it could have been a Lunar eclipse.

  12. Terry Hunt said,

    January 14, 2021 @ 11:47 am

    "Crucifi_x_ion" – D'oh!

  13. Francesco Brighenti said,

    January 14, 2021 @ 1:43 pm

    Here is a note on Proto-Indo-Iranian *uštra- ‘Bactrian camel’ I wrote long ago:

    Part I


    The Akkadian term udru-/ ‘two-humped camel’ is first attested in Assyrian texts dating from the 11th century BCE and is, therefore, susceptible to being analyzed as an Indo-Iranian loan:

    “The Akkadian word udru- is first used in the reign of the Assyrian king Assurbelkala (1074-1057 BCE) who bought some two-humped camels from merchants with dealings in the east” (R.W. Bulliet, _The Camel and the Wheel_, Columbia Univ. Press, reprint 1990, p. 156).

    There is a good consensus among ANE scholars that it is roughly by this date that the Bactrian camel was introduced into Mesopotamia through trade with the Iranian Plateau.

    Igor M. Diakonoff advanced an interesting linguistic hypothesis about the source of this (probable) loan into Akkadian. According to him, the source would be a “Proto-Dardic” (viz., an Indo-Aryan, not Iranian) reflex of PIIr. *uštra-:

    “There is still another Akkadian gloss, which is (with good reason as it seems) thought to be a borrowing from (Indo-)Iranian: This is Akkadian udr- ‘(Bactrian) camel’ […]. The Indo-Iranian name for the Bactrian camel is *uštra-; the question is whether this could point to the ultimate origin of Akkadian udr-, and if so, what was the reason for its acquiring this particular phonetic form? The reading UD-ru is in itself suspect, since the sign UD has fifteen different possible readings in the cuneiform texts […]. A reading *utra- or *utru- would in principle be possible, were it not for the occasional spelling u-DU-ru/i. The sign DU may be read as /du/ or /t.u/ but never as *TU. Hence, the only two really possible readings for the Akkadian term denoting ‘Bactrian camel’ are either udr- or ut.r-. I would vote for the second: the term is obviously borrowed in Akkadian and most probably from an Indo-Iranian dialect, but udr- is very difficult to lead back to *uštr- (which would produce *ušr- in Akkadian). However, /*t./ is a phoneme which, very probably, is glottalized, something like /tʔ/; utʔr- might be an Akkadian reproduction of *uhtr-, or even *, if the /s./ is to be understood as a phoneme different from the standard /š/. Now, in some Iranian languages nothing serious seems to have occurred with the /š/ in *uštra: we encounter uštur or šutur in Persian/Tajik/Dari, and the same form, with sundry minor changes, appears also in Dardic languages. In Pashto (Afghan), however, we encounter u: š.- [/š./ = voiceless retroflex fricative], borrowed into several Dardic dialects as u:x- (thus also in the Nuristani languages Ashkun, Dameli, Waigali […]), and even as u:k-. The word is also pronounced as u:t.(h)- in a number of other Dardic dialects, as well as in the western Indian languages Lahnda and Panjabi. This pronunciation is not to be expected in Median, which was a dialect very much more similar to Persian. Thus, the Akkadian word for the Bactrian camel, which should be reconstructed as ut.r-, probably goes back […] to a proto-Dardic form such as *uhtra:-/*us.tra:-“ (I.M. Diakonoff, “Pre-Median Indo-Iranian Tribes in Northern Iran”, _Bulletin of the Asia Institute, Bloomsfield Hills_, N.S., Vol. 10 [1996], pp. 12-13).

    A different hypothesis about the origin of Akkadian udru-/ ‘two-humped camel’, always starting from ProtoIIr. *uštra-, has been advanced by historian Richard W. Bulliet:

    “Akkadian udru- and uduru- ‘two-humped camel,’ attested in the 11th century BCE, may be a loan from an Old Iranian form of the word similar to the form from which Khotanese [Saka] ula- was derived (possibly *ušθra- > *u[θ]θra- > *u’ra- and, with metathesis in proto-Khotanese, *ur’a-” (R.W. Bulliet, article “Camel” in _Encyclopaedia Iranica_).


    “[Armenian] uLt- ‘Bactrian camel’ [/L/ = voiced apico-alveolar velarized lateral approximant] < Urart[ian] ult.u- ‘Bactrian camel’. The Urartian word is somehow connected with Akkad[ian] utru-/ (not *udru-!) ‘Bactrian camel’, and perhaps with OIran. uštra-” (I.M. Diakonoff, “Hurro-Urartian Borrowings in Old Armenian”, JAOS 105 [1985], p. 600). “Arm[enian] uLt- ‘camel’. Bible, 5th century… Ur[artian] ult.u- ‘camel’… The camel is not found in the mountainous area of Daghestan, and an early native Proto-East-Caucasian form would be surprising. It is almost sure, then, that the Urartian word is borrowed from elsewhere. It is probably related, somehow, to Akkadian udru-/ (Diakonoff 1985: 600), Avestan uštro:- ‘camel’, Skt. us.t.ra- ‘buffalo, camel’…” (J.A.C. Greppin with I.M. Diakonoff, “Some Effects of the Hurro-Urartian People and Their Languages upon the Earliest Armenians”, JAOS 111 [1991], p. 7 and n. 60).

  14. Francesco Brighenti said,

    January 14, 2021 @ 1:58 pm

    Part II


    Robert Shafer (“Nahali: A Linguistic Study in Paleoethnography”, _Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies_ 5 [1941], p. 353) lists the following South Asian words inherited or borrowed as loans from Old Indo-Aryan us.t.ra- ‘camel’:

    Indo-Aryan u:~t-, ut.t.h- etc.

    Munda: Korku u:n.t.o-, Korwa u:n.t.-, most Kherwarish dialects (Mundari, Santali, etc.) u:~t.-

    Dravidian: Kurux un.t.-, Gondi u:n.t.-, Kannada on.t.e-

    Therefore, the nasal infix or the nasalization of the initial vowel in the above Munda and Dravidian words is an (unexplained) phonetic development that is also found in several northwestern Indo-Aryan terms for ‘camel’ (including some Dardic ones) derived from Old Indo-Aryan us.t.ra-. The latter terms are commonly regarded as the sources for the similar Munda and Dravidian forms presenting a nasal infix or a nasalization of the initial vowel. Note that most of the above mentioned Munda and Dravidian languages (with the exception of Kannada) are spoken in areas close to the “Hindi belt” in the north. Moreover, before disappearing from South Asia by the end of the second millennium BCE the two-humped camel is not known to have been introduced into northern Deccan, where most of the said Munda and Dravidian languages are spoken, and this militates against the existence of any independent Munda and/or Dravidian roots for ‘camel’.

    As regards the o- in Tamil-Malayalam ot.t.akam-, Toda ot.t.e- Kannada on.t.e-, it is known that in Middle Indo-Aryan loans into Old Tamil, initial /u/ often changes to /o/ (and initial /i/ to /e/). Thus, Skt. us.t.ra-, >Pali. ot.t.ha- > Old Tamil ot.t.akam (cf. S. Vaidyanathan in JAOS 91 [1971], p. 323)

    Finally, the Brahui (North Dravidian) word for ‘camel’, hu:č- (transliterated as huc- by other authors) appears to represent an independent loan not connected with the South and South-Central Dravidian loanwords:

    “The Ir[anian] origin of Br[ahui] hu:č – … is extremely doubtful. Possibly hu:č- is borrowed from an Ind[ic] form allied to Khetrani uč- ‘she-camel’…” (G. Morgenstierne, _Irano-Dardica_, Wiesbaden, Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 1973, p. 148).

    Khetrani, a Lahnda (Indo-Aryan) dialect spoken in Balochistan (Pakistan) near the area where Brahui is spoken, has ut.t.h- as the general term for ‘male camel’, and uč- as the term for ‘she-camel’.

    It may be further added here that the initial /h/ in the Brahui word can be explained away by postulating an influence on Brahui of the Balochi term for ‘camel’, uštir- (~ uštar-, uštur-), which was probably borrowed from Middle Persian uštar-. The Balochi term also occurs in the variant form huštar- (~ huštur-), showing a secondary, unetymological h- which may constitute a Kurdish influence (cf. Kurdish huštir- ‘camel’).


    The source of all the South and Southwest Asian words for ‘camel’ discussed above seems to be PIIr. *uštra- (or *Huštra if one accepts the reconstruction of an initial laryngeal for it). However, since the underlying PIE roots that have been proposed as the etymon for this PIIr. word looks unsatisfactory to many comparative linguists, I think A. Lubotsky and M. Witzel’s suggestion that the PIIr. word is probably a loan from the non-IE language(s) spoken in the BMAC area in the late-third millennium BCE to be a good one. In fact, in the third millennium BCE Bactria and Margiana became a secondary centre of domestication of the two-humped camel, an animal which had been initially domesticated in Inner Mongolia and northeastern Xinjiang during the Neolithic. At Gonur Depe (Turkmenistan), for instance, a human, camel and wheel burial, dated to ca. 2200 BCE, has been excavated.

    [NOTE: Diakonoff concludes the above quoted paper of his with saying that the word for ‘Bactrian camel’ could have been introduced into Mesopotamia via the Indo-Aryans associated with the kingdom of Mittani, yet it should be born in mind that his theory about the nature of the so-called Mittani Indo-Aryan superstrate or adstrate differs from the standard one (which takes such superstrate or adstrate to represent a form of Indo-Aryan older than the R.gvedic one); indeed, Diakonoff's theory, which is also expounded in other articles of his, is that Mittani IA was a form of “Proto-Dardic,” whatever this linguistic label may have signified to him. However, Dardic is a sub-grouping of IA languages, and is not supposed to represent an independent branch of IIr. like Nuristani is.]

  15. Philip Anderson said,

    January 14, 2021 @ 4:52 pm

    I have liked the Angli-Indian word ‘oont’ since I first saw it in a dictionary. But it provided a surreal interpretation whenI heard the dialect term “oonty tumps”, meaning a molehill apparently, defined by a countryman as “tumps made by oonts”!

  16. Yves Rehbein said,

    January 14, 2021 @ 6:00 pm

    It is surprising that no alternitive hypothesis for the alleged "camel" element is advanced here. If one exists, I don't know it. I just find it reminiscent of, e.g., certain Hindu gods assumed to be named for certain trees while the opposite case seems more likely or at least common origin. It might be implausible that a Camel was named for Zarathustra long before the religion came to be, but the semantics of the opposite case that is assumed here has no semantic appeal and is bound to run into wallsbbecause of it (unless I am missing something be caused ai am not familiar with this Avestan religion).

  17. martin schwartz said,

    January 15, 2021 @ 12:15 am

    It should be noted that if thwe first member of Z's name is from
    *zarat- cmpd. zero grade of *zarant-), what is expected is not
    *zarat-uštra- but *zara†.uštra-, where † = t with diacritical
    below, transcibed as tilde.. Now, we find Av. a†.ka- ~ a∂ka-
    'an overgarment' and v3r3†ka- ~ v3r3∂ka- 'kidney (my 3 = schwa);
    my ∂ is a voiced interdental fricative (convetionally transcribed as delta).
    This shows that † was partially fricative. The passage tot he attested theta in the name, if one doesn't like not knwing the details of Zs own dialect, could reflect the long passage of time in which
    the most frequent name in Zoroastrianism evolved from
    Old Avesta, to the Young Avestan matrix in which we find the Gathas. I did think of the rationale for "old' here, but I am under weight of deadlines. Similarly my not going into the Hurrian-Urarartian > Armenian and the Akkadian forms; I thought it irrelevant, but a Mitanni (sic) transmission is plausible, for which we can dispense with Dardic origin. Yes, maybe BMAC origin, but
    given an Indo-Iranian "popular" etymology as per my suggestion.
    Finally, I LOATHE how Nietzsche gave a very influential misleading
    asscociation for the name Zarathustra (recte Zarathushtra), and after 60 years as an
    Iranist I'm tired of intendedwitty allusions to Also sprach usw. A grad student I had (alas can't remember her name–a bright Germanophone Iranian woman–wrote a thesis in which, inter alia, she documented that Nietzsche intentionally chose his fictive Z as an intentional counter to the ethical dualism of the historical Zarathushtra.FN's protagonist being beyond good and
    evil. Btw FN's friendship with the wife of the Iranist Andreas
    seems not to have been the source of FN's quasi-acquaintance with Zarathustra.
    Martin Schwartz

  18. Francesco Brighenti said,

    January 15, 2021 @ 5:38 am

    According to A. Lubotsky the laryngeal in the reconstructed PIIr. form *(H)uštra- (in his hypothesis, borrowed from the language(s) of the BMAC civilization) may be responsible for ϑ- in the compound zaraϑuštra-.

    Also E.E. Kuz’mina indirectly favors a BMAC origin for the PIIr. etymon: “The name of the camel, *uštra-, is common in the Indo-Iranian languages […] and it differs from other Indo-European languages where the term to denote camel is a late borrowing from Semitic gammālu. It follows from these linguistic data that the Indo-Iranians became acquainted with the Bactrian camel when they had already split from the other Indo-Europeans but were not yet separated into Indo-Aryan and Iranian branches. Palaeozoological data show that this could have happened in either Andronovo territory or south Central Asia […].” She adds: “The Semitic word for dromedary – Hebrew and Phoenician gāmālu – was borrowed (with the animal) into the languages of the Caucasus – Georgian, Svan, Mengrelian (Bogolyubsky 1929) and with the intermediation of Greek and Latin it came to all Indo-European languages, except Indo-Iranian where the term (e.g., Avestan uštra-) was applied to the two-humped Bactrian camel which was borrowed by Finno-Ugrian and later probably by the Chinese (Schrader 1901: 405; Salonen 1955-56: 85-87; Redard 1964: 155-162; Mayrhofer 1986: 237; Burrow 1976: 143).”

    According to archaeologist D.T. Potts, “[I]t seems more likely that the Bactrian camel reached Bactria proper from the east, not the south (eastern Iran/Seistan) or the west (Turkmenistan)” – that is to say, it reached Bactria from the Tarim basin, not from the putative Proto-Indo-Iranian homeland in the trans-Ural region (the Sintashta culture) and Kazakhstan. That makes more plausible that PIIr-speaking groups in the western C. Asian steppes borrowed their own distinct word for ‘Bactrian camel’, *(H)uštra-, from their southern neighbors, the non-IE-speaking BMAC folks.

    Finally, I don’t know of any attestation of a reflex of PIIr. *(H)uštra- in Mitanni Indo-Aryan, but I may have missed something. Anyone can help with this?

  19. Hiroshi Kumamoto said,

    January 15, 2021 @ 10:44 pm

    On Nietzsche’s borrowing from the University Library of Basel see M. Mayrhofer “Zu einer Deutung des Zarathustra-Namens in Nietzsches Korrespondenz”, in Beiträge zur alten Geschichte und deren Nachleben. Festschrift für Franz Altheim, II, Berlin 1970, 369-374 (esp. 369), reprinted in Ausgewählte Kleine Schriften [I], Wiesbaden, 1979, 209-214 (esp. 209).

    @Professor Schwartz
    Sporadic interchanges between θ and d, δ or t (t̰ in syllable final) are noticed and listed as early as 1895 (Grundriss I 182, no. 44). The problem would be the impossibility of correlating these facts with geographical localities.

    @Yves Rehbein
    Attemps have been made to analyze the name as Zara-θuštra and to explain the second half; see the literature in my previous post. They have not been successful. They seem to be motivated less by their own merit than by a wish to skirt the problem of θ / t̰. In any case they aren’t likely to be correct in view of the abundance of proper names ending in -aspa “horse”, -gu “cow”, etc.

  20. Chris Button said,

    January 15, 2021 @ 11:22 pm

    To add a little more rigor to my ramblings on 駱駝 (OC *ráklál, EMC *lakda:

    On 駱 (OC *rák, EMC *lak):
    The *-k coda would have been unreleased so would have had an overlapping glottal closure as [kˀ] so articulatorily fairly weak. Furthermore, Pulleyblank (1965 "The Chinese Names for the Turks") notes the use of final stop consonants to represent a short vowel sound regardless of the actual coda. As such we can perhaps assume that *-ak was really being used to suggest the shortness of the /a/ as [ɐ] (particularly in relation to the /a/ [a] in the second syllable). The *r- onset, perhaps representing something closer to [ʋ], may well have been preferable to a more vocalic /u/ since otherwise it would have needed a preceding glottal /ʔ/, which may have taken it too far from the source pronunciation.

    On 駝 (OC *lál, EMC *da):
    I noted the use of the OC *-al rhyme group words for /a/ above. In addition, Pulleyblank (1981:287 "Some Notes on Chinese Historical Phonology) notes that earlier OC *-al rhymes are used for *-a from the 3rd century and occasionally earlier. He notably mentions 陀, which is homophonous with 駝 here, for "da" in Buddha. As for the shift of *l- to *d- in 駝 from *lál to *da, it presumably had some interim [dˡ] or [lᵈ] phase.

    As a result, the use of 駱駝 to represent an approximation of a loanword being phonetically likened to something like *ʋɐdˡa doesn't seem that far from *uštra-, particularly if we take into account the suggestions around *uhtra- and all the forms from Prakrit uṭṭa.

  21. Chris Button said,

    January 16, 2021 @ 3:41 pm

    So I appreciate I'm clutching at straws with my posts (cue a comment on which one is going to break the camel's back), but I do feel Prof. Mair's hunch (or oont-inspired hump) has worth.

    Interestingly, Wikipedia (which I keep at a healthy distance when it comes to oracle-bones and Chinese etymology) says that 駱駝 comes from Xiongnu *dada. The comment is not sourced. Does anyone have any idea where such a suggestion might have come from?

  22. martin schwartz said,

    January 16, 2021 @ 6:59 pm

    @Prof. Kumamoto: Please reread my last posting (above),
    where I no longer speak of dialect, but suggest that the slightly
    fricative sound of t-tilde had, with the repetition of Z's name over a long period of time, i.e. from real Old Avestan to the Young
    Avestanmatrix from which we know the Gathas, that dental could well have passed to theta.
    @the idea that the theta in Z's name is due to *H- from an alleged BMAC word for 'camel', no example of *t becoming theta at juncture
    before laryngeal can be adduced, but much more importantly
    a form *zarat-uštra- is reflected in Middle Persian Zardu(x)št,
    cf. Gr. Zarade:s. This *t goes against the BMAC theory, which starts
    out from the form with theta.
    @Yves Rehbein: Alas, I can't understand either of your postings above. Are you aware of the name of Z's patron Frašaoštra-
    < fraša-uštra- ?
    I plan to respond soon to Prof. Foltz guest posting on the recent
    Language Log "Zoroastrianism…".
    Martin Schwartz

  23. Hiroshi Kumamoto said,

    January 17, 2021 @ 8:41 am

    @Professor Schwartz
    Well, what we know from the oral tradition in India (and less clearly from Iran, too) would suggest otherwise. That is, through the “repetition over the long period of time” the pronunciation would have been maintained with utmost care, especially of such an important name as Zaraθuštra.

    Thinking about the Old Avestan corpus transmitted in the environment of Young Avestan speakers (the two languages clearly showing not only chronological, but also dialectal differences as is well-known), one could argue for the latter’s influence over the former if we had an OAv. form *Zaraduštra (like OAv. dadā- vs. YAv. daθā-), which of course we do not.

    On the purported influence (as you deny it) of F. C. Andreas via Lou Andreas-Salomé over Nietzsche’s ASZ. It is chronologically untenable. On this lady quite a lot is written. In English alone we have:
    Heinz Frederick Peters (é/dp/0393007480/) (also available for “borrowing” from ( and Julia Vickers ( There is also a German language movie (, which I have not seen.

    According to Peters, Nietzsche started writing ASZ shortly after his proposal to her was rejected and they were separated. This episode might somehow have influenced the creation of the book (in 4 parts), as Peters writes (p. 142) “How much Nietzsche's fascination for Lou contributed to the creation of Zarathustra is, of course, a complex question”. It is years later, in 1887, that she met Andreas (Peters 168ff.).

  24. Chris Button said,

    January 18, 2021 @ 8:23 am

    Given the significant problems with 駱 in 駱駝, not least because it is also treated as 橐 with a different onset, another possibility presents itself.

    駝 *lᵈa/dˡa (the onset being between OC *l and EMC *d) is indeed related to the *tra- component of of *uštra-.

    Meanwhile the first syllable could perhaps have a different provenance. An example of this would be Matisoff's observation that Burmese pʰjam "otter" comes from Proto-Tibeto-Burman *ram "otter" with a Proto-Mon-Khmer *bheʔ "otter" used as an affix (Gordon Luce had actually tentative suggested a possible relationship between the Mon and Burmese forms back in the sixties but without detailed discussion).

  25. Chris Button said,

    January 18, 2021 @ 8:25 am

    Perhaps supporting the above is the significant use of 駝 "camel" on its own in compounds without the 駱 component.

  26. Chris Button said,

    January 22, 2021 @ 8:00 am

    Turns out there seems to be an instance of 駱 all the way back in the bronze inscriptions. The question is why it would then later be used with 駝 representing (uš)tra- in 駱駝.

  27. Chris Button said,

    January 22, 2021 @ 7:31 pm

    I wonder if there was something about the rarity of the horse (white with black mane as the Shuowen has it), that perhaps signified something exotic and of foreign origin? That's to say 駱駝 is literally the "foreign horse (uš)tra-" with the (uš) being elided.

    Matisoff's observation that Burmese pʰjam "otter" comes from Proto-Tibeto-Burman *ram "otter" with a Proto-Mon-Khmer *bheʔ "otter" used as an affix

    I think Schuessler's comparison with 猵 *pʲán is convincing here. The dissimilation of the bilabial coda from the bilabial onset is occasionally attested elsewhere too (e.g. 般 *pán < *pám with its original phonetic 凡 *bàm).

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