A New Mechanism For Contact-Induced Change: Evidence From Maritime Languages—H.D. Onesimus SpecGram Vol CL, No 3 Contents The European Dialects of Cheese—Book Announcement from Psammeticus Press

The Classical Roots of South America

By O. Popoi

In a recent archeological find that surely must be numbered among the most important of the past 200 years, a link between South America and ancient Greece was discovered. While a link between ancient Greece and North America was recognized as early as 1962 (when Peter Schickele unearthed P.D.Q. Bach’s cantata, Iphigenia in Brooklyn, followed by his discovery in 1990 of the oratorio/opera Oedipus Tex), a direct link to South America has never even been posited.

The archeological dig took place in a Greek mountain village called Ameiliktos. The name itself should have been sufficient reason to believe in a link to the Americas. The root ameiliktos
Ruth Underhill and Otto Jespersenthe most dedicated of trendsettersshow off the latest swim-wear fashions from “Gay Paree” at the 1929 Annual International Men of Philology/Women of Anthropology Multidisciplinary Mixer, held at a private beach resort in Galveston, Texas.
is clearly related to America. Just simplify the syllable structure to ameiliko and apply the rule [+liquid; α lateral] → [-α lateral], followed by absorption of the diphthong into the resulting [r], and there you go!1

Now, the word ameiliktos has previously been seen only in adjectival form, meaning “cruel”. (Obviously we have before us an example of grammaticalization of the adjective to a noun, specifically a place name.) The meaning of ameiliktos provides yet another clue to the link between ancient Greece and South America. The town is located in the mountains, where the weather can often be “cruel”, a situation paralleled in the Andes Mountains. Obviously, some ancient Greek colonists must have left their homeland untold ages ago, traveled across distant seas, endured storms and bouts of scurvy, and finally alighted on the western coast of “the land of a thousand mountains”, from which we derive the name Chile (Greek chilioi).2 Setting the standard for European colonization centuries later, these Greeks called their new home “New Ameiliktos”, or, more accurately, “False Ameiliktos” (Pseudameiliktos). Now, as any German will tell you, the English pronunciation of Pseud- is homophonous with the English pronunciation of Süd, the German word for “South”. Combining “South” with “America” yields the obvious: “South America”.

All of this, however, is purely speculative. The real find came from some clay tablets buried in rubble just outside the Greek town of Ameiliktos. The first important aspect of these tablets is that they are inscribed in cuneiform, which must prove something, I’m sure. The second important aspect is that these tablets contain a biographical sketch of a pre-Socratic philosopher called “Odoros” (or perhaps “Wodoros”, given that the presence of the extra consonant at the beginning of the name makes the meter work out). In a brief dialogue with a disciple named Philokakos, Odoros makes his argument by referring to a tasty fruit brought from across the seas. The name of this fruit is “gavagai”. The relevant text is reproduced below:

Φιλοκακος:        ω Ωδορος, τι ονομα ουτος;
Ωδορος:      Γαβαγαι

The fact that the phone [v] is spelled with a beta is immaterial, since, cross-linguistically, voiced stops often lenite into fricatives intervocalically.

Discovery of the word gavagai is significant for two reasons. First, it finally answers the question posed so eloquently by Jerry Fodor (“What does gavagai mean?”surprisingly, it has nothing to do with rabbits!3). Second, it provides the crucial link between ancient Greece and South America. The description of the fruit given later in the dialogue by Odoros is unmistakable: Gavagai means “guava”. Now, it is only a hop, skip and a jump from [gavagai] to [gwava], which according to the Oxford English Dictionary is, conveniently enough, of South American origin. A plausible, though not airtight scenario is that the first [a] diphthongized slightly to [oa], leading to labialization of the initial [g]. The plural suffix -ai cannot be expected to have been used universally, so that the resulting singular was [gwavag]. When the syllable structure of Pseudameiliktos Greek was simplified (as discussed above), the final [g] was dropped, and guava was left.

Rarely have small archeological digs by unprofessional and unscrupulous amateurs in podunk villages far from the epicenters of civilization turned up such remarkable artifacts and findings! The work, however, is far from complete. Many questions remain to be answered: What is the significance of the cuneiform of the Ameiliktos tablets? How did the Ameiliktosians travel to Chile? How did Odoros know about the fruits discovered by the Pseudameiliktosians? Was trade established for a time between Chile and the Mediterranean? Were the Pseudameiliktosians the first to explore the Amazon? These, and other questions, must await further study by real experts.

1 The astute reader will observe that this in fact does not yield America, but Americo (in which we see the similarity to Mexico and Texaco). This is not problematic, since there are a variety of ways in which a final, stressless full vowel can reduce to something like [a]. Alternatively, the masculine ending might have been replaced by the feminine.

2 A further remarkable fact is that these Greeks must have rounded either the Cape of Good Hope or Tierra del Fuego to reach the western coast of Chile. They may even have been the first to sail through the Strait of Magellan.

3 Perhaps less surprising is the phonological relationship between Odoros and Fodor—if Odoros truly did begin with a digamma /w/, it may easily have undergone fortition to /f/, yielding Fodoros.

A New Mechanism For Contact-Induced Change: Evidence From Maritime Languages—H.D. Onesimus
The European Dialects of Cheese—Book Announcement from Psammeticus Press
SpecGram Vol CL, No 3 Contents