LINGUISTIC PALAEONTOLOGY: SCIENCE OR
FICTION?
A case study within Uralic
Dr. Angela Marcantonio
1. Introduction
I am a linguist, specialising in Uralic studies. My recent book (Marcantonio 2002a)
carefully examines the evidence in favour of the theory that the Uralic languages are
genetically related. In the extensive literature on this subject, I find that there is no scientific
evidence at all in favour of the Uralic theory. Instead there is an extensive interlocking
network of self-consistent assumptions and circular reconstructions. I conclude that the Uralic
languages do not form a language family.
The purpose of this paper is to examine the methods of analysis that have been
employed to build up the standard Uralic theory – and how the use of these methods has, I
believe, so misled researchers. I believe this examination will be relevant to scientists in all
disciplines that base their work on these reconstructions, as well as linguists who are
responsible for establishing them. I hope to begin the process of a quantitative re-examination
of other language families, including perhaps Indo-European.
Examining how researchers have come to believe in the unity of the Uralic language
family, scholars have mainly used the so-called ‘Method of Historical Linguistics’. By
comparing attested languages which are assumed to be related, and assuming a high degree of
regularity in the way the languages have evolved in the past, it is believed one can reconstruct
much of the language, location, culture and antiquity of a supposed ancient community. This
process of reconstruction is referred to as ‘Palaeolinguistics’.
In the past, palaeolinguistics has attracted such a high scientific credibility amongst
authors and peer-reviewers that many authors who report counter-evidence to the model tend
to minimise or ‘re-interpret’ their data, rather than present a paper that clearly contradicts the
model. Thus, one can observe papers in linguistics, archaeology, history and genetics that
present evidence contradicting the theory, but whose conclusions either minimise the
importance of their results, or re-interpret their data so that it now fits the model better. This
minimisation or re-interpretation reinforces the interlocking network of assumptions and
interpretations, so that even counter-evidence, ultimately, appears to contribute towards
reinforcing the model.
One of the grossest distortions of this nature is found in the historical text that
supposedly goes a long way towards establishing the Uralic origin of the Hungarians. We
shall see that the original text of Constantine Porphyrogenitus refers to a population of Turks,
and it clearly contradicts the supposed Uralic model. Historians describe this contradiction as
‘ridiculous’ because it contradicts the accepted linguistic model, and they simply assume that
the original record was in error. The record is ‘corrected’ or ‘re-interpreted’ in most
translations, so that it now appears to support the theory. Most textbooks do not mention that
any re-interpretation is involved, and indeed many specialist papers fall into the same trap.
One now finds this very text quoted in linguistic textbooks in support of the theory. A true
circularity.
My central theme will be that I seek to invite authors – with the support of peerreviewers – to have the courage to report their evidence as it stands. When authors discover
evidence that is at variance with the linguistic models, this evidence must not be ‘reinterpreted’ in order to be consistent with the accepted model, but rather it should be stated
clearly that the evidence contradicts the accepted model.
1.1 What is wrong with the standard Uralic theory?
According to the standard Uralic theory, the Hungarians, Finns, Samoyed, Lapp and so
on all descend from an ancient community that lived somewhere near the Ural Mountains
about 8,000 years ago.
Recent evidence from archaeology, anthropology and genetics appeared to contradict
this theory. Several authors have drawn attention to this, including Julku (1997and 2000);
Dolukhanov (2000a & b); Nuñez (1987, 1997a & b, 2000) and Niskanen (1997, 2000a & b).
Compare also the recently published volume of ‘Root IV’, edited by Julku (Julku 2002). The
principal items of counter-evidence are as follows: The results from genetic analysis are at variance with the conventional assumption that
genetic inheritance is the dominant factor in language transmission. The Samoyed and
Ob-Ugric people have largely ‘Mongoloid’ genetic character, whilst the rest of the
(traditionally classified) Uralic populations are largely ‘Europoid’. In fact, there is no
evidence for a “Uralic gene”, other than as a linguistic definition of the gene
characteristics near the Ural Mountains.
 There are no archaeological traces of migrations from the Ural Mountains toward the
West, contrary to the predictions of the standard model. Indeed, populations and
technology (such as arrow-heads, ice picks and ceramic technology), appear to have
spread in a direction generally from the Southwest to the Northeast, that is, in the
opposite direction than the one predicted by the conventional model.
 The supposed migration from the Ural Mountains into empty European areas is
contradicted by evidence that North-eastern Europe has been inhabited, without
interruption, by local populations throughout this period.
This evidence has given rise to many different models being proposed, such as the
‘Uralic lingua franca’ model as formulated by Wiik and Künnap (Künnap 1995, 1997a,
1997b, 1998, 2000/01, 2001; Wiik 1995, 1996, 1997a, b & c, 1999, 2000, 2000/01a,
2000/01b; see also Taagepera 1994, 1997, 2000 and Sutrop 2000a & b and 2001), or the chain
model as proposed by Pusztay (1995, 1997, 2001).
All these new models appear to have a common thread. Despite their “revolutionary” or
“revisionist” approaches (see Janhunen 2001), many of them still implicitly assume that there
was in some sense a Uralic linguistic area, distinct from, for example, the Altaic or Siberian
linguistic area. In fact, linguists as well as anthropologist and archaeologists[1] generally
assume that the original, local populations who lived in northern-eastern Europe were the
ancestors of the modern ‘Finno-Ugric’ and /or ‘Uralic’ populations (see for example Wiik
1996, 1997a, 2000; Künnap 1996, 2000/01; Dolukhanov 1998; Julku 1997; Nuñez 1997a & b;
Pusztay 2001; Parpola (1999)),
I believe this central assumption, that linguistic studies have established the uniqueness
of the Uralic family, is fundamentally flawed. Rather than being based on scientific evidence,
the standard Uralic theory is founded on an extensive interlocking network of self-consistent
assumptions and circular reconstructions. There is space here to outline only some of the
linguistic evidence – for more information see Marcantonio (2002a & b): 


The key Ugric node, on which the family was historically based, has never been
reconstructed, and it is widely recognised that Hungarian is radically different in
morphology, lexicon and phonology from its supposed siblings in the Ugric node.
The Uralic node has likewise never actually been reconstructed. What is normally
referred to as a reconstruction of the Uralic node in fact omits any systematic
consideration of the key Ugric node. Statistical analysis of this corpus shows that it
has the statistics of a set of accidental look-alikes.
There are a number of linguistic correlations that are shared by the U languages; but
these are also shared with the Altaic languages and Yukaghir. In fact, one can observe
isoglosses that clearly cross the traditionally established language families.
1.2 What is wrong with the linguistic method of analysis?
More generally, there are severe problems with the methods that have been used to
build up language families, including the Uralic family. In this section I shall briefly examine
the linguistic methods. However, the problems that become evident appear to have infected
other areas of study, such as the interpretation of historical texts: it is the interaction with
other areas of discipline that will be the main focus of my talk and will be described in the
next section.
It is generally assumed the use of the so-called “Comparative Method” of linguistic
analysis yields results which are statistically significant and which therefore can be relied
upon to establish language families. Indeed, if one finds many words in the various different
languages, all related to one another through the same regular rules of soundcorrespondences, then it is unlikely that the words are similar by chance and therefore there is
a statistical significance to the results.
However the central problem is that I have not found any instance where such a corpus
of regularly related words can be found. Most studies of the Uralic languages, including the
main Uralic dictionary UEW (Rédei (ed.) 1986-91), do not state the sound-rules on which the
correlations are supposed to be based. The principal exception is the Uralic corpus of
Janhunen (1981), which clearly states the sound-rules (at least for vowels) joining identified
words. However this corpus contains more sound-rules than regular correspondences, so that
this corpus too has no statistical significance.
For other issues related to of the Comparative method, including the problems related to
the basic regularity principle on which the comparative method is founded, see for example
Fox (1995); Belardi (2002, I: 147ff.), Weinreich (1953), Weinreich, Labov & Herzog
(1968), Labov (1963, 1972, 1980, 1981, 1994), Wang (1969,1979).
In a layer on top of the results of the Comparative Method, one finds the use of the
methods of Palaeo-linguistics, in which one reconstructs the homeland and way of life of an
assumed ancient community based on the reconstructed words. Putting aside the problem of
the lack of statistical significance of the reconstructed words, there is recognised to be a
further problem with this method (see for example Renfrew (1987: 77ff.)). The meaning of
words may change through time, some crucial cognate-words may disappear from some
languages, cognate-words may not refer to the same object, and the spreading of technological
innovations may diffuse new names throughout a vast area. These factors mean that, even if
one could demonstrate that the reconstructions have statistical significance, it would still be
debatable whether the method is capable of producing a window on the pre-historical past that
is anything more than speculative.
In order to illustrate this situation, one can consider the reconstruction of the ancient
Uralic words for flora and fauna, which have been used to help establish the location of the
ancient Uralic homeland. Typically there are several reconstructed names for each relevant
term, each with a variety of alternative meanings, so that one is unclear which of the words
are supposed to have been used. For example, Table 1 shows the various reconstructed
meanings of the eight reconstructed words for ‘reindeer’: Table 1: the reconstructed words for ‘Reindeer’
1. dog/drone/male reindeer
2. Reindeer/elk
3. Ox/leading reindeer
4. Reindeer
5. male elk/deer/reindeer/ sacrificial animal
6. domesticated reindeer
7. domesticated reindeer/sheep/cow
8. male elk/reindeer/camel
Finally, one finds that most of the relevant reconstructed words are shared with non
Uralic languages, mainly Altaic languages and Jukaghir. In fact, the reconstructed terms for
body-parts and flora & fauna are present, on average, in 2.1 non-Uralic languages, contrary to
the assumptions of the model.
If one accepts the state of affairs outlined above it becomes evident that relying on the
method of Palaeo-linguistics can be dangerous in general, and in the Uralic context in
particular. In the next paragraph I am going to illustrate what represents, in my opinion, one
of the most misleading instances of linguistic and extra-linguistic reconstructions within
Uralic: the reconstruction of the name ‘magyar’, the self-denomination of the Hungarians, and
the consequent historical and ethnic reconstruction of their origin. This example in turn will
illustrate one of those interlocking network of self-consistent reconstructions and
interpretations upon which the standard Uralic theory is based, as claimed above and in
Marcantonio (2002a).
2. The reconstruction of magyar and the associated re-interpretations of historical
evidence
2.1. Introduction
The reconstruction of the ethnonym magyar, which has played a central role in the
historical formation of the standard Uralic theory, is a paradigmatic example of the
interlocking network of self-consistent reconstructions and interpretations upon which the
Uralic theory appears to be founded.
All the available historical records (including Greek, Latin and Arabic sources of the 9 th
/10th Centuries AD) that mention names similar to magyar clearly and consistently refer to
Turkic tribes. They therefore contradict the Uralic theory, in which linguists claim that the
Hungarian language and peoples originate not from the Turkic, but from the Uralic group of
languages. In order to square this evidence with the dominant model, massive reinterpretation is required, as described in detail below. Commonly, no mention is made that
any re-interpretation is involved, not even in the specialist literature (see for a recent example
Rédei 1998: 57), so that the re-interpretation /correction, being passed on from textbooks to
textbook, generations after generations of scholarship, acquires the status of a ‘pseudo-fact’.
Linguistically, there are clear, Turkic etymological correspondences with the term
magyar, dating from early Arabic records. These correspondences also contradict the
dominant linguistic model, but they usually go unmentioned in textbooks. Indeed, even in
specialist literature they are usually referred to as forming part of the unsolved “Hungaro Bashkir complex”, as if it were an arcane detail rather than a major element of counterevidence to the theory.
As we shall see below, linguists prefer an etymology which connects magyar to another
‘Uralic’ proper name, Mansi, the self denomination of the Voguls. Unfortunately this
etymology differs from the historically attested forms and is linguistically ad-hoc. Linguists
and dictionaries recognise that the etymological connection magyar-mansi is ‘problematic’,
but it is nevertheless accepted on the grounds that such a connection is ‘supported’ by the
historical ‘data’, thus giving rise to a true circularity.
2.2. Magyar: the historical background
As mentioned, the (presumed) etymology of the Hungarians self-denomination has been
central in the emerging and establishing of the conventional paradigm. In fact, it was since
long known that the Hungarian Chronicles [2] had indicated an unspecified Eastern homeland
for the Hungarians. Between the 15th and the 17th Centuries it came to be taken for granted
that this Eastern homeland could be identified with an area near the Ural mountains, called
‘Yugria’ (hence the term ‘Uralic’ and ‘Ugric’). This belief was in turn based on the apparent
similarity of the toponym Yugria (with which the area was indicated in Russian and Western
European sources) and the ethnonym ‘hungarus’, the Hungarians’ external denomination.
This connection was later on reinforced by the discovery that one of the populations living in
that area, the Voguls, called themselves ‘Mansi’, which ‘to the lay ear slightly resembles the
name magyar’ (to use Kálmán (1988:395) words). In other words, one of the cornerstones of
the traditional paradigm - the belief that the closest relatives of the Hungarians are the Vogul/
Mansi peoples -- was originally based not so much on scientific arguments, as on a
superficial, ‘accidental’ similarity between proper names: magyar vs Mansi and hungarus vs
Yugria. In the meantime, linguists and historians believed to have found early occurrences of
the term magyar in the text ‘De Administrando Imperio’, written in Greek by the Byzantine
emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus between 947 and 952 AD. The testimony of the
historical text was held to lend support to the Uralic origin of the Hungarians, as established
by linguists.
It is now widely recognised in the specialist literature that Hungarian is radically
different – in Phonology, Morphology, Lexicon and Syntax – from the Ob-Ugric languages;
see for example Abondolo (1987:185 and 1998: 428), Sammallahti (1988:500), Helimski
(1984:253) and Salminen (1997: 86). It does not therefore come as a surprise to realize that
the Ugric node (Hungarian and the Ob-Ugric languages) has consistently defied the many
attempts to its reconstruction (see for example Hajdú (1987: 306), Sammallahti (1988: 484)
and Abondolo[3] (1998: 428)). Nevertheless, it was assumed at the time of the formation of the
conventional paradigm, and is still widely assumed to this day[4], that Hungarian shares a
privileged relationship with the Ob-Ugric languages. This means that the etymological
connection: magyar-Mansi was originally and remains nowadays the only item of
‘evidence’ in support of the assumed close relationship between Hungarian and the Ob-Ugric
people. Similarly, the (presumed) testimony of the Byzantine Emperor was and remains the
only item of ‘historical evidence’ in support of the Uralic origin of the Hungarians. This being
the case, it is worth to examine closely these terms and their linguistic as well historical
connections.
2.3 The chronological and linguistic development of magyar
It is received wisdom within Uralic studies that Constantine Porphyrogenitus (De
Administrando Imperio, Chapters 38-40) mentions the name magyar, by this referring to what
has now become the nation of the ‘Uralic’ Hungarians. It is also widely reported that the
Emperor’s text provides another crucial item of information regarding the ancestors of the
modern magyars, that is, that they lived together with Turkic tribes for about 300 years. This
information is crucial indeed because it would explain why Hungarian, a Uralic language, is
closer to Turkic than to any of the Uralic languages: the prolonged and close cohabitation
with Turkic tribes can easily be held responsible for the strong influence of Turkic over
Hungarian, influence which manifests itself primarily in terms of extensive lexical and
phonological borrowing (see at this regard the comprehensive work by Ligeti (1986)). In turn,
the thesis that Hungarian was originally a Uralic language, despite superficial evidence of the
contrary, can be maintained as valid.
However, this is not quite the true story. In fact, the Emperor never actually mentions
the name magyar itself, neither is there in the text any indication that the Emperor is referring
to the ancestors of the modern Hungarians or any explicit mention of the ‘300-years-long’
cohabitation with Turkic tribes. The Emperor mentions a name which is somewhat ‘similar’
to magyar, that is ‘έ’ (interpreted as ‘megyer(i)’), by this name clearly referring to a
leader of a ‘Turkic’ clan. As to the question of the 300-years-long cohabitation, at one point [5]
the Emperor says that the Turks (not the magyars) lived together with the [Turkic] Khazars
for ‘three’ years. More specifically, the original text states the following:
‘The nation of the Turks’ consists of seven (subsequently eight) tribes[6] /clans,
one of which was lead by έ
2) ‘The Turks lived together with the Khazars for three years, and fought in alliance
with the Khazars in all their wars’
1)
The name έ seems to be reflected in place-names present in modern Hungary,
such as Puszta-megyer, Tót-megyer, Békás-megyer, Káposztás-megyer, etc.
The original text as reported in point (1) has been re-interpreted in the sense that the
Emperor is referring to the ancestors of the modern Hungarians, this interpretation being
based on two assumptions: a) that a clan leader name has become a clan and then a nation
name, and b): that the names έ and magyar are ‘regular variants’ of one and the same
name, being connected through regular sound correspondences (according to the requirements
of the Comparative Method). However, έ does not really match magyar (/måd’år/),
because of the mismatch in the vowel quality (front vs back, respectively) and the presence of
a final vowel in έ- which is missing in magyar[7](see below). This being the case, on a
strict application of the Comparative Method one would have to conclude that these names
are not related to one another, and that έ / megyer(i) has nothing to do with the modern
Hungarian term magyar. Therefore, in order to establish the desired connection, some sort of
‘explanation’ is needed that would show how these two forms can be considered indeed as
regular variants of the same name. This is achieved through a linguistic ‘re-interpretation’
involving the historically attested forms (έ and a later form Mogerii[8] (interpreted as
‘magyeri’)) as well as the modern term. This re-interpretation, which is hardly ever made
explicit in the literature, or even mentioned, takes place along the lines illustrated in the
Tables (1) and (2) below (from Marcantonio 2002a:257):
Table 1. The chronological development of magyar : the attested forms
Constantine’s ‘clan / leader’ name έ / megyer(i)
circa 950
The ‘nation’ name Mogerii / magyeri (in the text Anonymus Gesta Hungarorun)
circa 1200
magyar (/måd’år/)
modern Hungarian
Table 2. The chronological development of magyar : the linguistic ‘re-interpretation’
*mogyër
έ / megyer(i) (regressive assimilation)
attested circa 950
(“secondary variant”)
Mogerii / magyeri
attested circa 1200
magyar (/måd’år/) (progressive assimilation)
modern
As shown in the Tables, the mismatch in the quality of the vowels is explained (for
example Ligeti 1986:400) by assuming that the original attested form of 950 was a mere
‘secondary variant’, despite its being (supposedly) reflected in modern Hungarian placenames. This secondary variant is supposed not to appear in the linguistic tree. The early form
is instead supposed to be Proto-Hun. *mogyër [9] (see for example Németh 1930/1991: 246;
Gheno and Hajdú 1992:15; UEW 866-67; Ligeti 1986: 400), that is a form reconstructed on
the basis of έ / megyer(i), Mogerii/ magyeri and magyar, so that the various reflexes
of the name appear to be more regular. In fact, by assuming *mogyër as the original form, the
vowel mismatch can be accounted for through two processes of vowel assimilation: magyar
would have developed from Proto-Hun. *mogyër through progressive assimilation, whilst
έ / megyer(i) would have developed from the same reconstructed form through
regressive assimilation. These assimilations in turn are claimed to have been triggerd by the
principle of ‘Vowel Harmony’, the feature (typical of Modern Hungarian) according to which
all the vowels within a word must be of the same quality. The change *mogyër into its
‘regular variants’ magyar ~ megyer(i) supposedly took place in the late Proto-Hungarian
period, before the time of the home conquest (honfoglalás), that is before the time of the
conquest of the present-day Hungarian territory, ‘officially’ achieved in 896 AD.
Although the processes of assimilation described above are totally normal, common
phenomena in languages, there are two problems associated with this explanation. Firstly, the
rejection of the early attested form έ / megyer(i) and its replacement by a reconstructed
form that has, by design, fewer sound mismatches with the modern form, is clearly an ad-hoc
process that does not accord directly with the historical records and that is contradicted by the
toponyms. Secondly, the justification of the assimilation processes through the principle of
Vowel Harmony is not satisfactory, because the first Hungarian text, the famous ‘Halotti
beszéd’, written between 1192 and 1195 AD, shows that Vowel Harmony is just about in the
process of formation [10]. It is not therefore a fully developed feature, as would have been
required for the processes of assimilation to run to completion round about 896 AD.
Last, but not least, this ‘explanation’ leaves out the question of the final vowel present
both in the Greek and Latin forms (as well as in the Arabic forms, see below), but absent in
the reconstructed form. In other words, it poses difficulties to claim that *mogyër developed
as its variants the form magyar on the one hand and megyer-i, with an added (long[11])
vowel, on the other hand, given that final vowel tend to be lost, not gaigned. This difficulty
becomes even more apparent when discussing the ‘standard’ etymology of magyar (see next
section).
Let us now turn to the issue of Constantine’s text as reported at point (2). As
mentioned, although the original text is pretty clear, in the sense that the Emperor talks about
the ‘Turks’, it is widely ‘re-interpreted’ as if it did refer to the ancestors of the modern
magyars. Furthermore, although the emperor clearly writes ‘three’ (‘τρεîς’) years, it is widely
‘re-interpreted’ as if he meant ‘three hundred’ years, or ‘two hundred’, or, anyhow, a very
long period of time. This is because three years is not a long enough period to justify such an
extensive, deep influence of Turkic over Hungarian, if it is assumed that Hungarian is purely
and simply a Uralic language. Given that the text by Constantine has been recognized as
containing inaccurate information in other areas of the narration, this particular bit of
information has generally been regarded as wrong, somtimes even ‘ridicolous’ (Grégoire
1937: 636, 1952: 280; see also Deér 1952: 108). A ‘correction’ therefore is required: instead
of the word for ‘three’ (τρεîς), one should read only the initial letter, more pecisely, on should
read: τ’, which is the standard way of writing ‘three hundred’ in Byzantine Greek [12] (see for
example Deér 1952; Moravcsik 1930: 107, 1984/1988: 42-43; but see Shepard [13] 1998: 25
for a different interpretation). Thus, historians re-interpret the text in order to make it
consistent with the linguistic model, according to which the Hungarian language and people
are a totally separate, linguistic and ethnic group form the Turks. In turn, linguists generally
state that the Hungarian language diversified itself so radically from the other Uralic
languages because there were ‘several centuries’ of symbiosis between the magyars and the
Turks. This is usually reported as being a documented fact, an item of historical ‘evidence’,
rather than what it actually is: an interpretation or, better, re-interpretation, of an otherwise
quite clear historical text.
2.4 Magyar: the ad-hoc, ‘Uralic’ etymology
Having stated that magyar can be identified with megyer(i), through the ‘explanation’
reported above, there remains to ‘explain’ the connection between magyar and mansi, given
that a pure superficial similarity between the two names would not be considered ‘scientific’
within the framwork of Historical Linguistics. Therefore, a proper etymology has been
created in order to justify the assumed connection. However, as we shall seee below, this
etymology is highly ad-hoc, and cannot therefore contribute towards “building up” the
scientific credibility of this superficial similarity. Nevertheless, textbooks usually cite this
etymology as ‘evidence’ in support of the Uralic origin of the Hungarians (and, of course, of
the validity of the Ugric node), in this way giving rise to a circular argument. The ‘standard’
etymology of magyar is as follows (according to UEW 866 as well as the other major
Hungarian etymological dictionaries):
3.
magy-ar consists of two parts. The first part, magy- derives from Ug. *mańć. ‘man,
human being’, from which also the self-denominations of the Voguls, Mansi, and the
self-denomination of one the Ostyak clans (mańt’ ~ mońt’ ~ maś) is derived (UEW
866). Hun. /-d’-/ is a regular reflex [14] of P-U *-ńć-. The second element of magy-ar,
that is -ar (~ -ér, - ër) ‘man’, is the same component found for example in Hun. embër ‘man’. This root in turn is connected with Finn. yrkä ‘bachelor’, yrkö ‘man’ <
F-U *irkä (*ürkä) (UEW 84).
This etymology presents a major difficulty: the segmentation magy-ar does not have any
independent justification, because neither of the two members (magy- and -ar ) are ever
found as stand-alone elements. The same holds true for emb-ër ‘man’, not to take ito account
the question of the missing final -i, as discussed above[15]. And, in fact, the sources that
support this etymology admit that there are several difficulties (see Ligeti 1986:400 and
Németh 1972:156). For example, UEW 84 & 866 says that compound nature of the noun is no
longer retrievable, the compound has now become ‘opaque, obscure’.
At this point it is worth mentioning, without going into details, that there exist in the specialist
literature an ‘alternative’ etymology for the name magyar, although this is hardly ever
reported in textbooks. In the 10th Centuries Arabic sources (such as ‘The Book of the
Precious Stones’, written by the Arabic geographer Ibn Rusta circa 930 AD), there occur the
forms ma EQ \O(j,ˇ)ġiri ~ ba EQ \O(j,ˇ)ġird, which are regular variants [16]. Several authors
claim that these terms are to be identified with the name magyar (see for exaple Imre
1972:328 and Ligeti 1986). More precisely, according to Ligeti (1986: 376-7, 396, 400) from
the variant ma EQ \O(j,ˇ)ġiri the term magyar has developed, whilst from the variant ba
EQ \O(j,ˇ)ġird the forms bašġir(d) ~ baš EQ \O(j,ˇ)ir(t) ~ bašir have developed, that is,
the denomination of the Turkic Bashkirs. Within the framework of the Comparative Method
this etymology is certainly more ‘scientific’ than the standard etymology of magy-ar as
reported in (3) above. In fact, no arbitray segmentations are required, there is no mismatch in
the quality of the vowels, the consonants match (see foot-note (16)), and the lack of the final
vowel in magyar can be explained with a normal process of ‘loss’ in final position. This
alternative etymology, if accepted, suggests that, at least in the eyes of the Arabic historians
and geographers, the tribe of their contemporary ‘magyars’ is somewhat connected to (if not
even identical with) the tribe of their contemporary ‘Bashkirs’.
It would go beyond the scope of this paper to comment on the issue of the ‘magyar-Bashkir’
connection[17], which has been extensively dealt with in the specialist literature. Here it
suffices to observe that, by the designation ma EQ \O(j,ˇ)ġir(i) ~ ba EQ \O(j,ˇ)ġir(d) the
sources explicitly and consistently referred indeed to a Turkic population, and that the
‘Bashkiro-Hungarian complex’ (as it has been labeled by Vásáry (1985/7)), still ‘belongs to
the open questions of Hungarian prehistory’, to use Ligeti’s (1986:375) words[18] [bold is
mine].
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