Meaning changes of hakkama ’begin’ in Estonian and Livonian


The present article discusses the origin and meanings of the Estonian hakkama and Livonian akkõ. Although researchers agree that these verbs are historically related, there are different views concerning their meaning development and possible counterparts in cognate languages. As the Estonian hakkama and Livonian akkõ mainly appear in the senses of ‘begin’ and ‘seize, grab’, but the phonologically similar hakata in Finnish and Karelian expresses the senses of ‘hit, beat, cut, etc.’, some researchers doubt their common origin. The situation is the opposite in the case of the South Estonian nakkama ‘stick, adhere, catch; begin’and the Salaca Livonian nakk ‘seize, grab; begin’ – associating them with hakkama and akkõ is unproblematic semantically, but it is often rejected due to phonological reasons.

This article puts forward the claim that hakk- is originally a sound-imitative root. It is argued that grasping or releasing the object can result in a similar sound. This explains the somewhat antonymous senses of ‘seize, grab’ in Livonian and Estonian versus ‘hit, beat, cut, etc.’ in Finnish and Karelian. The evidence from the Finnic languages as well as general principles suggest that also the variation    of n and h is by all means possible, allowing us to link the roots hakk– and nakk-.

It is maintained that these verbs have followed the natural meaning development from concrete to more abstract meaning: ‘grab, catch’ > ‘begin’. Proof is found in the linguistic material collected from the corpora of the Estonian language representing four centuries (17th–20th centuries), and the claim is supported by the findings from other Finno-Ugric languages. Although the same kind of meaning development can be proposed for the Livonian akkõ, it simultaneously also reveals the broadening of the meaning ‘catch, grab’.