Selected category ◊ Angus J. Huck ◊

Author: Angus J. Huck
• Saturday, January 16th, 2016

Perhaps one of the most notorious attempts by orthodox Vascologists to find a borrowed origin for a native Basque word is the somewhat implausible claim that Basque (c) abere, abel- “animal, brute, beast” derives from Latin habere “to have”.

Let’s examine this claim.

There is an immediate problem with phonetics. Latin habere exhibits initial /h/, but in none of the Northern dialects does abere, abel- exhibit initial aspiration. Then there is the weak semantic connection (in IE, words for livestock can become words for property, but words for property cannot become words for livestock).

Bengtson usefully sets out the variants across the dialects as follows:

Meaning: 1 large (domestic) animal, cattle 2 bovine animal 3 equine animal

Araban: abere 1

Bizkaian: abere 1

Gipuzkoan: abere 3

High Navarrese: abere, abre 2

Low Navarrese: abere 1

Salazarese: abre 1

Lapurdian: abere 1, (arc) abre 1

Baztanese: abere 1

Aezkoan: abere 1

Zuberoan: abére, abée 1

Roncalese: abre 1

Note than none has initial /h/.

Bengtson compares Basque abere, abel- with the following North Caucasian reflexes:

Meaning: horned animal

Proto-Nakh: *bula

Proto-Avaro-Andian: *bVlV

Proto-Tsezian: *bala (~ -L:-)

Proto-Lezghian: *p:el-

Proto-West Caucasian: *bǝlǝ

Bengtson has also suggested a connection with English bull, which I suppose is possible.

Note that the North Caucasian reflexes are missing the Vasconic a-prefix. This is regular. We have seen the same effect when looking at Basque azeri “fox”.

Note, too, that this word is absent from all other Dene-Caucasian languages. It is present only in the westernmost ones.

The key to debunking claims of borrowed origin made by orthodox Vascologists is to demonstrate that the word existed in ancient sources.

Does abere, abel- appear in ancient onomastics? I think it very clearly does, as Iberian abeli, abel- (lenis /l/).

We find it as an anthroponymic compound element in Pech Maho, and in the name of the Roman town, ABELTERIUM (Alter do Chao, Portugal), as recorded by Pliny (“spring from which large animals drink”?). In 2009, the name was actually found in a workshop mark as ABELTIRIO:

Inscriptions are generally the most accurate source of ancient onomastics (they were written by locals), so I think we can regard ABELTIRIO as more definitive than ABELTERIUM. Clearly, TIRIO is closer to Iberian turi “spring” than TERIUM.

There is also Abalos (Rioja), which was recorded as Abeicam by Sebastian of Salamanca in 740 <*abelika = *abeli + the toponymic suffix, -ika.

I consider the real knockout blow to be the theonym, ABELION “good beast”, recorded in at least 12 Roman era inscriptions in the Central Pyrenees. (Yes, that’s 12 inscription. One can be a mistake, two can be a hoax, 12 is rather harder to sweep under the carpet.)

Here are just two of them:

CIL 13, 00039.

Abellioni / Deo / Sabinus / Barhosis / v(otum)

s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)

CIL 13, 00040.

Abelioni / Deo / Titulla Ho/mulli f(ilia) v(otum)

s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)

Orthodox Vascologists adhere to the dogma that Iberian cannot be compared to Basque, so they have arrogated to themselves the space to dismiss Pech Maho and Alter do Chao with a flap of the hand. But they cannot dismiss the Central Pyrenean theonyms, because they have already conceded that the language disclosed by those texts is related to Basque (and have even give it a misleading name: “Aquitanian”).

I regard that as game, set and match. Orthodox Vascologists doubtless have some way round ABELION, but they have yet to tell us what it is.

Angus J Huck

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Author: Angus J. Huck
• Saturday, January 16th, 2016

I am actually writing about Basque legar, legatx, legor “pebble, gravel”. I will get on to the Layers in a minute.

This word is present in most of the Basque dialects, and Bengtson summarises the variants as follows:

Meaning: 1 small stone, pebble, gravel 2 gravelly land

Bizkaian: legar 1

Gipuzkoan: legar 1

High Navarrese: legatx 2

Low Navarrese: legar 1, legartsu 2

Lapurdian: legar 1, legarri 1, legatx, legartsu 2

(“legarri” does not exist – it is a mistake on the part of Azkue.)

Note the presence of two separate suffixes: -ar, which Bengtson (correctly, in my view) regards as a fossilised collective suffix; and a sibilant suffix which resembles the Pelasgian -ASS(OS) suffix.

There is also a third suffix, -or, which Bengtson has missed:

(Duvoisin) legor “gravel”; as in Legorreta (Gipuzkoa) and Pic de Légorre (Arette, P-A).

This is important, as we shall see.

The word is attested in Iberian. It is used as an anthoponymic compound element; for instance, the Lolegarko of the Liria funerary urn, and also Legastiker of the Ampurias lead foil. It is also used in toponyms, such as the lost place in Osia (Huesca) recorded as Legriso in 989 and Legrizo in 1071. Iberian seems to share at least two of the three suffixes that are present in Basque.

Did the word exist in other Vasconic languages? Almost certainly.

It seems to have been present in Pelasgian, giving Greek ligurion “kind of precious stone” (mentioned in the Bible). Pelasgian seems to have the -or variant, the one that Bengtson missed.

Did it exist in British Vasconic? This is where we come to the Layers.

The Layers are three villages in Essex, just south of Colchester: Layer Breton, Layer de la Haye and Layer Marney. The affixes are the names of the French settlers who held the manors in the 12th century. Layer itself is taken from the Layer Brook, the little stream that runs past the villages (much of it now incorporated into the Abberton Reservoir). It is actually a hydronym.

Legra 1087

Leigre 1212

Legere 1238

Leyre 1254

Unfortunately, we have nothing older. However, the evidence of other hydronyms with earlier attestations tells us that Layer leads back to a British Vasconic *legaR.

Leire is the probable name of a stream from which the city of Leicester takes its name, now preserved in the name of a village.

Legre 1087

Leire 1227

Leyre 1242

The name of Leicester itself was recorded as Legorensis civitas in 803.

We seem to be looking at a British Vasconic *legoR.

So British Vasconic is shown to have *legaR and *legoR, two of the variants that exist in Basque.

And while we are on the subject, I should mention the old name of the Loire, which is LIGERIS.

Orthodox Vascologists will doubtless scoff. If this were the only correspondence of this type, then they might be justified as dismissing it as a chance resemblance. But there are many more such correspondences that are just a striking.

Angus J Huck

Addendum 16/11/2016

There are two possible North Caucasian cognates:


Chechen lag “fruit stone”


Akhvakh ƛ̣aχa “ruins”

Ginukh ƛ̣iχʷin “cobble stone”

It is very difficult to be certain which of these words is cognate with legar and which with leka “pod”.

It is clear that one of the two was borrowed by the Celtic languages, giving Welsh llech “slab, flag, slate” and Old Irish lia, liacc “precious stone”.

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