Selected category ◊ Etymological proposals ◊

• Thursday, December 27th, 2018

The basque language origins

The Stone-age Roots of the Basque Language.

Many linguists agree that the Basque language is the oldest in Europe and that its origins clearly date back to the Neolithic period. However, certain sources seem to indicate that their roots go even further back in time. An example that seems to support this hypothesis is the interesting collection of Basque words used to describe prehistoric work tools.

The building blocks of the Basque Language

Stone  – ‘haitz’

In Basque, the word ‘haitz’ means stone and this word can be traced as the root of many words for work tools such as aizkora (axe), aizto (knife), aitzurra (hoe) and zulakaitz (chisel). Although the material to make these tools has changed over time, the names have not revealing, etymologically, a direct reference to their stone-age origins.

Water – ‘ura’

Another Basque word with ancient roots is the word ‘ura’. Today ‘ura’ means water but in the past it seems also to have meant ‘living matter’ as well.  From the word ‘ura’ we have lur (earth), elur (snow), zur (wood), egurra (fire wood), haur (child), hezur (bone) and euri (rain).
In the Basque Language ‘iz’ means light and ‘izaki’ means living being.

In the Basque Language ‘iz’ means light and ‘izaki’ means living being.
Energy or light – ‘iz’

From the Basque word ‘iz’, which denotes the concept of energy or light, we get the words izar (star), izan (to be), izadi (nature), izaki (living being), izaera (personality or way of being), izorra (pregnant) and izotz (ice or cold energy). The use of such Basque vocabulary as the building blocks for other objects or concepts has led scientists to believe that a form of Basque was spoken by the inhabitants of the caves in Altamira, Ekain or Lascaux about 15 000 years ago.  In the words of the famous Spanish Anthropologist,

Julio Caro Baroja:

‘The origin of these people is that of their language which many believe goes back as far as Cro-Magnon man’. This idea is also supported by Professor Luigi Luca Cavalli Sforza of Stanford University.
The Origins of the word Iberia – is it also Basque?

If modern day Basque appears to date back to the pre-historic language spoken in south western France and the north of the Iberian Peninsula, a question that naturally follows, is where exactly does the name ‘Iberia’ derive from? Is it also of Basque origin?

It seems that the word Iberia derives its name from the Ebro ( the second largest river in Spain). Is it just a coincidence that the word in Basque for river is ‘ibai’ – or that the word for fertile lowlands or flood plains is ‘ibar’? Throughout Europe we find a surprising number of river names which show a possible Basque origin too:
River – ‘ibai’ and flood plains – ‘ibar’

In Serbia and Montenegro we have the river Iban, in Hessen the river Ibra, in the south of Germany we have the rivers Ebrach and Eberbacha, in the Alps the river Ebersberg, and in Austria there is both a town and river called the Ybbs. In France we have the rivers Iverny, Ivergny, Yvre l’Évéque, Ebreon, Evrune, Ebersheim and Yvry-en-montagne. In the Basque Country (apart from the Ebro running through the south of Navarre) we have Ibarra, Ibarrola, Ibarrekolanda, Ibardin and Aranibar.
Valley – ‘haran’

Taking the Basque word ‘haran’ which means valley, we find  Arundel in England, Arendal in Norway and Sweden. In Germany we find Arnach, Arnsberg, Arnstern and Ahrensburg. We also have the Valle de Aran in the province of Lleida in northern Spain. These similarities, which have been collected by the linguist, Theo Venneman from the  University Ludwig-Maximillian, seems to suggest that the Basque language is the oldest language in Europe …that it was here when all other languages arrived.
The Basque Language – A heritage to be proud of

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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:

http://www.patrimoniocultural.pt/media/uploads/revistaportuguesadearqueologia/12_1/12_1artigos/197_200.pdf

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 think it is time to take a critical look at some of the sacred cows of orthodox Vascology. By “sacred cow”, I mean a belief that has little evidential basis, but which is forcefully and obdurately defended out of loyalty to one’s group. Orthodox Vascology has a number of these. The one for today is Basque azeri “fox”, which orthodox Vascologists insist, despite the complete lack of evidence, is derived from an obscure anthroponym.

Bengtson provides a useful list of variants:

Bizkaian: azagari, azeri, azari, (arc) azebari, azeari, (Arratia, Orozko, Txorierri) azegari

Gipuzkoan: azeri, azari

High Navarrese: azeri, (Larraun) azari

Low Navarrese: hazeri, (Baigorri) azeri

Salazarese: axari

Lapurdian: hazeri, (Ainhoa) axari

Baztanese: azari

Zuberoan: axéri, exéri

Roncalese: axeri, axari

The orthodox understanding is that all the above derive from an anthroponym, Acenari (which is attested), presumably “miller”, or possibly Asinarius “donkey driver”.

Bengtson has made the following criticisms:

(1) (I quote him in full) Trask (1995, 1997) following Michelena (1961) derives this word from a personal name, Acenari. In this analysis that proposal is considered semantically and historically improbable, since nothing is known about the character or personality of the person designated as Acenari, that would lead to his name becoming the Bsq word for ‘fox’, as there is for the fictional Reynard > French renard.;

(2) None of the eastern nasalising dialects has reflexes that provide evidence of a former medial /n/. While that is suggestive of no ancient /n/, it is not conclusive.

(3) (I quote him in full) furthermore the diversity of the Bsq forms indicates ancient origin, thus, in this analysis, this ancient word comes from PSC *c(V)hwōlĕ́ ’fox’.

OK. A diversity of Basque forms does not necessarily indicate ancient origin, though it normally does. The PSC reflex, again, is suggestive. It is a perilous procedure to look at a time depth of 20,000+ years without first ascertaining what the word looked like at a time depth of 2,000 years.

So let’s do that, and prove that Michelena and Trask were talking codswallop.

The word appears twice in anthroponyms written in the Roman Script in the Central Pyrenees in the early Roman period:

CIL 13, 00095.

]alis / Arserris / Leherenn(o) / v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens)

[m(erito)]

CIL 13, 00074.

Severus Onas/seris fil(ius) et NI[3] / RESVMAILII[

A number of things to note:

(1) ARSERRI exhibits an intrusive /r/ before /s/. This may be an example of the same phonetic feature in eastern Basque dialects that puts an intrusive /r/ before sibilants in (SP) arska, (Az) arsto and (Oihenart) orsto.

(2) Many of these Central Pyrenean theonyms and anthroponyms are comprised of a zoonym followed by on “good”. In the case of ONASSERI, on is uncharacteristically pre-positioned.

(3) The Roman Script rarely attempts to represent sounds that do not exist in Latin. So the distinction between Iberian fortis and lenis /r/ is not indicated by the orthography.

The word also appears in at least one ancient toponym, which belongs somewhere in the Province of Huesca:

ASSERISSE (551)

ASERESA (Congostellos) (1104-1134)

These are very likely the same place.

The intrusive /r/ appears to be present in the toponym, ARZERANA (Espinosa del Monte, Burgos), recorded in 1752 (which exhibits the Roman substitute suffix, -ana).

So there is no excuse for a silly folk etymology to explain Basque azeri “fox”. We can trace the word back 2,000 years, leaving open the possibility of a Dene-Caucasian etymology, which Bengtson has attempted to provide (and he could well be right).

How do we explain the Bizkaian four-part variants?

I suggest that gar “flame” was added to the word at some stage. Town foxes, the ones we see most often, are scavengers and have a matt coat. Country foxes, however, are carnivorous, are much more elusive, and have lustrous coats. So we can see how a country fox could be known as a “flaming fox”, in contradistinction to one that scavenged around human habitation.

Orthodox Vascology is both minimisationist and isolationist, leading to so-called internal reconstruction as the only methodology available to examine those parts of the lexicon that Vascologists are unable to attribute to borrowing. The results are a high incidence of error in postulating so-called proto-forms, and a proliferation of folk etymologies.

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:

(1)

Chechen lag “fruit stone”

(2)

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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