Selected category ◊ Angus J. Huck ◊

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)


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:


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

VN:F [1.8.8_1072]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
• Sunday, April 29th, 2018

Angus J Huck in 12th congress of Euskeraren Jatorria (The Origins of the Basque)

Proposition: Basque descends from a family of languages that in prehistoric times were spoken in every region of Europe.

Question: What is the evidence?

Answer: The Pan-European Vasconic footprint.

What is the Pan-European Vasconic footprint and how is it manifested?

(1)  Written records. The only Vasconic language apart from Basque to have been a written medium is Iberian. Most of the surviving texts are in the East Iberian Script, and the majority of these are rolls of donors of grave goods.

(2)  Substrate loanwords. These are the words that speakers of Vasconic languages retained when they started speaking non-Vasconic languages. All Indo-European languages spoken in Europe contain Vasconic substrate loanwords. The largest concentration is probably to be found in Greek.

(3)  Onomastics. These are the anthroponyms (personal names) that survive in the record, and the toponyms (place names), potamonyms (river names) and oronyms (mountain names) that either survive in the record or are still extant.


VN:F [1.8.8_1072]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
Section: Angus J. Huck  |  Add coments