Author: Angus J. Huck
• Saturday, April 06th, 2024

Basque burna, bürno “plant shoot”

Azkue lists the following:

(Z) burna “the first sprout of the seed when it germinates”

(Z) bürno “plant shoot, handful of wheat”

(BN-Amikuze, Z) burnatü “to sprout”

(Z) bürnatü “to produce Brussels sprouts in the field or in the house”

Basque has a lot of words that mean “plant shoot”, certainly more than English, so one suspects that some of these words had earlier meanings that denoted larger plant parts or whole plants.

These forms listed by Azkue are isolated in the far north-east of the language area and are missing from Basque onomastics.

However, there is a possibility that Basque burna, bürno has a cognate in Italian Vasconic that is preserved in the following Latin dendronyms:

laburnum “laburnum” (usually Laburnum anagyroides)

viburnum “wayfaring tree” (Viburnum lantana)

laburnum is a small tree with a bright yellow flower that blooms in May. The wayfaring tree is a large shrub with a white flower and bright red berry that in the UK grows mainly on chalk and is often found close to roads and pathways.

If -burnum is a common component to laburnum and viburnum, what does it mean? It means nothing in Latin, so it is likely to be Italian Vasconic.

Italian Vasconic *la-burnV could possibly be a compound comprising *burnV as the second element and Italian Vasconic *lapa or *lapaR as the first element: <*lapa-burnV or *lapaR-burnV.

One of the most obvious and unproblematic Italian Vasconic substrate loanwords in Latin is lapis, lapidis “stone”. This word was also present in Pelasgian, hence Greek lepas “bare rock, hill” and lapare “flank, loins” (originally, perhaps “mountainside, cliff”).

Compare the following Basque words, listed by Azkue:

(B-Durango) labar “edge of a precipice”

(B-Arratia-Markina) labar “rugged terrain”

-ar is the Vasconic fossilised collective suffix, -ar, while laba- refers to an exposed area of rock. Contrast Greek lepas and lapare. Proto-Vasconic medial /b/ remains /b/ in Basque and Iberian, but become /p/ in Pelasgian and Italian Vasconic and /v/ in British Vasconic.

Italian Vasconic *wi-burnV might possibly be a compound comprising *burnV and an Italian Vasconic *wi “two”. The wayfaring tree is characterised by pairs of stalks stretching out of the branch directly opposite each other. *wi- could also be a reduction of an Italian Vasconic *widi “road, pathway”. As mentioned above, the wayfaring tree is frequently to be found next to roads and pathways.

So what does Italian Vasconic *burnV mean? In primaeval Europe, small trees like laburnum and the wayfaring tree could only grow on cliffs or other exposed areas of rock. They were not understorey trees. They would not fare well on the floor of the wildwood. I suggest that Italian Vasconic *burnV is therefore likely to mean “shrub”. Latin laburnum is a shrub that grows on exposed rock faces while viburnum is a shrub that grows alongside ways, as it is in English.

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Author: Angus J. Huck
• Friday, April 05th, 2024

Basque bardin, berdin “smooth, equal, equally”

Azkue lists the following:

(B, L, BN, Z, R-Uztarroz) bardin “equal, smooth”

(AN, G, L, BN, R) berdin “smooth, equal, equally”

Abstract meanings are problematic. They are very often extensions of non-abstract meanings and are difficult to trace at depth.

The first task is to identify the primary meaning. Is it “equal, equally” or “smooth”? If we accept the utility of a rebuttable evidentiary presumption that the non-abstract meaning is primary, then we need to treat “smooth” as the primary meaning in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

English provides us with an example of such a semantic extension, in the form of level, whose primary meaning is “flat, in the horizontal sense”. Reclaimed marshland may be known as a level, as in the Somerset Levels and Pevensey Levels. The 17th century Levellers grubbed up hedges, thereby making the ground flat. Cologne was levelled by Allied bombing. A spirit level is a device for ensuring that a surface is exactly horizontal. One of the secondary meanings is “equal”. Participants in a sporting competition can have level scores. The government talks about levelling up, meaning encouraging economic growth in depressed regions to make them equal to better off regions. A level can be a specific grade. Students sit ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. The word may also be an intensifier, as in the phrase “doing one’s level best”. The word derives through French from Latin libella “a weighing balance”.

Basque bardin, berdin is likely to be a compound comprised of bar-, ber- plus the suffix, -din, meaning “like” or “in the manner of”. This is quite a rare suffix, but it is present in the following words (in addition to bardin, berdin):

gordin “raw” <*gorri-din “in the manner of red” (Iberian gori, kori, guri “red”)

istin “caulk” <*its-din “in the manner of dull or matt”*

urdin “blue or grey” <*ur-din “in the manner of water” (Iberian udin, udun, urdin)

If this analysis is correct, what is bar-, ber-?

Azkue lists the following:

(Z) baratxü “quiet”

(B, G, AN-Baztan) bare “calm, as of the sea”

(L, BN-Salazar, Araquistain) bare “phlegmatic”

A standing body of water that is calm is also smooth and equal.

So bardin, berdin may have an original meaning “in the manner of smooth, calm or quiet” which has been extended to “equal”.

What is the reason for the peculiar variation between first syllable /a/ and first syllable /e/, which cuts across all dialects except Bizkaian and Souletin? It is probably a rare example of ablaut in Basque. Another example of ablaut in Basque is hamar “ten” and hemezortzi “eighteen”.

There is the following lexical sequence inscribed in the Ionian Script on the Lead Foil of Alcoy: basbidir bartin. I do not consider bartin to be identical to bardin, berdin. bar-, which is written with the No 2 /r/ sign to denote lenis /r/, is likely to be identical to Basque bare. However, -tin is probably the Iberian agentive suffix, -tin, as in austin “miller”, tartin “potter”, tautin “purifier”. bartin may be an office holder, the “calm-maker” or adjudicator, or trustee of the basdidir “funerary society rules”.

Does Basque bardin, berdin have cognates in other Vasconic languages further afield? Probably.

Consider Greek parthenos “maiden, young woman”. This may be a substrate borrowing from a Pelasgian *par-then “smooth”. Many elite men in Ancient Greece had an unhealthy interest in prepubescent girls, some of whom were installed in their temples. A prepubescent girl is “smooth” in the sense of lacking pubic hair. Gay men use the word “smooth” to mean lacking body hair.

If this is correct, the compound was formed at the Proto-Vasconic stage, ie, in Western Anatolia before the melting of the ice.

There is also the possibility that the secondary meaning might be equally ancient. Consider Latin par, paris “equal, like, match, etc”, a probable substrate borrowing from Italian Vasconic. The suffix is missing from this word, suggesting perhaps that in some Vasconic languages the secondary meaning arose without the suffix.

Welsh gwar “civilised, tame, gentle” is a probable substrate loanword from British Vasconic.

In analysing these words in other Vasconic languages further afield, it is important to appreciate that Proto-Vasconic initial /b/ becomes /p/ in Pelasgian and Italian Vasconic and /w/ in British Vasconic.

*Basque istin “caulk” is presumed from the following two words mentioned by Larramendi: istinkari “caulk” and istinkatu “to caulk”. Iberian istin is present in the following anthroponyms recorded in the Ionian Script on the Lead Foil of Alcoy: Buistiner and Boistingis. Caulking is of extreme antiquity. Ezekiel mentions it in the Old Testament.

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Author: Angus J. Huck
• Monday, April 01st, 2024

Basque boa “a kind of small fish”

Azkue lists the following:

(B-Lekeitio) boa “a kind of small fish”

(B-Lekeitio, G-Donostia) boga “a white fish that is found among rocks”

boa is attested only in Lekeitio, which is a fishing port, so it is likely that the small fish in question is a sea fish. boga is attested in only two places, one of which is Lekeitio, so it is likely that the two words, boa and boga, are connected. Possibly, the final /a/ of both words is a late addition and the medial /g/ of boga is connective, replacing, perhaps, a medial /h/ that was added some time in the first millennium AD.

Azkue does not specify which small fish is meant by boa, and which fish that lives among the rocks  is meant by boga.

Spanish bogar, Old French voguer, etc, “to row, sail”, a Western Romance word of unknown origin, is present in Basque, but it is unlikely to have become an ichthyonym (word for a fish) because the meanings are too remote from each other.

Is this word present in Iberian? Possibly.

Iberian bo is an anthroponymic compound element. It is present mostly in tripartite anthroponyms, sometimes initially and sometimes medially. It performs a similar role to Iberian ge “smoke”. Consider the following:

East Iberian Script

Bobaidinba (Los Villares)

Guduboike (Orleyl)

Karespobixir (Liria)

Ionian Script

Boistingis (Alcoy)

The kind of fish meant by Iberian bo, if indeed it is an ichthyonym, is unknown.

Does Basque boa, Iberian bo have cognates in other Vasconic languages further afield? Quite probably. There is Latin boa, “a kind of snake”, mentioned by Pliny. The word has subsequently been appropriated to mean a large constricting snake found mainly in Latin America, but Pliny did not specify what kind of snake it was. It may not have been a large python like snake.

Words for “fish” can also be words for “snake”. For instance, Latin lacerta can mean both “lizard” and “sea fish”.

Does Basque boa, Iberian bo have cognates in other non-Vasconic Dene-Caucasian languages? Possibly. Consider the following:

Yeniseian (Ket) bɔŋtuɣ “herring”

There are a few preliminary things to say about Ket bɔŋtuɣ. Firstly, the word is a compound. The relevant part is bɔŋ-. Secondly, Starostin’s translation cannot be right. The herring is a sea fish that would not have been known to speakers of any Yeniseian language. Thirdly, if this word is indeed cognate with Basque boa, Iberian bo, it would suggest a prehistoric final /n/ variant that is either original or runs in parallel.

Iberian bo and Latin boa suggest no final /n/ at the Proto-Vasconic stage (Iberian and Italian Vasconic appear to agree on this). A final /n/ would likely have caused the initial /b/ to shift to /m/. However, there is some reason to hold that a final /n/ variant does exist in parallel and that it did shift the initial /b/ to /m/. Consider the following, both listed by Azkue:

(B-Lekeitio) moma, (B) momar “small-spotted cat shark” (where -ar is the masculine suffix)

It is possible that a cognate was present in German Vasconic that gave rise to German Münne “a kind of fish” and English minnow, a small freshwater fish.

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Author: Angus J. Huck
• Wednesday, February 14th, 2024

Basque ote, ota “gorse”

Gorse is one of a group of closely related shrubs that belong to the pea family. It is characterised by multiple spines and a bright yellow flower that blooms irregularly throughout the year. There are around 15 species of gorse. The best-known and most widespread is Ulex europaeus (“common gorse”). In Europe, gorse is confined to the Atlantic fringe, running all the way down from Scotland to Madeira. It is typically to be seen on lowland heath and unimproved moorland. Often, it grows in close proximity to bracken and heather. Because gorse has such a limited geographical distribution, there is no common Indo-European word for “gorse”. Indeed, there is no common Romance word for “gorse”, there is no common Germanic word for “gorse”, and there is no common Insular Celtic word for “gorse”. The foregoing analysis would predict that Vasconic also has no common word for “gorse”, and the available evidence strongly suggests this.

Azkue lists the following:

ote (G, AN-Baztan-Lezaka), othe (L, BN, Z) “gorse”

ota (B) “gorse”

otar (B-Gernika, L-Ainhoa), “hard gorse (?), male gorse (?)”

othar (BN-Amikuse-Garazi, Z) “big gorse (?)”

oteme (B-Gernika) “species of gorse without spines, female gorse (?)”

Azkue also lists (R-Uztarroz) ote “line of seeds in an ear of corn”, and (BN-Baztan) oti “first bud of a plant”, both of which I believe to be internally cognate with the above, as we shall see shortly.

Basque oti “grasshopper” and the hearsay prefix, ote-, are probably distinct homonyms.

The forms, otar, othar and oteme have been misanalysed by Azkue. This is not Azkue’s fault. Azkue knew little or nothing of Iberian and Vasconic languages further afield. The data that would have put him right on this point were simply not in front of him. oteme arose from a folk etymological misunderstanding of otar, othar. There is no such thing as “hard gorse” as far as I know. otar, othar probably refers to a gorse thicket. Individual gorse shrubs are very rarely freestanding. The -ar in otar, othar is the fossilised collective suffix, *-(a)r. In Iberian, *-(a)r exhibited fortis final /r/, whereas -ar “male” exhibited lenis final /r/. In Basque, the two have coalesced. otar “gorse thicket” was present in Iberian (see below).

Basque ota, ote is the only Basque word for “gorse” that I can find. Was it present in Iberian? Indeed it was. Consider the following:

UTTARIS, a mutatio listed on the Antonine Itinerary somewhere in the Galicia or Leon regions: Iberian *utar or *otar “gorse thicket”.

AUTRAKA, a place listed only by Ptolemy, somewhere in the Burgos region: *autar-aka “place of the gorse thicket”. This would have become *Otarraga in the modern language. /o/ and /au/ had a high degree of interchangeability in the Cantabria and Asturias regions. AUTRAKA is probably the source of the ethnonym, AUTRIGONES (from *Autrigo, a variant of *Autaraka).

There is no suggestion of masculinity in either of the above.

Does Basque ote, ota have cognates in other Vasconic languages further afield? Probably. Consider the following:

Welsh eithen “gorse” (usually in the plural form, eithin), Old Irish aitenn “juniper”, a probable loanword from British Vasconic. The surprise here is that the semantic movement from a grass-like plant to a prickly shrub has also occurred in British Vasconic. English did not inherit this word, but took up instead a word meaning “holly” (see below).

English oats, the grass-like serial crop (Avena sativa), a probable loanword from British Vasconic. What possible connection does oats have with gorse? Well, consider (R-Uztarroz) ote “line of grains in an ear of corn”. Might this have been the earlier meaning of ote, ota, before the first Vascophones arrived in Iberia following the melting of the ice, discovered gorse and had to find a word for it? In prehistoric times, grass was not the manicured or closely cropped stuff that one finds on lawns or in meadows. It was often waist high and grew in clumps in spaces in the wildwood where there was sufficient light. Gorse would have grown in similar situations, possibly in places where trees had difficulty establishing themselves, such as clifftops and rocky outcrops. English oats was first recorded in 1000 as ate “grain of the oat plant”. It has no Germanic cognates.

Does Basque ote, ota have variants that exhibit the fossilised phytonymic class prefixes, *g= and *m=?

I am aware of one possible instance of *g-ote, and that is the toponym, Gotein (Soule). This might be *g-ote-ain “place where gorse grows”. However, an alternative interpretation is *gon-t-ain “place of the height” (the final /n/ of Iberian gon “height” was often lost in compounds, and /t/d/ is a frequent connective in -ain toponyms).

As for *m=, Azkue lists the following:

mota (B-Lekeitio-Markina) “steep bank, section of land covered in grass that surrounds sown fields”

mota (B-Mundaka) “flower bud”

motta (AN) “crest of a bird, tuft”

motabedar (Ms Lond) “tansy”

mote (G-Usurbil) “flower bud”, (G) “shoot, bud of a tree”

moto (B-Oñate, G, BN-Aldude-L-Ainhoa), motho (BN, Z) “bun, crest of a bird”

moto (G) “pigtail”

moto (BN-Amikuse-Bardos, Z) “child’s beret”

motto (AN-Baztan, L-Ainhoa, R) “crest of a bird”

motots (G-Andoain-Aia-Donostia-Etxarri-Aranaz-Tolosa-Usurbil) “crest of a bird”, (G-Alegi) “head of hair”

mototx (G-Urnieta) “head of hair”

Basque mota “species, race” is probably a distinct homonym.

The above are problematic. Some of them refer directly to plant buds or shoots (many Basque words do), while others refer to the crest of a bird, in a direct or extended sense (ie, human hair). All of these are consistent, or just about consistent, with words for grass-like plants. There is certainly very good reason to regard them as internally cognate with Basque (R-Uztarroz) ote “line of seeds in an ear of corn”, and (BN-Baztan) oti “first bud of a plant”. It seems that Iberian took its word for “gorse” from a word for a grass-like plant.

The first meaning cited above, (“steep bank, etc”), bears a possible resemblance to French motte “artificial mound of earth that supports a wooden fortification”, a word with no identifiable Latin or Germanic antecedence.

However, the actual recorded usage of the word suggests that it has more to do with grass than geomorphology:

“Etxe-aurreko mota edo bedartzea…”

“Lur landuak, zelai eta motak, larrak, basoak…”

Latin ulex, ulicis, which serves as the botanical name for the gorse family, does not actually mean “gorse” in Latin. Rather, it refers to some other prickly shrub. Gorse is not native to Italy, so few ancient Romans would have been familiar with it.

Latin ulex, ulicis is likely to be a substrate loanword from Italian Vasconic. Compare the following Basque words (listed by Azkue):

mullo (G-Andoain, R-Uztarroz) “a grass without a flower that grows in both shady and open places”

mullo (G-Andoain) “shrub, scrub”

mullo (B-Markina) “stalks in a bunch of grapes”

mulu (B-Markina, G) “shrub, scrub”

This group of words seems to derive from a Proto-Vasconic *uLo, *uLu, and carries the fossilised phytonymic class prefix, *m=, though in Italian Vasconic it exists in its freestanding form. It is possible that the substantive part of this word can exist in freestanding form in Iberian. There is an anthroponymic compound element, ULO, that is recorded in the Roman Script in the Upper Garonne region. Of course, we cannot be certain of its meaning. Consider the following:

CIL 13, 00170


English gorse has no Germanic cognates. It was recorded as gorst in 950. It is likely that English gorse is a substrate loanword from a British Vasconic word cognate with Basque gorosti “holly” (a prickly tree).

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• Sunday, March 26th, 2023

Basque gersti “handle of a vessel”

The 17th century lexicographer, Sylvain Pouvreau, a Francophone who studied mainly the Labourdin dialect of Basque, listed the following:

gersti “handle of a vessel”

gersti is not an isolated error. It is or was a real word. Azkue lists the following degraded variants (along with gersti):

(AN, Araquistain) feste “handle of a pan”

(Z) greste “handle of a pan or a basket”

(BN-Salazar) keste “handle of a little basket or a pan”

I say degraded variants. Orthodox Vascologists will doubtless disagree. But I go to places to find answers where orthodox Vascologists refuse to tread. I follow Basque words back to Iberian, just as one follows French and Spanish words back to Latin. More on that shortly.

(Z) greste exhibits a curious metathesis of /e/ and /r/ to produce the initial /gr/ cluster, which is forbidden in Vasconic languages (except in very recent loanwords and phonosymbolic words). Orthodox Vascologists have tried to explain greste as a borrowing of Spanish cresta or Old French creste “comb of a bird, tuft, top”. While the metathesis might have been influenced by these words, the meanings are quite different. Spanish cresta and Old French creste always refer to something on top, whereas the handle of a vessel or pan is likely to be at the sides (in order to avoid scalding). A basket can have a handle that is on top, but only two of the four words refer to a basket.

(BN-Salazar) keste appears to have been influenced by Basque ertsi or estu “narrow”, which alternates been /r/ and no /r/ forms sometimes within dialects.

(AN, Araquistain) feste is quite strange because it exhibits the rare initial /f/. I would suggest that this variant has been influenced by Spanish fiesta, Old French feste “festival”.

I regard gersti as original because the first part of this probable compound is recorded in Iberian. It is to be found on the First Lead Foil of Alcoy, a roll of donors of grave goods written in the Ionian Script. In that text, Iberian gers is the second component in the tripartite anthroponym, Sesgersduran.

gersti might be a compound comprising an Iberian gers “vessel” and ti or di “handle”. Iberian ti and di are both attested as anthroponymic compound elements.

It is clear from the context that Iberian gurs referred to a large ceramic vessel that was donated as a grave good (possibly a funerary urn). This word does not exist in Basque. Could gers and gurs be the same word? Could it be that the addition of a suffix has shifted /u/ to /e/? Are gers and gersti a rare example of ablaut in Vasconic? Possibly. However, both gursand gers are present on the First Lead Foil of Alcoy, so they were clearly separate words 2,000 years ago. A /u/ to /e/ ablaut in Basque does exist. In Gipuzkoan, one says det and degu for dut and dugu, following the addition of agreement suffixes, but du where the agreement suffix is null. British Vasconic probably has *kurvV and *kervis and *survV and *servis, where the addition of the sibilant suffix has resulted in a shift from /u/ to /e/ in the substantive part of the word. Basque has (AN) guldi and (c) geldi, both “quiet”. Perhaps the deflection of noun suffixes on to this adjective has exceptionally resulted in a shift from /u/ to /e/? However, geldi is recorded in Iberian while guldi is missing from the Iberian record (much of the Iberian lexicon is unrecorded, so guldi could still be there). Another possible ablaut vowel change is Basque (B) guzur, (c) gezur, both “lie”.

A curious fact about this group of words is that Basque gersti and all its variants exhibit the apical /s/ only, while Iberian gers and gurs are written with the No-2 S-sign.

Do Basque gersti and Iberian gers and gurs have cognates in other non-Vasconic Dene-Caucasian languages further afield? Consider the following:

North Caucasian

Lezghian k:ur “cup, basin”

Rutul gɨr “cup, basin”

West Caucasian

Abaza gara “cradle”


kerǝ “bowl”


Yasin grangirán “large basket”

Hunza girán “large basket”

Nagar girán “large basket”

Old Chinese

kraʔ “round basket”

Note the distribution of first syllable vowels in the above and compare them to how the word behaves in Basque.

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• Sunday, March 19th, 2023

Is the Deba Celtic?

Orthodox Vascologists who maintain that the Basque language was implanted in what is now Euskal Herria from the Central Pyrenées during the Dark Ages hold up as their unanswerable proof the River Deba, whose name they say is Celtic and means “goddess”. If a river that flows through the western part of Euskal Herria entirely contained with the province of Gipuzkoa has a Celtic name, they say, this proves beyond all doubt that the language spoken in that region in ancient times was Celtic, not Basque. To orthodox Vascologists, it is game, set and match. But is their argument as slam dunk as it first appears?

We have two inquiries to make, and they are cumulative. First. Is the river name, Deba, Celtic? Second. Even if it is Celtic, does that prove that the language spoken in that region in ancient times was Celtic?

I will address the second inquiry first by posing two questions. The Guadalquivir has an Arabic name. Does that prove beyond all doubt that Arabic, and not Latin or Iberian, was spoken in the Spanish South in the classical period? The Llobregat has a Latin name. Does that prove beyond all doubt that Iberian was never spoken in Catalonia?

The Gipuzkoa Deba was probably first recorded by Ptolemy as DEOUA around 150AD, though Ptolemy may have been referring to the Cantabria Deva, further west. Ptolemy recorded three other instances of rivers with the name, DEOUA, all of them now known as Dee. There is the Cheshire and North-East Wales Dee, the Aberdeenshire Dee and the Galloway Dee.

Is this hydronym Celtic? No, it is not. It is Roman.

Both Latin and Celtic share a word for “god”. In Latin it is deus, with a combinatory form, *diw-, and in Celtic it is dios(Welsh diw, Irish dia), with a combinatory form, *diw-. Latin has both /e/ and /i/ forms, while Celtic only has /i/ forms, as far as is known. *dewa is therefore a lost Latin word meaning “goddess”, a variant of the more usual diva.

In Gaulish and Hispano-Celtic, only /i/ forms are recorded. On the Third Bronze Plate of Botorrita is to be found the anthroponym, Diogenos “born of the god” or “descended from the god”, and Ptolemy lists a place in the north of Spain, DIOBRIGA “fortress of the god”. Then we find the combinatory form, *diwo, in DIOUODOURON, the name recorded by Ptolemy for what is now Metz (Moselle, France).

Deba is quite clearly the name given to the river that runs through Gipuzkoa by the Roman conquerors. It is a trophy name, like Caesaraugusta (Zaragoza), Pompelo (Pamplona), Leningrad, Ho-Chi-Min City, etc. The same is true of the three rivers now known as Dee in Britain. All these rivers were on the western edge of the Empire and were ways of saying to outsiders “this land belongs to Rome”.

So what, then, is the original name of the Gipuzkoa Deba?

Let us look first at the Cantabria Deva. There is a village on the west bank of the Cantabria Deva north of the confluence with the Cares known as Narganes: <*nar(V)-gan “above the River Nar(V)”. (Near the source of the Cantabria Deva is Dobarganes: <*dobar-gan “above Dobar”. The village of Dobarganes is quite literally above the village of Dobar.) Iberian *nar(V) corresponds to Basque (BN) nare “calm”. This word is also to be found in the name of the River Nairnin Scotland, recorded as Naren in 1195 (from British Vasconic *naR(V)).

Having ascertained the original name of the Cantabria Deva, let us now take a closer look at the Gipuzkoa Deba. The only toponym on the banks of this river that may incorporate a hydronym is Elgoibar. This was first recorded in the 15thcentury as the name of the field on which the new town was built. Basque ibar can mean “river bank”. So what is Elgo-? It is often assumed to be Basque (BN, Z) elge “cultivated field”, but why final /o/ rather than /e/? Might it be that Elgo is the original name of the Deba?

So, next time an orthodox Vascologist points to the presence of the Deba in Gipuzkoa as unassailable proof of the theory of the late implantation of Basque, he/she needs to be shown the above.

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• Saturday, March 04th, 2023

Basque espondaezponda “slope”

Azkue lists the following:

(AN-Arakil, BN-Salazar, Z, R) esponda “slope of the face of a wall or piece of land”

(G-Burunda-Etxandi-Aranaz, BN-Salazar, Z, R) ezponda “slope, riverbank”

Basque espondaezponda seems to be present right across Euskal Herria though it is missing from Bizkaia. The variance between orthographic /s/ and /z/ (the apical and laminal sibilants, respectively) is a little bit mysterious. As we shall see, the /s/ form appears to be original.

Attempts have been made to derive Basque espondaezponda from Latin sponda “bedframe, bed, couch”, but this is misconceived. A slope is the opposite of a bed, which is generally something flat or at least low-lying (like a bed for sleeping in, or a river-bed, a sea-bed or a flower-bed).

The misconception is a very old one. An 11th century scribe called Navarrenx (Pyrenées-Atlantiques) sponda Navarrensis. This is a twofold false Latinisation. First, the scribe mistakes Basque espondaezponda for Latin sponda. Secondly, he confuses the toponymic suffix, -enx (quite frequent in this region), with the Latin local genitive, -ensis. Then in the 16th century, the poet, Joanes Ezponda (1557-1595) was known in French as Jean de Sponde.

Basque espondaezponda seems to have spread into neighbouring Romance languages. There is a Gascon esponne, which appears to have a similar meaning to Basque. It is often to be found as a name for steep mountainsides in the Western French Pyrenées. Italian sponda “slope, edge” cannot be derived from Latin sponda “bedframe, bed, couch”, because the meanings are opposites. The appearance of these words in Romance languages is an example of a superstrate borrowing. Western Romance languages share numerous words and forms that do not derive from Latin. Most are Germanic, a few are Arabic and one or two are Vasconic. Within Romance they are capable of spreading around quite freely. An example is Spanish zanca, Italian zanca, both “leg”, and Basque, zankazango, etc, “leg”. Another is Spanish guinda, French guigne, both “sour cherry”, and Basque ginda “cherry”.

Dutch sponde “bed” does actually derive from Latin sponda.

Basque espondaezponda plays little part in the toponymy of Euskal Herria. However, it is quite possibly present in the following toponyms further afield:

Esponzues, a village of Cantabria overlooking the Pas Valley south of Santander: <*espon-su “place of the slope”.

This would suggest an Iberian *espon. It is possible that the final -da in espondaezponda is augmentative -ta/-da. (It is important to note here that Iberian west of the Nerbioi discontinuity is evidenced only in onomastics. There are no native inscriptions.)

Espondeilhan (Herault, France), which was recorded as Espondeilla in 1170: <*esponda-ili “settlement on the slope”, to which the Roman -anum has been added. (The village is in fact located on a small hill rising above the coastal plain.)

In Iberian, there appears to have been, in addition to the *espon preserved in Esponzues, a form that had undergone component metathesis. It is recorded in both Roman and East Iberian Scripts, but is missing from the modern language. In some dialects at least, an original *es-pon appears to have become *bon-es. Or perhaps an original *bon-es became *espon. Consider the following:

Roman Script, Upper Garonne Valley

These texts were written in Latin but include many Iberian anthroponyms and theonyms. The following anthroponyms consist of Iberian *bones alone:

BONEXSI (CIL 13 00178)

BONNEXI (CIL 13 00071)

In the Upper Garonne texts, XS and X appear to denote the sounds represented in Basque by /ts/, /tz/, /x/ and /tx/.

East Iberian Script, Catalonia

The following bipartite anthroponyms are recorded on the Lead Foil of Palamos, a roll of donors of grave goods:

Adinbones (adin “age, intelligence”)

Bilosbones (bilos “round”)

The following bipartite anthroponym is recorded on the Lead Foil of Ullastret, another roll of donors of grave goods:

Biurbones (biur “bent”)

The No 2 S-sign of the East Iberian Script appears to denote the sounds represented in Basque by /s/, /ts/, /x/ and /tx/.

Note how the Upper Garonne and Catalonia agree on the form of this word but disagree with Basque. This is one of a group of words where this happens. The language of the Upper Garonne is demonstrably closer to the language of Catalonia than it is to modern Basque. Yet the bunch of cranks that we call orthodox Vascologists insist that the Upper Garonne language is the antecedent of Basque while Iberian is wholly unrelated to Basque.

*bon-es puts in a single appearance within the borders of Euskal Herria. Consider the following:

Arbonies (Navarra), a village in the far east of Navarra close to Lumbier which was recorded as Arbones in 1110: <*ar-bones “stone slope”. The meaning of Iberian bones is thereby narrowed down do something geomorphological that can be made of stone, like a slope.

Component metathesis is the placing in a different order perceived lexical components. They may not actually be lexical components, they may just be perceived as such. Sometimes it is quite hard to say which coupling is correct. So when one is dealing with a component metathesis it can be very difficult to look for cognates in Vasconic languages further afield, let alone in other non-Vasconic Dene-Caucasian languages.

Greek sfondülios “vertebra, spinal column” might possibly derive from a Pelasgian cognate of Basque espondaezponda. If so, *es-pon-da is likely to be original and *bones secondary.

However, if we look for possible cognates in other non-Vasconic Dene-Caucasian languages, we might conclude that Basque espondaezponda is a tripartite compound dating back to the Proto-Vasconic stage, and that -pon- or -bon- is the primary component. Consider the following:


Preclassic Old Chinese paŋ “side, quarter, place, region, square, regular thing, etc”

Lushai paŋ “body, side, flank”

Limbu ku-buŋ “foot of a mountain, bottom”

Sadly, the data that would allow a complete analysis of Basque espondaezponda have yet to be unearthed.

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• Sunday, February 19th, 2023

The Second Lead Foil of Alcoy

There are several lead foils of Alcoy (Valencia, Spain). Some are inscribed in the East Iberian Script, some in the Ionian Script. The most famous is a double-sided text inscribed in the Ionian Script that is amongst the longest and most complete of all the lead foil texts. Most, if not all, of the Alcoy texts are rolls of donors of grave goods.

There is a fragmentary lead foil text inscribed in the Ionian Script that I will call the Second Lead Foil of Alcoy. The text is not complete, but enough survives to make some sense of it. The Ionian Script has the advantage over the East Iberian Script that it has no syllabic signs and it distinguishes /d/ and /t/ and /g/ and /k/, but it does not distinguish /b/ and /p/ and /m/ and /n/.

My transcription is as follows:

iriseret Ilaeri Isaigudu Leis[…]ai leik(e)ta beri leiria salir iride[…] Setaber(e)n […]ar mai[…]

Ilaeri and Isaigudu are rather clearly bipartite anthroponyms. Leis- appears to be the first half of a bipartite anthroponym, the second part of which is missing. Setabe seems to be the modern Jativa, a town not too far to the north of Alcoy.

iriseret is not encountered elsewhere in the corpus of texts, at least not as far as I know. It is possible that -eret corresponds to Basque -erat “towards” (in Northern dialects).

If so, what is iris-? Five Basque words are worthy of consideration:

(R) iriz-tu “to become overripe (of a fruit)”. Hardly likely. While growing old and dying might be seen to be analogous to a fruit becoming overripe, the person in question was already dead when this text was written and his body was waiting to be cremated and the ashes buried beneath a tumulus.

(B, G) iritzi, (B) eritxi “to judge, give an opinion”. Unlikely. Judgment Day is a Christian concept. There is evidence that Iberians believed in reincarnation: are dake “again, he departs” and seldar ban berbein ari eukiar gatu “once again this tumulus is containing us”.

(G) iritsiiritxi “to arrive”. This is more probable. The deceased could be thought to be about to arrive in the next world. The purpose of donating the grave goods was to facilitate his passage.

The above three Basque words are verbs but -erat is a noun suffix. Let us therefore consider the following two Basque nouns:

(AN-Lekunberri) eritzi “communal land”. I am unaware of the precise meaning of “communal land” in Euskal Herria. In England, “common land” was unenclosed land over which local people had rights, such as the right to graze animals and kill deer and rabbits that strayed there. Much of it was enclosed before the modern era and only fragments survive. In the Iberian context, iris might have referred to outlying open land that was accessible to the people and could be used for burying the ashes of the dead. Hence “towards the common land”. It might also have been the belief that the dead, or at least the worthy dead, went to a pastoral paradise analogous to the Elysion pedion of the Ancient Greeks (no doubt based around what those who had undergone the near-death experience had observed).

(B-Bergara) irizi “fence that surrounds a whole field”. The burials at Alcoy could have taken place in an enclosed section of open land set aside for that purpose.

The name of the deceased is often omitted completely from rolls of donors of grave goods. In this case, it seems likely that iriseret relates to Ilaeri, son of Isaigudu. He is the one who is heading towards the communal land, or wherever it is. Ilaeri Isaigudu might be two separate people, but the context suggests that they are a single person.

Iberian ila “moon” (Basque ila-bete “month”) and eri (Basque (h)erri “people, community, village”) are rarely encountered as Iberian anthroponymic compound elements.

Iberian isai (Basque izai “fir tree, poplar”) and gudu (Basque gudu “war”) are more frequent. Both are present (recorded in the East Iberian Script) on the lead foils of Orleyl: Binisai “true/fir tree” and Guduboike “war/?/sun”.

Leis- (Basque leize “chasm”) is the first part of a bipartite anthroponym whose second element is missing. -ai “family” (Basque aiko “lineage”) is usually connected to the preceding anthroponym by the genitive singular suffix, -en, the final /n/ of which is generally elided in the East Iberian Script. The family of Leis- is probably one of the donors.

leiketa is a little bit tricky. There is Basque lehiaketa “competition”, composed of le(h)ia “persistence, diligence” and the noun suffix, -keta. The original meaning of Basque le(h)ia is hard to pinpoint. The medial /h/ in Northern dialects is probably secondary, which is why it is missing in Iberian. From the context I would suggest that Iberian leiketa means “workforce”, “employees”, “supporters”. beri (lenis medial /r/) is almost identical to Basque bere “his”. So leiketa berican reasonably be taken to mean “his workforce, employees, supporters”.

leiria is probably much the same word as leiketa. Here, Iberian lei is suffixed with -eria, which probably corresponds to the Basque noun suffix, -eria, though Basque exhibits lenis /r/, Iberian fortis /r/. beri might refer to leiria rather than leiketa, or it could refer to both nouns.

salir iride- replaces the much more usual phrase, salir kidei “coins to the members”. It refers to the donors giving money to the members of the funerary society (which appears to operate according to the modern English law of unincorporated associations!) in lieu of donating grave goods. Iberian sali “coin” corresponds to Basque sari “reward, prize” and sal-du “to sell”. The No 2 S-sign is nearly always used, but in this case exceptionally the No 1 S-sign is used. The final /r/ is the truncated form of the partitive suffix that is normally employed in the texts. The First Lead Foil of Alcoy presents this suffix in its (nearly) complete form: salir(i)g. Why salir iride instead of salir kidei? Well firstly, iride is incomplete. The likely final /i/ (creating the dative plural) is missing. In Basque, kide “member” can appear as -ide in compounds, such as senide “family member”. That might also have been the case in Iberian. ir- is likely to be Iberian iri, which from the context in which it is normally used probably means “joy” or “merriment”. As such, it is likely to correspond to Basque irri “nasty smile, joke” (after 2,000 years, the meaning has drifted somewhat). As a compound, iridei is likely to mean “to the members (who are also friends and share a common cause)”.

Setabe is probably the modern Jativa. On a coin issue it is recorded as Saitabi (in the East Iberian Script). In the Ionian Script, the genitive suffix is written -r(e)n. In the East Iberian Script, it is usually written -e or occasionally -en.

ar mai is comprised of the masculine suffix, -ar (in Basque, the final /r/ is fortis, in Iberian it is lenis). In the First Lead Foil of Alcoy this has been disagglutinated and placed before the anthroponym that it marks. mai is an emphatic, and is cognate with Basque na(h)i “desire” and mai-te “love” (“great desire”). At the very end of the second side of the First Bronze Plate of Alcoy is written ar mai Saxarisker, where Saxarisker is presumably the name of the officer of the funerary society who is asking the Libitinarius to place the grave goods in the tomb. On the Second Lead Foil of Alcoy the anthroponym that follows ar mai is missing.

So, a translation of the entire text might be something like the following:

“Towards the communal land (or the enclosure) (where the ashes of the dead are buried) (comes) Ilaeri (son of) Isaigudu. The family of Leis[…], his workforce and his household (are about to donate) coins to the members (in lieu of grave goods). (Signed by) Mr X of Jativa.”

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Author: Angus J. Huck
• Tuesday, February 14th, 2023

Iberian Funerary Texts – a Glossary of Terms

Most of the texts recorded in the East Iberian and Ionian Scripts are funerary texts. They are either epitaphs inscribed on sections of stone or rolls of donors of grave goods recorded mainly on lead foils. The large majority of the lead foil texts (and almost all of the longer ones) fall into this latter category. Iberian funerary texts are very formulaic and share many common words and phrases. The very close relationship to Basque is fairly obvious to anyone with an eye to see, but not to those who do no wish to see (ie, orthodox Vascologists). Below is a glossary of the key words and phrases used in these texts:

ai – family

akar idiran ebon – it is said that he brings you (the donated item) to be found (by the deceased)

are dake – again he departs (e-ke-n “to leave (intransitive)”)

ari – funerary stele

ari gu(k) ditigu – we are having them (the grave goods)

ari ne junstir – who are about to provide the funerary stele

arika – making of the funerary stele

arika ne – who has made the funerary stele

arikale – stonemason

aro – burial pit (beneath the tumulus)

asgandis – last of all

aste – priest

aste beikeaie – have the priest leave it (the donated item) for him (e-ke-n “to leave (transitive)”)

ati – trousseau, grave goods

atu – trousseau, grave goods

atu ne junstir – who are about to donate the grave goods

aur – child

aurunin – heir, heres, heredis

auruni(n) beikeai – have the heir leave it (the donated item) for him (e-ke-n “to leave (transitive)”)

axari salir(ig) – coins bearing a ram’s head

badi – specific item

badi bi – two specific items

badir(ig) – specific items

bagarok – we, the people outside the funerary society

baides – permission

baidesir(ig) – permissions

baideski – with permission

baides bi – two permissions

baitura – kind of ceramic vessel

bale – if he had it

banir(ig) – specific items

barer(ig) – cries of joy

bartin – one who makes peace, judge, trustee

bas – funerary society, collegium funerarium

baserok – we, the members of the funerary society

baspide – rules of the funerary society

baspiderok – we, who follow the rules of the funerary society

baspidirbartin – trustee of funerary society

belagas ixaur – garlic scattering (in the tomb)

berbein – once again

bexor – mare (a votive statuette)

biderok – we, the followers of the rules (of the funerary society)

da baipen – there is permission

dadei – he leaves it

eban – here

ebanen – in here

ebon – it is said

egiar do ne – the one who made it

eparikame du ixesira – the mother partridge (a deity) has an escape

erderok – we, who are outside the funerary society

eri – dead person

erirtan arora – all the dead people to the burial pit

erpakale – scribe

gade – clay used for making funerary urns

gai bi gait – because of two things

gatu – he has us

gatu bareka – he has us (our grave goods) joyously

gatu ladien – he has us (our grave goods) so that he may be

gatu ladien ban idiran – he has our things (grave goods) to find so that he may be

gurs – kind of ceramic vessel

igon mugei – to rise to the boundaries

irika – joyously

irike – joyously

irikide – friend, colleague

iriseret – towards the enclosed area where the ashes of the dead are interred

jei – ceremony

junstir – about to donate

kide – member (of the funerary society)

kidei – to the members (of the funerary society)

leik(e)ta – household, employees

lere udinir(ig) – blue (fresh) ripe fruit

lur – clay used for making funerary urns

mai – desire, love, an emphatic

ne – who

neitin – undertaker, Libitinarius

orkei – kind of ceramic vessel

osereri – hemlock (for scattering in the tomb)

sali – coin

salir(ig) – coins

salir(ig) pos ita sali pos – lucky coins and the lucky coin

sebakaratura – mortarium

seldar – tumulus

seldar ban berbein ari eukiar gatu – this tumulus once again is containing us

sibantin – they erected it (the funerary stele)

surabetika – cornucopia, kind of ceramic vessel

surse – kind of ceramic vessel

sursebetika – cornucopia, kind of ceramic vessel

tai – purvey for the wake

tura – kind of ceramic vessel

turabai – kind of ceramic vessel

tutura – censer

ulti ladie(n) – so that he may be zestful

un – good

unin – best

ure – clay used for making funerary urns

ures udinir(ig) – blue (fresh) hazelnuts

ures unir(ig) – good hazelnuts

uteti – outside (the funerary society)

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Author: Angus J. Huck
• Sunday, February 05th, 2023

Basque zaliga “wild osier patch”

Azkue lists the following:

(Z) zaliga “wild osier patch”

Llande lists the following:

(Z) zaligar “field covered with osiers”

In a Roman Catholic periodical of 1902 the following appears:

zaligatze “osier patch” (sahats eta zaligatzeen gainetik “from above the willows and osier patches”)

Basque zaliga bears a rather obvious resemblance to Latin salixsalicis “willow”, which is the origin of French saule, Spanish sauce, Italian salice and Portuguese salgueiro. It would therefore not seem unreasonable to regard Basque zaliga as a borrowing either directly from Latin or from a neighbouring Romance language. An orthodox Vascologist, who is likely to know little or nothing of the prehistory of Basque, is going to find no reason whatsoever for doubting it. But a deeper inquiry suggests that there are quite cogent reasons for doubting it. These are as follows:


Basque zaliga only refers to “osier”, never “willow”. Latin salixsalicis, French saule, Spanish sauce, Italian salice and Portuguese salgueiro only mean “willow”, never “osier”. In Latin, “osier” is vimenviminis, in French, osier, in Spanish, mimbre, in Italian, vimine and in Portuguese, vime. Willow and osier are related trees, but different, and are treated differently in most languages, including Basque and the Romance languages that surround Basque.


Latin salixsalicis is feminine, but French saule, Spanish sauce, Italian salice and Portuguese salgueiro are all masculine. It seems unlikely, therefore, that Basque would acquire this word in a version that exhibited final /a/. The expected form would be *zalike, but it is zaliga, not *zalike.


Basque (Z) zaligar “field covered with wild osiers”, the form recorded by Llande but not Azkue, carries the fossilised collective suffix, -ar. The dendronymic suffix, -atze, as in Basque (Z) zaligatze “osier patch”, though pre-Roman in origin, has remained productive until recent times and is capable of being carried by loanwords. The -ar suffix, by contrast, is thoroughly fossilised and ceased to be productive long before contact with Romance. It cannot be carried by loanwords.


Basque zaliga appears to be present as the substantive component of a number of ancient toponyms. Consider the following:

Saligos (Hautes-Pyrenées) <*saliga-os

The -os toponymic suffix is always pre-Roman and is only ever attached to native Vasconic words. In this case, it is attached to an Iberian *saliga, which looks to be identical in every way to Basque zaliga.

Saugon (Gironde) <*saliga + Roman -onium

Saulges (Mayenne), which was recorded as Salicam in the 9th century <*saliga

Saugues (Haute-Loire), which was recorded as Salga in the 12th century <*saliga


Let us take a closer look at Latin salixsalicis. The following branches of Indo-European have similar words:


Welsh helygen “willow”


English sallow


Greek helike “willow” (many linguists claim that this word is of a different origin)


Albanian shelg “willow” (which may be from Latin)

Note that these are the westernmost branches of Indo-European. These are the branches that have been subject to the greatest influence by the Vasconic substrate. The word is missing from all the Asian Indo-European languages. The westernmost Indo-European languages have borrowed numerous Vasconic phytonyms and dendronyms. The set that includes Latin salixsalicis may well be one of them.


If Basque zaliga is native Vasconic, we would expect to find cognates in other non-Vasconic Dene-Caucasian languages. We probably do. Consider the following:


Ket dʌĺɣit, dʌĺɣit, dʌĺɣit, dʌĺɣit “willow wood”

Yug dъ̄ĺ-git, dъĺgat “willow”

Note that all the variants listed include the second part of the stem with /g/, which we also see in Vasconic.

Yeniseian initial dentals sometimes do correspond with Vasconic initial /s/. Consider the following:

Kott ten “nipple”, Arin téŋul “milk”, Pumpokol den “milk” and Basque esneezne “milk”, zenberauen “cottage cheese” (literally “milk lead”)

Ket tatǝŋ, Yug tatɨŋ “straight” and Basque zuzen “straight”, Iberian sosin

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