Euskara historia eta jatorria. John D. Bengtson

John D. Bengtson Euskara: historia eta jatorria

Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea – 2010-11-4an

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Basque Language: History and Origin. Euskara: historia eta jatorria. El Euskera: Historia y Origen /

John D. Bengtson

Association for the Study of Language in Prehistory

Savage, Minnesota U.S.A.

Q: How do we discover the origin and history (and prehistory) of a language, even when there are no written records of earlier stages?

A: We can do an analysis of the following components:

  • Basic vocabulary (lexis, lexicon)
  • Morphology (grammatical paradigms)
  • Phonology (sound system)
  • Cultural vocabulary (usually in several layers)

The first three tell us about the “genetic” origin of a language, while the last (cultural vocabulary) tells us about cultural contacts.

For example: Castilian:

  • Basic vocabulary: ojo, oreja, lengua, sol, luna, tierra, etc. < oculu, auricula, lingua, sole, luna, terra (Vulgar Latin)
  • Morphology: es / era / fué < est / erat / fuit (Vulgar Latin); cf. English: is / was / been (suppletive paradigms)
  • Phonology: haba, hembra, hilo = French fève, femme, fil < faba, femina, filu (Vulgar Latin)
  • Cultural vocabulary: mesa, llave, libro < mensa, clave, libru (Vulgar Latin); izquierdo, chamarra, niño, cachorro, chico < ezker, txamarra, nini, txakur, txiki (Basque/Iberian); bosque, jabón, yelmo, guerra < buska, sapon, helmo, werra (Germanic); aceituna , hasta, zumo, olé < az-zaytun, hatta, zum, wa-llah (Arabic); etc.

This tells us that the “genetic” origin of Castilian is Vulgar Latin, and that the language has had important cultural contacts with native Iberians and Basques, Germanic tribes, Arabs (Moors), and others.

These principles applied to Basque (Euskera):

Basic vocabulary:

  • *begi ‘eye/ojo’, *be-larri ‘ear/oreja’, *minhi ‘tongue/lengua’, *saharr ‘old/viejo’, *agorr ‘dry/seco’, *hil ‘die/morir, dead/muerto’, *oihan ‘woods/bosque’ = Chechen bcärg, lerg, mott, šira, =eq’a, =al-, ħun;
  • *horts ‘tooth/diente’, *śu ‘fire/fuego’, *su ‘you/tu/usted’, *gośe ‘hung(e)r(y) / hambr(i)e(nto)’ = Lak k:arč:, ts’u, zu, k:aši;
  • *adarr ‘horn/cuerno’, *hor ‘dog/perro’, *lurr ‘earth/tierra’, *(e-)kee ‘smoke/humo’, *e-gu-n ‘day/día’= Avar tl:ar, hoy, ratl’:, k’:uy, q’o:

Morphology: Noun prefixes *be-/*bi-, *e-/*i-, *o-/*u-, as in *be-larri ‘ear/oreja’, *bi-zi ‘life/vida, alive/vivo’, *e-gurr ‘firewood/leña’, *i-zarr ‘star/estrella’; *o-saba ‘uncle/tio’, *u-rdail ‘stomach/estómago’ : cf. Caucasian class prefixes: *w-/*b ‘inanimate’; *y-/i- ‘animate (feminine)’, *u ‘animate (masculine)’

Phonology: “sound laws”: for example, Basque *h = Caucasian *χ

  • *hari / *hal– ‘thread, wire/hilo, alambre’ ~ Chechen χal ‘thread/hilo’
  • *harc ‘bear/oso’, *hars-koin ‘badger/tejón’ ~ Chechen χešt ‘marten/marta’
  • *haurr ‘child/niño’ ~ Chechen χowχar ‘lamb/cordero’
  • *be-he ‘ground/suelo, bottom/fondo’, etc. ~ Chechen =uχ ‘bottom/fondo’

Phonology: archaic syllabic structures:

  • Basque mihi ‘tongue’ ~ Caucasian: Tindi mits:i ‘tongue’
  • Basque txori /čori/ ‘bird’ ~ Caucasian: Tindi č’uriGaGa ‘quail’
  • Basque itśu ‘blind’ ~ Tindi =ets:ub ‘blind’

Cultural vocabulary: Dene-Caucasian layer:

  • Basque *behi ‘cow/vaca’ = Cauc: Avar bóts’:i ‘cattle’, Andi buts’:ir ‘cattle’, etc.
  • Basque *sesen ‘bull/toro’ = Cauc: Chamalal zin ‘cow’, Tindi zini ‘cow’, etc.
  • Basque: *bil-doć ‘lamb’ = Cauc: Bezhta bitl’‘sheep’, Chechen bož ‘he-goat’, etc.
  • Basque *ahari / *ahal- ‘ram’ = Cauc: Hunzib χor ‘ram’, Chadokolob her ‘ewe’
  • Basque *siki-ro ‘castrated ram’; *siki-te ‘castrated goat’ = Cauc: Andi ts’:ek’ir ‘kid’, Lak ts’uku ‘goat’, etc.
  • Basque *gari / *gal– ‘wheat’ = Cauc: Tindi q’:eru, Lezgi q:ül ‘wheat’, etc.
  • Basque *ilha-rr ‘vetch, peas, beans’ = Cauc: Tsez hil ‘pea(s)’, Avar holó ‘bean(s)’, etc.
  • Basque *larrain ‘threshing floor’ = Cauc: Archi tlorom ‘threshing board’, Andi loli ‘threshing, threshing floor’, etc.
  • Basque *eiho ‘to grind’ / *eihera ‘mill’ = Cauc: Chechen aħ- ‘grind’ / ħer ‘mill’, Ingush ħajra ‘mill’, Lak ha=a- ‘grind’ / hara-qalu ‘mill’, etc.

Cultural vocabulary: Later layers: Semitic: nagusi, etc. – Egyptian: zazpi, berri, nahasi, onura, etc.; Early Latin layer: bake, gela, gaztelu, lore, etc.; Late Latin (Romance) layer: duda, klase, kotxe, paga-tu, polit, telefono, etc.

Conclusions: Modern humans have lived in the Basque Country and Gascony for at least 30,000 years. However, it is unlikely that the language of the Paleolithic settlers is directly ancestral to the language we know as Basque. Linguistic evidence indicates that a Dene-Caucasian language was adopted, along with a complete “package” of Neolithic agro-pastoralism, from neighboring cultures, with the original stimulus from the Cardial culture. Linguistic features of the oldest Neolithic terms in Basque indicate that they have the same origin as the most basic layers of lexis, i.e. they are all Dene-Caucasian. Later layers of cultural vocabulary indicate prehistoric contacts with Semitic, Egyptian, and Celtic languages, as well as the well-known contacts with early Latin (Roman Empire) and later forms of Latin-Romance.

More information: J.D. Bengtson. 2008. Linguistic Fossils.

J.D. Bengtson Homepage: http://jdbengt.net/

Tower of Babel (Basque Etymologies): http://starling.rinet.ru/main.html

ASLIP / Mother Tongue: http://www.aslip.org/

John D. Bengtson

John D. Bengtson

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