24 October 2009

Dentalization of velar stops

Another non-standard phonological feature of Basque is dentalization of velar stops1. This phenomenon is very often accompanied by expressive palatization2:

kakur 'dog' > ttattur
-ko 'diminutive suffix' > -t(t)o
konkor, kunkur 'hunchback(ed); bump' > ttonttor, t(t)unt(t)ur.

Dentalized variants of Latin and Romance borrowings like *fongo 'mushroom' > onddo, kipula 'onion' > tipula, (k)upa 'barrel' > dupa show the process was still going on in the High Middle Ages.

Unlike assibilation, dentalization only affects velars and can occur at any syllable onset and not only at word-initial. Sometimes, we can also find non-dentalized forms in Iberian corresponding to dentalized ones in Basque:

idi 'ox'3 ~ Iberian biki4 (PNC *bHe:mttɬɨ (˜ -u,-i)  'deer, mountain goat')
borda 'hut' (PNC *borGwV: (˜ -ǝ-) 'stall; shed, tower')
gurdi, burdi 'cart' ~ Iberian oŕke (PNC *k’wVrk’V 'something round or rotating')
idor 'dry'5 ~ Iberian bekoŕ6 (PNC *=iGGwAr 'dry, to dry')
urde 'pig' ~ Iberian uŕke (PNC *wHa:rttɬ’wǝ 'boar, pig')

Dentalization also arises in compound variants7 where a velar stop gets to final position:
begi 'eye' > *bet-
behi 'cow' (EPBasq. *pekhi) > *bet-
ogi 'bread' > *ot-
zohi 'clod of earth' (EPBasq. *tokhi) > *zot-
1 Commonly found in children's language.
2 As in the case of assibilation (see), this is why Vascologists haven't indentified it.
3 Also non-standard pit(t)ika 'goat kid' and similar forms.
4 Compare also Spanish pequeño/a (without palatization!) and Italian piccino/a 'little' with Catalan petit/a and French petit/e 'id.'
5 There's also ador (L), a form contaminated by agor 'dry'.
6 There's also Basque pegor 'sterile, poor'.
7 Called combinatory forms by Vascologists.

17 October 2009

Assibilation of initial stops

The lamino-alveolar sibilant [s] <z> isn't a native consonant in Basque at word-initial, its possible sources being these ones:

1) The retention of an etymological sibilant in non-standard varieties vs. its loss in standard Basque, as in zapo 'toad' (a loanword from Semitic *ɬ’abb- 'a kind of lizard') vs. standard apo.

2) The result of Iberian *t- in loanwords. We've already seen that in a previous post.

3) The assibilation of an initial stop, either velar (most frequent) or labial (very rare), which often undergone expressive palatalization1 into [ʃ] <x> or [] <tx>. For example, non-standard kakur 'dog' has given the assibilated forms zakur, txakur, xakur, and Romance *capel 'hat' has given txapel, xapel, zapel.

An example of assibilation of a labial stop is zegi 'milky cow' vs. behi 'cow' < EPBsq. *pek:i.

The coalescence of assibilation and expressive palatization in the same  word has made Vascologists2 incapable of identifying the former. In Basque only coronal consonants [s, ś, ts, tś, d, t, n, l] (and in some dialects also [r, ŕ]) can undergone palatalization, so in order for a velar to be palatalized, it must be first converted to a sibilant.

The chronology of assibilation is ancient, as it's already found in Iberian. For example, zaldi 'horse' (Iberian saldu) is related to Germanic *kulta- 'colt'3, and zamar 'sheepskin jacket'4 is related to Germanic *xamísa- 'clothes, skirt'5 (PNC ʕa:mV ‘skin, cloth’).
1 A common linguistic device in Basque used to denote diminutive or affective meanings.
2 Bengtson among them.
3 Nikolayev reconstructs IE *g(w)Ald- 'foal, young of an ass', related to NEC *gwalV 'horse'.
4 A non-standard word borrowed into Romance (Spanish zamarra, Catalan samarra).
5 Hence Spanish camisa 'shirt'.

The fate of Proto-Basque *t-

Proto-Basque's consonant system had a tense/lax contrast rather than a voiceless/voiced one, so dental stops were *t: (tense) and *t (lax).

Initial *t- was apparently absent from Late PBsq., as d- is exceedingly rare in modern Basque outside of recent borrowings and verbal forms. Although Trask noticed this anomaly in Mitxelena's system, he didn't offer any explanation1.

The key is found in borrowings like lanjer (< French danger) or lizifrina (< Romance disciplina)2, where the original d- evolved into l-. This suggests EPBasq. *t- became Basque l-, as in these examples:

Basque langa 'enclosure, rustical door; bar, catch; crossbeam' ~ Catalan tanca < EPBsq. *tanka  (IE *tengh-s- 'pole')

Basque lan(h)o, laino 'cloud, fog' ~ non-std Basque t(t)anka 'drop' < EPBsq. *tank:A (PNC *t’Hænk’o 'drop, spray')

It looks like Iberian t was actually realized like a dental affricate [ts]3 which gave a lamino-alveolar sibilant [s] (Basque <z>)4 in loanwords from that language in Basque:

Basque zohi 'clod of earth; brick' < Iberian *tok:i but lohi 'mud', idoi 'pool, puddle; bog, marsh' < EPBsq. *(i-)tok:i (Starostin's PSC *[t]VQV́ 'dirty, clay')

EPBsq. *t:- gave Basque is h or zero, as in these examples:

Basque haga 'stake, pole' < EPBasq. *t:akA ~ non-standard tako 'block of wood, wedge' (PNC *dwɨq’(w)V: 'log, stump')

Basque -ar 'male', Aquitanian HAR- ~ non-std Basque *-tar 'man' < EPBasq. *t:ar: (PNC *dlʒiwlV 'man, male')
1 The History of Basque (1997), p.136.
2 It's worth noticing these words are geographically restricted to a few dialects.
3 See his Economie des changements phonétiques (1955).
4 This sound shift is often quoted by Ibero-Basquists (defensors of a close relationship between Basque and Iberian) as being a native Basque one.

15 October 2009

Proto-Basque and non-standard Basque

Proto-Basque is the reconstructed ancestor of the historical Basque dialects, presumably spoken in the Late Iron Age and whose main features were worked out by the Vascologist Koldo Mitxelena in his magna opus Fonética Histórica Vasca1. The consonantal system of Mitxelena's Proto-Basque didn't had a voiced/voiceless contrast but a fortis (tense)/lenis (lax) one. This was only relevant in medial position (between vowels), because at word-initial only lenis phonemes might appear.

With regard to stops, the French linguist André Martinet (Économie des changements phonétiques, 1955) posited an older system modelled after Danish, in which plosives could be realized either as voiceless aspirated (fortis) or mild voiceless (lenis) at word-initial and as mild voiceless (fortis) and approximants (lenis) between vowels. In Mitxelena's Proto-Basque, the aspirated plosives would have evolved to [h], which had no phonemic value.

I call this process Martinet's Law, and for comparative purposes we should differentiate between Early Proto-Basque (before Martinet's Law) and Late Proto-Basque (after Martinet's Law), sometimes called "canonical" or "Mitxelena's" as opposed to Bengtson's.

In the Aquitanian inscriptions we can found forms with initial h- like HALSCO or HAVTENN2 vs. others with t- like TALSCO (Iberian talsku) or TAVTINN (Iberian tautin) and different geographical distribution. This isogloss is a particular case of Martinet's Law, which separates Proto-Basque from other linguistic varieties like Iberian.

There are also Basque words like k(h)ako 'hook'3 < IE *ko(n)g- 'peg, hook, claw' < Paleo-Eurasian *ɣoŋɣV 'peg, nail' or tara 'young branch' < IE *dhal- 'sprout' which don't follow Martinet's Law and  constitute what I call non-standard Basque4. They are late loanwords from those linguistic varieties, whose speakers were stigmatizated people like highlanders or nomadic shepherds, a fact which lead to their ultimate extinction in the High Middle Ages (there's evidence in NW Catalonia's toponymy of a Bascoid language spoken there until aprox. 1000 AD).

Unlike his original proposal, Martinet's Law also can occur between vowels. For example, Basque zahar 'old' < EPBasq. *sakh5 vs. Iberian sakaŕ (Starostin's PNC *tʃ’HǝqwV 'big').
1 For a summary of Mitxelena's work, see Trask's The history of Basque (1997).

2 Compare Basque hauta 'election, excellent' < Celtic *toutā- 'people'.
3 In the Salazarian dialect there's an isolated form kaiku 'aquiline' found part of the compound sudur-kaiku 'aquiline nose'.
4 It's a pity Bengtson didn't recognize this as a genuine phenomenon.
5 Basque /z/ represents a lamino-alveolar sibilant [s].

The Vasco-Caucasian hypothesis

Although the idea of a genetical relationship between Basque and Caucasian languages was envisaged by 20th century linguists like Alfredo Trombetti, René Lafon and Karl Bouda, it wasn't properly formulated until circa 1970, when the Polish geographer Bogdan Zaborski grouped Basque, Caucasian languages and Burushaski into an Asianitic family. 

In the 90's, the American linguist John Bengtson proposed a Macro-Caucasian (also called Vasco-Caucasian) phylum comprising Basque, North Caucasian1 and Burushaski (see his seminal paper), and being part of a larger Dene-Caucasian (also called Sino-Caucasian) phylum comprising Sino-Tibetan, Yenisseian and Na-Dené, first posited by the Russian linguists Sergei Starostin and Sergei Nikolayev2. Unfortunately, Bengtson's work is full of methodological and factual errors. This is why I have created an independent line of research, whose guidelines I'm going to explain in this blog.

In my view, the Vasco-Caucasian family spread through Europe in the Neolithic à la Renfrew, leaving substrate loanwords in the IE languages which superseded it in the Bronze Age. And although this might be correct as regarding the whole picture, it needs some corrections at a smaller scale. For example, Etruscan (possibly a Vasco-Caucasian language) was brought to Italy by seafaring invaders from the Aegean (one of the Sea Peoples) who gave rise to the Iron Age Villanovian culture.
1 A hypothetical language family comprising NWC (Abkhaz-Adyghe) + Hatti and NEC (Nakh-Daghestanian) + Hurro-Urartian.
2 Who in 1994 published their North Caucasian Etymological Dictionary. In addition to the etymological on-line dictionaries of Dene-Caucasian branches (except Na-Dené) and Bengtson's "Proto-Basque" at Starostin's site, there's a sound correspondence table at Wikipedia.