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'.


  1. Hold on a second. Which varieties have which? Which varieties have /z/, /tS/ or /S/ for /k/???

    It appears to me anything can become anything here. Quite suspicious, really.

    Can you list all the possible sources of sibilants in a clear way?

  2. Hi, Petr.

    I think that Basque initial z- isn't native, its possibles source being these ones:

    1) Retention of etymological */S, tS/ in non-std varieties vs. loss in std Basque, as in zapo 'toad' (a Semitic loanword) vs. std apo.

    2) Result of *t- in loanwords from Iberian.

    3) Assibilation of initial velar or labial stops. The latter are very rare, the only example I can think of now is zegi (B) 'milky cow' from EPBsq. *pek:i > std Basque behi 'cow'.

  3. Tavi, could you possibly make the table at last? Or start doing it at least...

    By the way, zegi is reminiscent of *dheug(')h- (> e.g. dúghā f. 'milch-cow')...might be a coincidence though.

    It's a big mistake to base one's conclusions on a single example. Velar stops are quite different from labial stops, let's not mix the two together. Please, list all of the P > S examples if you can...

  4. Cf. the following:

    Basque kakur ~ Uralic *koĺe-koj(e)ra
    Basque zaldi ~ Uralic *śarta
    Basque zamar ~ Uralic *śo(m)pa

    Also (highly tentatively):

    Basque zapo ~ Uralic *säpV/*täpV "squirrel"
    Basque apo ~ Uralic *äpV "squirrel"

    And (even more tentatively):

    Basque zehi ~ Uralic *tewä

  5. Have you eaten Amanita muscaria, Petr? It's an hallucinogen mushroom used in rituals by Proto-Uralic speaking people.

  6. Have you noticed I question your methodology? I'm just trying to say that your comparisons are pretty insecure. There are plenty of lookalikes elsewhere.

  7. I think you haven't grasp the core of the Vasco-Caucasian theory. The "problem" doesn't lie on "lookalikes" but on the huge collapse of the sound system, specially in Proto-Basque.