27 January 2016

The bear and the marten (updated)

The common IE word for 'bear', found in most branches (Hittite hartagga-, Celtic *arto-, Greek árktos, Armenian arǯ, Avestan arša-, Latin ursus, Sanskrit ŕkṣa-, etc) is usually reconstructed as  *h₂ərətk´o-, where the "thorny cluster" tk´ (þ in older reconstructions) has various reflexes t, s, š, kt, kṣ.

However, I regard the Hittite segment -gga- as a suffix like the one found in Turkic qarsaq 'steppe fox' < Altaic *karsi 'marten'. This would leave us with a protoform *h₂ərəC-ko-, where C would represent a sibilant (possibly palato-alveolar) affricate like the one of Caucasian *χHVr[tɕ’]V 'marten; otter'1 (a Nakh-Dargwa isogloss). Probably also Yeniseian *χa(ʔ)s (~ k-) 'badger' belongs here.

Ignoring external data, some Indo-Europeanists have proposed a link between 'bear' and an IE verb 'to destroy'. Interestingly enough, this meaning is represented in Caucasian by *HarGG(w)V, which I'd link to Altaic *jàrgi (~ -o) 'wild beast of prey' and possibly also to Arabic ʕurāʒ- 'hyena(s)', proposed by Nostraticists as cognates of IE 'bear'.
1 Using his etymological instinct, Bengtson links this to Basque hartz 'bear', an IE loanword, most likely from Celtic.


  1. If basque "hartz" comes from the IE, it must have been loaned so long ago, when laringals were still heard! Is is possible? Were Basques there in some year 3000 B.C.?

  2. Not necessarily, because h could have originated in Paleo-Basque itself and not be present in the source language, which was probably Celtic.

  3. The Tuscan people have more genetic input from Neanderthals than anyone else.

    Euskara & Tuskara (Tocharian) appear similarly named. Etruskan may have been Etruskara?

    I recall that a bear constellation has a long tail, thought to have originally derived from the African honey badger. Note too the Hebrew bible's reference to badger skins covering the Ark of the covenant.