10 November 2009

Putting the pieces together

I've received several complaints from some of my fellow amateurs asking me for a complete explanation of my "system", including a table of detailed sound correspondences between Starostin's PNC and (Proto)-Basque, instead of focusing on individual etymologies.

I think it should be clear from earlier posts that Basque is far from being a homogeneous language and the study of its prehistory can't be separated from substrate loanwords in Western European languages.

I've already addressed the distinction between two main lexicon layers in Basque: standard Basque (that is, those words which comply with Late (Mitxelena's) Proto-Basque phonotatics, for example haga 'stake, pole'), and non-standard Basque (those which don't, for example tako 'block of wood, wedge'). I consider the latter to be borrowings from one or more linguistic varieties to which I give the collective name of Pyrenaic1.

The observed differences between Pyrenaic and Proto-Basque are basically due to the conditioned aspiration of stops p, t, k into h, a sound change which I call Martinet's Law.  Therefore, I reconstruct a prehistoric stage of Basque before it which I name Early (Martinet's) Proto-Basque to differentiate it from Late (Mitxelena's) Proto-Basque. In this way, Pyrenaic and Early Proto-Basque look very similar.

Other isoglosses (mainly regarding to vocalism in the first syllable2) made me distinguish between two language groups, Cantabrian and Tyrrhenian. Some Tyrrhenian words seem to have reached Basque through Iberian, as part of its lexicon is from that origin. For example ui (B) 'pitch' < *uni, from an earlier **guni (PNC *kk’wVnV 'mastics, tar'), with assimilation to *buni and regular loss of the labial stop3. By contrast, Basque koipe, goipe 'oil' < *goni-pe (a compound from the same root) keeps the velar stop.

Very often, Cantabrian words have Tyrrhenian counterparts and viceversa. For example, Basque taket 'stake, wedge; dump, stupid' corresponds to Spanish zoquete 'block of wood; dumb, stupid'.
1 This name was first suggested by my Italian colleague Marco Moretti, who leaded me in the earlier stages of my research. Pyrenaic is also the source of many substrate loanwords in Romance languages (specially Spanish) as well as part of the Iberian lexicon.
2 In many words, Cantabrian has a/e while Tyrrhenian has o/u.
3 Although Bengtson identified this process, he wrongly attributed it to native Basque.

1 comment:

  1. I think you should post something even if you don't have all the details worked out. Just put that qualifier in when you post something. Those of us who are amateurs in historical linguistics can appreciate that you have a work in process.