22 December 2009

Hair and wool

Basque bil(h)o 'hair, mane' is an interesting word. In compound with the verb utzi, itzi 'to leave' it gives biluz 'naked', biluzi 'to get naked' (with many variants: biloiz, bilaiz(i), bileiz(i), biluxi, buluzi, buluxi).

The etymology of this word has puzzled more than one Vascologist, specially given its similarity to Latin pilus '(a single) hair'. But a borrowing can be safely discarded due to phonetical reasons, because Latin -l- would have given -r- in Basque.

An alternative source from Latin villus 'tuft, lock of hair; hair' (probably an Italoid loanword parallel to Baltic *wil-na 'wool') was then proposed, but I find this unrealistic. My own view is that Basque bil(h)o and Latin pilus are one and the same Cantabrian word, ultimately related to PNC *p’VħVɫV 'feather; mane' (an etymology proposed by Bengtson).

Other 'hair' words found in IE languages come from this Vasco-Caucasian root. In particular, Greek púligges [pl.] 'hairs of the body' and Sanskrit pulakās [pl.] 'bristling hairs of the body' are similar to Nakh *pēla-k’ 'feather'.

The Tyrrhenian counterpart of bil(h)o is Basque ule 'hair', ile 'hair, wool', with several doublets in compounds. The meaning 'wool' suggested to some authors a possible borrowing from Gothic wulla < Proto-Germanic *wullō(n), but this rather makes me think PIE *w̥lH2neHa- 'wool' could be in fact a very old Vasco-Caucasian loanword: *p’VħVɫV > *bVlħV > *wVlħ-, with merging of b/w in PIE (where the voiced labial stop is very rare).

1 comment:

  1. Similarity of 'fluff' to plume/flume/fill/fowl/foal?