31 December 2009

The lentil

The native Basque word for 'lentil (Lens culinaris)' can be reconstructed as *tink-il:(a), *sink-il:(a), most of whose variants are restricted to the dialect spoken in the Navarrese valley of Salazar1: tindil, txindil, txingla, xingala. The form txintxil(a) spread also to the neighbouring Roncalese dialect, and further along in the Aragonese valley of Ansó we find tentilla, an interference with the genuine Romance form lentilla.

This word (also found in other Romance languages like Spanish lenteja, French lentille) is derived from Latin lenticula, a diminutive form of Latin lēns, lentis 'lentil', with cognates in Germanic (Old High German linsī, linsin), Slavic *lę̄tjā and Baltic (Lithuanian lę̃ši-s (-iō)).  This could be related to Semitic *ʕa-daʃ- 'lentil' with a shift d- > l- and a nasal infix.

 The Basque forms tilista, txilista, dilista (Westernmost dialects)2 are a diminutive  form *ti-lis-ta with a fossilized Berber article (feminine plural) ti-3 agglutinated.

I think this is substrate loanword whose ultimate origin is Afro-Asiatic *da/ingw- 'a k. of beans; corn', a root widely attested in several branches.
1 In other dialects this word can refer to different plants, mostly of the vetch (Vicia) family.
2 The Gipuzkoan form dilista was chosen for representing the word in the standardized language or Euskera Batua (lit. 'United Basque language').
3 Also found in Sardinian.


  1. Since when do German and Latin, or PIE have an n-infix in nouns? Especially borrowed nouns?

  2. You have another example here:

  3. The cited Basque dialectical forms tilista, txilista, dilista cannot be compared to OCS lęšta, with št from palatal t, i.e. from a protoform *lętja (nasal ę < en/in), compare also and Bulgarian lešta, Serbian léća, Slovene léča, Russian (obsolete) ljača, all with regular reflexes of the palatalization and the nasal vowel. Given the distribution of this word (South Slavic languages + limited use in Russian), it is very likely that *lętja is a cultural borrowing from Balkan Romance or another obsolete Paleo-Balkan language (which would explain the Lithuanian form as a borrowing too from the same southern source).

    Peter (from Bulgaria)