24 July 2014

Gaulish *komboro- 'heap, accumulation' (updated)

Basque gonburu (B), bonburu (B) 'excess', usually derived from Latin cumulu- 'heap', is actually loanword from Gallo-Romance *komboro- 'heap, accumulation'1 (REW 2075). This is the origin of Medieval Latin combrus 'abatis' (an obstacle formed by a row of tree branches pointing to the enemy) and Old French combre 'dam on a river'. Other derivatives, we we've also got French encombrer, Italian ingombrare 'to obstruct, to block' < *in-comb(o)rāre and Spanish escombrar 'to disembarrass' < *ex-comb(o)rāre. 

Although specialists usually give this word a Celtic etymology from Celtic *kom-bero-2 >Old Irish commar, Welsh cymer, Breton kemper (hence the toponym Quimper'confluence (of rivers)', in my opinion this etymology is semantically unsatisfactoryso I'd prefer a substrate loanword related to Baltic *kumb(u)r- 'soil elevation, hill' (Lithuanian kumbrī̃s, kum̃brisLatvian kumburis) and Thracian skumbras (ancient toponyms Skóumbros, Skoũmbro)3. As the source language (either from the Baltic group or a close relative of it), had no differentiated /a, o/ vowels but only /a/, its /u/ was actually realized [ʊ] and therefore was interpreted by Celtic (Gaulish) speakers as being closer to their own /o/4.

Working independently of each other, the Catalan linguist Joan Coromines and the Spanish Indo-Europeanist Francisco Villar apparently conflated this Baltoid language with a different Italoid (i.e. akin to Italic) one, called Sorothaptic by Coromines from its purported association with the Urnfield culture, attested in several lead foil inscriptions (written in Latin alphabet) found at the beggining of the 20th century in the thermal station of Amélie-les-Bains/Els Banys d'Arles (Rosselló)5These are votive texts addressed to some water deities (nymphs) referred to as kantas niskas, where kantas presumably derives from IE *k´wen-to- 'holy' and niskas could be related to Basque neska 'unmarried girl'.
1 A meaning proposed by Coromines instead of Meyer-Lübke's original one. 
X. Delamarre (2008): Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, p. 122. 
I. Duridanov (1969): Die Thrakisch- und Dakisch-Baltischen Sprachbeziehungen, p. 93.
Villar has an idiosyncratic theory of the development of the 5 vowel system of some IE languages (e.g. Italic, Celtic, Greek) from an older 4 vowel system /i, ε, ɑ, ʊfound in e.g. Anatolian, Balto-Slavic, Germanic, as well as in Etruscan. See F. Villar (2000): Indoeuropeos y no indoeuropeos en la Hispania prerromana, pp. 369-378.
5 J. Coromines (1976): Els ploms sorotàptics d'Arles, in Entre dos llenguatges (II), pp. 142-216. Lusitanian, a language attested on several inscriptions written in the Latin alphabet, would also belong to this group.

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