24 August 2013

Spanish urraca 'magpie'

The Catalan linguist Joan Coromines1 derives Spanish urraca 'magpie (Pica pica)' from the female personal name Urraca2, popular during the High Middle Ages in the Christian kingdoms of Northern Spain (Asturias/León, Castile, Navarre, Aragon). However, this hypothesis not only doesn't give us any insight about the etymology, but it also won't explain the initial consonant found in the dialectal variants burraca, furraca, hurraca /xuráka/, zurraca /θuráka/.

I'd link the Spanish word to Basque urra (B) 'expression to call hens and pidgeons; birds in general, especially hens and pidgeons' < *burra 'hen', with *bu > u3 like in Iberian. By contrast, Paleo-Basque, lacking of such a stop in its sound inventory, adopted it as /p/4, hence purra (G, HN, S, R, Z), furra (B, G, HN) 'expression to call hens', with the expressive variants tturra /cura/ (L, LN, Z), turra (L, LN). There's also Galician churra /tʃúra/ 'hen; expression to call hens'.

A diminutive form *burra-ka would be then the source of the forms burraca, urraca. In Spanish, the initial labial became a voiceless bilabial fricative *φ, variously reflected as /f/, /x/ or /θ/5. As in the case of most names of birds, the utlimate origin of this word would be onomatopoeic.
1 J. Coromines (1973, 2008): Breve diccionario etimológico de la lengua castellana, p. 564.
2 There's also the Galician variant Orraca.
3 Possibly through an intermediate stage *wu.
4 Cfr. Asturian utre 'vulture' ~ Gascon botre, butre > Basque putre (G), futre (HN).
5 Spanish *φ became aspirated as /h/ (except before /l, r, w/) at an early date, although the aspiration was later lost in most dialects. This is why the genuine form must have been hurraca.


  1. The closest I could find on the Caucasian side (see below). I do not know how that word would be reflexed in other supposed members of Macro-/ Vasco-Caucasian or how unrelated languages might interpret or "telescope" the word.

    Proto-North Caucasian: *q̇_HV̆rVq̇V̆
    Meaning: a k. of bird (magpie; eagle-owl)
    Proto-Tsezian: *q̇alq̇ala
    Proto-Lezghian: *q̇:Iaraq̇:Ial

    Proto-West Caucasian: *ʁʷVrǝʁʷV

    Notes: A clearly onomatopoeic root (like several other birdnames), thus the PNC antiquity is dubious. (Sergei Starostin)

    The proto-form LOOKS closer than the daughter forms.

    There are two words in Afroasiatic for crow/ raven.

    Proto-Afro-Asiatic: *ʒuray(V)ḳ- (?)
    Meaning: raven

    Proto-Semitic: *zurayḳ ?
    Meaning: 'a certain bird' Lane 1227 (<*zrḳ 'to be blue'?)
    Arabic: zurayq-
    Notes: Kogan Add. to HSED 2635

    Proto-WChadic: *nV-ʒarak-
    Meaning: 'raven'
    Karekare: nzàràkú [LkK]
    Miya: žarakǝ [SkNb]
    Notes: irregular WCh -k-

    Proto-CChadic: *ʒilak-
    Meaning: 'crow'
    Bura: zilaku [Ann]
    Malgwa: Cf. CCh *zilak- (< *ʒilak) 'crow': Bura zilaku [Ann], Malgwa zalạ́ke [Lr]
    Notes: -l- < *-r- in Malgwa is not quite regular (Militatev, Stolbova)

    Note the Semitic form.

    The Arabic word speaks of something blue...perhaps the Iberian Magpie? It occurs in the southwestern part of the Iberian Peninsula, in Spain and Portugal...exactly where Arabic once dominated. Notice the blue on its wings. The Eurasian Magpie, like the one in your picture, has blue in its wings also. Crows, ravens, and magpies are closely related, they are all corvids.

    The second is this:

    Proto-Afro-Asiatic: *ɣar(n/m)āḳ-
    Meaning: crane; raven/crow

    Semitic: ɣVrnīḳ- 'crane'
    Western Chadic: *gau/mrāk- ~ *garmāk- '(crested) crane'
    East Chadic: *ngarāk- '(crested) crane'
    Saho-Afar: *kāk- 'raven'
    High East Cushitic: *haraḳ- 'raven' (<*ɣaraḳ-?)
    Mogogodo (Yaaku): ḫaryaq-a 'crow' (<*ɣaryaḳ-?)
    Omotic: (?) *ḳurāk- (<*ḳuraɣ- with met.?) (Militarev, Stolbova)

    Interestingly, Militarev and Stolbova think that the Semitic form, in the second example, COULD be borrowed from IE because of a phonetically and semantically similar word in IE for crane.

    Of the two Afroasiatic root words, I think the first is much more sound than the second comparison because we know of Arabic contact in Iberia, well-known actually. Note the Highland East Cushitic and Yaakuan forms in the second example.

    Again, what "telescoping" may have occurred is not easy to determine if the terms are related. Perhaps, the Afroasiatic forms are related to Macro-/ Vasco-Caucasian through Nostratic???

    1. It's absolutely impossible for that Arabic word to be related to the Romance words, which (I remind you) also mean 'hen'. However, I formerly thought they could have been borrowed from Hispano-Arabic farrúɣ 'chicken' (Classical farrūɣ), metathesized as *furrag/*furrak, whsoe final velar would have been then reanalyzed as a diminutive suffix (femenine) -ka. Unfortunately, this word was already borrowed into Spanish farruco 'insolent, arrogant' (i.e. 'cocky'), so this makes this hypothesis highly unlikely.

      You can't also explain everything from historically known facts. This is a rather widespread vice I've already warned you about. From loanwords in Basque and Romance languages there's evidence Berber or a closely related language was spoken in Iberia in pre-Roman times. In fact, in my old school days, we were told Iberians came from North Africa, but now we know the Iberian language isn't related to Berber, so these people must have been another prehistoric ethnical group.

    2. There're several correspondences between names of birds in Semitic and IE, but they can't have been originated in IE but rather the other way around. Fore xample, Semitic *ɣVrVb- 'crow, raven' would match Latin corbus.

  2. Hola, Octavia!

    Why do you constantly underestimate my intellect and education? Understanding known and documented historical events is the only way to determine how prehistory may have played out. How do you think they figured out about the Bronze Age Collapse of the Greater Middle East? They used known history to form an educated hypothesis that has proven to be true. Something no one knew of before recent decades, but because of scientific soil and isotope analyses, archaeology, and the finding of more ancient documents confirming it, we now know it to be true. There was a lot of science behind the confirmation.

    Why do you assume I know nothing about the Berber (Amazigh) people and their contacts with Iberia? We must understand that Berber was a substrate under the Arabic superstrate that occupied the Iberian peninsula at one time. The "Arabs" that conquered Iberia were not technically Arabs...they were Arabized and Islamicized Berbers.

    Not to mention even times before Islam, the Berbers were part and parcel of the Carthaginian Empire which had contact with Iberia. Again, another case of Semiticized Berbers. Punic, the language of the Carthaginians, has a Berber language substrate.

    Berber words most likely made there way into Iberia during those times. We know for a fact that the majority of genetic signatures in Iberia associated with Berbers came in during the Islamic conquest of Iberia. No such signatures have been found in periods before then. They may have existed, but not yet found in the concentrations of modern day. Iberians even carried the signatures to the New World were they are found in low to moderate concentration in Iberian-derived populations. Also, I don't know of any Berber loans discovered in what known of the Ancient Iberian language or "Tartessian". I DO know there could possibly be some Phoenician loans in Iberian and "Tartessian".

    I don't just look at history, but I also do genetic, historical, archaeological, and linguistic research which lends a much more comprehensive style to my points. This is why I am so well-versed in history because many times the genetic record backs up the historical record.

    So with that being said, how does the Arabic word in the first Afroasiatic example not related? It only means a certain kind of bird in Arabic, nothing specific.

    Of course to me, all birds are chickens. I say, "Look at that water chicken"...my friend says, "That is not a water chicken...it's a duck."

  3. Why do you constantly underestimate my intellect and education?
    I don't underestimate you, Adyghe. My criticism is directed towards your written ideas, not to your being (or "Dasein" if you prefer).

    Also, I don't know of any Berber loans discovered in what known of the Ancient Iberian language or "Tartessian".
    Then you should keep reading my blog. To quote an example, Basque otso 'wolf' (Aquitanian OXSON-) and the toponym Oson-uba is related to Berber *wVʃʃVn.

    So with that being said, how does the Arabic word in the first Afroasiatic example not related?Simply it isn't remotedly similar to the Basque and Romance words.

    1. We know for a fact that the majority of genetic signatures in Iberia associated with Berbers came in during the Islamic conquest of Iberia.
      This is utterly wrong. Outside North Africa, Y-haplogroup E-M81 reaches its highest frequency among Pasiegos of Cantabria. This can't be due to the Islamic conquest but it must be much more ancient.

  4. I stand corrected about Arabic: zurayq

    It was assimilated as a word for 'blue eyes' in Spanish. Not a bird. I knew that word looked familiar, but I could not place it. I place it with the magpie, wrongly of course.

    From what I read the word is either Germanic, Latin, or Basque.

    The Latin word looks rather promising...furax "thief, thievish". Furraca would then be "little thief"? The magpies have a tendency to steals shiny objects.

    I have no idea what Germanic word would give urraca in Spanish. None of the words I saw were that close. Or perhaps the word could have been telescoped through Basque.

    Or like you say, the word could be entirely Basque.

    1. From what I read the word is either Germanic, Latin, or Basque.
      I think you rely too much in authorities. The Basque connection is explained in my post, but neither Germanic nor Latin can be the source.

  5. The "authorities" are how I learned.

    1. When you know more, you'll able to question them. There's no need to repeat the same mistakes over again.

  6. Well, Octavia, you know I do a lot of research so if I find something that seems off that one of the "authorities" did then I say so. Like right now, in my research of Meroitic, I found a "Nostratic" root attested in Meroitic. The word was interpreted by Claude Rilly and if his interpretation is accurate then this root is definitely "Nostratic" which would indirectly attest to Meroitic not being Nilo-Saharan and more related to Afroasiatic. I have criticized SOME of Mr. Rilly's work on the Meroitic issue for the record. This word was supposedly absent from Afroasiatic according to the work of A. R. Bomhard, but well attested in IE, Dravidian, and Altaic (according to the database at starling. rinet.ru)...guess what, I found it in Afroasiatic (only one language so far...I need to search Tuareg to be sure). I screamed when I found it. I was like, "There it is!", I, literally, got up from my desk and danced a jig. Anyway, so I do question "authority" when it is warranted.

    1. To begin with, "Nostratic" doesn't exist, at least as pictured by Nostraticists themselves. As Kerns (a former Bombard's collaborator) himself recognized, Proto-Nostratic was a Dene/Vasco-Caucasian language spoken in the Taurus-Zagros mountains from which originated a bunch of Wanderwörter which spread to other languages in the Neolithic.

      Genuine long-range relationships are obscured by phantoms like this one.

  7. Also what posts from the "olive" debate do you want removed?

    1. The ones where you accuse of me of "fantasizing" and things like that.


  8. Well, Octavia, I am neutral on the issue. That is why I used quotes around "Nostratic". Anyway...it was exciting to find a potential external cognate that indirectly attests to a relationship with Afroasiatic.

    I will find those posts and delete/ re-word/ edit them.